Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 18, 2010 - Tyranny of the "Always"

The Tyranny of the Always
Luke 13.10-17

Luke 13:10-17 NRSV
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 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. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.
14 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."
15 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? 16 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?" 17 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.


Healing or Relief?
There is the story of a man who came to a holy woman seeking healing. The holy woman listened patiently as the man listed his complaints and then asked, "Do you really want to be cured?" The man was shocked by the question and said, "Of course I want to be cured. Why else would I have come?" To which the holy woman replied, "Most come, not to be cured, that is too painful. They come for relief" (3).


Some hope hidden in the human heart reaches out to God when life stumbles along the edge between life and death. We pray at such times – speaking awkward yet vividly real prayers. We call on those who stand a little closer to God to join us in praying: it might be the pastor that we call; it might be the holy woman in your circle of friends; it might be the whole church. We pray for healing.
Today, we have been part of a service of healing. Bring your prayers for healing; pray for yourself; pray for others; pray for the world that still needs healing. We invite you to reach out to God for the healing your heart desires.


It was an ordinary Sabbath Day and an ordinary village. Being the Sabbath, Jesus had come to the synagogue to worship with others. It was his habit because in the synagogue he found the center of Jewish faith and life. Here too he found people hungry to hear the Word of God.
[TASK:] Let us focus on each character’s encounter with Jesus. Three characters filled out this story, in addition to Jesus:
+there was a woman who had been bent for 18 years;
+The leader of the synagogue was there;
+And, of course, witnessing everything was the crowd.
In order to hear the message of this text, let’s stand with each of these characters in turn.

I. First, we’ll stand with the woman.
A village woman came into the synagogue one day. She was probably known to the other people in the village. People didn’t move around much in those days. Only Jesus might have been stranger there, traveling about as he did. The notable fact about this woman is that she was bent over; the Bible does not tell us what happened that she was bent over like this. Was there an accident? A birth defect? Was she an older woman who suffered with osteoporosis? The Bible only tells us that she had been bent over like this for 18 long years. Think about that woman this morning. Is her story in any way your story, too? Can we identify with a woman who has suffered until her body is bent?
1. What parts of your life and body are bent as you come to church this morning?
Our *bodies* are bent:
+Old age slows us down;
+Some of us carry the scars of old injuries;
+Some of us are broken in ways that modern medicine cannot fix.
Our *spirits* are bent:
+Your spirit may be bent with burdens of the heart;
+Or Mistakes made long ago;
+Perhaps loneliness, loss of someone you cannot live without;
+Guilt for which we can find no forgiveness;
+A grudge which weighs on your shoulders like a ton of bricks.

Any of these might leave us bent over, unable to stand up straight – like the woman in the story who had been bent over for 18 long years.

Worse, after 18 years the tyranny of the "always" sets in. She has always been that way; she and everyone else assumes that she will always be this way. Our search for a cure becomes half-hearted; our words of encouragement become muted and only half-hearted. Even prayers for her healing give in to the apparent fact that she must always be bent over. Don't we do the same? Eighteen years becomes forever. A long time *already* predicts the future that things will *always* be just this way. We give up even on the power of God to heal and change us, to give us new lives.

2. Now, with the woman hear Jesus speak the healing word. What would you have Jesus know; what would you most desire to hear Jesus say; how long has this burden rested so heavily on your back?
Only know that on a particular Sabbath day, Jesus saw a woman who had been bent for 18 years. Then, during the offering, he got up and went to her with a word and a touch. And she stood up straight to shout, “Hallelujah!” Then, during the Doxology, she danced a jig across the chancel as the congregation sang, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

3. One more point about her healing: Jesus didn’t ask, and she made no request. Seeing the need, Jesus simply stepped forward to heal. Such is God’s grace.
And such is the ministry of grace to which Jesus calls us who would minister in his name. What are we waiting for? An engraved invitation from the broken hearted? A four-page application from the hungry? An ID card from the naked? Seeing that she was bent, Jesus went to her with a healing touch and the healing word, and *SHE STOOD UP STRAIGHT*.
Let our worship train us for hearing and for openness to the cries of the needy.

