This sermon was presented at Resurrection on August 26, 2007, by Pastor Jim Kniseley. The text is the gospel for the day, Luke 13:10-17.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The word I want to lift up today is “free.” Jesus uses this word twice in our gospel story:
· “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
· “And ought not this woman…be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”
Over and over, Jesus’ message during his earthly ministry was a message of freedom. He announced God’s desire to free all of his children from sin, from death, from the devil. For what purpose? In order to truly experience God’s good gifts and great promises.
In a moment we are going to be looking at a synagogue in Jesus’ day and see how religious leaders could burden people instead of freeing people. First, let me touch on some of the ways people in churches today might feel burdened and not truly free:
· Some churches discriminate on the basis of color, race, marital status,
and economic well-being.
· Some people who have experienced hardships such as ill-health, loss of
employment, divorce feel as if God is punishing them and they are
second class in the eyes of the church.
· Some churches place such emphasis on propriety in church (the right clothes,
the right words and music, the right amount of attendance, the right knowledge of the Bible) that it feels like God is a god of expectations rather than the God of Promises.
I am indebted to Walter Wink and his book Engaging the Powers for suggesting how revolutionary Jesus was in the synagogue that day when he performed a healing on a woman crippled for 18 years. I’d like to think that after you hear this message today, you will never again read that story as just a ho-hum, status-quo, miracle of Jesus.
1. The setting is an unnamed synagogue on the Sabbath. As usual, the men are in the central part and the women are segregated to the back. Everyone there knew that Jewish men did not speak publicly to a woman who was not their wife.
2. Jesus not only spoke with her (he was probably the reader of scripture that day and had the chance to expound on the text), he called her to the center of the synagogue. All of a sudden Jesus challenges convention by breaking two long-accepted rules: he speaks publicly to a woman and he brings her to the section reserved for men, thus removing the man-made restraints on women’s freedom and the notion of a male monopoly to knowledge and to God. In our day, we can remember a time in the Lutheran church that women did not have a full role in the church and we know that women have granted ordination just since 1970. We also know that incorporating people of color into the Lutheran church today is progressing too slowly.
3. Jesus touches her as part of the healing. This violated one of the holiness codes that says you not only don’t touch a woman, you particularly don’t touch a woman who has a disease or infirmity. I wonder if our sharing of the peace, which include shaking of hands and hugging, was begun by Jesus himself.
4. He called her “daughter of Abraham,” a term not found in any of the prior Jewish literature. This is revolutionary because it was believed that women were saved through their men. To call her a daughter of Abraham is to make her a full-fledged member of the nation of Israel with equal standing before God.
5. He heals on the Sabbath, the holy day. That is what really set off the ruler of the synagogue (the one entrusted with keeping everything in good order). The strict interpretation of the Jewish law said there would be no work on the Sabbath. And this ruler’s judgment was that healing was work and therefore forbidden. Do it another day. And Jesus is making a statement that God does some of his best work on the Sabbath, that is changing hearts and minds and bringing freedom and joy. I think Jesus is pleased that our turn in feeding folks at the homeless shelter is today on our Sabbath.
6. Last, and not least, Jesus challenges that ancient belief that her illness is a direct punishment from God for sin. She is ill, Jesus believes, not because God willed it, but because there is evil in the world (or as one contemporary Jewish rabbi has put it, “bad things happen to good people”). Our Resurrection Health Ministry is a positive way to match up our grace-filled theology with a belief in God’s healing and gifts that come through the medical profession.
Dear Friend in Christ, are you truly free? Is there anything in your life that is keeping you from this freedom? Is there anything here at Resurrection that we can do to promote this freedom and not contribute to your burden?
One of the ministries of the ELCA is Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. I like their values statement and think it reflects the kind of compassion that Jesus wants for us in his church:
Human life is sacred, a gift from God. We treat all people with dignity, compassion and respect.
Service to others is life-affirming. We engage in service as an expression of gratitude to a gracious God. We uphold safety, freedom and human rights and connect people to community.
We speak and act with courage and faith. In our calling to ministries of advocacy, service and justice, we take appropriate risks and commit ourselves to continual learning. It sounds to me like Jesus inspired those words.
I conclude with the words to a hymn in our new ELW (Evangelical Lutheran Worship) Book. It is good news that for the first time there is a section on “freedom” when you are looking for hymns that fit a theme. This hymn is entitled “Rise, Shine, You People!” and was first published by Augsburg in 1974:
Rise, shine, you people! Christ the Lord has entered our human story; God in him is centered. He comes to us, by death and sin surrounded, with grace unbounded.
See how he sends the pow’r of evil reeling; he brings us freedom, light and life and healing. All men and women, who by guilt are driven, now are forgiven.
Come, celebrate; your banners high unfurling, your songs and prayer against the darkness hurling. To all the world go out and tell the story of Jesus’ glory.
Tell how the Father sent the Son to save us. Tell of the Son, who life and freedom gave us. Tell how the Spirit calls from ev-‘ry nation God’s new creation.
Thanks be to God. Amen!