A sermon for Proper 16: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13:10-17
Saint C’s is a centuries old congregation. The building is majestic, built of massive granite blocks she towers over the town. The patina of her copper sheathed steeple has been the landmark by which people oriented themselves longer than anyone can remember. Her members are proud, all the community leaders are members, their families have been attending for generations. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, bankers, business owners are replete at any service. Sunday ushers have worn pale gray morning coats that are carefully passed on from one generation to the next since her founding. St. C’s is a magnificent church.
Charles has fallen on hard times; actually harder times, all his life has been hard. He grew up poor. School was not valued in his family. As a young adult, he was able to get by on hard manual labor, which there was plenty of until the day he was hurt on the job. His medical treatment tended to the immediate injuries; however, there was no follow-up care. The lack of money, transportation, family or neighborly support, and willing doctors all conspired against him. Unable to work it wasn’t long before he became a shameful dishonor to his family. He left. There wasn’t any place for him to go, so Charles lived on the streets. He subsisted on meager coins that people would give him, mostly to get him along down the road. He rummaged through trash for food that had been thrown out. He rummaged the county trash heap looking for scrap he could sell for a pittance. The bright spot in his life was church. Every Sunday he would find one group or another to worship his Lord with.
No one ever knew why; no one ever asked why, but one Sunday morning, when a dark gray sky framed the world, the morning’s first sun rays lit up St C’s towering steeple like a shining beacon and drew Charles to her. He waited until the stream of people thinned out; straightened his ramshackle coat, did his best to fix his hair with his hands, and made his way through the front doors, down the right side aisle, to a vacant pew up front. Someone pointed him out to an usher, who went to the head usher, who stopped the procession in the side hall and called the police. The response was quick. Four officers made their way down the center and right aisle. One from each side approached, there was no conversation, they simply took hold of him by each arm, lifted him from the pew and dragged him out by the center aisle. Charles didn’t resist or struggle; all he did was cry, “All I want to do is worship my Lord! All I want to do is worship my Lord!” When the shameful presence of a street person gone, St. Curmudgeon began her regal worship.
Centuries upon centuries ago Luke shared another story of shame. A woman crippled for nearly two decades, unable to walk or stand up straight comes into Jesus’ presence. He calls her over, gently lays his hands on her and tells her “You are set free from your ailment.” It’s curious language for a medical condition; you’d expect or Jesus to say “healed from” or “cured of.” It’s almost like her condition was some sort of being, and in 1st century Palestine such conditions were considered to be the affliction of a demon (Epperly). It’s also curious to hear that she “was straightened up” as the Greek more correctly reads, implying divine action is involved (Jacobsen).
The synagogue leader objected, and accuses Jesus of breaking the Laws governing Sabbath. In fact, he is taking advantage of a very narrow understanding of the 613 rules governing Sabbath, which is as much a day of delight and serving the purposes of God, as a day of rest (Hoezee). The leader’s behavior appears to be a public effort to shame the woman, the crowd, and Jesus. It doesn’t work and in the end, the leader is publicly shamed when Jesus notes its allowable to release oxen or donkey to go drink. In releasing the woman, Jesus brings honor to her and to God. The crowd gets it as they rejoice at “all the honored things” Jesus was doing (Pankey).
Jesus also honors the woman when he calls her “daughter of Abraham.” Recognizing her as a daughter of Abraham creates a moral obligation to restore shalom, peace, wholeness of life, healing (Jacobsen). Being freed from her infliction, demonic or medical, also restores her to the community. A closer look at most of Jesus’ healing and you will notice that most, if not all of them, result in a restoring of the person to their community. It’s such a prominent notion I believe that restoring people to their families, and community should be part of a modern practice of medicine.
There is a prophetic element in this story. It is revealed not in Jesus’ words, but through Jesus’ behavior. The power God offers Jeremiah is known in service, mercy, healing and reconciliation. It is important, and perhaps a bit unsettling to understand God offers the same power and calling to us (Helmer). It is even more unsettling as we recognize the urgency implicit in God’s telling Jeremiah “today I appoint you…” (Bratt). There is urgency in our call also.
Once you’ve recognized the prophetic element in Luke’s story we might just wonder “What is God, Jesus or the Spirit is calling you to do?” [i]. This question is far more expansive than we might realize. In Jeremiah’s day God’s reign is not limited to Israel; in our day our prophetic calling is not be limited to our church, our neighborhood, or our community; our calling may take us to places and to people in whose presence we are not comfortable (Nysse).
Yes, it is quite a shock to realize how God’s vision is so much more expansive than our vision. It is natural to doubt our abilities and to fear the way ahead. Remember God reassures Jeremiah “Do not be afraid for I am with you.” It is also helpful to remember all this is really sharing your relationship with God, just as it is, not as what you imagine everyone else thinks it should be, and then inviting the one you are with to come and see.
[i] Borrowed from African Bible Study Method
Bratt, Doug. Proper 16 C | Jeremiah 1:4-10. 21 8 20016.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scriture Notes Proper 16 | Ordinary Time 21 | Pentecost 13, Cycle C (2016). 21 8 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary Pentecost 14 – August 21, 2016. 21 8 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Helmer, Ben. “The Power of the Spirit, Proper 16 (C).” 16 8 2016. Sermons that Work.
Hoezee, Scott. Proper 16 C | Luke 13:10-17. 21 8 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel>.
Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 13:1017. 21 8 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Lewis, Karoline. Daughters of Abraham. 21 8 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
Nysse, Richard W. Commentary on Jeremiah 1:410. 21 8 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.
Pankey, Steve. “[New post] Honor and Shame.” 21 8 2016. Draughting Theology.