standing up straight

preaching a sermon, based on Luke 13.10-17, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, August 21, 2016

“…there appeared a woman…crippled…bent over…unable to stand up straight.”

Christ healing an infirm woman on the Sabbath, James Tissot (1886-1896)

For nearly a score of years, she moved through her world largely gazing at the ground, staring at her feet, having to hold fast a staff lest she fall over, her palm chafed and roughened, craning her neck, now with a persistent, permanent ache, whenever someone spoke to her, striving, straining to respond with the common courtesy of showing at least a part of her face. After nearly twenty years of this, she barely remembered her former life when she stood upright looking at life eye to eye, seeing herself as healthy, whole, and good.

That day, come heaven or high water, she was determined to make it to the synagogue. Jesus of Nazareth had come to town. She had heard about him. His passionate preaching, his authoritative teaching, and his healing power; all signs of the presence of God’s kingdom. Dare she believe any of it, especially the healing? And if it was true, dare she hope that she could, would be blessed by him and set free from her infirmity? None of her daring, believing, or hoping mattered if she didn’t get to the synagogue. So, broken-bodied, yet strong-willed, shuffling her feet as fast as she could, she made it!

There he was. In the custom of rabbis, standing to read from the scroll of the prophets, then sitting down to teach.[1] The room was quiet, all listening. Suddenly, a strange sensation, something far gone in her past, almost too long ago to remember, ran up spine; her body responding to the sound of his voice calling her. Amazingly, her step quickening, she hastened to him and a seeming eternity was enveloped in spare seconds. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment,” he said, then touched her, warmth flooding her body, casting out a cold spirit. Immediately she stood up straight and praised God.

But straightway the beatific moment was overshadowed by the leader of the synagogue. This biblical legalist, literalistkept saying to the crowd,” repeatedly shaming Jesus with that heavily morally-weighted-and-freighted word “ought”, for healing on the Sabbath, thus violating the law to do no work.[2]

I digress to address the nature and meaning of God’s Law, which, for example, the Ten Commandments are expressions. God’s law is not aspirational, not outside of us, not something we must strive to attain (for, as God is perfect and we aren’t, we can’t!). Rather, God’s law is inspirational, abiding within us through the Holy Spirit who leads us to the fulfillment of what God wills for us.[3] So, there is the letter of the law, the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” embraced by the leader of synagogue and the spirit of the law that Jesus embodied, which or rather Who is God – love and life, goodness and righteousness, health and wholeness.

So, Jesus inaugurated his ministry in a synagogue in Galilee, reading the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, anointing me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” then saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[4] Then, in a synagogue at Capernaum, healing a demon-possessed man.[5] Then at Simon Peter’s home, healing his mother-in-law of her fever,[6] then “all who were sick with various diseases.” Then continuing his journey, saying to his disciples, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities, for I was sent for this purpose.”[7]

So, in that spirit, Jesus answers the leader of the synagogue. If, on the Sabbath, you would help an animal in need, how much more a human being? Even more, the “ought” of God is not strict observance of the letter of the Law, but faithfulness to its Spirit, which is liberation, emancipation from any kind of bondage on any, on every day!

This day, Jesus speaks to us, as he spoke to that “daughter of Abraham,” as daughters and sons of his Father, our Father, as his sisters and brothers, declaring our freedom from whate’er binds and bends us over in spirit. Here, honesty compels my confession that every example I give is borne out of my experience of life and of me. Thus, none of this may apply to any of you. Still, my decades of pastoral ministry, listening to and being with folk in moments of difficulty, suggest to me that some of what I share may not be at all foreign or strange to you…

Our past failures over which, when they often unbidden come to mind, we brood with the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” of “I wish I had…” and “I wish I hadn’t…” Jesus says to us, “You are set free.”

Our rote repetitions of old behaviors, which make our past failures ever new. Jesus says to us, “You are set free.”

Our memories of poor, uninformed or impulsive, choices. Jesus says to us, “You are set free.”

Our masks, false faces of all-sufficient, omni-competence that camouflage from the world and from ourselves the whole truth of who we are; perhaps because we fear that if others really knew who and how we are, they wouldn’t love or like us, welcome and accept us. Jesus says to us, “You are set free.”

Our resentments about hurt and harm done to us by others that strangle our capacity for kindness and forgiveness.  Jesus says to us, “You are set free.”

Believing, receiving this good news, let us, no longer stooped over in spirit, stand up straight face to face with Jesus, eye to eye with God, trusting, knowing that we are fulfilled and filled with God’s life and love, goodness and righteousness, health and wholeness.

 

Illustration: Christ healing an infirm woman on the Sabbath (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Footnotes:

[1] See Luke 4.16-17a, 20a.

[2] See Exodus 20.9-10, Leviticus 23.3, and Deuteronomy 5.13-14.

[3] One biblical reference point, among many, to which I hearken and upon which I base my view of the inspirational nature of God’s Law is the prophetic word found in Jeremiah 31.31-34: The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more (emphasis mine).

[4] Luke 4.18-19, 21

[5] Luke 4.31-35

[6] Luke 4.38-39

[7] Luke 4.43

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3 thoughts on “standing up straight

  1. Paul,
    Standing straight up can be difficult at times. Not feeling worthy, feeling guilty, sick or grief striken…In spite of it all, it’s great to feel that I am “set free”. The part of the sermon that’s most comforting to me is “Believing, receiving this good news, let us, no longer stooped over in spirit, stand up straight face to face with Jesus, eye to eye with God, trusting, knowing that we are fulfilled and filled with God’s life and love, goodness and righteousness, health and wholeness.” I believe that grief can stoop you over almost to the ground, and bend you in a way that you didn’t know was possible. But I’m also learning that grief can also stand you up too … it can rejuvenate your spirit so that you can feel whole again IF we trust God’s life and love to restore us . I feel blessed to have read this today. Thank you! Much love

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, my dearest Loretta – AND much love, always, to you – grief is one of life’s great soul-benders, capable of bowing down the strongest and most stalwart among us. Yet, as you write, and what a wonderful experiential insight it is (that I pray you include in your St. Croix talks!), grief also “can rejuvenate your spirit so that (one) can feel whole again IF we trust God’s life and love to restore us.” A-men to that! That’ll preach! Again, love

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Paul! I promise you I’ll include the experiential insight in my St. Croix and my other keynotes coming up at the beginning of 2017. Looking forward to sharing my experiences. Much love.

    Liked by 1 person

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