A Sermon for Fourteenth Pentecost
Have you ever witnessed someone get their life back?
Have you ever witnessed the gift of life flooding back into someone after it seemed like all hope was lost?
Perhaps you are thinking about those dramatic "made for the movies" moments when CPR is administered and the person who was dead begins to breathe again. Or when a person has been traumatically injured and they are miraculously restored to health in ways that the doctors never could have promised.
I am thinking much more broadly, to include even the times when someone's life has become so small, so depressed, so heavy with grief or anger, so limited through the changes and chances of this life that they have forgotten how to live. No joy, no hope, no purpose . . and then all of a sudden something happens to crack open the window and let the Light of Life back in. The cramped quarters of a narrow outlook are expanded, the fog of depression begins to lift, the emotions of grief and anger loosen their choke—hold on the person's life and suddenly a ray of sunshine begins to restore, regenerate, even to resurrect them to a new life.
Have you ever seen a miracle like this?
Maybe you have experienced it yourself when your life was restored?
Maybe you wish it would happen right now?
I have been praying over the Gospel reading for this week and I believe that every one of us comes to Jesus at some point in our lives, on the Sabbath or any of the other six days of the week, requesting to get our life back.
The woman who comes to Jesus in the synagogue was probably just coming for worship as she did every Shabbat, or Saturday. As a daughter of Abraham she knew the Torah, she knew the commandment to worship the Lord your God and to keep the Sabbath holy because it reminded all the children of Israel that God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, delivered them through the dangerous Red Sea waters, and God gave them back their lives as free people in the land of Canaan. This woman was not seeking out special treatment. She wasn't stopping the worship service with cries for help. But Jesus noticed that she was not free. Her life was not her own. She was bound up with a crippling illness that kept her bent over and as enslaved as the Israelites in Egypt. Jesus has pity on this woman, the same way that God had pity on the people enslaved in Egypt, "I have heard the cry of my people. I will deliver them into a land flowing with milk and honey." Jesus can see the misery of this woman and the diminishment of her life, and he says, "Woman, you are set free of your ailment."
Right then and there, she gets her life back. She straitens up her spine. She is freed from pain. She can look ahead to a new future instead of only staring at the ground. But I think that there is one more piece that lets us know that she is really free and fully alive — the woman begins praising God. She lifts up her voice and gives thanks to God for the restoration of life that she has experienced in Jesus' hands.
You see, I have also witnessed people who are physically restored to health, yet their spirit is still in life—destroying pain. You can have your spine straightened and still have a bent crooked little heart. You can have the physical disease removed, and yet the spiritual disease persists. The woman in the Gospel could have responded, "What took you so long, God. I've been suffering with this deformity for 18 long years! Couldn't you have healed me sooner?" Sometimes healing comes, but the light of life is still absent. Even though our physical limitations are removed and the shackles are unlocked, we may still be bound up with the evil spirit that cannot connect with God's divine and abundant life. Have you ever known someone like this? When someone's whole life purpose is to focus on the ways they are limited and not blessed.
On the flip side, I've met people who have never experienced any physical healing and yet still the light of life enters in and burns brightly. Yesterday, I celebrated the funeral of Ethelyn Gebrowsky and though I never knew her as an active member of All Saints', you all described to me a woman who was bent over, crippled with pain and in a wheelchair . . and yet the light of life burned so brightly in her that it touched you deeply. She was an example of faithfulness and prayer and praising God. Jesus had touched her and healed her, even though her body was not straightened up, her Spirit was fit as a fiddle.
You see, God wants all of us to be ultimately free. Free to praise to God and share that love and joy with everyone we meet. The authorities in the synagogue who criticize Jesus for healing the woman on the Sabbath have simply forgotten the purpose of God's Sabbath. They have been so busy obeying the rules of Torah, that they themselves have lost the freedom that Torah delivers. They see Jesus act of healing as an act of work, forbidden on Shabbat. Jesus has another perspective. Jesus sees only compassion for the woman, just as God hears the cries of Israel enslaved in Egypt, and he sets her free from her chains of illness because God wants her to be filled with the light of life and share that love and joy with everyone she meets. Freeing someone is not work, it is pure gift.
So, I wonder today, where are we enslaved? Where are we chained up in shackles that keep us from praising God? Where are we bent over and unable to greet our neighbor face to face? Maybe you are struggling through a physical ailment. Maybe you have been chained up by the captor of resentment and anger? Perhaps, the light of life is dim because of fear or grief? Maybe we have simply forgotten the practice of giving praise because for so long we have only noticed what is broken and crippled?
Whatever has you bound up and bent over, I invite you to seek Jesus out. Don't wait another day. For us, Sunday is the day of resurrection, the day we became freed from the power of death. On this day of God's deliverance from the ultimate chains of mortality, ask Jesus to set you free from your ailment. Tell Jesus that you would like your life back and let the light of life fill you up with such joy that you cannot keep silent. We will know that you have been set free because your life will be praising God and sharing that love with everyone you meet. Amen.
—The Rev. Adrien Dawson
August 21, 2016