August 25, 2019

Pentecost 11 August 25, 2019  Psalm 103, Isaiah 58:9b-14, Hebrews 12:3,7-9

Luke 13:10-21   Therefore –

************************************************************  Well – not everyone. The congregation is sternly rebuked by it’s chief elder, for this healing occurring on the sabbath: “Why don’t you do this any other day of the week?” But Jesus rebukes the church leader and any in agreement with him – saying, “Hypocrites! Don’t all of you lead your animals to drink on the sabbath? Ought not this daughter of Abraham be set free from bondage to crippling pain and affliction on the Lord’s day?”

Jesus this woman is now freed from the bondage she’s been held in by demonic powers for eighteen long years. (He’s not implying she has sinned.) He’s letting us know she’s been bent-over-and-enslaved, not only by bodily crippling, but even-more-so by crippling-states-of-mind that insist on proper order, decorum, and regulations – over and against the free flow of God’s grace… healing…  and blessing.

So there’s more than one dimension to this healing story. The healing itself. And the sabbath-day context. The healing wouldn’t be controversial on another day.  Even his opponents don’t disbelieve – or object to the healing except for it’s timing.

Healing on the sabbath is controversial. The synagogue leader and at least a few others are upset because the fourth commandment says we’re not to work on the Sabbath, and they view healing as work.

Jesus sees it differently. Jesus heals on the Sabbath five times in Luke’s gospel – it’s a Jesus pattern. His speaking of bondage reminds us of Deuteronomy (5) which says honor the Sabbath because you were slaves in Egypt, and the Lord brought you out from slavery with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Now here’s Jesus, hands-on, compassionate arms outstretched – commanding release for this daughter of Abraham, bound by forces of spiritual darkness and slavery. Reinforcing the message from Deuteronomy: slaves aren’t free to enjoy sabbath. Sabbath is for those freed from slavery.

Our reading from Isaiah says – honoring the sabbath means not pursuing our personal interests on the sabbath. Jesus isn’t working for money – isn’t playing golf or fishing – isn’t selling anything… He’s doing Sabbath by the Book – doing  what Israel is told to do (especially) in the Sabbath Year (Deut 15) – freeing the enslaved and restoring right relationship with God and neighbor. Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath, heals on the Sabbath, and restores Sabbath to what God intends.

Yet so often we, the church, have misunderstand, and turned the Sabbath delight Isaiah speaks of into bondage to regulatory restrictions…

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So… Jesus keeps teaching after silencing his opposition… Because this healing needs a little more contextualizing to help us understand what Jesus is doing – Therefore (in Luke the gospel writer’s word-choice –) Therefore Jesus says – “What is the kingdom of God like? What can I compare it with? It’s like a mustard seed… someone took and sowed in the garden and it grew to become a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches…”

Again he said – “What should I compare the kingdom of God with? Its like yeast (leaven) that a woman takes and mixes in with a whole bushel of flour till it all rises up…to nourish life….”

Jesus, on this sabbath day, heals a woman bent-over, probably thus unable to see and be seen by others face-to-face… for eighteen long years. A miracle of grace – though a healing of just one person. But Jesus says ‘this is like the kingdom of God – which is also like a single small seed planted growing into a tree – like a little batch of yeast turning flour into bread – enough to feed an entire village…’

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And of course… Not everyone believes in miraculous healings today….

Some believe nothing happens without a scientific reason or rationale behind it… Others kind-of-sort-of believe… or would at least like to believe… but the mysterious nature of supernatural healing – experienced by some, not by others… becomes a barrier to belief… Longer discussions… for another day. Today, let’s simply note – in many parts of the world, miracles are not only still expected, but sometimes well-documented. And here in this country, roughly half of all medical doctors surveyed say they’ve seen healings they’re willing to call miraculous.

For us today, as for Jesus (remembering even his opponents don’t doubt his ability to heal) – the larger contextual issue is Sabbath. Not many people now have a clue … what to believe about the sabbath.

The problem of over-zealous legalistic enforcement of sabbath regulations was an issue… for some in our flock… growing up – (I’ve heard)… though not for all of us. But now the greater problem is people not knowing what a blessing Sabbath is… when we do Sabbath with Jesus.

