Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Parable of Lost Things

Luke 15:1-32

Did you all know that is my one of my top two favorite passages in the Bible? I know it is one of those passages that some of you have heard over and over again, and so have I. But still, it is one of my favorites. There is so much hidden in this passage, so many things to look at, so many things to think about, many things that can help us grow and encourage us in our relationships with God. It is about stubbornness and self-centeredness, and it is about the forgiveness and steadfast love of God almighty. It is truly one of the most beautiful passages in the whole Bible, well in my opinion at least.
So here we have Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. They are all gathered around. Perhaps they are reclining after the delicious meal provided by their host and as they lean back in their seats, Jesus begins to teach. Now these are tax collectors and sinners Jesus is hanging out with here, they are not the kind of people one would expect to sit around and listen to a sermon. But since they are there, well fed and in good spirits, they decided to listen, to see what this radical new teacher had to say.
You and I might think this is great. A bunch of sinners have decided to sit around after dinner and listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees, the self appointed maintainers of all that is good and right in Jewish society don’t think this is such a good idea. They knew that bad company corrupts good character; their Mama’s told them that, just like yours and mine told us. They also knew that birds of a feather flock together. Jesus is keeping bad company. One of two things can happen. First of all Jesus could be a bad bird. He could be hanging out with this undesirable crowd because he like them is undesirable. It would not be good if this new teacher whom everyone seems so keen on following was the bad sort. But even if Jesus is not a bad bird, if he continues to hang around with this bad sort, sooner or later their character is going to rub off on him and even if he is not so bad now, pretty soon he will be just like those with whom he is associating.
And as all this is going on; the sinners hanging out listening to him teach and the Pharisees upset because Jesus is spending all this time with these sinners, Jesus decides to tell a parable. But the scripture does not tell us to whom he is telling the parable. Is he telling it to the sinners with whom he is spending his time, or the Pharisees who are all up in arms over the company he is keeping? Knowing to whom a parable is directed really does help us when we are trying to really come to an understanding of what the parable is truly about. And usually the text is pretty clear, whether Jesus told a parable to the 12, or the great number of disciples who followed him, or to the crowds in general. But with this parable we are not told to whom Jesus is directing it. Can we assume he is talking to the sinners? Should we assume he is talking to the Pharisees? Perhaps, he is talking to both.
It tells us that Jesus tells them a parable. The Bible does not tell us that Jesus told them three parables; it says that he told them a parable, just one. But this is a really complex parable that has three parts, three episodes, so to speak. The first two are really short and sound really similar, but tell us two slightly different things, the third is much longer and sums up the points of the first two parables in one of the most well known stories in all of the New Testament. If someone knows only two parables, I would bet that they know the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the (so called) Parable of the Prodigal Son. Although this is one parable with three episodes, let us begin by looking at each episode separately.

The Lost Sheep
Shepherd – 100 sheep; Losses 1 – goes and searches for it; Find it and rejoices; Calls friends together to rejoice with him; Joy in Heaven over one lost sheep, not over the ones that are found.
Retelling: The Lost Coin
Woman – 10 coins; Losses 1 – searches for it; Lights a lamp; Sweeps the house; Keeps looking until it is found; Calls together her friends to rejoice with her; There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.
Retelling: The Two Lost Sons
The Younger Son
Asks for his inheritance – “I wish you were dead pops!”; Squanders his entire inheritance; Famine in the land and he takes a job feeding pigs – highly disgraceful for a Jew; Comes to himself and decided to go home – a slave in his Father’s house is better off than he is; as he goes home he practices his sheep; Father is waiting for him – runs to greet his son and hugs and kisses him – not a respectful thing for a grown man to do; Takes his son back and throws a party for him.
The Elder Son
Is out in the field when his brother comes home; Gets angry when he hears what is going on; Father leaves his guest to go plead with his son; Father simply wants the son to rejoice with him; We do not know what the son does in the end, Jesus does not tell us.

As I look at the three parts of this parable I am drawn to the similarities between them. It seems to me that there for each of the characters in the third episode that there is someone or something that it can be matched up with in one or both of the first two episodes.

