14th Sunday after Pentecost
August 21, 2016
Luke 13: 10-17 You can click on this link to open the reading in Oremus Bible Browser.
One of the highlights of the Church Wide Assembly was an opportunity to hear Leymah Gbowee. She is the winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for organizing Muslim and Christian women in Liberia to stand up to the brutal dictator Charles Taylor and the rebelling warlords. Their efforts brought about peace in their country.
The title of her address was “The true meaning of reformation in our day.” She claims to always have been a trouble-maker, and that her Lutheran faith and her African culture taught her to see the world’s problems as ‘our problems.’ When she was little they lived in a poor neighborhood where kids were raised in community. As her family’s economic status changed, that changed. It was then she realized that no one went hungry or had to ask for anything in her old neighborhood, kids were everyone’s kids, meals were for whoever was there. We are all one world, if one suffers we all suffer. She tore into us, “The Church,” asking us what were we doing about the suffering and violence in the world. If all Christians rose up against the evils of our day, we would be a mighty army to stand up for our vision of a world in which all are fed, all are safe. The problems of the world are only a reflection of the problems of the church, she said. What would you do if it was your child sitting in the back of that ambulance in Syria? What would you do if it was your kid who was shot at school? Where’s your holy anger at the way the world is? She cited Luther’s outrage at the corruption of the clergy on his trip to Rome as a delegate from his community. That was the beginning of his questions for the church, which had lost the Scripture in its teaching and lost its pastoral care for ordinary people in its craving for worldly power.
The story we have in our reading this morning is a story of the confrontation between religion and faith. Religion being the rigorous positions and doctrines of churches that can be used against people to shame and judge them.. All churches, including our own have acted righteous because we think we’re the most Biblically correct You know how it works. When I hear preachers say that tragedies happened because our nation has been evil and God is punishing us, I am astonished. No wonder young people don’t want to come to church. Who needs to be told how bad they are when the world is already hurting. Where’s the message of God’s mercy and God’s presence in the world’s suffering? The words of God’s love and mercy are what people are craving in a world of rampant greed and violence. When we should be plotting how to become companions and instruments to build people up, we sit in our tight circles paralyzed by our own lack of consensus on how to address the overwhelming needs of our time.
I think this story of the woman who was healed from her suffering on the Sabbath speaks powerfully to our division over how to be the people of God in a world that needs our love and our witness. The church leaders know the rules; no work on the Sabbath. It is the deepest part of their tradition that’s at stake here. Following those rules is what makes them God’s people, what has made them God’s people over the centuries and their job is to see to it that God’s people honor those rules. It’s simple. You are either on board or you are not.
But Jesus sees the rules differently. The rules are there to keep humans mindful of their place in God’s universe, to keep the world in its proper order. Sabbath is an important time out to remember your freedom, to spend time with your Father in heaven and your father on earth. But the rule is not so ironclad that God is not moved to end someone’s suffering, Sabbath or not. And so Jesus touches this woman to release her. After all, he says, she is a daughter of Abraham, she is God’s people, too. Justo Gonzalez sees this story as Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, facing down the very power of evil right there in the temple where the laws about the Sabbath are studied.
So here’s the thing: this story calls out how easy it is to let the rules be what makes us feel safe in an evil world. It is so easy for us to let our church-going make us feel righteous enough that we don’t have to worry about the rest of the world. We come to church, we put our money in the plate, we keep the rules. It’s easy to let that be a shelter for us from the horrors of the world outside our doors. We contribute to the food bank, but do we ever ask the question about why people can be hungry in a world as rich as ours.
Leymah is right. We have the power to make a difference. Our place with God for eternity is already ours.. We, with all God’s people, are the heirs of God’s triumph over evil in Jesus, who overcame death to give us the power of new life in God’s love. And now we are it – Jesus hands and feet in this world, seeing with God’s eyes and healing the suffering of all people. Are we so divided about how to get to what we want for our nation and our town that we have forgotten how to work for a common goal? Through the love and mercy shown to us, our hearts beat in sync with God’s heart. We want everyone to know the love of God, and to enjoy the freedom of new life in this world, too. We have the power, what we pray for is the will. Amen.