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September 25, 2016, 11:34 AM

Lazarus at Our Door

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.[a] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.[b] 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31 NRSV)

I’m tired of wrestling with money.  I’m tired of guilt trips.  I’m tired of telemarketers asking me to support this or that cause.  I’m tired of our church offering plates running out of money before the end of the month.  I’m tired of poverty and seeing people sitting at my gate needing scraps of food.  I’m tired of arguments we get into about how deserving the poor are or aren’t.

Mostly, I’m tired of wrestling with God over money and my use of it.  I’ve traveled to developing nations and have seen their spiritual lives far surpassing mine while illness and starvation pervade their lives.  I’ve given until it hurts and see little to no change.

So, what do I do with this scripture passage?  Am I the Rich Man?  Living in the USA I know that I personally have more than most people in developing countries.  I’m all too aware of the wealth I hold when I see people on the street corners with signs saying, “God Bless You” or “Anything will help.”

Perhaps I’m one of the five brothers.  Unaware and in need of an awakening.

Perhaps I’m Lazarus, not physically hungry, but spiritually starved for something to make me feel better about this text.

I want Jesus to make it better.  Make this text better.  More than that, make poverty history.  Just do it!  I know you can. After all, you healed all those people; you got money out of a fish’s mouth; you touched peoples’ lives and you still do today.  So, come on, Lord.  Make this all better.

But, I can’t.  I have to figure this out for myself.  And I wonder if you, dear reader, are needing the same thing.  An ease to the guilt; a wake-up call to a way to serve; a word from our Lord saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This is a parable.  And Jesus loved to exaggerate in his parables.  The rich man wasn’t rich.  He was super rich.  His linen under garments were imported from Egypt.  He wore purple robes which only royalty were permitted to buy.  He didn’t just eat meals, he “feasted sumptuously every day” (v 19.)  His gate wasn’t what you’d find on a cute picket fence.  This gate was tall and kept him secure and protected.

Lazarus gets a name.  The only time in any of Jesus’ parables, someone gets a name.  Not the rich man, but the poor one laying at the gate hoping for crumbs from the table.  Lazarus is poor and hungry and covered in yucky sores.  Unclean dogs came by to lick his sores in  an ultimate act of degradation.

What annoys me is that every morning the rich man sat in his chauffeur-driven limousine and passed through that gate seeing Lazarus sitting there.  He even knew his name.  What he lacked was compassion.  Lazarus wasn’t asking for much.  He wanted some food.

I want to step in and clean up his sores, get him medical attention, feed him a decent meal and then find a place for him to live.  Yet, all he asked for was food.

As angry as I am with the rich man, though, I can’t help but wonder who’s sitting at my gate?  What am I missing as sail past them on the way to worship or that important meeting?  Am I any better than the rich man?

Who sits at my gate?  Victims of human trafficking. Unwanted Syrian immigrants in Europe.  The marginalized mentally ill.  Victims of war in Palestine and Israel.    Sidelined undocumented aliens in America, invited here by big farm business for cheap labor and demonized by the unknowing American population.

Who sits at my gate?  The hungry in my community.  The poor trying to get through this life one day and one problem at a time.  Today it’s the electric bill.  Tomorrow it’ll be the rent.  The following day food for their children.

So while I’m tired and angry, perhaps it’s time for me to realize that I’m not the Messiah.  And neither are you.  Jesus warned us that the poor would always be with us, so there’s no use in wasting energy asking Jesus to snap his fingers and make it better.

It isn’t up to me or you to solve the problem, but to be a part of the solution.  In today’s world, getting involved usually means with money.  Shipping food is wasteful; sending money to buy food from local Food Banks is smart.

If it isn’t up to us to solve the problem, it’s up to us learn about it.  What bugs you?  Learn about it.  Scour the internet, go to the library. Read what your church or denomination is saying about it.  Learn everything you can about it.  And while you’re doing that, pray.  Pray for discernment.  Pray for the victims.  Pray for the victimizers (yes, even the perpetrators.)