So there it is one parable in three parts. When you lay them side by side the three parts are actually very similar. Each one is slightly different one from another.
But they have many similarities. You have the Shepherd, the Woman, and the Father, who are all looking for something which has been lost. Then there is the sheep, the coin, the younger son and the older son, who are all lost. And in each of the sections there are friends who will celebrate with the one who finds what has been lost.
One of the things about parables is that they are simple stories which serve as mirrors to real life, not just the real life of the people to whom Jesus speaking to back then, but parable show us reflections of our lives as well. When Jesus told this parable he intended for the people who were listening to see themselves in the parable just as one would see oneself in a mirror. So as we continue to look at this parable the question is in what way do we see ourselves reflected?
Let us look at our cast of characters. Are we the shepherd, the woman, the father?
Although, I think we all can stand to be more like the shepherd, the woman or the father, I would say, “no.” When we look at scripture and passages in the Old Testament, the shepherd is an image reserved for God. Both the Psalmist and Isaiah speak of God as a shepherd who is good and kind and caring. Therefore, in this parable the, shepherd, the woman, and the father are also representative of God. (The woman is God! How cool is that?) God is the one who has lost something precious which is beloved. And last time I checked neither of you nor me, were God.
So, we are not God, who else can we be? Are we the Sheep, or the Younger son? The sheep and the son are people who have wandered far from the place where God wants them to be. They have chosen their own path over that which God would have them choose and they are now living life far differently than they were created to live life. So, the answer to the question of whether you and I are the sheep or the younger son, is not as clear cut, but my guess is, if you are a good church going Christian who is currently striving to live the way Jesus has called you to live.
Then, although at some point in your life you might have been, we are most likely not one of these two characters. Both of these characters have wandered away, they are living lives that are full of sin and disrespect for God. My guess is that if you are in a pew here this morning, you are not wandering.
This leaves two other characters with whom we might find similarities in ourselves, the coin and the younger son. Are we the coin or the elder son? Hmmm….The interesting thing about both the coin and the elder son is that they have not left home. They are lost but they do not know they are lost. Elder sons live by the rules. He is doing everything right. He does all the right things. He works hard to further the kingdom. He works hard at church. He tries his best. But the elder son has completely lost sight of the love of the father. People who are the elder son do what they are supposed to do. From the outside in they look like they have what it means to be a Christian under control. They appear to be the prime example of everything someone who is striving to be the person God calls them to be, but do not do it out of love. They are not living the way God wants them to live, out of obligation, because it is a chore. They do not strive to love God and then allow that love to bath the way they live in every aspect of their lives. Their lives are not marked by love of God and neighbor their lives are marked by obligation to God and then all other aspects flow out of that obligation instead of flowing out of their love of God. They are caught up in the how of Christianity but have forgotten the “why?” The, “why,” is because we love God and God loves us.
Too often that is who we are as Christians. We are the ones striving and trying to please God. Working to be the people God wants us to be. We set about making life as God calls us to live it and obligation a chore which must be completely and completed with due diligence. But God does not call us to live diligently, God calls us to love.
The elder son in the parable is just as lost, perhaps even more so than the younger son. He is so lost that he has forgotten he is a son at all, but has come to see himself as a slave who works for his father to do what needs to be done. He has completely lost sight of the father and the love the father has for him. At the end of the parable the father is reaching out to the lost elder son, calling for the son to return to him, to once again accept his place as a beloved son. And the parable ends there. We don’t know what the elder son decides. Jesus walks away from the story at that point. We know from the parable of the lost coin what would happen if the elder son is found but we do not know if the elder son is ever found. We are left with the father’s plea to his son. God’s call to the elder son is to leave all that behind and rejoice with him. If we are the elder son this morning and I suspect many of us might be, this is the call God is putting before us. God is calling those of us who find ourselves seeing ourselves as slaves in God’s home to remember that we are beloved Sons. God is calling us out of relationships with God which is based on drudgery and obligation back into glorious, joyful relationships of love. We are lost this morning and God wants us to be found. What will we do? What will we say? How will we respond to God’s love today?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hating the Jesus Way

