Sermon for August 25, 2019
Have you ever stood in line at the check-out in a grocery store annoyed at the delay? It happened to me not so long ago. Two young couples were ahead of me and they told the cashier that they were going to a wedding the next day. The cashier was delighted and wanted to know the venue and other details. On top of that she was giving the couples a brief description of the sights to see in Eagle River. When I asked for the divider to separate my stuff from theirs, she practically threw it at me. When it came my turn she started yakking to a lady behind me, which she obviously knew. It can be annoying for a couple of people to be talking over and around you. I was simmering into a low boil, and there was a dispute over a coupon where I matched her rude behavior. She was glad to get rid of me, for when the transaction was completed she did not even say “thank you”. I was not happy about the way I behaved, but when I went to another grocery store I had an opportunity to atone. Again, I was waiting in line at one of those self-checkouts. I like those because even if I lose patience and cuss at the digital voice, I am displeased with a machine and not a human being. Ahead of me I noticed two older men, who couldn’t figure out how to pay with their credit card. So I showed them. I was surprised how grateful the one man was, and he wished me a good day. I was now ready with my cart full but I noticed a man behind me who only had a handful of items. I stepped aside and asked him to please go ahead. Again, he was grateful and wished me not only a good day, but said “God bless you.” It was a simple lesson. People respond with gratitude when you notice their dilemma and offer kindness. Instead of being my usual crabby self at the crowded check-out, when I take a patient, restful approach, I notice opportunities to be a vessel for the kingdom or rule of God for others.
In the Gospel lesson we found Jesus teaching on the Sabbath. People gathered for worship at the synagogue and were glad to hear Jesus speak, the guest preacher for the day. The text said “And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for 18 years. She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight.” Perhaps she came in late for the service unable to move all that fast. Or I wonder if she had heard of Jesus and started to come forward toward him. Jesus did not ignore her and continue with his teaching. Jesus saw her; he took full notice of her. Jesus was glad she was at synagogue worship, glad that her community welcomed her and in no way excluded her because of her infirmity. Jesus called her over to him and he told her, “Woman you are set free from your ailment. Jesus laid his hands on her bent shoulders and immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. For the first time in 18 years she was able to be pain free and look at friends and family face-to-face. She praised God perhaps singing the words of the Psalm we prayed today “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits—who forgives all your sins, and heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the grave and crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.”
The text used some interesting words about her condition: “a spirit that had crippled her” and Jesus’ own words about how Satan had bound her for eighteen long years.” With the word “Satan” we might stand back and fear she was somehow possessed by a demon. But that is not the case. When Jesus said Satan bound her, he was saying her ailment was not the will of God, she was not being punished somehow. The term “satan” means adversary and there is much on this earth that is opposed to the will of God. Just think of all the misery and evil in the world that is not God’s will and which God wills to overcome. Earlier in Luke when Jesus’ followers returned to him with a report of their mission, that even demons submitted to them, Jesus said “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” Jesus came into this world to oppose Satan and insure his fall not only from heaven but work to complete Satan’s fall on earth. Every healing Jesus provided was not only some important physical relief; healing meant the victory of the Kingdom of God, a spiritual gift that would last a lifetime. Again listen to Jesus’ words, “you are set free from your ailment, the meaning is to continue to live in that freedom. Jesus called the woman a “daughter of Abraham”, a powerful affirmation of greatly she was loved by God. She was not a nobody or a no-count, she was and would always remain a daughter of God.
We are all painfully aware of the evil at work in the world. We are angry over the gun violence in the nation—not long ago a mass-shooting was prevented when a man spoke of shooting up a motel where he was employed. He was reported and police uncovered a frightening thing: the man was armed to the teeth with lots of ammunition. There all those asylum seekers at the border, and I am thinking of those from countries with neighborhoods so violent that it is not wonder they flee in search for a better life. There are problems in this country and no solution because the government seems to be crippled by a spirit of partisanship. Other evils could be mentioned, but we know of them all too well. Think of the powerful words of today’s prayer: “O God, you know that as fragile creature surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright…..Give us strength of mind and body, so that even though when we suffer because of human sin, we may rise victorious through Jesus.”
A powerful gift of freedom is the Sabbath. When Moses received the commandments on Mt. Sinai the commandment was given: “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy” with this explanation: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is Sabbath to the Lord your God…you shall not do any work….even your work animals must rest. Why? Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Lord God brought out out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” In other words remember God and all that God has provided and done for you and me. When you hear the gospel of Jesus, when you taste and see that the Lord is good at the Communion table, it is Jesus touching you and saying “you are set free from your ailment.” Rise and began praising God because Jesus died for you on the cross, meaning you are forgiven and free from the chains of guilt. Rise and began praising God for Jesus rose from the dead to set you free from the fear of death, because Jesus lives so shall we, we have the inheritance of the Promised Land, eternal life. Rise and began following Jesus with his passion for those who are shoved aside, discriminated against, ignored and hurt by the bullying of the world. Take notice and practice kindness and awareness so others may know how much God loves them.
We learned from the lesson from Isaiah that the Sabbath is to be a delight, a delight in the Lord and God’s steadfast love and mercy. The Sabbath is to be honored. It is sad when people pursue their own interests and go their own way and do not honor the Sabbath and delight in the Lord as a community of faith. I know there are reasons for not attending church. But the Sabbath is not meant to burden people with rules of what you can and cannot do. Jesus did say in the gospels the Sabbath is a gift. Hearing the gospel of God’ s love for the world, Jesus on the cross for our salvation, Jesus risen from the dead to say now nothing can ever separate us from him and his love, heals the spirit within. The healing power of Jesus makes us a people of compassion because that is the character of our God, merciful and steadfast love.
At the recent General Gathering of our Church, it was voted for the ELCA to be a sanctuary denomination. The meaning is that when dealing with the issue of immigrants, for the church action is not politics, but a matter of faith because Jesus calls us to love our neighbors. As a sanctuary denomination congregations are not called upon to do anything illegal, but decide among themselves how they may contribute help for refugees seeking to make the U.S. their new home. We are called to be a sanctuary people because we are blessed by our sanctuary God: God who is our refuge and strength, a well proven source of strength in time of need. In the words of a popular praise song, may we pray to be a sanctuary to hurting folks in our midst: “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true; and with thanksgiving I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”