Then share what you’ve learned with others.  Let them know what you’ve learned so that they’ll pass it along.  The wife of one of my colleagues in the community where I serve attended a state-level conference on human trafficking.  Our state has a major confluence of Interstate Highways that is a major source of trafficking.  She got involved and spread the word through our Ministerial Alliance and the local Rotary Club.  She provided parents with a list of websites that attempt to attract teenagers into sexual servitude.  She made a difference.

Give.  Give what you can no matter the size.  God will multiply it like loaves and fishes.

At the beginning of this blog I shared what I’m tired of.  Perhaps what tires me the most is the energy we spend being angry.  Jesus’ central teachings had to do with compassion and mercy and generosity and hospitality and justice.  These aren’t passive activities.  They call on each of us to keep active.

Compassion for those we don’t understand.  Mercy to those we most dislike.  Generosity to those who need it the most.  Hospitality and welcome to those who don’t look or act like us.  Justice for the sidelined and the victim.

Most of all, check out the gatekeepers around you.  Those who give regularly to social agencies active in feeding the hungry and serving the poor.  Those who spend time at the local elementary school tutoring children.  The DHS workers who burn themselves out caring for abused children and the elderly.  The teacher who works long hours to bring her lessons alive to her students.  The soldier who tries to make a difference in an Iraqi community.  The nurse who spends a little more time than he should with a patient in need of more than medical care.

Are you a gatekeeper?  What are you doing?  Take careful inventory.  You may discover that you’re providing spiritual support to those you meet.  You may discover you have a desire to learn and do more.  Whatever the case, don’t just be tired of the neediness at your gate.  Acknowledge it.  Learn from it.  Pray over it.

God will lead you where you can make the most difference.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




September 18, 2016, 12:00 AM

Resources & Relationships

by Sandy Bach

16 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

Is there a parent who has never said to their teenager, "If you spent half the time doing the job that you spend avoiding, you'd be done by now"?  Their creativity and enthusiasm for avoiding that lawn mower or those dirty dishes is truly noteworthy.

Perhaps they have something to us.

When we see the phrase, "rich man" in Luke, we instantly know that there's trouble.  A rich man tried to build bigger barns in order to hoard his abundant crops.  A rich man had a poor, sick man sitting outside his gate, the dogs licking his wounds.  When they both died, he couldn't understand why the sick man, Lazarus, was seated at Father Abraham's side and he wasn't.  The famous tax collector, Zacchaeus, had a come to a Jesus meeting with, well, Jesus, and repented.  He vowed to use his money for the good of all.

So when we hear the phrase, "rich man," in this parable, we can assume that the first hearers immediately thought of the wealthy "loan sharks" of that day.  Their loans came at high interest rates (25% to 50%) and hidden charges.  Eventually, many of them lost the land that had been in their family for generations.  The rich men took it over for their own use, while the poor were forced off the land and ended up looking for work in the larger cities, usually with not much luck.

The rich got richer while the poor got poorer.  Did you notice the amount of debt the two men owed?  The rich got richer on the backs of the poor.  Think today about high interest student loans or predatory pay day loans.

Meanwhile, the steward, who had probably added his own interest to the debts of those in his care, did something to get himself fired.  For some reason he fell out of favor with the boss and had to do something quick.

To his credit, he was honest about his situation.  He wasn't strong enough to dig; he was too proud to beg.  So he used his ingenuity to gain favor for himself for that day when he would be out of work.  So he pulled them in one at a time and had each of them lower his debt by 20% to 50%.  Perhaps it was the amount of his commissions. It's hard to say, but he didn't do it for that reason.  He did it to curry favor.

So when the rich man perused the books and discovered the discrepancies, we expect that the steward would have been arrested.  After all, that's the way things work in the real world, don't they?  However, this is a parable and Jesus is telling it, so we know there's a surprise on the horizon.

Sure enough, we learn that the rich man commended the steward.  "That's what the world is all about," he said.  "You don't get anything for free.  Everything has a cost.  You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Yep!  That's what makes the world go 'round. You may be fired, but you learned a big lesson.  I have to hand it to you."

