“The Status of Dignity”
21 August 2016
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
Now he 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.
When I was a child,
My mother would set the Thanksgiving table four or five days prior to the gathering.
Once it was set, she was free to work on the meal;
Thawing the turkey,
Making the stuffing,
Baking the pies,
Pealing the squash and potatoes.
I always had to be especially careful in the dining room,
Less I bump the table and break a piece of Mom’s precious china.
The end result, of course,
Was a grand meal, attended to by family and friends,
Wrapped in love, giving thanks to the Lord
For all the Divine blessings we had received.
Delving into our wonderful Gospel lesson for today from Luke
Is a lot like setting the Thanksgiving table.
Of course, once the table is set,
The meal begins,
And like the formerly bent over woman in the story,
She “began praising God!”
Thanksgiving and praise are beautiful things.
For us Biblical nerds,
There is a lot for us to consider setting the Gospel’s table.
· This is an account only found in Luke;
You’ll not find this in Matthew, Mark, or John.
· We have a story of a miracle; a healing
Tainted by religious controversy.
· It is a narrative of a woman injured by the spirit of Satan,
Bound for eighteen long years.
· There is the leader of the synagogue being charged with hypocrisy
As well as violations against religious law.
· There is a question of “who’s in and who is out”
When it comes to the people known as Israel.
· And, where I’d like to start the discussion today,
Is the simple observation that Jesus sees this woman.
This woman appeared, Luke wrote.
She appeared in the crowd
In the synagogue where he was teaching,
Presumably in the region where Jesus had been conducting his iterant ministry;
Between Galilee in the North
And Jerusalem in the South.
She doesn’t see Jesus.
She is bent over.
She is looking at the ground.
She can only look down.
She had been unable to look people in the eye when speaking and listening.
Being bent over means that she had lost over the past 18 years
All social fluidity and
Ease of conversation.
This bent over woman had lost
All dignity and social standing in her community.
Jesus sees this woman.
Though she is bent over and a fraction of her height,
She would have been surrounded by people of greater height.
He picks her out in the midst of the crowded synagogue.
Jesus sees her and chooses her
Even though this woman gave no indication
That she came for any favors from Jesus.
This leads me to the first conclusion about our Gospel for today:
Jesus seeks out the lost, the least likely,
The most easily overlooked people in the world.
It is his intention to seek out those who are different than the crowd,
The last, the least, the lost,
Even though they may not want to be found.
Jesus is on the hunt,
And he isn’t satisfied until his Father’s will
For healing and wellness is fulfilled.
If one searches rigorous demographic data
It doesn’t take long to discover that people with disabilities are the least likely to self-identify with a community of faith.
people with different abilities
Are the most unchurched people in America.
It is sad, but true.
Unlike Jesus who intentionally seeks out people different than the norm,
Congregations worship in buildings that exclude people
With special needs.
Services are conducted without inclusion in leadership or music.
Sadly, for many, people just freeze them out,
Or, worse yet, nice Christian people simply ask them to leave.
The very people Jesus seeks to save,
Organized religion finds every excuse to exclude.
Let’s not be that church.
Let’s not be those Christians.
Let’s be more like Jesus.
Jesus call’s this woman closer,
Tells her “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
He lays hands on her,
And she immediately stands up straight
And began praising God.
Imagine for a moment,
The joy this woman experienced when she stood up straight
For the first time in 18 years!
She could look people in the eye.
She could carry on a conversation.
Salvation was for her, enlarged.
She had been socially imprisoned, and now freed.
Her dignity had been restored.
She had been imprisoned by a spirit
Jesus named as Satan,
But now, she had shaken loose of it,
Simply at the hand of a Savior who sought her out
And reclaimed her as God’s own child.
Salvation is dipped up in far more flavors than eternal life.
What is it that imprisons or enslaves you?
What holds you back?
Where is Satan holding onto the scruff of your neck
Giving you a good thrashing as if you are in a death grip?
Where has your dignity been crushed?
It is time to experience the touch of Jesus,
To stand up straight,
And to be freed.
Salvation isn’t the only concept Jesus intends to make bigger.
Just like Jesus will soon call the traitor and chief tax collector, Zacchaeus,
A “Son of Abraham,”
Jesus enlarges the circle of who he considers people of Israel.
In the larger picture,
Jesus enlarges the circle of who he includes in the kingdom of God.
Indeed, throughout his life Jesus is constantly making the family of Abraham bigger, and bigger, and bigger.