Luke 14:25-33
Jesus is walking through the countryside from place to place teaching, and preaching where ever he goes. As he walks people begin to follow him. At first there is just a handful of stragglers furtively following him, and then a couple dozen, but soon there are crowds of hangers-on following him where ever he goes. Jesus must feel like a rock star who can’t step foot out of his trailer without a sea of people greeting him or turning around with out a loud cheer erupting from a crowd of near swooning people just hoping to catch a glimpse of the new famous teacher who just might heal you with a word or a touch of his robe. So here Jesus is walking along with this unwieldy crowd of people following in his wake. You can almost see him stop take a deep calming breath and attempt to continue on his way, but where ever he goes, what ever he does, they are there. He gets up in the morning, they are there. He brushes his teeth, they are there. They watch him eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. He tries to get alone, to pray and they are there. It seems they will not be hindered no matter how fast, no matter how far, or no matter where he walks they are right there, just like a large, loud 3-demensional shadow. It seems there is nothing he can do to shake them. Even the son of God is getting a little impatient with this kind of following. So he stops and he turns to them. And he tells them that it is “O.K.” if they want to follow him. He won’t stop them but they need to understand what it means to follow him. They are more than welcome to become his followers but he going to be sure they completely understand exactly what it will cost them should they choose to continue in this reckless behavior.

