Sermon delivered at Gordon Chapel by Jeff Lowndes (Reader) Sun 21 August 2016.
In our Gospel lesson today, there are two people who are Bent out of Shape.
The first person Bent out of Shape was the woman bent over for 18 yrs.
Do you remember what you were doing eighteen years ago – in 1998! Where were you then, what were you doing? Can you imagine being bent over in pain from then until now. But pain was just part of the problem. How could she work, get dressed, take care of her children? Put up with being an object of pity!
Imagine it! If you’ve ever had a serious injury, you can sympathise with her. There are people here today who know about pain, disability and frailty. Yet just like that bent over woman, they make it here to church to worship week after week – an example to us all and we thank them for it.
I don’t know how she coped, but she didn’t let it keep her away from worship. She went to the synagogue to worship God on the Sabbath – and Jesus just happened to be there. She didn’t ask anything of him. It’s Jesus’ initiative that sets the stage for this healing. For when Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity”. He laid his hands on her, and immediately she stood up and praised God.
The woman’s change in perspective must have been dramatic, from looking at the floor to standing tall, able to look people in the eye at last. Probably at the fringe of society, now she’s in the spotlight. Were people forced to pay more attention to her, now she was healed?
How do we see those on the fringes of our communities? Does familiarity cause us to lose compassion?
Have the para-olympics made us more aware?
Lets now meet the second person who’s Bent out of Shape. He’s the leader of the synagogue, and not a happy chappie. First, he’s offended that Jesus called this woman to the front, making her the centre of attention – and that he touched her (making himself unclean).
He’s indignant because Jesus has unsettled his ideas of acceptable Sabbath behaviour, even though the outcome is transformation for the woman. His instinct is to protect the status quo, rather than embrace the change Jesus has brought.
But, above all, he was Totally Bent out of Shape because Jesus healed this woman on the Sabbath. The law laid down a no work rule on that day, and everyone knew it. So why would Jesus disregard such a law and fail to show respect for God?
We’ve become so accustomed to this story that we too easily dismiss the honest, if misguided, concerns of the synagogue leader. If he were a fool or a knave, the story would lose force. But he holds a responsible position, and is trying to uphold what he understands to be holy. What he fails to understand is that acts of compassion are holy.
It’s as if the law, intended to reveal God’s will, has become a veil over his eyes. It’s not easy to be a leader – in the synagogue then, or the church today! Everyone in authority struggles with appropriate limits and enforcement of standards. Where do you draw the line? What exceptions do you allow? What consequences do you impose for failure to meet standards? Parents, teachers, employers, and religious leaders struggle with such issues.
So how did Jesus Christ view the Sabbath itself? The gospels mention the Sabbath about 50 times and Jesus opposes the Sabbath Law in many of them. He said that The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath and that the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28). This story is but one example. Here, Jesus calls us not use rules to the extent that we lose sight of the person in need. Rules are there to protect – but they can be misused.
Where would we be without our NHS and all those who work to heal us, even on a Sunday!
Note that the synagogue leader doesn’t rebuke Jesus or address him directly, possibly because he’s heard that Jesus has bested other religious leaders. Nor does he rebuke the woman who, after all, did not request this healing. Instead, he addresses the crowd, thus delivering an indirect rebuke both to Jesus and to the woman.
Even though we understand that he was wrong, we must admire his willingness to carry out what he believed to be his Godly responsibility to uphold the Sabbath, even at the risk of having to match wits with Jesus. He’s saying that there’s 6 days to work, so come and be healed then, but not on the Sabbath.
Can you picture that synagogue leader now – trying to firmly establish who was right and who was in charge. We all know people like that, even in the church!
Perhaps he thought that this young prophet Jesus, had the power to heal, which was good – but didn’t have the maturity to use his gift properly. That he should have waited a few hours and healed the woman after sunset, then he wouldn’t be in violation of the law. That would be the way to honour God and heal this woman.
The hypocrisy of the synagogue leader has to do with his inconsistency: He believes that the law permits helping animals on the Sabbath – but not humans.
He tries to be clever, he didn’t tell Jesus not to heal on the Sabbath. Instead, he told the crowd not to come for healing on the Sabbath. He knew he couldn’t control Jesus, but he could control
them. They’d to live with him day by day – he’s in charge – and they know it!
But Jesus wasn’t about to give this man the last word. Although the man hadn’t criticised him directly, Jesus answered directly – he answered him and those who shared his mindset – thus he is also speaking to us, here – now! “You hypocrites!” he said, “Doesn’t each one of you free his ox or his donkey from the stall on the Sabbath, and lead him away to water? Ought not this woman to be freed from her condition on the Sabbath day?”
Luke tells us that Jesus’ opponents were put to shame and the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him. I’m sure that the crowd was rejoicing at the healing of their neighbour – delighted to see her made whole. But I think that they were also rejoicing to see the synagogue leader put in his place. For years they had lived under his thumb, and others like him. How good it must have felt to see Jesus stop him in his tracks – to put him straight!
So, where do we place ourselves in this story? It’s always tempting to assume that we’re with Jesus, cheering his actions, rejoicing at this healing. However, an honest examination might place us elsewhere – following the crowd, our peers. Do we point the finger – are we more of a barrier than a believer?
Well, what does this story have to do with us? What can it teach us. Just this! It tells us that it’s never against God’s will for us to help people in need – that there’s never a bad time to do good things. It tells us that there’s never a wrong time to make things right. It tells us that it’s never unholy to do a holy deed.
Jesus tells us to love God and to love our neighbour. In this story, he shows us what that means. It means helping where help is needed – helping when help is needed – doing what is needed.
Jesus calls us to act compassionately – showing us that there is no bad time to do a good deed. NT love is not passive – it is an action.
So, let’s follow his example. We might not be able to solve all the world’s problems, but we can help someone – though we may need to be brave – to step outside the box – to be different.
So what does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy? Christians today tend to treat the matter of holy observance casually. For many, such observance involves, at best, an hour of public worship each week. Outside that hour, we feel free to engage in work and shopping and much else.
But we need to recover a sense of holy time – time to honour God – the synagogue erred by being too legalistic about the Sabbath, we are more likely to err by being too casual about the ways and times that we honour God.
Our church leaders, clergy and laity need support and encouragement – not sniping from the sidelines and the constant ‘no change here – we’ve always done it this way’.
We need to be positive and constructive – so let’s have feedback from you – how can we help you worship better – how can we encourage you? How can we make the Sabbath (our Sunday) to be
enjoyed and not endured.
As a Diocesan Reader, I serve in many churches and it is the same wherever I go. Too often I hear the excuses given by people who don’t come to church – some are ok, but so often they are feeble – almost an insult to God – who made the Sabbath to be enjoyed – do you enjoy it?
What better way to show our faith than to invite visitors and friends to join us in church – to make that introduction, and let God take it from there.
Of course it’s not essential to come to church every Sunday, but we should make the effort to do so as often as possible. Why? – because not only does it teach and feed us, it sets an example to those who have doubts, to the young, and it encourages those around us, and that act alone helps us in our worship.
But our service is not just here – it is when we accept the call to go out ‘to love and serve The Lord’. Words are important – but actions speak louder than words. Let’s look for those who ‘fall between the cracks’ in our community and the wider world – defend those who need us when rules drive them to despair. We can do this at any time no matter our age – a letter to an MP, the Council, a burocratic body – we can make a difference – we are called to make that difference.
We know what we have to do – we are to emulate Jesus – be pro-active and seek those who need that kind word, healing, compassion and love – and to do it whenever and wherever we can.