Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sermon for 8/25/2013 No Swimming and Other Stupid Rules

Sermon for 8/25/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.

Gospel: Luke 13:10–17
10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.  11And 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.  12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment."  13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.  14But 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."  15But 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?  16And 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?"  17When 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.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

When people pine for the “Good Old Days”, it’s good to remember that not everything about them was so good. For example, we had to live by the rule that when swimming, we couldn’t go back in the water for an hour after eating. Today’s children, have it much better, as the medical field has pretty much decided that this rule is a myth. So, they can eat up and get right back to splashing and playing.

There’s a lot of rules we live by like that, and just like everything else, they change over time. Yet, when they do change, even if it’s for the better, we humans have real trouble dealing with this blow to our ego. You see, we like our word to be the final answer, because if it’s not, we can all of a sudden feel pretty stupid. Or, even worse, we can be petty or jealous, about what we missed out on because of whatever rule we were following. I’m sure there are a few of us who are still a little bitter over the time spent not swimming while waiting for food to digest. We can’t get those hours back. And so, whenever our preconceptions are challenged, we as humans usually react disdainfully, rather than admit we were wrong, or that we don’t have the absolute best way of doing something. 

This human inability to come to grips with being wrong is why the leader of the Synagogue, who stands-up and challenges Jesus because he heals this woman on the Sabbath, is one of those at the end of the text who is feeling shame.

It’s a hard feeling, feeling shame, especially when it’s so public. It’s hard on the leader of the synagogue, and it’s hard on all of us today, when our ways of doing things, the things that we’ve depended on for structure, maybe even built our lives upon, are challenged. It’s why we have a saying, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good argument.” And so in a sense, there’s a part of me that feels badly for this leader, who has been the foil to Jesus’ wisdom for 2000 years now. 

But as I feel sorry for this leader, I also see that his shame, and the shame, humiliation, and loss of control that the other religious leaders of the time felt because of Jesus, the feelings that led to fear and hatred and eventually Jesus’ crucifixion, were not Jesus’ issue.  Jesus wasn’t trying to humiliate anyone. Rather, Jesus was simply bringing about healing and new life in someone, healing and new life that also lead to new perspective.

For the woman who was healed, her perspective, her view of the world was forever changed because of the healing she received from Jesus. She stood and praised God, and became a living witness to God’s healing power.  The perspective of the onlookers was changed as well, as they saw in this woman, how God looks upon all of us. The onlookers saw that she wasn’t damaged goods, but a person that Jesus loved so much, the rule of the Sabbath was suspended to make room for grace. 

And, the perspective of the leader was changed. He saw what everyone else saw, yet for him, this healing meant that he didn’t have it all as figured out as he thought he had.  But, rather than take part in the joyous occasion, sin hardened this man’s heart, and caused him to see Jesus, the miraculous healer, as a threat. In a sense, this leader is basically refusing the chance to get back in the water, because it’s breaking that old rule. 
We at times, share the perspective of all three of these parties. We have times when Jesus comes, and touches us, through the kindness of friends, family members, or even strangers in unexpected moments. And through them, we receive healing. We have times when we see Jesus heal others, and through their witness, are given hope and joy. And, at times, we get caught up in our own egos, and ways of doing things, and are blinded by our own shame to the joy and life that surrounds us. 

What’s important for us, human as we are, is not necessarily to try and be any of these people. What’s important is to let Jesus be Jesus, and continue to expand our perceptions, to give us healing, to show us life, and always be present.

For this purpose, to help us see Jesus, to help us see God, we are given the gift of the Sabbath, and the leader was absolutely correct, in concept, of lifting up its importance. The Sabbath, a day of rest, given to a people, and their animals, given to a Jewish people freed from a life of slavery was not a suggestion but a commandment. This gift helped not only Jesus’ Jewish sisters and brothers to experience and rejoice in God’s abundant life, it is given to us today for the same purpose. This commandment, is given to us so that we may set aside time in our lives for renewal, and it is given to us so that through our lives all of creation may know that we are not given life to work, but that we do work in service to life.

But when this gift, or any of the other gifts of God’s commandments, are turned into tools to control, to oppress, or to punish, when we use God’s guidance in our lives not to expand our perceptions, but to close our minds, we then need Jesus too.  We need Jesus to come and change our perspective, even if it hurts our egos, so that we can serve God, and praise God for the life we have been given, and the life that surrounds us in abundance. 

This morning, again, we are given that Jesus in such simple form, bread and wine, and we are given it through the biggest rule break there ever was, the Resurrection, when Jesus’ dead body was brought to new and everlasting life. This is a gift, One Body, broken again and again, that does not run out, but is given to all of us. May we give this perspective, this new, abundant life, to a world in need not of God’s rules, but God’s gifts of grace, peace, justice, and especially love. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

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