August 21, 2016
Rev. June Wilkins
Jesus is in a synagogue, like a church
And a woman comes in who had been
bent over in pain for the last 18 years.
She couldn’t stand up straight at all.
Jesus meets her, lays his hands on her
and he tells her that she is set free from her ailment.
And just like that, she’s healed.
And she’s off praising God.
|The Woman with an Infirmity of Eighteen Years|
James Tissot, 1896
Now, was the reaction from the church people
wonder, disbelief, excitement?
No. The pastor is upset because Jesus
healed this woman on the Sabbath.
He said to his parishioners, “he had six other days to
do that kind of work, why would this man
break the Sabbath?”
So Jesus did an amazing thing,
but they couldn’t see past him breaking a rule.
Now we could ask, “why would Jesus break this rule?”
This woman had been sick for 18 years,
what would one more day have mattered?
He could have asked her to come back the next day.
Then everyone would be happy.
But I think Jesus purposely broke the rule
and healed this woman on the Sabbath
because his objective wasn’t just to free
the woman, his objective was to free everyone
Now the Sabbath is and was a great gift
especially in Jesus time.
Back then, most people worked seven days a week.
It was very unusual that people would take any day off.
But the Israelites took one day every week.
Sabbath was great gift that God had given
to the people for their and well being
and to help their relationship with God.
It was a gift, a discipline, and reminder of God.
We should probably take our Sabbath time more seriously today.
But the religious leaders had taken this gift
and turned it into a rigid law.
If anyone were to do any work on that day,
they were chastised by the religious leaders
even brought up on charges.
And the Sabbath worked easily for those who were stable.
But for those who were poor,
for those living on the edge of poverty,
for those who had to beg or collect food for a living,
it could be a hardship.
In the gospels, Jesus and the disciples were
chastised for picking ears of corn to eat on the Sabbath –
when they were just getting themselves something to eat.
The religious leaders-
as religious leaders sometimes tend to do-
took a good idea -- a gift from God
and they turned it into a weapon of control.
They used it to scrutinize other people. A litmus test.
They used it to catch other people “sinning”
They turned it into a way to make themselves
look better and have more power over people
and to make other people look bad.
They turned it into a method of bondage or imprisonment.
Good rules can do that.
They can become bondage.
We end up serving the rules instead of the rules serving us.
The rules can be used to hurt people
and shame them instead of setting them free.
When the church only sees the rules,
then we run the danger of only seeing the world
for how they are breaking the rules.
God’s way can become a way of more pain than a joy.
How many times has the Christian Church been a place like that?
How many times have our churches placed bondage
How many times have our churches placed bondage
on spirits rather than freeing them?
How many times have rules come before relationships?
How many times has dogma stood
in the way of the movement of the Spirit?
For many people outside it,
the church been identified as the place of
forbidding, restriction, bean counting, and finger wagging
Even if we’re not chastising people for breaking the rules,
we’re mired in our own bureaucracy
and unable to act when the need is there.
we’re slow, we’re far too careful, we over-think.
Things get stuck in endless committees.
God’s church has a reputation for being
quick to judge and slow to act.
God’s church has the reputation of being
the place of “no” instead of “yes".
So often Churches have the resources:
we have the people, we have the know-how
we even have the inspiration to do something,
But individually or as a group, we put it off,
tomorrow, later, maybe another day.
This woman could probably have waited,
She was used to waiting.
I’m sure she was used to being put off and brushed aside
by friends and family, by the religious leaders, by the people of God,
If Jesus had told her, “look, today is the Sabbath
and you know, rules are rules.
If you just come back tomorrow, I’ll help you.”
She would have said, of course I understand, I’ll come back.
She probably expected that exact reaction.
But here was Jesus, and there was her need.
Jesus has not come here to reinforce rules,
or to give us more rules, to uphold traditions,
or to help us hide behind our bureaucracy and systems.
Jesus has come to free us.
Jesus has come to free us from those
outside forces, illness, pain, injustice, addictions.
And Jesus has come to free us from our own
self-imposed bondage, our own prisons,
our own fears, our own restrictions.
Jesus means to free all of us.
18 years is a long time to be bent over.
But many people have been bent over longer.
Waiting for hope, healing, justice
waiting for God to intervene and heal.
Well, we are God’s hands and feet in this world.
We are the body of Christ.
So what should we say?
“We have rules, we have processes to follow.
We’ll get to you when we can.
Slow down there, wait until tomorrow.”
And tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Or do we actually act like Jesus?
Jesus has come to free all of us.
To help us to stand up straight,
to free us from our bondage,
from our restrictions from our excuses,
from whatever is holding us back
from doing what God would have us do.
People of God, you are set free from your ailment.
Stand up, rejoice, and follow the Spirit of God.