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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
August 21 2022
Try bending at the waist, as you are able, using the back of the pew in front of them for support. Walk around and ask: how does this feel? What can you see? Can you raise your head up and look around?
The woman in today’s gospel reading didn’t have the typical “hump” of someone with osteoporosis. She was almost completely bent over. She wouldn’t have been able to look up or look at anyone face-to-face. This is how she would have gone to the market to purchase food and other items. This is the position she was in getting into and out of bed, using the toilet, bathing, cooking, and cleaning her house.
She probably didn’t have had much, if any, support from her family or the community because people genuinely thought she was possessed by a spirit, that she was being punished for something. Because in that time, it was believed that a person’s physical health was directly connected to their faith, and so she wouldn’t have been allowed to live as part of the community. And she likely would have been ignored.
Go ahead and stand – slowly. And please be seated.
We know that when Jesus healed someone it always happened on two levels: the person’s physical health was restored, and they were given back their place in the community. So the act of healing didn’t only affect the person who needed it. Everything and everyone around that person was changed.
When the woman in today’s gospel reading was able to stand up straight again, the first thing she did was praise God. Probably something along the lines of what we hear in Psalm 103 – “bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.”
As she stood up, she would have seen Jesus looking directly at her with love and grace, and calling her “daughter.” And she would have heard murmuring and maybe even some shouts of amazement from the crowd. People around her were forced to acknowledge her in a new light – and some were forced to acknowledge her in the first place – and treat her with dignity and respect.
But she also would have seen and heard anger. Because besides the noise the crowd was making, the leader of the synagogue could be heard saying, “This is the Sabbath! It isn’t right that work was done for her on this day….”
When we read this, it’s easy for us to smirk or laugh and think that the leader was wrong in what he said and believed. But the Sabbath has two origins in Scripture. The first is in the story of creation – as God rested on the seventh day, so also should all of creation.
And the second origin is in Exodus, as Sabbath rest comes as good news to enslaved people who never had a chance to rest. God’s command was extended to all – rich or poor, adult or child, human or animal. Everything and everyone needs a time to rest. So God commanded it to safeguard it for all.
In other words, the idea of Sabbath was expanded to include freedom and liberation, along with rest and renewal. And it’s this commandment that set God’s people apart from everyone else around them. None of the other cultures had a designated day of rest.
So in the gospel reading, the leader of the synagogue was defending a law that was at the heart of the Exodus covenant with God. And Jesus doesn’t dispute or reject this, but he put the woman’s health and well-being above the letter of the law or tradition.
Because he recognized that God gave the law as a gift to serve God’s children and draw them more deeply into the abundant life God offers. So when Jesus saw the woman, he called to her. Because when you think about it, there’s no better day to proclaim abundant life than on the Sabbath.
When we read the stories about the people Jesus healed, we tend to believe that they actually happened, and with good reason. We believe that people who really were sick or blind or paralyzed or bent over to the point that it affected how they lived day-to-day were healed and set free from these ailments.
But we don’t have to read too far below the surface to understand that these events are also parables for a society and a people who are spiritually blind, sick, paralyzed, or doubled over.
We know there are countless things today that take hold of us and control our lives and keep us from living God’s abundant life: fear, racism, unemployment, being judged by others, chronic illness, political division, addiction, any kind of abuse…. Any of these things can make us sick or stuck to the point that we can’t find our way through to the life God wants for us.
When Jesus healed the woman that day, he released her from the illness that prevented her from participating in God’s abundant life. And he also released the leader of the synagogue and anyone else there who had become so focused on the law of keeping Sabbath that they couldn’t rejoice at the woman’s healing.
On that day, Jesus proclaimed abundant life and release for everyone who had ever been prevented from participating in it for any reason. And when the woman left worship that day, it’s safe to assume that she carried that abundance of life with her and shared it with everyone she met.
Because while her physical transformation didn’t go unnoticed, it was the transformation of her heart, her spirit, that had the lasting impact on the community.
When we talk about Sabbath today and what it means, the fact that it’s a day of rest is still an inherent part of it. But Sabbath rest is more than just taking time for physical rest and renewal, it’s also about taking time to spiritually reconnect with God and with our neighbor.
It’s a way of living that nurtures life for ourselves, our faith community, and the community beyond our walls. Until the day she was set free, the woman who was bent over, was only partially able to experience that life. And the same goes for the temple leader and anyone who had ignored her.
And it’s hard to imagine what that day was like for them because, for many of us, being set free and experiencing God’s abundant life happens gradually instead of all at once. Where we most concretely experience it is in our day-to-day interactions:
…like when someone goes with you to a doctor’s appointment; or going lunch with friends who take your mind off of things for a few hours; or being with people who understand what you’re going through; or listens as you talk about the day that you had.
In the same way that there’s no shortage of things that prevent us from experiencing God’s abundant life today, there’s also no shortage of the ways that we can experience it. And as with most things, when we live this way, we carry the experience with us and share it with others.
Sabbath is more than just a command to rest. It’s a way of living that nurtures life for ourselves, our faith community, and the community beyond our walls. It sets us free from anything that takes hold and controls our lives and prevents us from experiencing the life God wants for us.
It’s an experience of God’s abundant life that Jesus proclaimed, and claimed, for each of us. Thanks be to God! Amen.