Psalm 71: 1-6; Hebrews 12: 18-29; Luke 13: 10-17
August 21, 2016
Imagine the relief...after 18 years stooped over...for the first time in decades she can look her family and friends in the eye...or look up to the sky to assess the weather...receive and give hugs. Her world has suddenly expanded. Her story of healing is the story of “expansion, of revelation, of vision widened by grace—a glorious progression toward the life God intends for all of us.”1
That's the good part of the story. The not so good is that Jesus has to put to shame the leaders who rebuke him for healing on the Sabbath. I like to believe that the leaders were sincere in their efforts to glorify the Lord in their obedience to the Law. But Jesus made clear that it is not the letter of the Law that matters, but the heart of the Law. The story is good in that the woman is healed and the grace of God is lifted up. It allows us to experience, along with the crowd in the synagogue, God's grace through healing.
1Palmer, Elizabeth Reflections on the Lectionary Christian Century August 3, 2016 pg 19
Lesson two, rules are important but what really matters to God is people. God did give us some rules in the Bible. We know the ten commandments—well, we know there are ten commandments. But do you realize that those commandments, those rules were never intended to put a crimp in our joy, to ruin our fun. Those rules are in place for our benefit. The fourth commandment from Deuteronomy 5: “12Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. 13 Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: 14 but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.” That was the rule. But do you read in that the limits the leaders wanted to impose? The Sabbath, which was the cause of the trouble in today's gospel, was never intended to be a burden for God's people. The Sabbath was intended to guard the health and happiness of the people; it was a day to rest. How many of you here know that we cannot work steadily without rest lest it affect our health? We all know that at some level. God in his wisdom gave the Israelites this hard and fast rule for a day to rest. Then the leaders decided the people needed more guidance and so they came up with list upon list of rules that must be followed to avoid sinning by working on the Sabbath. Things like how much the keys in your pocket can weigh...or it become work just walking carrying that “load”. How far you can walk was limited. Working with your livestock...such as untying your ox was limited. We believe that Jesus clearly taught that the Sabbath; that life, was not about rules but about people. Would we be better off if we were still observing the Sabbath; no work on Sunday? We'd have more family time, rest and relaxation. Naps on Sunday afternoon. Good things. But we need to keep hospitals open. The cows need to be fed and milked...not so common anymore. There are things that need to be done on the Sabbath. Healing and caregiving are clearly not breaking the Sabbath rules. And that's good because the Sabbath is not about rules, but about people. Jesus famously said, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath;”
The Associated Press tells this story of a rule taken too far: the Greyhound bus company had this rule, no pets allowed on their buses. It seems that a bus driver took the rules a little too seriously. He kicked an 80 year old woman off his bus in Florida because she was returning home from her birthday party with her present; a tiny puppy named Cookie. The driver refused to make an exception and left this elderly woman about 80 miles from home at 3:00 in the morning.
There was good reason for that rule. Animals can cause lots of troubles in an enclosed place with dozens of other people. But again, is it about the rule or the person?
The bus company did contact the sheriff’s office abut the lady, but she became even more frightened when she was surrounded by the officers. She is quoted, “When the bus pulled away and I saw all those policemen, I was scared. I thought they were going to put me in jail. I don't know, I was crazy with fear. I've never gone to jail.”
All because the driver put a rule ahead of the person. It all worked out for her, the police gave her a sandwich and something to drink then arranged officers from five different jurisdictions to drive her home. “I've never seen so many people so nice with me an old lady,” she said, “compassion, respect, friendliness.”
Those are pretty good qualities to make a difference in anybody's life; compassion, respect, friendliness. That brings us to point three, make a positive difference in your world. It is easy to avoid people who are in need of help; look the other way, cross the street, stay home. Jesus in today's story had no requirement to act; in fact, he had the letter of the law saying don’t act. But grace trumped the law; it always should in our dealings with other. And that should show up in our treating others with the grace Jesus showed and taught; with compassion, respect and friendliness.
A radio show I listen to most days on the mail route is “A Word with You.” Pastor Ron Hutchcraft hosts five minutes sharing from God's word. On Tuesday, he shared this story about his own family. He made the point first that they go to a school that is not particularly known for high standards or good behavior.
It started when our daughter came home from an early grade talking about all the bad things the kids at school said and did. That's when I began to give our kids two send-off words every day as they left for school, "Go MAD!" That meant "Go Make a Difference!" I told our kids that in a class where everyone lies, you need to show them that not "everyone" does, because you always tell the truth. In a class where everyone talks dirty, show them not "everyone" does by always keeping it clean. Show them someone who thinks sex is too special to ruin, that your body is too important to trash, and that other people are too important to cut down. In a world where it's "all about me," you live as if it's all about them. If you become like the people around you, the light goes out and then everyone really is living in total darkness.
That's a tremendous challenge for those kids; its a tremendous challenge for any of us here. We don't live in a world where everyone tells the truth, where there is no dirty talk, where sex is not treated as a special gift from God but a commodity bought and sold. In this type of world, we are called throughout the gospels to “go MAD”; we are to go and make a difference right where you are. The many problems in our world can be overwhelming. But if we make a positive difference in our home, or in our place of work, your school, our church, then God's grace has a chance to touch lives. And our corner of the world will change for the better. And we can make a difference that grows to all the corners of our neighborhood, community, nation and world. We can make a positive difference right where we are and that can spread into all the world.
Luke tells us the crowd was rejoicing at the wonderful things Jesus was doing. But we know that seeing the acts of Jesus is not the full story of the gospel. Jesus came to earth to show us the nature of God. And God is love. And we are God's hands and feet here on earth to show that love.
Elizibeth Palmer, books editor for The Christian Century magazine wrote about the crowd, rejoicing in the lady's cure while the opponents of Jesus were put to shame. “Perhaps instead of rejoicing in one person's exaltation over the other, we could simply aim for kindness and healing in this complex, broken world, where everyone needs simultaneously to be exalted and humbled. Perhaps grace could replace judgment... perhaps we could focus on what God reveals to us...when we notice the person next to us is stooped down, we might take some of her burden without judging her worthiness.”1
Jesus is our example; and our Lord and savior. As we look to Jesus to know God's heart for the world, look around and see those who are stooped down; stooped with age, with disease, with sorrow, with troubles. Then act. Go mad...go make a difference in their lives. Ron Hutchcraft concluded his message this way and it will be my conclusion as well. As you consider touching the lives in a world where not everyone wants to see the light of Christ: “don't let the darkness around you dim your light; don't let it extinguish your light. They may try to put it out sometimes or they may attack you because you're not like them, but believe me, they desperately need for you to be different. Because you're the only Jesus they can see; you're their only hope of another way to live.” The people who observed Jesus that day in the synagogue saw another way to live. That is our vision, to see Christ and to reflect the light of his love as we live differently than the world, with compassion, respect, friendliness and kindness. Amen.
Hymn: Be Thou My Vision 344 HLC