(I covered the church service at a different congregation this week, so the readings were from the traditional Revised Common Lectionary)
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.
As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word.
Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will.
Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul.
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.”Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”)But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Sermon for August 21, 2016 Trinity Middle Village Pentecost + 14
I am glad to be here with all of you this morning. I am thankful for this time to lift up our prayers together, to sing God's praise, to hear and share God's word and gather around the communion table together. We did some church swapping this morning to ensure a congregation whose pastor recently left would have coverage today. There is a deacon who has been part of our community for decades currently leading worship in my church and here I am. This is the 3rd time I have led a Sunday morning worship service someplace other than St Jacobus in almost 10 years. This is also the first time in almost a year that I am using the traditional Sunday readings list. About a year ago my church changed our readings to a list called the Narrative Lectionary, which has only one reading each Sunday and follows the story or narrative of the Bible. As I looked at the readings for today, I quickly realized I could share one of the most joyful and important moments in my ministry and it would be new to you. (they have heard it at St Jacobus 3 or 4 times)
Our Gospel reading this morning tells of Jesus meeting with a woman who had a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. I met this woman once, well a young girl in the same situation. It was after my first year in Seminary. I was working on my CPE, which is an intensive, hospital based pastoral care training program for ministry students. I was at a large hospital in the city. There were about 15 students from all different faith traditions in my group and each of us was assigned certain areas as well as on call emergency hours. One morning about half way through the program, I happened to be in the pastoral care office and since I was there, one of the supervisors asked me to respond to a request from a patient for a chaplains visit. The call was from the children's ICU unit, which is often a mentally and spiritually challenging place to walk through. I had no idea what to expect. As I entered the room I meet a girl who was 16 or 17 years old and her mother. The girl was a frequent guest at the hospital due to infections and the need for IV antibiotics. She suffered from some several muscular and mental disabilities that left her unable to speak or move much. She could only communicate some with facial expressions and sounds, which her mother was proficient in interpreting. The girl also had a spinal curvature which left her significantly bent backwards. I never saw anyone with this sort of condition before and did my best to hide my shock.
Now I truly and honestly wish I could say, like Jesus, I cried out "Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” and when I laid my hands on her, she immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. That did not happen. Our first meeting was polite and nice but uneventful. I got to the know them, their difficult story and their deep trust in God. We prayed together for healing and strength. At the end the mother said "she really likes you" and I promised to stop again. My next visit a day or two later was eventful. During our conversation, the mother told me something that shocked me more than my initial meeting. As we talked about different things, our discussion led to talk about church. She mentioned that their church viewed them pretty much viewed as an annoyance and their pastor refused to baptize the girl since she could not sufficiently show she made the decision for Jesus.
My first thoughts were, "you need to find another church" but it was not really my place to push that. Our conversation moved around a bit more, then we had a time of prayer. As I left and got near the door, the mother called out "would you baptize her". I said of course and explained why. My explanation was probably way too theological and I think she got a bit lost but basically, I told them Baptism is the time when God chooses us and God chooses everyone decision or not.
I left to prepare for the baptism (which like healing on the Sabbath in our gospel reading was pretty clearly prohibited). Part of the seminary rules for CPE was that you were not authorized or supposed to perform baptisms, especially if it was not an emergency and you could easily get an ordained person to do it. The hospital I was working at had slightly different rules, summarized as "you do whatever you have to do for the spiritual care of the people entrusted to you". (On a side note, we are not a church of blind, law and rule following bureaucrats, as I talked about this event at a pastoral candidacy interview later on, no one became indignant, it was celebrated).
Baptisms are pretty easy to prepare for, all you need is some water and something to carry it in. As I got ready, I was telling everyone what happened (this was exciting news in a pastoral care department, this was, after all, what we were there for). One of the other students said "I know that family" and asked to come along and see or help with the service. I said okay and off we went. As we returned for the baptism, we gathered together a group of nurses, doctors, even other patients and people who knew the girl. Someone managed to grab some balloons and flowers. After the Baptism, we all could tell that this girl knew something special had just happened. The mother had a great sense of joy and relief (and plans to find a new church).
We did nothing to help the girl's physical or mental ailments. She would remain in the hospital a few more days and be released and likely return in another month or two. She was however, set free from other ailments. The girl no longer felt like a second class citizen in God's kingdom, she knew that she was as loved and cared for as any healthy or well person, that God knew and loved her too. The mother knew her daughter was included in God's kingdom, that this girl she loved so deeply and cared for so much was also loved deeply and cared for so much by God. Jesus died and rose for her salvation too and now she saw the water to prove it.
These are the joys that Jesus invites us into. There is the joy of seeing what we can offer others. If we cannot allow someone to stand up straight and walk, maybe we can offer the gift of comfort and acceptance, peace, a second chance, prayer, economic help or welcome. There is the joy of knowing we are part of God's kingdom, each with a unique story and ability to share God's love. There is the joy of knowing our faith does not center on rules and traditions, it centers on Jesus who revealed God's word, showed God's love and brought us to God's grace by his death and resurrection. Finally, I do not want to imply that keeping the Sabbath is meaningless, Jesus did not want to imply that keeping the sabbath is meaningless. This day and time of rest is a gift we deeply need. It is a time to stop and remember these things are true and meant for us to enjoy, celebrate and share.