And he brought his attention back to the books to figure out how to trick those illiterate peasants out of more money.

In 1961 the musical, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" began it's long run on Broadway.  J. Pierrepont Finch is a window washer, who gets hired by a major corporation.  He starts in the mail room and works himself up to chairman of the board in two weeks.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Succeed_in_Business_Without_Really_Trying)

In one particular scene, Finch arrives at his desk a bit early, scatters papers all around his desk, fills his ash tray with used cigarettes and messes up his hair. When he hears the boss coming, he quickly sits down and pretends to be asleep at the desk.  When the boss asks him what he's doing, Finch apologizes profusely and explains that he spent the night at work working on a report.  The boss is so impressed that he's promoted, yet again.

Think about it.  How might the world be a better place if Finch had used his talents and skills to advance the kingdom rather than himself?

When Jesus' ministry first began, he read from the prophet Isaiah his mission statement:  "to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV)

So far in Luke's Gospel, Jesus has preached it, taught it, done it.  Now he focuses in on that final line -- the year of Lord's favor.  In other words, the Jubilee.  That time every seven years when debts are released, when land is returned to the original owners, when no one is hungry or indebted.

Jesus is pointing out the toxic atmosphere of his day.  The poor desperately need release.  The rich thought they were rich because God had blessed them.

Jesus uses this to point at the kingdom.  In the midst of unjust structures and unfair economic relationships, Jesus points out our mission as "children of light."  He points at the "children of this age" (like the steward) who are street smart and savvy about how the world works.  "Learn from them, he says.  Why are the poor getting poorer?  Why are we graduating college students with a debt load of $100,000.00 or more?  How are our buying decisions affecting the global market?

Jesus says, wise up!  Just because we're Christians doesn't mean we're not part of the problem.  Wise up and learn so that  you can use the wealth of this age to make life better for those bent under a crushing load of debt; who can't make the ends meet no matter how hard they work?

Jesus also reminds us that those who are faithful in a little can be trusted with much more.  And the opposite is true.  And when we use the wealth of this world to make our part of the world just a little bit better, we reap a huge reward.  More than that happily-ever-after reward of the after life.  We can stand taller and see God's Truth against the backdrop of greed and hubris and lies and deceit.

But we have to decide.  Do we serve God or look out for ourselves?  Do we hoard our talents and skills or use them to serve those bent under the pressure of poverty?  Do we turn away from the hurting or reach out to help them?

We can't really do both.  One will tear us up while we accumulate worldly wealth.  The other frees us up to live this life in joy.

Is it easy?  Not necessarily.  Am I suggesting you empty your check book into the coffers of the nearest homeless shelter?  Not unless you want to be homeless yourself.

What I am suggesting is that we pick something that bugs us: poverty or a justice issue.  Then get involved by bringing your best mind to the table and learning what the "children of this age" already know.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 




September 11, 2016, 12:00 AM

Rejoice with Me

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  (Luke 15:1-10 NRSV)

Never in my life has a coin or an animal repented of being lost.  Though I have carelessly allowed money to slip through my fingers from time to time, it never expressed sorrow or remorse.  I've never owned sheep, but I have owned several cats and dogs and if any of them ran away, they were always relieved to be home.  Yet, never once did they repent.

This isn't a set of parables about repentance.  Rather, Jesus is talking about lost-ness and how God responds.  Lost-ness comes in many forms.  It can occur as a result of wandering.  The sheep wanders from one tuft of grass to another until it discovers it's alone.

Lost-ness can occur due to carelessness.  Inattention can lead to my losing my wallet or a part of my life savings.

Acts of nature, too, cause people to go missing.  Since the tsunami, Japanese families continue to look for lost loved ones.  Some have even taken up deep sea diving, in order to search the ocean.  The New York Times reports that a woman goes to the ocean daily and throws her late daughter's favorite meal into the sea.  They can't quit looking for those who are lost to them.

