Sermon for August 25, 2019
Texts: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
Sermon: "If Not Now, When?"
We know Jesus was a patient teacher. But when Jesus met the person who needed healing, rarely did he put off that healing.
That is not the way of Jesus as he goes about his work in his short ministry on earth.
Jesus, sent to reveal God's love and grace, wants that love and grace to be active, to respond to urgency, to satisfy deep needs.
Wait another day? That is not the way of Jesus.
Luke tells us this story of Jesus on a Sabbath morning -- in the synagogue, where we usually find Jesus on the Sabbath.
He looked out upon a crowded synagogue, where people gathered to see and hear him. They were expectant. They knew his reputation as a teacher and healer. They wanted to participate in worship with him.
Jesus has started to teach when someone catches his eye. He sees someone in need. Jesus knows that there is urgency in his response to her. And he surprises everyone, including the woman on whom his eyes rested, when he stops to say, "Come over here to me."
The woman he calls to him is crippled. Her back is severely bent. She is stooped and unable to see very far ahead as she puts one foot in front of the other.
"Come over here to me," Jesus says. He puts his hands upon her and speaks, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." As soon as he touches her, she stands up straight. She looks into the face of Jesus and shouts praise to God.
Whispers and murmurs and then shouts of praise ripple around the room. But the leader of the synagogue attempts to stop the reaction of the crowd.
"Wait a minute," he says. "Before you start praising God, remember what day this is. This is the Sabbath Day. And no work ought to be done on this day. This is the Lord's Day. This healing could have waited until tomorrow!"
The healing could have waited until tomorrow?
Hmm, we might say. Well, the synagogue leader has a point, right? If the crippled woman has waited eighteen years, why can't she wait another day? The synagogue leader believes that he tells precisely what the law says, the law as given to the Hebrew people at Sinai: The Sabbath Day is a holy day when you are commanded not to do any work.
The synagogue leader is living his faith as he knew it and believed it. For him, what Jesus did in performing a healing miracle on the Sabbath was -- yes -- work; for him, that work could have waited until the next day.
But Jesus -- well, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Time is running short. Every day counts. Every healing matters. Every miracle changes lives. Who has made healing into work, anyway? Why would relieving pain and disease be unlawful on a day when people gather to worship God and seek God's presence and God's mercy?
Jesus is on his way to the cross. On that way, he teaches his disciples what they must do when he is no longer present with them. He teaches the world that there is a greater law at work here. He has much work of his Father to do before that fateful hour when his path will stop at a cross on a hill and painful death -- his most faithful deed of all, his most sweeping gesture of healing, and his all-encompassing self-giving love for humanity.
Jesus jumps into the conversation with the synagogue leader, reminding him of the dangers of interpreting the law in such a way that the law became more important than the people God meant the law to serve.
"Hypocrites!" Jesus said. "You think nothing of untying your work animals and taking them for a drink of water on the Sabbath. You would not let them thirst all day. And yet you would allow this sister -- this sister in the faith -- suffer another day rather than have her healed on this day?"
It is helpful to take a look at the great commandments of God that we call the Ten Commandments. They appear in two places in the Old Testament -- in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5.
And in those two passages, there is some slightly different wording about the keeping of the Sabbath, words that have some bearing on what is going on in this story in Luke.
The first reading of the Commandments, in Exodus 20, links keeping the Sabbath to the story of Creation and the rest that God took on the seventh day. "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it" (Exodus 20:11).
The second reading of the Commandments, in Deuteronomy 5, links Sabbath-keeping to the story of God's rescue of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, a story of freedom from bondage, deliverance from captivity. "Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath Day" (Deuteronomy 5:15).
Jesus sees that, in adopting the strict letter of the law of the Sabbath, the synagogue leader and others like him are forgetting the spirit of love and healing in which God had given the law.
Jesus, God's Son, was filled always with the Holy Spirit. He faithfully taught new things God was doing in the sending of his Word to be flesh among humanity. Jesus did not break Sabbath law. Jesus knew that the law never trumps grace and mercy and freedom.
The absolute law is love.
Jesus lived and breathed, taught and healed in accordance with the new covenant God was making with the world. Jesus was (is) the new covenant.
The radical gesture of love embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, turned the world upside down and subverted man-made laws that had become rigid and lacking in love and grace. On that day in the synagogue, Jesus once again revealed the change that had taken place because he had stepped into the world as God-with-us.
Jesus was faithful and obedient in carrying out his mission. The synagogue leader thought that he was being faithful. Don't you wonder what the crippled woman was thinking, feeling on this bright new morning when Jesus gave her new hope and new life?
For eighteen years she has been coming to synagogue, bent over, unable to look anyone in the eyes, unable to feel the sunshine on her face. She struggled. But she remained faithful.
We are not told that she came to the synagogue to see Jesus. But it appears that she probably was a regular at the Sabbath service. She does not call out as others in healing stories call out to Jesus. She comes into the synagogue as usual. Jesus sees her. Jesus knows right away her faithfulness and her need. He touches her and makes her whole.
I am that woman. And so are you. Haven't all of us felt the need for that healing touch of God through Jesus Christ? Our infirmity might not have been, might not be, as severe as hers was. But I know that all of us have spent time looking at our feet, wondering how we might find joy again in our life.
Jesus continues to intervene in such times. The crippled woman knew where to go to seek healing. She knew that finding hope for new life was not something she could do alone.
*She needed her church family.
*She needed to be a part of that community of faith and worship.
*And she went week after week even though at the end of the day she had not been healed -- that is, not until that day when the miracle happened.
*Jesus found her. Jesus touched her. And she stood up, relieved, seeing God, and praising his holy name.
Even today, as one person in our church community -- or one person we know, a friend, neighbor, acquaintance, or family member -- might be crippled by pain of mind body or spirit; as one person suffers, we all suffer with that person.
Just when we are losing hope that anything might change, Jesus comes. Jesus comes to this place, where we gather. Jesus will see the one who is needy and will say, "Come over here to me."
When we come looking for our great God, we find him. We see the gentle, healing, comforting Jesus come right in and sit with us and stay with us until all is well again.
We pray for his presence. We pray for his healing touch -- for each of us and for others, even those we don't know who are in trouble.
Jesus invites us to look right into his face. Jesus promises: I am with you always. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Stand tall and praise God. And all your brothers and sisters will praise God with you.
And that may be my most favorite part of this story.
In the very last verse we hear the reactions of all the people who were in the synagogue with this woman when she was healed by the hands of the Lamb of God.
Luke writes: "The entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that Jesus was doing."
Will you now rejoice together with me? Give praise to God that we, too, can be healed and made whole again even when we think it can never happen.
Gracious God, grant each of us the kind of faithfulness that will lead us into your healing presence. Amen.