Out of Bounds and Beyond the Expected

victory

This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Ypsilanti, Michigan and was focused upon luke 13:10-17.  The audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

Luke 13:10-17

Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, and right in the middle of his words, a woman appeared. This woman had a painful ailment which caused her to be bent over continually, and she had struggled in this way for eighteen years. She simply appeared while Jesus was teaching, and though we can’t know for sure, I wonder if she just wanted to sneak in. . .

I wonder if people ever really saw her, or if they merely viewed her through this ailment she was experiencing. Did they see her as a person of worth and value? Or did they somehow believe she was cursed because she had this struggle? We don’t know. Perhaps she had become somewhat invisible to the community. Maybe she decided to sneak in without much notice.

People may have stopped seeing her. At the same time, she struggled to see others. Bent over in that painful state, she could never look anyone in the eyes. I bet that was isolating. I imagine that was painfully lonely.

So she appears while Jesus is teaching, sneaking in and hoping to go unnoticed.
But Jesus sees.
Jesus notices.

Jesus sees the pain that she’s been carrying, but he also sees her. He sees her as a person of worth and value, a daughter of Abraham. She is a daughter of the covenant. She never asks for Jesus’ attention and notice, but he gives it generously with great care.

Jesus calls over to her and says, “Woman, you are set from your ailment.” I wonder what she began to think. . . Could it be true? But Jesus didn’t speak words only. With care, he laid his hands on her. And immediately, she stood up straight and began to praise God.

She stood up straight. In other places in the Bible, that kind of language is used to talk about resurrection. In a sense, this was a resurrection experience. She gained new life. She was restored to the community, and she rejoiced. Her pain ceased, and she was beginning to know her worth again. She never saw this coming, but Jesus saw her.

That was a happy, unexpected ending, but the story doesn’t end there.
It is also a challenge for us today.

The leader of the synagogue was furious. In fact, the story says that he was indignant. He stood up and began to speak. Though he was angry with Jesus for this action, I notice that he didn’t address Jesus directly. He addressed the crowd that was gathered there. “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not the sabbath day.”

This woman hadn’t asked for anything. She just stepped in, maybe hoping to be included, but the leader of this synagogue treated her as if she had interrupted everything. “Come on those days to be cured!”

She hadn’t asked for anything.
Jesus did this.

And Jesus comes to her defense. I imagine he was indignant himself. He saw some hypocrisy here, and he did not hold back. He 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 water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”

Now keep in mind that Jesus had come here to teach, and now, having expressed compassion for this this woman and healed her, he was teaching. But he was teaching in ways they might not have expected. He was even teaching with some anger, reminding the people who they are, Whose they are, and Whose day this is. The Sabbath day belongs to God and is dedicated to freedom from oppression.

The Sabbath day of all days. . . shouldn’t it be a day of God’s Kingdom being realized? Is there not a better day to heal and see the worth of human beings, especially those who have been marginalized and pushed to the outside? Is there not a better day?

Jesus saw the great gulf between this indignation they were expressing and some of their own actions. So Jesus stands up for those who need healing. The Resurrected One reminds us what the Sabbath is all about. It is a part God’s reign being realized on this earth. And in in his angry words, the people were convicted. The story says that “his opponents were silenced,” and they all joined in this beautiful rejoicing.

Perhaps they didn’t expect to rejoice on this day in any special day. Maybe they didn’t expect to have their routine interrupted or to witness anything extraordinary. It makes me wonder. . . what did they expect? Did they expect to show up in the synagogue simply to have their just routine experience – to hear some holy words, to say hello to some friends, and go back home to other routines? Is that what they expected?

But they did experience something extraordinary:
The Kingdom of God will break in
whenever and wherever the Kingdom of God will break in. . .

And it makes me wonder. . . what do we expect? How might we need to be interrupted? Perhaps we need to be interrupted by people who are marginalized – people who are living their lives beyond our sanctuary walls this morning. If they decided to be present today, they might just come in a bit late, sit by themselves, and hope not to be noticed. They might not expect anyone to notice them and see their worth.

Maybe we need to be interrupted by the people who would never walk through the doors of a church building. Some feel that the Church has been too harsh and judgmental. At times, the Church speaks a language so removed from everyday life that it seems not to connect with others. Some have given up on Church and walked out altogether, and some have never entered because they don’t feel comfortable here. Is this what we expect? More of that? Maybe we need to form relationships with our neighbors and listen deeply. What do they long for spiritually?

The Spirit will break in whenever and wherever the Spirit will break in.
The Kingdom of God will break in whenever and wherever it will. . .
convicting us,
convicting people beyond us, and
bringing us together,
not as we have always been,
but in new, fresh beginnings of the Spirit.

What if we began to expect that?

What if we began to see this day for what it is?

Sunday is the day of resurrection.
It is the day of resurrection life.

What if we began to live as though that message was real, trusting that we truly belong to God? What if we were commissioned to leave this place with the expectation that we will see people — really and truly, see people with value —
viewing their pain with care,
witnessing their passions and gifts,
walking alongside their joys,
and honoring their deep worth and worth.

What if this day of resurrection could transform us that deeply?
And what if we began to expect it?

I bet it would transform our lives. I bet it would transform our churches. I bet it would transform our communities because we would begin to see people in new and deeper ways. Perhaps, seeing us alive, they would view us in new ways also.

This weekend, I saw an interesting article online. [1] It was by a man named Thom Rainer, who has researched congregations for more than twenty-five years. He had a challenging recognition. He said, “Stated simply, the most common factor in declining churches is an inward focus.” He is speaking about congregations which exist primarily for themselves. He is speaking about congregations which tend to spend nearly all their time and energy focusing upon themselves. The ministries are primary for the members. . . The funds of the budget are used almost exclusively to meet the needs of members. . .

I wonder if this is also connected to a congregational experience where people merely expect the routine – to hear some holy words, to say hello to some friends, and then to go home back to other routines. A congregation which exists for itself and its own routines begins to decline. Then it can easily become obsessed (as many of our churches are) with making new members, sometimes out of faithfulness, yes, but sometimes out of a motivation to increase the size of the congregation in order to meet the size of the budget. That’s where many churches are today.

But thank God, there is more. There is a deeper, fuller life which calls all of us away from an inward focus.

The Spirit will break in whenever and wherever the Spirit will break in.
The Kingdom of God will break in whenever and wherever it will. . .

So in its midst – right here in front of us today – will we come alive? Will we rejoice and praise God for the unexpected ways God continues to show up? And will we leave here ready to see and be seen – to live in our community, seeing worth and value in the lives around us? Will we?

May God invite us into this kind of resurrection life.

Amen.

Renee Roederer

[1] “The Most Common Factor in Declining Churches,” Thom S. Rainer

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