Most Americans, especially here in the Northeast (the least church-going-part-of-the-country) don’t seriously think about what not to do on the Sabbath.  Studies suggest 80% of Americans don’t attend church or synagogue, Sunday or Saturday. Here in New England, it’s more like 85% who usually stay home, go the beach, do sports, eat-out, or with the ancient poet Kristofferson, take a walk… and think about what used to be … ‘and I stopped besides a Sunday School, and listened to the songs that they were singing… and I headed back for home…. and somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringing…  and it echoed…  like a disappearing sound of yesterday…  On a sleeping city side walk…(feeling Lord, so all alone… On that sleeping city sidewalk…)  Sunday morning coming down

I didn’t grow up in church, except for one year, about second grade, when my parents decided we’d give it a try… But even before the year was up, the experiment was called-off… And, by the time of my mid-teen years – Sunday was Sunday morning, coming down… the day after a late Saturday night… day before back to school and work…

But… later… there came a time…when everything began to  look different… And now somehow, for reasons I couldn’t fathom – I found my heart singing wordlessly – I want a Sunday kind of love – A love to last past Saturday night.

A love that’s more than… love at first sight – I want a Sunday kind of love.

I began to know I needed to be in church – trying to get closer to this Jesus guy, whom I’d kind-of-sort-of met, but didn’t know well yet – and was starting to want to get to know better. And I guessed church might be a good place to start…

Like the woman, bent over, though in my unique mix of ways, my life also was bent-out-of-shape… As I too came to church hoping for healing, and release from bondage to various symptoms. Healing and release that I gradually came to know – can’t be found apart from Jesus. Not just Sundays, but every day. Though Sundays are still special – the one day of the week we consistently get together in one place with God and each other. The best of all days… for healing… and being made whole…(and…)

Here and in just about every church I’ve been part of since beginning to come to faith… I’ve been blessed to get to know people following Jesus… People of faith who can see people… others don’t always see… Offering healing words… and helping hands… and healing hands laid on in prayer…

Now I’m blessed to be with you here, as part of the body of Christ, the church… Still learning about Sabbath from scripture and experience… Singing the Duke Ellington song Come Sunday – (a version of which is in our Methodist hymnal) – still learning to do Sabbath with Jesus – Up from dawn till sunset – we work hard through the week… Come Sunday, oh come Sunday – that’s the day…

Ellington’s song captures some of the cultural memory of people who remembered slavery vividly…  Lord, dear Lord above, God almighty God of love – Please look down and see my people through… Ellington knew something about Sabbath being for people who know their need of God…

Rabbis of Israel called the Sabbath “a palace in time” in the words of scholar and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Rabbis also long ago decided – it was not only lawful, but virtually required to work on the Sabbath, if necessary to save life. Notice we hear most of the synagogue cheering Jesus on today, as he heals… Jesus healing and perhaps bending rules to help bent-over human beings get unbent… is never about looking down on Judaism, Jesus’ own faith tradition, and that of our biblical grandparents. The point is learning from Jesus – to make all the Sabbath time we have – a time of genuine healing and release from all forms of bondage – slavery to work – slavery to self – slavery to cultural expectations – slavery to anything that keeps us bound – keeps us from the outstretched arms of Jesus….

Healing – body, mind, soul and spirit – is a huge part of Jesus’ ministry. We see him healing nearly as often as we see him teaching. But all the healing Jesus does – even raising the dead – always points to a more ultimate healing…

As Jesus connects this healing today with a tiny mustard seed and a little batch of yeast. Comparing God’s reign on earth and in heaven – with a tiny mustard seed. (Julian of Norwich in the middle ages had a vision in which Jesus showed her a tiny little ball, the size of a hazel-nut – and told her all the universe is contained in it…)

So also the kingdom of God is like a little bit of yeast buried deep in bread- flour, slowly rising… And like one hurting-bent-over-person healed – standing straight-up now, praising God… (And the Rabbis of old said – “whoever saves one person – saves the whole world….”)

And so God’s kingdom still… is breaking into this world, one person after another… here and now, every day… every time we show up and share in the blessing…

And when we live our lives together with Jesus… others surely come to share with us – in the grace and peace, healing and release we receive from Jesus – together by grace… here, close by the gates… of the kingdom of God…

Thanks be to God. Amen.