In order to follow Jesus they must first understand that they need to hate their father, mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters. If you are not willing to hate all theses people and even your own life, well then you might as well turn around and go home. In my imagination the entire crowd gave a sigh of exacerbation at this point, Jesus is taking it a little far this time. Sure his teachings have been a little controversial but he has never said anything like this before. You must hate your family in order to follow him. Seriously? Come on!
I have to say as a preacher passages like this are just a mite bit frustrating to run across. This goes against everything I have ever learned about Jesus and it kind of wrecks something I have worked really hard to teach you all this past summer. I have spent quite a bit of time laying out the foundational nature of the greatest commandment, that it that everything who we are as Christians is summed up in Jesus’ call for us to love God and to love to love each other, and then Jesus has to go off and say that in order to follow him we must all hate all the members of our families and then just to be sure we got it, he has to go off and list them all, every last one of them.
Of course though, Jesus is not really calling for us to hate the members of our family. Jesus is using a little bit of hyperbole to make his point here. Jesus does not call for us to hate anybody, not in the way we would think about it anyways. Jesus is calling for these people to not blindly and undiscerningly follow him, Jesus wants them to truly understand what it costs to give up everything and follow him.
Not to long ago I explained to you that the primary unit of first century society was the family. Family was supposed to be the most important thing in your life. You were not to ever do anything to go against your family. Even as an adult it was considered not merely rude but delinquent of you to openly and publicly disagree with your parents much less leave them and what they stood for to follow some new teacher who claimed to be the Messiah.
Jesus says that choosing to become one of his followers is not something to be taken lightly. It is not an endeavor we should do on a whim so to speak. He wants us to know and understand the cost of discipleship. A builder carefully examines the projected costs of building a building before he sets out to build a building. A king examines what his armies are capable of doing before he sets out to war. Otherwise they will get halfway through and the cost will be even greater than had they not set out at all. Likewise, if you are going to follow Jesus you need to be completely aware of the endeavor on which you are about to embark.
We all know that God’s forgiveness and God’s grace is free, but that does not mean that nothing is asked of us when we choose to follow God. As preacher’s we like to emphasize the free nature of the gifts which God gives to us but although the gifts are free the cost of discipleship is most definitely not free. Giving up our lives, giving up what we want to do, how we want to act, speaking the words we want to speak, for doing, acting and speaking in the ways God chooses for us is quite costly. There is nothing which is harder to give up, nothing which is harder to let go of than the control we have over ourselves. In fact it is so hard to give up that even when we say we want to let go and allow God to be in control we often find that we have retaken that control back from God and have to let go all over again.
Jesus at this point is turning to crowds who have decided to wholesale follow him but do not truly understand what exactly they are giving up when they are choosing to follow him. They think they are going for a stroll, listening to the new preacher in town, going with the crowd, doing something new and exciting but what they are buying into is a new way of life, a new way of ordering everything we do, a whole new way of looking at the world.
When we choose to follow Jesus, we are choosing Jesus above all else. We are choosing Gods ways over our ways. We are choosing the hard path over the smooth one. We are choosing a culture of total abandonment to all that come naturally to us and instead choosing a culture of being renewed, reformed, transformed and remade to be people we can not and will not ever be on our own, but we are choosing to be better than we are, truer than we are. By choosing to follow Jesus we are giving up who we are and life as we know it, so we can become who we were created to be, and enter into life as it is meant to be lived.
Everything in this world is around us is broken beyond recognition. The lives we live, the choices which come naturally to us, the way we are accustomed to living, moving, acting and speaking are fallen, bent, broken ways to be in this world. Sin has twisted who are. Evil has bent and broken all creation beyond all semblance of what it should have been. When we choose Christ we are giving up life as we know it and exchanging it for life as God knows it can be. We have only known life, broken. We have only known ourselves stained, twisted and tarnished. Life this way is wrong. It is incorrect, but it feels right because it is all we have ever known. The cost of discipleship is giving it all up, all we own all we know, all of who we are, giving it to God so we can become who we could be, who we can be, who we were created to be. When we follow Jesus we give up seeing the world the way it is so we can catch glimpses of God’s kingdom come, what the world would be like if the created order was restored; what life could be if it was the way God desires for it to be. We get to give up life broken, and experience life transformed. We get to begin to see the world in the same way, broken waiting to be remade by the one who crafted it in the first place.
As amazing as this sounds it is not easy. Giving up who we are, our very life, to God is big stuff. It is scary stuff. It means going against everything and perhaps everybody in your life. It means denying what the world around us tells us is good and exchanging that broken idea of good for what is truly good.
Jesus may be exaggerating a little bit when he tells those following him around that they must hate their family members and even their own lives in order to truly follow him, but he is not exaggerating all that much. Jesus was literally asking them to decide could they turn from their families to follow him, would they be willing to give up life as they knew it and go where he called them to go, do what he called them to do, no matter who they had to leave behind or what that meant for their own safety, security or sense of self?
In Jesus’ day following Jesus could really mean leaving your family or having your family leave you? Truly following Jesus and what he stood for would eventually mean choosing the truth of the gospel, the truth of Jesus over your familial commitments. Following Jesus when your parents called for you not to was not merely about going against your father and mother’s wishes, it was not merely about creating tension in the family unit, but it meant going against a time honored societal norm, being labeled as a rebellious child, a delinquent, and a societal menus. Following Jesus was not about pleasing your parents. It was not about pleasing your family. It was about pleasing God and Jesus wanted them to know that pleasing God might just put them at odds with the most basic understandings of their culture and put them at odds with those whom they cared about the most. Following Jesus would mean giving up life as they knew it.
You can not be too attached to the life you have, because God is not about upholding the status quo. God is not about propping up that which makes us feel good and causes us to feel comfy and cozy, God is about radically transforming us, changing us, reforming us into the people we would be, we could be, if sin had not bent and twisted us beyond recognition. And sometimes that means that we have to choose God over and above things which are important to us. Sometimes that means we have to choose God over and above things which our society tells us should be important to us. Sometimes that means giving up everything we have ever known to be true and realize it is false and be willing to learn a new truth and a completely new, radically different way to look at the world. We have to be willing to give everything up, our families, our loved ones, the things we hold most dear to us, even the lives which we have so carefully built and put together, in order to live life the way God is calling for us to live it. We have to be willing to put our belief in Jesus Christ and living the kind of life he calls for us to live over and above all things.

