30 March 2014

posted 28 Mar 2014, 09:22 by C S Paul

30 March 2014

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fifth Sunday of  Fifty Days Lent  -  (Kfiphtho Crippled Woman Sunday) 

Gospel Reading for this Sunday - Luke 13: 10 - 17 
New King James Version (NKJV)

A Spirit of Infirmity

10 Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 

11 And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. 

12 But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” 

13 And He laid Hishands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

14 But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”

15 The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? 

16 So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”

17 And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

Bent and Broken - by Rev. Dr. Luke Bouman, Valparaiso University

Bent and Broken

When you sit opposite from Lorena, you don't notice that there is anything amiss. She is a spry and sparkling example of 86 years old at its best, when seated. She sits up, looks you in the eye, and makes casual conversation with a rapier wit on almost any topic. She picks up her teacup and scones like there is no difference between the two of you. Nothing is out of place..., that is, until she stands up.

It is then that the 86 years seem to drop on her body like a heavy weight, born about the shoulders, crushing weight bearing down upon her small, and now frail looking body. Deterioration of the spine, the result of years of degenerative disease, has taken its toll and it leaves Lorena bent and broken. As she stands, the sparkle is gone out of her eyes and the breath is drawn, less with casual ease, and more with intense labor. You wish it were possible to attach a string to her head, like a marionette puppet, and pull her up straight. But her body is taught, not limp, gripped with pain, bent in agony.

Yet, without complaint she labors to the door, opens it and lets you out. You know, more often than not, that she will now take some medication that will ease her pain, but dull her eyes to a different state of glaze, not with pain, but into that gentle oblivion that will soon have her resting and sleeping for the duration of the dose. Doctors can treat Lorena, but they cannot cure what bends her to the point of breaking.

I think of Lorena as I read this text for today, wondering if her future is my future. I think of her and pray for her, body and soul. I also, truth be known, say a little prayer of sorts for myself, thankful that I am not bent and broken like that. But in the moment that I say this prayer, I know that it betrays a lie. Closer to the truth is that I am thankful that my bent and broken nature is not visible to any but the most trained of eyes, perhaps visible only to the eyes of God.

I came across this language in, of all places, the science fiction writings of C. S. Lewis. The author of such diverse works as Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia also wrote a trilogy of science fiction works, though little known. In them he tries to describe what Sin is, to beings who do not know. The word his hero finally settles on is "bent." By bent, I take Lewis to mean, misshapen, not the way we were made to be, and not fit for our intended purpose. We are all of us, bent: some, like the woman in our Gospel for today and Lorena, literally bent over, the rest of us, simply out of shape, not as God intended.

Bound and Set Free

The difficulty with this is that in Luke's telling of this story the woman is not only "bent over" but also "bound." In fact the major language of Jesus' action for the woman is "untying." As I looked through the Greek text for this sermon, I was struck by the use of this very common word. It was, in fact, the first verb that I learned to conjugate in New Testament Greek class: "to loose" or untie. Here it shows up several times: Jesus "sets the woman free" in verse 12, in verse 15 he reminds his critics that they also "untie" their cattle so they can drink on the Sabbath, in verse 16, Jesus reminds us that he has just "freed" (older versions say, "loosed") the woman from her bond.

Of course, modern politically correct forces will talk about how words like "bondage" and "slavery" carry baggage that we don't want to address, but no one told Jesus or Luke to be politically correct. Here they identify the problem, the root of the woman's bent shape, as a bondage. But as the story continues, you find that the woman is not the only one impacted. The ruler of the Synagogue is also enslaved, and by the same force, though the symptoms might look different: one visibly bent, the other with a spirit misshapen by a false sense of religious piety and obligation.

We notice that the woman was set free by Jesus, but what of the leader of the Synagogue? Was he also set free by Jesus' words? We can all see the weight of a spirit of illness that might weigh a woman down. We all recognize the demons of addiction that drown people in their own desperate search for relief from life's pains. We might understand the dark lords of depression that ensnare us in a quagmire of shame and self loathing. But what can we do about the spirits of personal piety for religious justification? Do we know these demons enough to see the weight of their pride bending us out of shape, making of us creatures that seek to have God and God's laws serve us rather than the opposite? Are those of us weighed down and bent by the hidden demons of "right doctrine" or "clean living" also set free by Jesus?

The answer is yes! The woman does not come to Jesus to seek healing? He seeks her out and calls her over. He sets her free because he chooses for her to be free. In Jesus, God is doing all of that for all of humanity. God does not wait for us to come to some understanding of our bent shapes. God joins us in the very depths of our possession. God, in Christ Jesus, takes on the full weight of our Sin and experiences our "bent-ness" on the cross. And God renders its power meaningless over us, even when we still seem more intent on holding on to it. Even though the ruler of this Synagogue is shamed by Jesus for the moment, will he recognize in due time that the woman's liberation on the Sabbath is his liberation as well? Luke does not tell us, we are left to ponder.

The Liberating Day

All of this comes back to the question of what the Sabbath day is for? Of course there are many and varied answers. We have Sabbath by God's command, as a day of rest. St. Augustine added to that answer when he prayed, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord." Perhaps it is out of longing for God that we have the Sabbath. My Lutheran roots suggest to me that my Sabbath rest involves something more, something deeper than just being in God. God does something for me on the Sabbath. God meets me and transforms me on the Sabbath. In this context, I'd like to be so bold as to suggest that God unties me, God sets me free.

Our worship services, especially with resources that have been developed in the last 50 years, help us to understand just that. We begin, whether with confession or a thanksgiving, in the waters of our Baptism. It is here that God's liberating word first comes to us and here that our weekly journey reconnects us to that word. In joy we gather and sing with other Christians also once bound, still bound, in need of being loosed. We drink from the sweet cup of God's liberating word, read and spoken as by Christ himself. We speak of our commitment to the world and its healing in prayer as we begin to feel the weight bending our lives lifted from our shoulders. We rejoice at the table as we experience the Living Word coming into us bodily, giving us a foretaste of the feast of freedom that is to come. We are blessed as finally, set free by the Word, we are set loose on the world, where the liberation we have experienced becomes the liberation we practice.

And underneath it all, surrounding it all, infused in it all is God, the God of freeing, life-giving Grace. God meets us in worship, frees us from the weight of our Sin, and then binds us together with others, a community unleashed (dare I say "loosed) upon the world. Now lest we become too giddy with our new found freedom, we need to be reminded that we will be back again. In a week's time we will need God's "loosing" yet again, from the weights and fetters of our Sin. It will be that way always until God's kingdom finally comes among us fully in Christ. But at least we have gained a glimpse of what God is up to with the Sabbath. We taste, we see, we are touched and transformed by the boundless love and grace of God. The result is wholeness, however fleeting for now, as the foretaste of the cosmic wholeness that God has promised to all creation in the fullness of time.

What joy is found in this experience. We are now free for one more thing: honesty. We can be honest about how we are bent and broken. We can be honest about the bondage that enslaves us. We no longer have to hide. We are free to welcome the Christ who comes, sees us, like the woman, weighed down, and bids us come and be made whole.

For Lorena, for the ruler of the synagogue, for me, even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.




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