Today is the 15th anniversary of the attack on our nation on 9/11.  I still remember sitting in the conference room watching the TV news re-play the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania.  Some 3,000 people died that day.  Many hundreds of the bodies were never recovered.  Those left behind still live with the emptiness of that loss.

When people are lost forever, they leave behind those who live with a sense of the incomplete.  Part of the whole is missing.  They would do anything they can, even go deep sea diving, if they could recover at least the body of the loved one.

Lost is the tragedy in these parables.  Lost to the family.  Lost to the community.  Lost to God? No.  And here's where the message of the parable kicks in: God searches high and low, right and left, up and under, behind and beside, all around, never stopping until the lost are returned to the fold.

Lost tells the story of the wretchedness of the stray sheep, curled up in a bush unable to make a sound for fear the wolves will discover tonight's meal.  Lost tells the story of the shepherd who diligently and tenderly finds the sheep, lost and hungry and tired, slings it on his shoulders and returns it to the fold.

Seek.  It's a word that speaks to diligence and a pursuit that doesn't let up.  The shepherd and the woman seek and search and clean out and clear away, moving heaven and earth in order to find what is lost.

Joy.  One lost sheep found out of 100?  It's not good business practice, you know.  You don't risk the 99 for one.  What's really over the top, though, is the joy of the shepherd when he finds the lost one.  Celebrate with me, he calls out!  So much to be thankful for!

When have  you been lost?  When have you kept your head down, working diligently until you discovered you were lost.  You raised your head to discover that nothing looked familiar.  Perhaps you lost family and friends.  The landscape of your life isn't what it once was. How did you get here?  How will you get back?

How DID you get back?  Did you feel God's presence?  or God's silence?  Did you trust that God would bring you home?  Or did you jump down that rabbit whole in anger and fear?  When did you finally discover that God had found you -- in fact that God had never lost you?

The truth is, you were never lost to God.  You were always and will always be already found by God even when you believe yourself to be lost.  This isn't a case of our sitting back and waiting for God to show up; nor is it a case of our action of saying, "Hey, God.  Over here!  I'm in the bush."

Rather, we listen for God's voice; we remain attentive to those footsteps approaching, always ready and willing to accept our Great Finder to hoist us onto those broad shoulders and bring us home.

This isn't a parable about repentance as much as it is a parable about God's activity in our lives.  And it's about the great amount of joy in heaven when the lost one is brought back to the fold.  It's a time of celebration and rejoicing!

So when the the drug dealer, the arms dealer, the terrorist are brought back to the human community, how do we respond?  With derision or rejoicing?  With snobbery or with compassion?

The lost are a source of deep grief to God.  And while God does the work of seeking out and finding, sometimes using us as His hands and feet, can we be the ones ready to welcome into your community that one person who will make us feel that sense of completion?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




September 4, 2016, 12:00 AM

Gospel Hospitality

by Sandy Bach

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  (Luke 14:1, 7-14 NRSV)

Just what was Jesus up to?

The Bishop invites him to dinner.  All the "right" people will be there.  Jesus is an up-and-coming rabbi; he has an opportunity to connect with people who can really help his ministry along.

He's not inside the door ten minutes when the dinner guests begin watching him.  He sees a man with dropsy.  He's in need of healing.  The problem is, you can't heal on the Sabbath.  That involves work, and we're supposed to rest on the Sabbath.  (One might wonder how much work the servants are doing in preparing and serving the meal.)

So Jesus does what he often does: the right thing for the right reasons despite the prevailing attitudes of society.  He turns to the lawyers and Pharisees and asks them about that law regarding healing on the Sabbath.

Silence.

He cures the man with dropsy.

More silence.

"Look," he finally responds.  "You wouldn't allow your animals or children to die after falling into a well.  Why is this man any different?"

Still more silence.

And while they're watching Jesus, Jesus is noticing them.  The Bishop was showing them where to sit and making sure that all of his important guests received proper treatment.  Suddenly the mayor shows up and everyone has to move down one seat to accommodate him.  The Pharisee from East Jerusalem sends word that he's unable to attend, so another side of the table moves up a bit.

