8.22.10 sermon notes
In addition to all of the wonderful work being done here in the sanctuary and outside on the playground, some folks have been working in our church nursery to make some improvements. Some are aesthetic changes; some are for safety, but all are good and necessary things to ensure quality care for our children. And as I have been in conversations about this, it has reminded me of when Julia was a baby and starting to show signs of getting around a bit more easily on her own. Joel and I realized it was time to do make some modifications in our home. And I remember reading some parenting article about baby-proofing. There were the usual suggestions of outlet covers and securing easily-climbed furniture, and putting locks on cabinets. But this one article suggested something that I had not heard before then, but made complete sense: The author said to get on the floor, at about the level of a young child in crawling position, and look around. What do you see? What looks tempting to climb on or under? What small choking hazards are out of adults’ sightlines, but delightfully close-at-hand for a little one? Yes, we discovered a few more modifications for safety. But I was struck by how radically different this perspective was from my usual way of looking at the world. And I began to realize how much our perspective, and the limitations of our vision affect every aspect of our lives.
Pastor Katie Huey summarizes this story from Luke nicely for us: “It’s a simple story: on the way to Jerusalem, while Jesus is teaching in a synagogue, a “bent-over” woman passing by evokes Jesus’ compassion. Does the woman ask for healing? No. Does Jesus seem to care that it’s the Sabbath, when healing non-life-threatening conditions is not permitted? No. Without being asked, he calls her over to him, and sets her free from her longtime ailment by placing his hands on her, just as one would in blessing. And the woman is blessed, and freed, and has sense enough to recognize the source of the freedom she’s been given at last. Now, is everyone amazed and grateful to witness such a thing? No. The leader of the synagogue is in fact upset by this breach of the Law and tells the crowd, which undoubtedly includes many others in need of healing (aren’t we all?), that they should come back tomorrow, when the timing will be more “appropriate” for such things as healing.” Jesus then calls them hypocrites and names the ways in which they massage the lines of what is acceptable Sabbath practice for much less important things. We are told his opponents are put to shame, and the crowd rejoices at the wonderful things Jesus is doing.
There are many things I could reflect on from this story. There are interesting tidbits about Sabbath practice and how really, both the Synagogue leader AND Jesus are interpreting the law correctly (just differently, although both with solid scriptural support). But it seems that Jesus chose the more gracious interpretation of the Law that provided the most healing to those who needed it – might be a good lesson for Christians today).
Or I could talk about what it means to be healed and how we reconcile these kinds of biblical stories with our very real experiences of pain and suffering that are not so easily cured. These are all important reflections that I would be happy to talk about with any of you later. But for me, as I studied this text, I found myself drawn to this issue of perspective. What did the characters in this story see, and what did they not see, and why? One’s perspective on the world makes all the difference.
Let’s think about this woman in our story. We are told that for 18 years, she was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. 18 years!
“For 18 years, this unnamed woman must strain to see the sun, the sky and the stars.
For 18 years she has become accustomed to looking down or just slightly ahead but never upward without difficulty.
For 18 years her world has been one of turning from side to side to see what those who stand upright can see with just a glance” (Feasting).
This was her reality, and it wasn’t questioned. Notice, she does not come to the synagogue for healing. She did what she probably did every week – she showed up for worship. The synagogue leader had probably seen her before too – nothing unusual – that was her lot in life – nothing to be done about it. Everything is business as usual. Except for one crucial difference – Jesus has shown up at this synagogue on this day to teach. And note that this event happens while Jesus is teaching. I get the sense that he stopped mid-sentence, walked over to this woman, declared that she was set free from her ailment, and he laid his hands on her, and she stood upright. And again – unlike so many of our other healing stories where the person healed disappears out of the narrative the second they are healed, this unnamed woman gets a bit more stage time. She stands up straight and begins praising God. Well, quite frankly, who wouldn’t?!!? 18 years! For 18 years she had been bent over and now, she can stand upright.
And ironically, while this woman’s line of vision has been severely affected by her ailment these many years, she has no problem seeing the salvation standing before her in the person of Jesus, and recognizing the source of her healing.
I don’t think that this woman was the only one with limited vision and perspective in this story though. She was literally, physically bound up and unable to see all that was around her. But then we also have the leader of the synagogue: He, too, was bound up and unable to see. He was bound to a tradition and an understanding of the Law that guaranteed his status in the community but was not necessarily caring for those in need. His vision was so limited that he was not even able to see that his own very reasonable practice of leading his ox and donkey to water is technically a violation of the Sabbath. And like so many of us Christians today who toss Bible verses around to prove our points and condemn others, we are neglecting to see the volumes of texts we ignore or fail to follow literally every day of our lives while we claim to be living biblically. You see, in many respects, we are no better than the leader in the synagogue in our story.
There is an interesting idiom in our language that we use when people are upset about something. We say that they are “all bent out of shape.”
If we were to re-write this story from Luke with such modern phrasing, we might say that the synagogue leader “got all bent out of shape” about Jesus healing this woman on the Sabbath. And sadly, this type of scenario is not unique to the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. What about us as Christians today? What cause us to get all bent out of shape?
– The style of music in the church gets us bent out of shape.
– There not being enough young people, gets us bent out of shape.
– and then we get bent out of shape because there are too many young people changing things!
– An Islamic community center in Manhattan gets us all bent out of shape.
– our fears of the unknown get us bent out of shape
– Denominational decline gets us bent out of shape
– Homosexuality gets us all bent out of shape
– Budget cuts get us all bent out of shape
Now, I know that not every one of you and not every Christian is bent out of shape about all of these things. But the ones who are, love to talk about it. And the media loves to tell us what they are saying. And those outside the church judge all of us based on the statements of a few, and it can get us all bent out of shape too if we are not careful. So we have to take these issues very seriously.
Because when we get bent out of shape, our vision is limited.
What opportunities for love & grace do we miss because we cannot even see them? Who do we not see, because we are so twisted in upon ourselves? And it’s not just the church. We all know people like this too, who let fear and grief and anger close them up and keep them from living fully. In our own ways, we are all in need of healing.
And the good news is that I think both the woman and the synagogue leaders received a form of healing in this story. But notice that healing does not always happen the same way for everyone. Sometimes healing involves a gentle touch that sets us back in shape and leads to rejoicing. Sometimes healing comes in hard prophetic words when our understanding of the rules gets in the way of extending God’s love to others. But if we listen, and if we respond, then in both cases, there is healing.
Where is our vision limited? Where do we need Jesus’ healing touch? Where do we need his hard words to shake us up? How ready are we to receive the healing that the love of God in Christ makes available for us? And are we willing to share it with others? Amen.