Before long, non-Jews – Gentiles – will be added to the family.
This sense of inclusion is very important to understand Jesus’ trajectory and ministry.
Inclusion into God’s kingdom is the foundation
Of Christian experience.
To be certain,
One barrier often cited by people with different abilities, is this:
Jesus healed the bent over woman,
Blind Bartimaeus by the side of the road,
And the guy lowered through the hole cut in the roof,
But he hasn’t healed me.
The pastor in me, needs to pause, take a deep breath, and ask,
“He hasn’t healed you yet?”
… meaning, that one anticipates healing at some future time.
“How do you know you haven’t already been healed?”
… meaning, can you imagine what your life would be like without Jesus in your life?
“What does healing look like to you?”
… in other words, let’s talk about expectations.
Where do your expectations intersect with God’s grace?
This is an interesting concept
That floats to the surface
With our Gospel today:
Where do your expectations intersect with God’s grace?
Another theological barrier often cited by some is this:
“If I’ve been created in the nearly perfect image of God
Then my physical, mental, developmental, medical disability
Isn’t anything that needs to be healed or cured.”
I agree whole heartedly!
Like the first chapter of Genesis so eloquently states,
“Man and woman were created in the image of God,”
And they … “were very good.”
- Genesis 1:27, 31b
The difference with our Gospel lesson today
Was the introduction of Satan in this woman’s past.
Luke goes to great effort
To indicate that it was a spirit that crippled her,
And that it was Jesus who named that spirit, “Satan.”
The lesson that can be learned from the Gospel,
Choreographed with our real world experience,
Is that we need to be real careful about judging people,
Especially when it comes to who needs healed, and,
Distinguishing between who is normal and who isn’t normal.
The approach Jesus takes consistently
Is to treat people as individuals,
Not as groups.
He approaches this bent over woman
As a friend in need
Doing all that he can to bring her salvation.
The last item to be set on our Thanksgiving table
Is the miserable leader of the Synagogue.
Leaders of organized religion are often the most miserable pups,
Present company included,
Both in the Bible,
And with us today.
This man is indignant.
He harangues Jesus to the crowds,
“There are six days on which work ought to be done;
Come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”
In other words,
“Can’t you wait, ma’m, JUST ONE MORE DAY?”
No she cannot!
This helpless victim in the cosmic struggle between good and evil
Has been living in hell for 18 years!
That’s a long time;
And she can’t wait one second longer.
By the way, what points to God more powerfully
Than channeling the power of God through miracles?
And oh, that Law you seem to love to quote,
With a pinch of spice and a dash of irony,
Is the same law you hypocrites break when
You tie and untie your ox or donkey
On the Sabbath.
If you’re spewing judgement, Jesus is teaching,
Talk to the hand.
Nobody loves a hypocrite,
Especially a publically exposed hypocrite!
The dignity the bent over woman gained
Was the pride the leader of the Synagogue lost
When his hypocrisy was exposed.
Translated for us today,
Our Gospel is a clear warning against legalism.
Legalism always exposes the hypocrite.
Since we are all guilty of sin,
A legalistic approach to scripture
Always does harm to ourselves and to God’s kingdom.
Likewise, Jesus states
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets;
I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
- Matthew 5:17
This makes Jesus Christ as the only judge any of us need to face.
To judge others become idolatrous,
Because judgment is exclusively our Lord’s prerogative.
Lastly, using scripture as a legalistic weapon against others
Is to turn our backs on the overwhelming gift of grace
That Jesus brings into our world.
It is by God’s grace that each of us have been saved through faith.
It is by God’s grace that Jesus died for our sins.
It is by God’s grace that Jesus brings to us salvation,
Served up in every scoop and flavor.
Christ is the human animation
Of God’s gift of grace to humanity.
Like the bent over woman who Jesus heals,
Who immediately stands and praises God,
So too should we take our place
At God’s table of Thanksgiving
And join together with our praise.
Judge not; leave the judgment up to God.
Err on the side of grace; sit on your legalistic tongue.
Treat people as individuals; each a beloved child of God’s kingdom.
Seek out people who the rest of the world ignores; meet their needs, exceed their needs.
Beloved friends and neighbors,
Our Gospel today has set a table of Thanksgiving,
Resting solidly upon the rock of Jesus Christ,
Graciously offering to each of us a feast
For which it is incumbent upon us
To offer up our praise and glory to God.