Today's sermon, at the Hancock Point Chapel was not recorded.
Psalm 71:1-6 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
1 In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. 2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me. 3 Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. 5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. 6 From my birth I have leaned upon you, my protector since my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.
Luke 13:10-17 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
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 to 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 being done by him.
Our two scriptures this morning give us much to consider. The six verses that Vicky read from Psalm 71 reflect the voices of people much like ourselves.
We plead with God to keep us from stumbling on the path toward righteousness – to keep our names out of the police reports, to keep us from becoming fodder for sensational headlines – asking God to provide strength of character to keep us from straying into danger and decadence.
We like our psalmist, likely swing widely between prayers of lament for what we lack and prayers of gratitude for the multitude of blessings we have received. We seek to be rescued from our enemies, and yes even from ourselves, and thank God in advance for a presence so constant that we have known it since birth and will know it throughout all of our days.
These verses illustrate our human nature. We sing God’s praises while simultaneously asking God to do more for us.
Vicky also read eight verses from the Gospel of Luke. The healing of the bent-over woman on the Sabbath day gives us much to think about. Let us consider the story from the perspectives of the villagers, the synagogue leader, the bent-over woman, and Jesus.
The Villagers These are the woman’s family and neighbors. How is it that this woman was hurting for eighteen long years without intervention? There is much we don’t know, of course. Did she receive the best available medical care known at the time? Was she supported by family and friends who made sure she had a roof over her head, clothes to wear, and food to eat? Could they have done more?
The Bent-over Woman Was she resigned to never again seeing the sky – the sun or the moon or the stars – the faces of those in her family and community? Had she long since given up asking for help? At what point did she give up hope? Or does she, like our psalmist, alternate between lament and praise for the ebb and flow of her life?
The Synagogue Leader Someone has to be in charge. Without laws and rules society, whether religious or secular, descends into chaos and anarchy. It was his position to be concerned with the law, but was he more concerned with the law than with the woman?
Jesus How can we be more like Jesus? It is more than a trite question. How can we see those in need and offer them hope and healing, without waiting to be asked? How do we see their unjust circumstances and view them as undeserved, rather than their fate or their punishment? Who or what do we see in our communities and in our world that needs healing? How do we help while still allowing them agency and dignity?
Jesus does not wait to be asked. He saw the bent-over woman and was moved to act compassionately. He not only speaks to her, freeing her from her ailment, he touches her, freeing her from her isolation from her community. Then he addresses the leader of the synagogue. Could he be addressing us? Are we too in danger of allowing the letter of the law to take precedent over human lives?
How often do we do that without being aware of it?
How often do we do that while we are aware of it?
In many ways we as a church, and we as secular society, fall back on the argument of the synagogue leader. Not today, we say, come back tomorrow or the next day.
Jesus points out the hypocrisy of putting compassion on a schedule.
Luke shows us that Jesus would not stand for that. He refers to the bent-over woman as a daughter of Abraham, meaning she is a child of God worthy of being helped and of being helped now, on the Sabbath day or any day.
Historically injustices are changed first by the vision and actions of the brave minority. Only later do the laws change to support the dignity and worth of the marginalized members of society.
Think of it. Abolitionists didn’t wait for laws to change before working to free enslaved people.
How many times do we fall back on the law even when we know that circumstances warrant bending the rules to achieve justice?
Who are marginalized in our society? How are they held back and how might they be healed?
LGBTQ+ people are regularly discriminated against under the guise of law. Housing discrimination, employment discrimination, marriage discrimination to name a few. Ministers that performed same-sex weddings and unions before it was legal, often risking their own standing with the church – they have my respect.
People with drug addictions are as deserving of compassion and healing as anyone else. Our health care system has not always been responsive to their needs. Our churches have been slow to see these people as deserving of our love, care, and efforts. The people working on the streets establishing needle exchange programs and naloxone distribution to addicts/substance abusers, again sometimes needing to work outside the law in order to provide needed harm reduction health care – they have my respect.
Doctors and caregivers that provide all aspects of reproductive health care to women and girls –putting themselves and their families at risk – they have my respect.
Immigrants and refugees are regularly discriminated against under the auspices of the law. Churches that provide sanctuary to “illegal” immigrants and work for their legal protections, often needing to break the law. All these people and situations just mentioned, metaphorically speaking, are healing on the Sabbath day.
Where do we draw the line of who is worthy of our help and who is not worthy? I am reminded that when we draw a line to keep others out, we will most likely find Jesus on the other side of that line – standing with those very people we are discriminating against and marginalizing.
The argument that those seeking to cross our border for improved living conditions, or women or girls seeking timely health care, or any other person waiting for justice to prevail, should wait another day is put to shame by Jesus’ response.
Our response to injustices needs to be immediate. Our responses need to be compassionate. Our responses need to address real needs of real people.
Let us be to one another what God promises to be to us. A rock of refuge. A strong fortress.
Our scripture tells us that Jesus laid his hands on the bent-over woman, and immediately she stood up straight. I leave you with these words of hope from theologian Debie Thomas. “What would it be like if the Church were known for this? For restoring stature, dignity, community, and honor to people crippled in all the terrible ways the world cripples them? Jesus is all about our unbending. Our standing tall. Our finding our voices so that we can praise the God who has unbound us. May we be about such compassionate acts, too.”
May it be so. Here in Hancock. Everywhere in Maine. Everywhere.
Rev. TJ Mack – Union Congregational Church of Hancock – August 21, 2022