Perhaps Jesus was the after dinner speaker; perhaps he simply decided that it was time for a teaching moment.  At any rate, sometime throughout the meal he tells them a parable.  One might assume that he's presenting a lesson on etiquette: something along the line of, "share your toys," "talk nicely to others," or "don't overstay your welcome."

Yet, when Jesus is present, the kingdom of God is present.  We saw that when he cured the man with dropsy.  So could he be talking about the Messianic Banquet at the end of time?  If so, this takes on deeper meaning.

"When you're dining in the kingdom, everyone has a good seat.  So sit somewhere unobtrusive.  Perhaps you'll be asked to move higher, but you'll certainly save face.  When you exalt yourself in the kingdom, you become humbled.  When you humble yourself in the kingdom, you are exalted."

That doesn't make sense for those of us who live and work in the "real" world.  If I don't tell others about my skills and talents, the chances are I'll be bypassed for the big promotion.  If I don't advertise my strengths, my business will go under.  Behaving humbly and taking the lowest seat is a good way to go unnoticed.  And invisibility in our world is not desirable.

But Jesus isn't finished.  "When you're entertaining, don't habitually invite your friends and colleagues and family members and the well-heeled.  Invite those who can't pay  you back: the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind."  You'll be blessed for an action that can't be repaid in this life."

It doesn't make sense.  It's yet another one of Jesus' counter-cultural sayings.  Life in the kingdom just doesn't work in the world.  And though Christians often say that they are "in the world, not of the world," we still get nervous when Jesus speaks up.

So, while we understand that the world doesn't work quite like God's kingdom, perhaps we can look to the church for examples.  Several years ago, our congregation decided to host a Vacation Bible School.  We put a lot of money into it, recruited several volunteers, advertised in the local paper, decorated and prepared.  Everything was in place.  The first evening of VBS a sign appeared on Broadway: "VBS at Grace Baptist."

Two children showed up for our VBS.  The following day I picked up my two grandsons and we managed to make it through the week with four kids.  It was devastatingly disappointing.  I sat in the sanctuary in prayer, "Why God?  We did everything right.  We put our hearts and souls into this.  Why did we fail?"

Then I remembered the wise words of a long-time colleague, "God doesn't call us to be successful.  God calls us to be faithful."

In the economy of the kingdom, we were faithful.  In the economy of the kingdom, God didn't feel the need to reward our faithfulness with hoards of children in attendance.

It's common though.  We've done all this work, why didn't God provide?  We work our hearts out for God, working to do better and then wonder why we feel so tired.  Perhaps we're not doing enough for God and the church.  Perhaps we aren't good enough or deserving enough.

So, if ministry isn't about one raging success after another, what is it about?  If God doesn't give us rewards to match our efforts, what does it mean?

The answer lies in our definition of success.

Several years ago I attended a Congregational Development Seminar.  A minister from a low-income neighborhood in Boston was one of our speakers.  He shared with us their road to success: first they cleaned up the basement fellowship hall so they could invite neighbors to Bingo dinners.  Then they began going out into the neighborhood, knocking on doors and getting to know the issues and problems.

They accomplished so much; it was faithful service with amazing results.  Finally, I couldn't take anymore.  So I raised my hand and asked the question: "How long a period of time did this take?"

The minister became quite still.  He looked at me for a moment and understanding began to dawn.  "We've been working on this for more than nine years," he finally said.  "And those first years were rough.  We were met by several disappointing results.  But we believed we were on the right track so we kept right on working."

The rest of the weekend he spoke about results that were a mix of thriving ministry with bitter disappointment.  That's what kingdom work is about.  It's not ministry with an end in mind: more money in the bank, more bottoms in the pews, bigger buildings.  It's about activity that moves our part of the world a bit closer to the growing kingdom of God.

Spoken like that, we realize that nudging our way up the ladder isn't an end in itself; that doing something for someone else doesn't have to mean we get paid back in this life.

