Standing Up Straight

A sermon, based on Luke 13.10-17, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, August 25, 2019

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“…there appeared a woman…crippled…bent over…unable to stand up straight”

She moved through her world gazing at the ground, staring at her feet. Her hand, lest she fall over, always clutched a staff; her palm, now, permanently chafed. Whenever someone spoke to her, she craned her now persistently aching neck, straining to respond with the respect of showing at least part of her face.

After nearly twenty years, she barely remembered her former life when she was healthy and whole, standing upright, looking at life eye to eye.

Jesus of Nazareth was in town. She had heard about him. His passionate preaching, his authoritative teaching, and his healing power. All signs of the presence of God’s kingdom. Dare she believe any of it? Especially the healing? And if true, dare she hope that she could, that she would be blessed by him and set free from her infirmity?

None of her daring, believing, hoping mattered if she didn’t get to the synagogue. So, broken-bodied, yet strong-willed, shuffling her feet as fast as she could, she made it!

As was the custom of rabbis, Jesus stood to read from the scroll of the prophets, then sat down to teach.(1) All, waiting, listened. Unexpectedly, he called to her. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Then he touched her. Suddenly, a strange, long-ago, long-lost sensation, like an electric spark, ran up her spine, then warmth flooded her body, casting out a cold spirit. Instantly, standing up straight, she praised God!

Christ healing an infirm woman on the Sabbath, James Tissot (1886-1896)

Yet the leader of the synagogue, who “kept saying to the crowd,” repeatedly shamed Jesus with that oppressive word of judgment, “ought,” for healing on the Sabbath, thus violating the letter of God’s Law to do no work.(2) Clearly, he, a biblical legalist, a biblical literalist, did not know that Jesus embraced, embodied the Spirit of the Law: the life of love, the righteousness of wholeness.

When Jesus began his ministry in a synagogue in Galilee, he read the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, anointing me 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.” Then he said: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”(3)
Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue (Jésus dans la synagogue déroule le livre) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Then, in immediate succession…

In a synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man.(4)

At Simon Peter’s home, Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever,(5) and “all who were sick with various diseases.”(6)

Continuing his journey, he said to his disciples, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities, for I was sent for this purpose.”(7)

In this spirit, Jesus answered the leader of the synagogue. If, on the Sabbath, you help an animal in need, how much more a human being? Even more, God’s “ought” is not strict observance of the letter of the Law, but fulfillment of its Spirit, which is liberation from any and every kind of bondage on any and every day!

Today, as Jesus spoke to that “daughter of Abraham,” he speaks to us, daughters and sons of his God, our God…

If

I digress. “If,” with its two letters, one of the shortest, smallest of words, is huge in its implications. For as a conditional, whatever follows the word if may or may not apply to you. Thus, if it does, you might pay heed to it, and, if not, you might ignore it. However, I have a hunch that, as I’m wont to say, for any one of you…any one of us who has lived but a moment, the proverbial “two seconds” of life in this world, what I am about to say will apply to all of us…

If there is anything that binds and bends us over in spirit – past failures, old ruinous behaviors, memories of poor choices, grievous long-lasting resentments about long-standing hurts; anything about which we apply the “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” legal language of our contemporary self-judgment: “I wish I had…” and “I wish I hadn’t…” – Jesus says, “You are set free!”

Hearing, believing this good news, let us, no longer stooped over in spirit, stand up straight, face to face with Jesus, eye to eye with God, believing, knowing that we are fulfilled and filled with God’s life and love, righteousness and wholeness.

 

Footnotes:
(1) See Luke 4.16-17a, 20a
(2) See Exodus 20.9-10, Leviticus 23.3, and Deuteronomy 5.13-14.
(3) Luke 4.18-19, 21
(4) Luke 4.31-35
(5) Luke 4.38-39
(6) Luke 4.40
(7) Luke 4.43

Illustrations:
Christ healing an infirm woman on the Sabbath (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)
Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue (1886-1894), James Tissot

7 thoughts on “Standing Up Straight

  1. Paul,

    Amazing!!! I cut and pasted this portion of the sermon on my desk….

    If there is anything that binds and bends us over in spirit – past failures, old ruinous behaviors, memories of poor choices, grievous long-lasting resentments about long-standing hurts; anything about which we apply the “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” legal language of our contemporary self-judgment: “I wish I had…” and “I wish I hadn’t…” – Jesus says, “You are set free!”
    Hearing, believing this good news, let us, no longer stooped over in spirit, stand up straight, face to face with Jesus, eye to eye with God, believing, knowing that we are fulfilled and filled with God’s life and love, righteousness and wholeness.

    I, like many people have been stooped over A LOT this year… I need to keep upright and not second guess all of the decisions I make!! Your words will be an incentive for me! I might be on my way as yesterday there was an incident related to the ongoing construction in my home… I wasn’t upset I just mopped up what needed to be mopped up and kept moving. That excites me ….

    Much love!

    Like

  2. My dearest sister, as I’ve said/written many times… Any time that I can say or write something you find helpful/useful, my heart is gladdened. Thank you!

    And, yesterday, this sermon, clearly, spoke to a number of folk who, each in her and his own way, sometimes with words, at times, with tears, and with both, how meaningful the message was. I was reminded that one…that I never can know what folks bring in their minds and hearts, souls and spirits on a given Sunday morning. I never can know their joys and their hurts, their thanksgivings and their woes. Again, yesterday was a day when the Word of God communicated healing to a number of folk. And I was grateful to have been used as a vessel and conveyer of that blessed message.

    Love

    Like

  3. Dear Paul,

    Count me one more needful soul who found, not on Sunday but on Monday morning, an unexpected but clearly needed warming, glowing affirmation in this sermon, and specifically in the wonderful words that Loretta highlighted and printed out for her desk. I think I may do likewise. Thank you, thank you again, dear friend, for crafting words that contain and proclaim truths that enable, that nurture, that heal, that move us from brokenness toward wholeness, that encourage our faith and our future even through our doubts and our fatigue.

    Much love and gratitude,

    Karen

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    1. Karen,

      Aren’t we lucky to have Paul and the right words he finds for every situation??

      Loretta

      Like

      1. Indeed, Loretta! We are so lucky to have Paul and his way with words and encouragement! Both of you bless me in so many ways, not least by showing me that the world is a much better place than it often seems to be, just because it has people like the two of you in it! I am so grateful to have serendipitously found you both in my life!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. As a dear friend is wont to say/write when others thank him for some goodness or grace that he has found himself privileged to share with them, “You bless me.” So, my dearest sisters, you bless me and I am most grateful.

    Love you, each and both, always and in all ways,
    Paul

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  5. Dearest Karen, you write for me and, doubtless (though, generally, I darest not speak for others, for Loretta, too, when you share “…that the world is a much better place than it often seems to be, just because it has people like the two of you in it! I am so grateful to have serendipitously found you both in my life!”

    There are moments in my life when I unabashedly revel in gratitude for the blessings of relationship. AND having met and, by the blessedness (yes, it happens sometimes!) of cybercommunication via social media, being able to remain in touch with you is one of those wondrously interminable moments, for our first grace of meeting continues! Thank you. Thank God for you…

    AND a true thrill for me was…and is in knowing that you and Loretta have met face to face. What a surprise to me! What a joy to me!

    Love

    Like

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