Pentecost 14 Contemplative Service - August 20, 2016

Preacher: 
The Rev. Amelie Wilmer Minor
Sermon Text: 

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 16, Year C

Evening Contemplative Eucharist

August 20, 2016

The Reverend Amelie Wilmer Minor

 

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. (Luke 13:10-17)

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Each week, when I sit down to write I sermon on a particular scripture passage, I try to set aside whatever conclusions I came to the last time I encountered it. Sometimes one way of thinking gets cemented in my brain and I have to work hard to be open to new possibilities. Many times I find the best way to open myself up is to simply start writing down questions about what I see before me. In this way, I force myself to 'wonder' at the story, what it is saying to me, to us, at this particular point in our shared life.

Which is exactly what I began to do this past week, and I thought, for a change, you might like to wonder, right along with me - about the gospel story we just heard.  Of Jesus’s encounter with a bent over woman and a leader of the synagogue. 

So to begin, what do you think it was that caused Jesus to notice the 'bent over woman' in the first place? And why her and not another?

Do you think it was a hard choice for him to abandon his teaching and focus just on her? Did it cross his mind that he might offend someone by choosing to heal on the Sabbath or was he actually trying to bait those who would oppose him on this?

And then, why does it matter that Jesus does this on the Sabbath?  Of course, any conversation about "Sabbath Keeping" is going to be quite different today than it was in Jesus’ day.

At least in my own experience, questions about what is appropriate or not on the Sabbath rarely enter our conversations.  Actually, many of us could perhaps benefit from a more 'rigid' interpretation of this particular practice.  I have to admit, hardly a 'day off' goes by for me without an interruption by a text or phone call causing me to re-evaluate how I’ll 'keep Sabbath' next time around. What is your experience of this? How have you resolved it?

If "Sabbath" isn’t the "rule" which gets in our way, is it possible that, like the leader of the synagogue, we might be hiding behind 'other rules' which keep us from living fully? What things to we insist on having or doing “just so” that blind us to the world around us?  To both its needs and its opportunities?

In other words, are there ways in which our 'rules' - both spoken and unspoken – keep us stuck in the status quo, no longer giving us life, but draining it away?

And then, I’m wondering more about that woman, bent over for years.  What must it have been like for her to suddenly find herself standing up straight? I wonder if unused muscles were stiff at first. I wonder if this new posture took some getting used to.

I can't help but notice that the woman never actually asked for healing. I find myself wondering if I have ever experienced healing I never even thought to ask for.

Are there parts and pieces in your life which beg for healing but in resignation or despair you’ve have simply stopped asking?  I wonder if that was so for her…..

We are told this woman was bent over with a “crippling spirit” for 18 years.  I wonder, what kind of spirit has so much capacity to alter a life?[1]

The better question might be, what are the spirits that bend and stunt any of us, that keep us from living fully upright and free?

For some of us it might be past shame or grief, left untended until it stagnates in anger and regret. Or it might be a critical spirit that poisons our relationships and our own hearts in an endless litany of put-downs. Maybe we are weighted by pride or continual comparison, losing our sense of self in the exhausting race to be thought better, or less, than others. Maybe we have been stricken by the spirit of disconnection, unable to fully meet each other, unable to reach out to someone in need for fear of seeing our own vulnerability and pain mirrored in their eyes.

Who would we be and what would we see if we could just stand again, balanced on our own two feet?

We are not told what condition impacts this woman, only that it is a spirit that cripples. As we think about this, perhaps we might bravely inspect our own lives, our own crippling diseases.

Our limitations, when they are no longer hidden, can bring us closer to the person we were made to be and to our maker, close enough to hear what Jesus says, “Woman, you are set free.”

Set free! Imagine! Who wouldn’t be excited to hear such good news as this?

But the truth is, there is within us also a “leader of the synagogue” quick to caution against becoming free. This is the voice that urges us not to disturb the old order, to wait it out, to be quiet and endure, to be content with less. The choice is ours. We can keep slogging along under the heavy cloud of our familiar pain, or we can say yes to the gift of healing.

Which will it be—bent over or free?

As you journey to a deeper understanding of the story before us today, what questions would you add to mine? What makes you wonder? 

More importantly, what does it mean for you to able to stand up and see?

What are you seeing more clearly already?

Amen

 

[1] For portions of the section that follows, I am indebted to Kayla McClurg for her mediation on this passage, “Bent over or Free”

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