Sermon from August 25: Wonderful Things
Pentecost XI (O. T. 21); August 25, 2019
Last week I read to you about Jesus calling some folks hypocrites; now he’s doing it again. And the hypocrisy Jesus points to is very like what we talked about two weeks ago: when the actions of religious people don’t match our words.
Let’s be clear what’s going on here. It is deeply embedded in the ways of the people of God that one day in seven should be devoted to worship, prayer, learning, rest, and family time; not to work. So, in one respect, the leader of the synagogue was right: there are six other days of the week in which Jesus could heal her. But there are two ways in which the leader of the synagogue was missing the point.
First, God gave the Sabbath law for the sake of freedom and human dignity. People would work seven days a week; because of the Sabbath, they had one day to devote to something else. Now, whether or not we are careful to keep a day free from work, there is one respect in which I hope you and I are all keeping Sabbath: that we make opportunity to be human beings, not merely producers and consumers. God gave Sabbath so that cogs in the economic machine could be human beings; it is an act of freedom. So Jesus points out the hypocrisy of using the Sabbath law to keep a woman bound to her infirmity, to prevent her from being set free. The Sabbath is for freedom, so he boldly sets her free on the Sabbath.
This occurs to me, too. The people Jesus had the most trouble with were not the folks that you and I might think of as “bad people.” He had trouble with the “good people,” the people who always kept the rules and were downright insistent that everyone else should too. They were called Pharisees – you’ve heard of them – and they were continually crawling up Jesus’ butt for his failure to be strict about the rules, and for associating with people who were not strict about the rules.
The leader of the synagogue was more concerned with keeping the rules than with the well-being of his neighbor. Surely he knew this woman; synagogue communities were not all that large. And those in the synagogue who supported him knew her too. And the lack of compassion for her is stunning.
Jesus considers us hypocrites if our devotion to “the way things are supposed to be” is greater than our compassion for others. It is so easy to become comfortable with “the way things are supposed to be” and so fail to act with compassion. The Christian Church in general has a big problem with this right now and I suspect it’s a problem here too. It’s hard for me to see it, since I’m part of the problem, but I think we need to ask ourselves some questions at this time in our life as a Church. I am excited about what we have been able to do with our building: it looks beautiful, it’s accessible and new and inviting. But I worry: are we so happy about our building that we fail to use it for its intended purpose? It’s intended to help us witness the presence of God in our community; are we using it for that? Sometimes I fear we are more devoted to preserving the building “the way it’s supposed to be” than to using it for the purposes for which God gave it to us.
I’m going to invite some imagination here. The people who saw Jesus heal the bent-over woman rejoiced at all the wonderful things he was doing. They saw him do two things: heal a woman, and poke the eye (figuratively speaking) at the folks who were more devoted to the rules than they were to a woman’s freedom. So start thinking of the sort of wonderful things we can do as a church, as a community of Jesus, that will cause people around us to rejoice. It will make some people unhappy, because it may leave stains on the carpet or leave a smell. Here’s an example of that: I was Parish Associate at a church in Trenton, New Jersey in the early 1980s. A Korean immigrant community used to meet at our church on Saturday; they would have worship and dinner together. Have you ever smelled kimchi? Yes, we could still smell it on Sunday morning. Some folks griped about the smell; other folks rejoiced that an immigrant community had found a home among us. Are any in this story people that Jesus might call hypocrites?
Here’s another story. Years before I went to Miami, Arizona, that town had a thriving prostitution trade. Miami is the only town I’ve heard of where a brothel once advertised in the Yellow Pages. Anyway, one of the women left that life, committed her life to Jesus, and became part of the Presbyterian Church there – the one I served many years later. As part of her new life, she wanted to teach Sunday School. Well, parents were scandalized: such a woman teach their children? So they had a congregational meeting and decided she should not be allowed to teach Sunday School. Then the Pastor spoke up; he stood and said, “You know, sometimes it is possible for a congregation to take the Lord Jesus Christ by the hand, and show him the door.”
Okay, enough from me. Every month, when your Session meets, we say that we want to live out our mission by striving to:
- Be intentional followers of Jesus Christ
- Be risk-taking servants
- Listen to the Spirit in our lives together, and
- Commit to innovative ministry.
What are some ways that we can do these things right here where we are?
The people present spoke up readily and suggested these things. I urge the people of the Church to think deeply about what God is calling us to be in our community and to follow through.
- A block party
- Offer a weekly meal for our neighbors
- Service on Saturday evening
- After-school program
- A Spanish-language service
- Ask our neighbors how we can help them
- Contemporary service
- Venue for neighborhood to teach and speak out and audience to listen to them
We too can do wonderful things, as our Lord Jesus has done. Instead of “hypocrites,” he will call us brother and sister, child of God, beloved, redeemed: a free people. Remember the bent-over woman, who was set free from the bondage to her ailment by our Lord. And I’ll finish by reading a poem by a fine Presbyterian poet, Thomas John Carlisle; it’s from the mouth of the bent-over woman and is called “Resurrection.”
He called me woman
in the same honorable way
he would address his mother.
took on a radiant meaning
as I rose
from my constricted past,
my years bent over
with crush and crunch
of my unliftable
burdens and desperations.
When he named me daughter –
daughter of Abraham –
I felt the glory
and I knew
that nothing could ever
hold me down again.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
 Printed in the Session agenda every month, recited by the Session members at the beginning of our meeting.
 Thomas John Carlisle, “Resurrection,” in Beginning with Mary: Women of the Gospels in Portrait(Eerdmans, 1986), p. 34.