August 21, 2022

The Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

August 21, 2022
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
From the Gospel according to Luke, “Jesus said to (the woman) ‘You are set free.’” I speak to you in
the Name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, Amen.


Our journey through the Gospel according to Luke continues this morning with yet another
challenge – a challenge that once again, includes that dreaded word “hypocrites” and begs us to look
deeper into how contemporary Christians should choose to live - especially in how we choose to
observe and live the Sabbath.
Last week, we were urged to look beyond any external storms brewing around us and confront
those physical, emotional or spiritual storms brewing within us. That challenge continues with today’s
readings where Jesus saw not only the pain in this poor woman, but also the crippling burden carried
by those oppressed by rules – rules that say unless you do this or that one is unworthy of God’s love
and grace – rules that build walls between us even as people of God - walls that foster guilt and seek
to shut out and divide whole communities, especially communities of faith. Our gospel lesson reminds
us that no matter what we may think of ourselves and our opinions, Jesus sees all people, the
woman, the religious and us for who we really are: sees our infirmities and weaknesses and divisions,
and wants to heal everyone, all of us, not just physically, but so that our very faith is healed. Even on
the Sabbath. Maybe especially on the Sabbath so that our faith makes a difference in who we are and
how we live and choose to relate to God, our neighbor and one another each and every day. A faith
marked by spiritual wellness that brings not division or separation, but rather, hope that both invites
and enables each of us and everyone we meet to stand tall, to be free, and walk in the boldness and
confidence of the grace and love of God that heals and redeems.
Luke tells us that Jesus healed on the Sabbath and while many rejoiced at God’s work in their midst
there were religious leaders who believed his actions inappropriate. Luke reveals a clash here of two
cultures: One based upon Exodus 20 that requires keeping the Sabbath day holy as in no work or
activity at all, and the other based upon Deuteronomy 5 that suggests the Sabbath is a time to
celebrate freedom, liberty, and release from bondage and captivity in Egypt, a day to feast and
celebrate life. Now, Jesus was very clear in his ministry that we must uphold God’s ways, God’s laws,
God’s values and yet, he also demonstrated what scripture tells us, namely, that the intention of
God’s ways and every good law is to support the welfare of those in need, not institutions. And that is
where Jesus is coming from in today’s gospel reading. He chastises the leaders for holding up the
letter of the law while people around them suffer and their needs go unmet. Jesus suggests there is
no better day for healing than the Sabbath because observing a true Sabbath offers freedom from the
grip of sin and death, and affirms the hope of eternal life.
What I find fascinating about the Gospel according to Luke is that time and again Jesus calls to
task a religious establishment so fixed upon rules that it has missed the whole point of what life as
God’s people really offers and how it can make a difference in this world, a difference in us. In this
particular story where a woman is bent over from a physical ailment Jesus sees this as an opportunity
to confront a religious establishment that is spiritually bent over and crippled and their situation is
actually far more tragic than that of this poor woman. I think this is a powerful lesson for us as
contemporary Christians because so many of us have created, have become an establishment where
rules and dotting all our “i’s” and crossing our “t’s” has become the most important aspect of how we
live. In fact, somehow, Sunday – our Sabbath - has become about what we do for God – you know,
gather to praise God for an hour or so - rather than a celebration of all that God has done for us each
and every day and our taking that good news into the world.
In our Episcopal tradition, we gather weekly to re-tell the greatest story ever told. The story of
how God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ, lived among us as one of us, died, rose from the
dead, and ascended into heaven where he forever intercedes for us and for the world. We gather to
remember and celebrate that in Baptism we are marked as Christ’s own forever, that we are welcome
in God’s kingdom and have the promise of eternal life. We gather to nourish our souls at this table
just as we celebrate our freedom from sin and death in and through Christ. But our celebration
doesn’t end here. We go forth to share the good news of God with others by how we live and think,
how we treat our neighbors, and by ensuring that what we say with our lips we truly believe and live
in our hearts. For the Christian, every day is a Sabbath of celebration and thanksgiving for all God has