Jesus sees us here this morning. He knows we want to follow him. Arriving at church this morning, choosing to be here over and above the many other places we could choose to be doing this morning says something about the choices we have already begun to make. And as we are here in this sanctuary this morning Jesus is turning to us this morning and saying, “Following me is serious stuff.” This is live changing, life altering. You need to know what you are getting into. You need to be ready to pay the price it might cost. You need to know what you might be giving up if you continue down the path you are walking. It means choosing God’s ways over and above the ways of the world around you. It means that many times people in the world around you will tell you, you are wrong, that you are choosing something that is crazy, something which is not good, and something which is causing you to break up the things which our culture holds dear. Choosing God and choosing to follow Jesus could mean going against those you are closest to. It means giving up everything you thought was good and right. It means giving up what you believe to be the right way to go, the right way to live and instead going and living in the ways God is calling you to live. I am not saying that God’s way is not better. I am not saying God’s way is not good. I am not even saying that God’s way is not the way we are meant to live, because God’s way is better, it is right and living God’s way means living the was were created to live, but it might not feel better at first. I may not fee good and it will feel as if it goes against your very nature. It means giving up control.
It means allowing God to reshape, remake and re-create you back into who God created you to be. It means giving up your life, as you are living it now, giving up life as you know it so that you can live life God’s way.
The cost of discipleship is great. We are all here this morning following Jesus, and Jesus is telling us what it means and he is going to turn back around and go on his way and we have to decide whether or not we are going to choose to continue to follow him or to stop, turn around and make our ways back home. What will you do this morning?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Luke 14:1-2; 7-14 - Parties with Jesus

We all love parties: Birthday Parties, Anniversary Parties, Christmas Parties, Easter Parties, New Years Eve Parties, End of the School year, Beginning of the School year, Graduation Parties, Retirement Parties, House warming parties. If there is something going on, for which we might possibly think of throwing a party for, there is a party. We seriously need very little excuse to throw a party.
I have to say I love throwing parties. I love everything about throwing a party: Cooking, Decorating, having the house all sparkly and clean; simply having everybody over and having a good time. I think it is all great. I love having people over and enjoying being together. And I know I am not the only the here, who can say that.
Here in this passage, not only is Jesus at a party, but he tells two parables that talk about parties, in an attempt to teach his listeners about how we should live our lives and act toward other people. Jesus told these parables because of actions he was seeing among the party members which he did not believe were appropriate for people who were his followers, unfortunately it was perfectly acceptable behavior for party guests living in that day.