If you think you're not good enough to work in the kingdom, you're wrong.  If you think we're too small to bring about a difference in our community, God has a message for you.  It's not quid pro quo: a value system that you receive something when you do something.

We take a step forward to honor our God.  We take a leap of faith in order to make the lives of those around us resemble the kingdom.  We put in our paltry effort, so that God can make something of it.  Not for us, but for those we serve.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




August 28, 2016, 12:00 AM

Straightening Out

by Sandy Bach

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

Rules and laws are good.  They protect us when we come to a traffic light.  They define crimes against our neighbor: murder, theft, etc.  They reflect the culture of the time.

Rules and laws are good.  Until they're no longer good.  When rules and laws hurt the innocent; when rules take on a life of their own; when they become a vehicle for abuse; when rules and laws bend others under an enormous burden, then it's time to look at the law, it's original intent and how God means for it to be.

One might wonder what the synagogue leader was thinking.  He was clearly upset that Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  Was it because he felt that the woman's ailment was non-threatening, therefore, Jesus could catch up with her the next day and heal her?  There is an argument for this: that she wasn't at death's door.

Or was he upset because Jesus dared to cross a line and the leader lost power and prestige over his congregation?  Two things point at this argument: he was indignant and he triangulated the conversation.

Triangulation is when you have an argument with one person. But, instead of going directly to that person to talk it out, you include others.  Phrases such as, "You know, people are saying..."  are used to rattle people and set them against the one with whom you disagree.  It's a common tactic in the church and many a minister or pastor has experienced this in his or her congregation.

This time the synagogue ruler uses the congregation to get back at Jesus.  "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." (v 14b)

So, why did Jesus heal on the sabbath?  To answer that we have to go back to the beginning of his ministry when he spoke in his home town of Nazareth.  He took his mission statement from the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV Italics mine.)

In proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor, Jesus announced the onset of God's reign on earth.  He kingdom is at hand, he said.  Get ready for it.

The bent-over woman arrived in worship.  Most likely she arrived on her own; no one brought her to Jesus.  Was she an habitual worshiper or was this her first time?  She didn't approach him.  She asked him for nothing.

She was invisible to everyone else, but not to Jesus.  She'd been bent over for eighteen years.  Her view of world was limited.  She saw everything and everyone out of the side of her vision.  Her most common sight: the dust and mud at her feet.

She was invisible to everyone else, but not to Jesus.  He called her over, empathizing with her infirmity.  He called her over and released her from her weakness.  Then he touched this unclean woman and she was healed. And physically and socially clean.

Still, the question continues to haunt us.  Why did Jesus interrupt the worship service to heal this woman when her infirmity wasn't life-threatening?  Why didn't he honor the sabbath law that began at creation?

The synagogue ruler was probably reading the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20.  In that version, God instructs the Hebrews to keep the sabbath day holy.  "Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work..." (Exodus 20:9-10a)  This is a reflection of creation.  Six days God labored at creation.  On the seventh day he rested and enjoyed the fruits of his labor.

Jesus dug deeper.  He knew about Exodus Commandments, and he also knew about the Deuteronomy version.  In Deuteronomy the sabbath is also to be kept holy.  It is to be kept sacred as a reminder that they were once slaves in Egypt.  The Hebrew word for "labor" has the same root as "slave."  Labor and slave for six days.  Be released and rest on the sabbath.

And that's why Jesus released this woman from her own bondage.  The sabbath is a blessed and consecrated and holy day.  For everyone.  Not just those who make it to worship; not just for animals who need to be fed and watered; not just for the righteous.  The sabbath is for everyone: those bent-over by oppression or illness; those trapped in poverty or mental illness or depression.  Those bearing up under the pressure of work or health issues or family dysfunction.  Everyone is included.

That day Jesus indeed brought light to the synagogue.  He brought good news; he proclaimed release; he recovered sight to the blind who couldn't see that the law was made to free us, not restrict us; he let the oppressed go free.

That day Jesus proclaimed the year of God's favor -- the coming kingdom of God.

Because wherever Jesus is -- there is the kingdom.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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