done - for us and in us - and for all people. The Sabbath should change how we think and live so that
every day is a celebration of all that God has done and continues to do in this world.
But let’s step back for a moment and look more closely not at the religious establishment, but the
initial focus here: Jesus’ encounter with a woman whom Luke tells us was stooped over for eighteen
years. I cannot imagine what life was like for her each and every day. And I think it important to note
that she didn’t bother to approach Jesus and ask for healing. See, I think she was at Temple that day
out of obligation. She had probably lost hope a long time ago that God would ever intervene and heal
her, and given that the tradition of her day propagated a belief that any physical ailment was the
result of one’s unconfessed sin, or because of the sins of one’s ancestors, I am sure there were many
who suggested that like Job, she was cursed by God, that her life was a waste, that she would never
be healed, deserved every minute of her pain, and should give up. Yet there she was at Temple:
powerless, helpless, and no doubt, hopeless.
Jesus sees her, lays his hands on her, says, “You are set free” and she immediately stands up straight
and what? She praises God! She who was physically and, no doubt emotionally and probably
spiritually bound, is now set free, and experiences a real Sabbath – a day to be celebrated forever.
But the spiritually crippled religious are outraged. They condemn Jesus’ actions and, in so doing,
demonstrate their own powerlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness. Jesus is faced by a spiritually
impotent religious mess that he offers to set free, but Luke tells us that they will not hear of it –
“That’s not how it’s done here, Jesus.”
We love this woman’s story and yet, truth be told, I wonder if deep down inside as contemporary
Christians, as religious people we might be like those religious in this story offended by Jesus’ gift of
healing. After all, we do have our rules. And such rules, beloved, can spiritually cripple communities of
faith. Many Christians know God’s healing power in their lives and yet, in pondering today’s lessons, I
wonder what God might be saying to us about our own spiritual health and well-being right now. Are
we free like this woman or hiding our own need for healing? I wonder if we present to our
communities a culture clash that insists upon a religious way of life that clings to rules versus
celebrating a fresh experience of God’s presence each day. Do we demonstrate not just a physical
Sabbath but a genuine spiritual Sabbath that truly celebrates life together in Christ?
The Prophet Jeremiah believed himself inadequate and powerless to ever be used by God. And yet,
our Old Testament lesson shares how he came to realize that like all people of faith (as affirmed by
the Psalmist), God knew him from before he was formed in the womb and offers a hope-filled life.
Realizing that he is slow of speech, Jeremiah balked at God’s direction to go forth and proclaim God’s
words, so God touched his lips. Our reading tells us that in that moment Jeremiah, in some sense
bent over and crippled with fear, stood tall and proclaimed God’s healing grace to a nation in ruins. He
went forth to plant and build up God’s people, and he is remembered today as one of Israel’s greatest
prophets.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds a persecuted Church that while life might be falling apart
around them, while their hearts might be bent over in fear, they can stand tall because they not only
have the promise of God’s kingdom, but now, today, they have “come to Mount Zion” and dwell in the
presence of a God who knows them, loves them, and has a plan for them, a plan as simple as walking
and living what they say with their lips, a way of life marked by spiritual health, hope and freedom.
I wonder how many here this morning feel powerless or hopeless. If so, for how long? Five years,
ten, eighteen, fifty? I wonder if today God is inviting us to partake of a new experience, a new
Sabbath marked by spiritual healing and wellness that offers hope and enables every one of us to
stand tall, be free, and walk in the boldness and confidence of the grace and love of God.
Our Collect this morning asks that we might together – as a parish, as a community of faith –
show forth God’s power among all people. I wonder what that looks like, Lord. Free us from all that
cripples us: our cultural exclusions and our fear of acknowledging we really do need each other, that
we need spiritual help. And then teach us to share not only our needs, but our stories of healing and
wholeness as well, so that all may find the freedom and joy of a true Sabbath not just one day in
seven, but every day of our lives. That would be an incredible witness to the transforming power and
grace of God. It would mean Jesus words, “You are set free” have changed and continue to change us
forever. So, may our Lord help us to embrace this moment. Heal us and set us free. Amen.