At parties during the time of Jesus, seating was important. Most of the time when we set up parties we don’t give much thought about who sits where, unless it is a wedding and we are trying to make sure that everyone at any given table gets along with and will have something in common with all the other people at their table, so that everyone will enjoy who they are sitting with during the reception. Otherwise we don’t give that much thought to it.
But in Jesus’ day, where you sat at the table was VERY important. At that time where you were seated in respect to the host was determined by your social status. The higher social status you had the closer you sat to the host. People cared a lot about where they sat at the table and would be very put out if the order was incorrect. Where you sat said something about how important you were in the community. It indicated how important the host thought you were, as well as dictated to others at the party how they were to perceive your social status. So when people arrived at a party everyone was trying to sit in the very best seats closest to the host so that others would see that they were important.
Not only was it important where you sat at a party but it was important for you to be invited to the right people’s houses. When people were invited people to come to a party at your house, the only people who were invited were those who were of the same social status and perhaps those who were of a slightly higher status. You only went to parties where the host was on the similar social status to you. Whenever you were invited to a party you were expected to throw a party in return and invite your host. In order to go to a party you therefore had to be able to throw a party for the host which would be on par with the party you attended at their house. So because of this, whose house you went to and who invited you to their house determined your social status.
Jesus believed that there was a better way to act as both a guest and a host. He did not see this constant jockeying for position and honor, that was so prevalent in his society, as proper way for anybody, much less someone who claimed to be one of his followers.
Jesus thought that that we should not try to bring honor to yourself by claiming your social status by sitting closer to the host than you should, it might end up shaming yourself and caused you to play a social game which Jesus felt was better left un-played.
Jesus also thought that instead of only inviting people of your own economic class to your parties, only inviting your friends, relatives and the neighbors you wanted see and with whom you wanted to be seen, you should invite the poor. Why? “For all those that exalt themselves will be humbled and all those that humbles themselves will be exalted” and “and you will be blessed because they can not repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Jesus saw that it was better to invite people over to your house who might not have enough to eat or be struggling to make it everyday, than to invite people over for a dinner party so that all your friends and neighbors would know exactly where you stood in the social pecking order. Jesus saw that giving of yourself to those who had less than you as a way of humbling yourself.
This passage begins with Jesus and the Pharisees at a party and Jesus is noticing how they are all jockeying for position so that they can sit in the place of honor. Jesus was commonly seen amongst the Pharisees, they were the “good Christian people” of his day. You know people like most of us. People who go to church on Sundays, read their Bible during the week, try to live the way God called them to live. They did everything that they were suppose to do, so that they could be the best followers of God that they could possible be and tried to do things to encourage everyone else to do so as well.
The Pharisees, as the “good church people” of their day, they were drawn to Jesus. Often times he taught things which resonated with them, that encouraged them and made them feel justified their way of life, but they were also leery of him. Sometimes, he said things they were not so sure about, you know like that thing he said about the Sabbath being made for man and not man for the Sabbath; they were not so sure about that. So they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would do anything that would let them know just where he stood. They were watching him to see if they thought was up to snuff. You see they thought pretty highly of themselves and had kind of designated themselves as the keepers of what was right and wrong when it came to religious stuff and they wanted to see if they could put their stamp of approval on Jesus.
But while they were watching him trying to see what kind of person he was, Jesus was watching them and saw exactly what kind of people they were. Here they were all gathered together at this party and they were trying to exalt themselves in everything they did. Not only did they see themselves as the religious authorities but they wanted to do everything they could to exalt themselves when they were among people, so people would look up to them and respect them and give them honor. Here they were worried about what Jesus was doing to see if he was up to snuff and all the while they were spending much time, worry and energy trying to sit in the seat of most honor at a dinner party.
Jesus does not think that how high you are on the social ladder is at all important. Jesus does not think that we should do things to show how great we are as far as social standing goes. All this does is to allow other people to give us honor and move us “closer to the host.” Jesus does not see this as a worth while endeavor at all. Jesus does not think we should spend our time with certain people so that those around us will be impressed with the kind of people with whom we associate.
So as we look at this passage we might ask ourselves, Does Jesus really never want us to invite our friends and relatives to our house for a dinner party? Should we instead always invite people who are needy and struggling? Does Jesus think it is wrong to hang out with your friends? That instead of spending time with people you like and get along with you, should go find the poorest people you can find and spend time with them instead? No, not really.
Of course it is good for us to share from our bounty with those who are struggling and who have less than us, but this passage is not so much about who we are inviting to our parties and where we are sitting as much as it is about humility. Jesus is concerned with us exalting ourselves, with us thinking to highly of ourselves; thinking that we are better than other people for whatever reason.
The Pharisees thought they were better than other people because they were such good Jews. They also then struggled with each other to be seen as the most honored, and to sit nearest the seat of the host. They saw themselves as above others and better than other people.
As Christians it is easy to think that we are better than everyone else –After all we ARE Christians. We live our lives by a different better standard. We love God; we strive to serve God with all we do. Due to all these things we generally are better people than most people.
I don’t know about you but I have fallen into this trap. In middle school I was teased a lot. I am sure most of us were. The only people who enjoyed middle school were the ones who made it a horrible set of years for the rest of us. In spite of the horrible teasing or perhaps because of it, I needed to feel superior to my tormentors in some way, so I thought I was better than everyone, because I was a Christian. I tended to lookdown on everyone else. I was a better person. I believed in Jesus. You can make fun of me but it does not matter because I am going to heaven and you are going to Hell. I have to admit it was kind of very Christianized version snooty. What I did not think about was what my actions said about Jesus Christ and what it meant to be a Christian in reaction to and toward my fellow students.
I was not a very good example of Christ-likeness. I was doing an alright job at the loving God part of being a Christian, but I was not doing a good job at the loving others part. I was actually fairly unloving in my response and attitudes toward my peers. I was doing quite a lot to honor myself, to lift myself up in my own eyes and I did kind of lord it over my peers. It really must have given then a warped view of who God is.
When we honor ourselves and lift ourselves above those around us and then call ourselves Christians, we are saying something about God which simply not true. When Christians act superior toward other people and are openly calling themselves Christians, those people will assume that we are representing the God we say we serve. And they will assume that our God is just like us. Jesus calls for us to not exalt ourselves, but to instead humble ourselves so that God may be honored through us and through our actions.