II. Next, let's look at this event with the ruler of the synagogue.
My guess is that he had known this woman for many years. In fact, I imagine that he had prayed for her by name many times over those 18 years – perhaps at the bedside or during the *prayers for others* in the Sabbath Services.

14 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."

1. When Jesus healed her on the Sabbath, he was offended. You see, HE WAS JEALOUS FOR THE LORD who has asked that we set aside just one day for worship while leaving us six for every other sort of work. He knew that if we fail to keep worship at the center of our lives that human nature is to put ourselves and our importance at the center. So, he said, “Healing has a place, just not on the Sabbath.”
But, God’s will, not a set of rules, is to govern the lives of those whom God has called out in grace. Experiencing grace means living graciously, at all times and in every possible way.

2. WHAT DOES THIS TELL US ABOUT GOD? Remember God’s commandment that we keep the Sabbath Day. Basically, the command said, “You shall do no work on the Sabbath Day.” In Jesus’ time, people believed that the only activity worthy of the Sabbath was praising and worshiping God. Every sort of work, every chore at its heart takes care of my business and my needs. Even conversation and lessons which take care of me and my life are unworthy on the Sabbath. Convinced of this, they set aside the Sabbath to God only. It was a beautiful thought.

But, suddenly, because of Jesus, the ruler has a problem. Jesus has healed on the Sabbath, and of course that means God has just healed on the Sabbath. So, what does this healing say about *God*?

On the Sabbath, the people set aside very work and thought which is for themselves in order to praise and worship God only. That God has healed says that God also just sets aside all prerogatives of being God – even receiving the praises and worship of the people on the Sabbath – in order to care for the people God has created with such loving care.
That’s what Jesus tried to explain to the Synagogue Ruler – and now to us.

III. [The Crowd]
The crowd is the third character I want us to stand alongside as this healing unfolds. The crowd saw all this and responded with rejoicing. They did not rejoice because the bad old ruler of the synagogue lost an argument with Jesus. They had nothing to gain from that. They rejoiced because they, like the woman who was healed, saw in all of this the power of God breaking into their lives.
1. If you had been standing with the crowd, seeing all this, what would your response have been?
A. The bent-over-woman knew exactly what to do; she danced around the synagogue shouting the praise of God.
B. Or perhaps we stand wondering if Jesus will see *our need* and work the healing miracle in our lives.
C. We watch the ruler of the synagogue as he stands red faced with hands on his hips.

We stand in the crowd, we have seen all of this unfolding. Now, what will our response be? Will we join the tyranny of the “always” and declare grace off limits on the Sabbath? Will we dance with the bubbling woman” Will we follow Jesus in other ministries of healing and grace? The decision and response are ours to make.

CONCL: Imitating Jesus
Illus: In Scott Peck's book, Further Along the Road Less Traveled, he tells the story of a lecturer telling the story of Jesus' being called to restore the daughter of the leader of the synagogue. As Jesus is going to the leader’s house, a woman who has suffered from hemorrhages for years reaches out from the crowd and touches his robe. He feels her touch and turns around and asks, "Who touched me?" The woman comes forward and confesses that she was the one who had reached out to him for healing, and then Jesus goes on to the house of the synagogue leader.

After telling the story, the lecturer asked the audience of 600 mostly pastors and church leaders which character they identified with.
--When asked who identified with the woman, about a hundred raised their hands.
--When asked who identified with the anxious synagogue leader, still more raised their hands.
--When asked who identified with the curious crowd, almost everyone else raised their hands.
--But when asked who identified with Jesus, only six people raised their hands.

Something is very wrong here. Of 600 pastors and church leaders, only one out of a hundred identified with Jesus. Maybe more actually did but were afraid to raise their hands lest that seem arrogant. But again, something is wrong with our concept of Christianity if it seems arrogant to identify with Jesus. That is exactly what we are supposed to do! We're supposed to identify with Jesus, act like Jesus, be like Jesus. We come to receive the healing which Christ alone can give; then we go out, sent, to share the healing of Christ with those who have not heard (2).



Notes:
2. Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth
3. Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict, (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 128.

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