August 22, 2010
Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 22, 2010
The Rev. Leslie E. Chadwick
Jeremiah 1:4-10 Psalm 71:1-6 Hebrews 12:18-29 Luke 13:10-17
What do you think people are looking for when they come through the doors of St. Tim’s? Our seminarian Peter Doddema asked this question last summer after working full time in the office on weekdays. He made me think. On one level, people come looking for a variety of things: food cards, shelter from the rain or sun, AA meetings, a safe place for their children to learn and play, a quiet place to pray. But on another level, the people who come through our doors are looking for the same thing: They want to be seen and accepted for who they truly are.
I wonder what the woman so bent over is looking for when she wanders through the doors of the synagogue on the Sabbath. Maybe she is looking for Jesus. He is the teacher that day. He has quite a reputation as a healer, but I doubt this woman expects to be healed. She doesn’t ask Jesus for anything. The weakness in her body has become inseparable from who she is. She’s lived with it for more than 18 years. When you live in pain that long, the pain becomes part of you. It’s hard to imagine yourself without it. You barely remember a time before it took over. Some might call her weakness arthritis; others osteoporosis; Luke calls it an infirmity brought on by a spirit. Whatever it is, it has gradually bowed her over more and more, year by year. It has bent not only her spine and body, but also her spirit.
Even if this woman knows Jesus is in the synagogue, she probably doesn’t see him as someone able to help her. This woman can’t see much of anything except the floor as she shuffles her way across it, trying to keep from falling. She does not have the capacity to reach out to him like others he’s healed in the past. She has none of the boldness of the leper who truly sees who Jesus is, bows and begs him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Jesus doesn’t dream of doing anything less in response to such boldness: “I do choose—be made clean!” This bent woman has little in common with Mary Magdalene, who had 7 demons driven out of her and then, picked up and followed Jesus with the confidence of a male disciple. No, this woman is tied down to what her life has become; she cannot see any other possibilities.
Even though she can’t see the teacher from her corner of the synagogue, he sees her for who she really is. He calls her over to him and says, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity. You are loosed from your weakness.” He stops what he’s doing and lays his hands on her. And this woman, who could not imagine a life apart from her weakness, immediately stands up and finds her voice. She begins praising God. Jesus does not just see people, lay hands on them, and heal them. He also teaches them how to stand up straight and without fear to people, prejudices, and social forces that would keep them down. He shows them by example what it means to stand up to these powers. Minutes after he heals this woman, he stands up tall against the leader of the synagogue. The leader is furious with Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Jesus has been told before what the rules are. The Pharisees and scribes set him straight when his disciples eat grain from the fields on the Sabbath. Jesus responds then, “The son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Later, he heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath and argues, “Should you save life or destroy it on the Sabbath?” Now, he has a pile of enemies, but Jesus breaks the rule again. The leader points out to the crowd, “There are six days this woman could have come here to be healed. Tell your friends to come on those days and not on this one day of rest!” But Jesus is stubborn. He wants the people to see this woman as he sees her. He tells them, “You’d untie your donkey and give it water on the Sabbath. Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, your very own sister be untied from what binds her on this day and given what she needs to live?”
Jesus does not simply free and heal people for them to stay bent inside. He sends them out to tell the world what they have seen. He expects them to stand up without fear on behalf of others. A movie called Avatar, which came out in late 2009, explores this connection between seeing and standing tall. The main character, Jake Sully, is unable to walk. His spine is injured and his legs are useless. He is chosen to be part of an experiment to get to know creatures on a different planet. Scientists plug him into a machine that transports him into a new body; he’s suddenly strong, fast, and able to stand up tall. He’s sent into the wilderness of the new planet to befriend the native people. Even though he is straight and strong in that new body, he is still bent inside. He spies on the people to betray them to powerful men who want the natural resources beneath the tree of Souls, the people’s most sacred ground. One of the gifts that the natives have is the ability to see one another deeply. Jake’s mentor from that world falls in love with him and insists, “I see you.” Jake is unable to see anyone or anything except on the surface, but the more time he spends with the people, the better his sight becomes. Once he has betrayed them, he sees with painful clarity what he has done; he finally learns to stand up to the forces that would bow the people down. As he is dying, he says to his mentor, “I see you.” At that point, he experiences true healing and life in his spirit.
Jesus calls us to see each other as he sees us. He calls us to see flood victims in Pakistan as brothers and sisters—not just as people under a government we don’t trust or part of a religion many people in this country regard at best with suspicion. He calls us to see our fellow human beings as children of God, not just as enemies who threaten our way of life or who stand in the way of what we need for ourselves.
What were you looking for when you walked through the doors of St. Tim’s this morning? Familiarity? A little bit of quiet before you started your day? Healing? Acceptance? May you encounter here (and as you leave) the one who has known and loved you from the time he formed you in your mother’s womb. May you find the one who truly sees you and understands what you want and need. May you encounter the Lord who stood up for us so many times that his enemies bound and nailed him to a cross to keep him down. May you encounter the one whom God raised him from the dead to set us free. May you encounter the Christ who tells us not to cow in fear when the world comes to an end, but who says, “See the Son of Man coming in a cloud, stand up and raise your heads!” In a few minutes we will all be called up to the communion rail to kneel and receive the body and blood of Christ. I hope that we will all leave that rail able to stand up a little straighter than when we arrived. Standing tall, may we go forth into the world and praise God in all that we say and do. Amen.