Luke 13:10-17 - Freedom

She was bent, hunched over. Nobody really paid much heed to her. She could tell that people purposely avoided her by the wide path they around her as they passed by. She was not so much a person; she was a thing, something to be avoided. She could tell when someone noticed her, she could tell by how their feet stopped and then shuffled this way and that as they tried to figure out which way they were going to retreat to get by her. They would stop and then they would first try the left and then try to escape to the right, if that way did not work they would stop again and then quickly and nimbly find widest path of avoidance back to the left. She was always amazed at how nimbly other people’s feet moved. Her feet never moved that nimbly. Perhaps when you did not have to strain your neck in order to see the path which lay before you instead of always seeing what was on the ground directly in front of you, it was easier to move quickly and easily from side to side like that.
She looked at her feet. She had bared feet. It had been quite a lot of years since they had had any type of shoe to protect them from weather and from wear. They were dirty and they were worn. She could tell by looking at them just as much by feeling them that they were tired feet. The first thing she noticed about other people was there feet. She could tell how far someone had come by how dirty they were. She could also tell a little bit about their status in society by their sandals, the quality of the leather or the lack of sandals all together could tell you a lot about a person.
She had seen him walk by, the new teacher who had come to town. She had liked him the moment she had seen his feet. They looked like they did quite a bit of walking. But they also did not look like the kind of feet which shuffled or hesitated, she could not quite put her finger on what it was about them but she liked them. She nodded to herself when saw them; they were good feet, probably belonged to a good man.
She had heard the buzz about this new teacher, who had come to town and she had been interested to see him and hear what he had to say. She had come to the synagogue this morning specifically to hear what he had to say. She was standing there, listening to him speak now. She could see a small bug as it made its way across the floor, it was about to crawl up on some lady’s foot when we was caught utterly by surprise. There were the teacher’s feet right there in front of her. When did she loose track of what he was saying. She had not noticed him move over to her. Nobody purposefully moved over to her. Most of the feet she saw did their best to move away from her, but here were his feet right there, purposefully and steadfastly planted right in front of her. Not only had he moved over to her, not only had he stopped right in front of her, but he was talking to her. He was telling her that she was being set free from her ailment. He was touching her and her back was straightening. She saw his feet, then she saw his robe where his knees would be, his chest and then his face, gently, kindly looking at her. The first face she had truly seen in 18 years and it was the most beautiful face she had ever seen.

Chronic illness in Jesus’ day was seen a little differently than it is seen today. Today friends and neighbors would do what they could to help and support a person who was hindered in day to day life. In Jesus’ day a person who had a chronic condition such as the one this lady suffered from would cause that person to ostracized and avoided. Their illness would effectively render them invisible to the greater society. They would pass through life alone and unseen. It would almost be as if they were not a person at all but another part of the scenery, an object which needed to be gotten around in order to go about your day.
This woman went to the synagogue that day as she would have on any other Sabbath. Perhaps she was coming especially to hear the new rabbi who had come to town. Jesus’ presence would have caused quite a stir and nobody would have wanted to miss being a synagogue that Saturday, since it was his practice to speak in the synagogues on the Sabbath.
This woman would have come to the synagogue that day with little more expectations than to hear the new teacher who was in town and participate in the weekly worship service. But this turns out to be far from a normal Sabbath for this woman. Not only did she get to hear the new rabbi speak, but she got to have a life altering encounter with Jesus. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue that day. She was not coming to the synagogue that day with any thought about getting healed; one could expect that this was completely outside her expectations at this point in her life, after spending nearly two decades suffering from this problem.
While Jesus was there he saw her. Not only did he actually see her, but he walked over to her and spoke to her. You can only imagine how amazed she must have been at that point which of course would then pale at her amazement when Jesus reached out touched, declared to her that she was healed and she was. For the first time in 18 years she could stand properly. She came that morning to worship and leave, unnoticed and ignored as she always was, but instead she encountered the Son of God and here life was changed, forever in an instant.
Most people, who saw her that day, if they saw her at all, saw an undesirable. Someone to be avoided and ignored but Jesus, Jesus was different, when Jesus saw her he saw someone who was in need of his touch, in need of his healing. He saw a person who was suffering and he reached out and alleviated her suffering. He saw a woman who was bound and enslaved by something completely beyond her control and he acted to release her from that bondage and set her free from that slavery.

As soon as we think we understand what this passage is about it takes a turn. The passage begins by looking at this woman, her suffering and how Jesus stepped into her life and set her free. But then in steps the leader of the synagogue to make sure everyone understands the place of the Sabbath in their lives.
So lets’ do that real quick, let’s take a look at the purpose of the Sabbath. First of all we must remember God set up the Sabbath. In the very beginning of Genesis the author explains to his readers that, “On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work he had done in creation.”(Gen 2:2-3) It was suppose to be a day which was different in all others in that on all the other days you worked to live and to survive. On this one day you were suppose to lay all that in the hands of your creator and rely on God to sustain you. To stop all work, to trust God that even if you rested all that needed to get done would still get done. It was about relying on God and it was about stopping all that you did, taking a break from all that you did and allowing yourself to slow down and enjoy the life God had given to you and creation which God created. Part of the though process was if God needed to rest surely we humans who are not God, are far less than God and therefore do not have the eternal stamina of God must also need to rest.
The Sabbath was a day given by God and was suppose to be a day given over to God. Not only was it a day pointed to in the creation narrative but it was a part of the covenant which the Israelites had made with God. “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six day you shall labor and do all your work. But the Seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” (Ex. 20:8-10a) It was a day to remember that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt. That it was God who heard them cry, that it was God who came to rescue them when they were enslaved; that it was God who said, “My people will suffer no more!” Therefore, they were called to, “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work-you, or your son or your daughter, or your male for female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female salve may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord you God brought you out from there with mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord you God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deut. 5:12-15)
The Sabbath was about resting, it was about respecting God and it was about trusting the creator to take care of creation. It was a day which called for people to rely on God. It was a day which allowed people to rest and rejuvenate. It was a day during which all the other cares of living were stripped from the people and they could focus on what they were created for, that is relationship with God and with each other. It was a day where nothing which HAD to be done could stand between you and your God. Traditionally it was also a day during which nothing which HAD to be done could stand between you and spending time with the people God had placed in your life, your family and those closest to you.

In the Gospel this morning, the synagogue leader calls Jesus out for misusing the Sabbath for doing something which had been forbidden by God to do on this day. He tells the crowd that God allows for these things to be done on all the other days of the week but they were not to be done on the Sabbath. But Jesus did not see things this way. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus says the Sabbath is made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath. That is to say the Sabbath was set up for the Good and for Benefit of humankind. Humankind was not set up to serve the Sabbath. The rest we are to take on the Sabbath was not a rest we were to take for the benefit of God. God does not need a day dedicated solely to worship. God does not need for us to rest. We need the Sabbath. We need a day which says, “STOP!” Everyone needs a day during which we can set aside all that worries and presses in on us. God knows that unless we are ordered to stop, to rest to take a break, our inclination is to go and go and go and never stop. God knows this is not good for us. God also knows that in our go, go, go nature we tend to begin to rely on ourselves, we tend to begin to believe that it is us who are making things happen that it is our work, our labor which keep the work spinning. God knows that we fear that if we stop everything will come tumbling down. God knows that we, whether we admit it or not believe that the just might stop spinning if we do not work to keep it going. God knows that we need the reminder that God is God. God knows that we need acts of faith to help us rely on God. God knows that our relationships with each other and with our God suffer when we are not practically ordered to take time, to rest, rely on God, and focus on our relationships with on another and with our God. The Sabbath was created for us, for our good, for our benefit and not the other way around.
But before we all gang up on the leader of the synagogue, shake our heads disapprovingly and scorn him because he is yet another Jewish, scribe, Pharisee, teacher of the law, who was wrong and against Jesus, let me stand up and speak on his behalf. After all I don’t like it when anybody gangs up on anybody, especially if that person probably does not deserve to be tried and executed (so to speak) by a group of people who did not know him and lived some 20 centuries after his death.
You see I think the leader of the synagogue although misguided has a very good point here. Sabbath was not a day during which people where suppose to seek healing. If someone was actively seeking healing on the Sabbath, this would require the “healer” to do work on the Sabbath. It simply was not fair to tell some people they needed to let go, relax, take the day off and rely on God and then tell other people this does not apply to you. You don’t get to rest, you don’t get to let go, you don’t special time to rely on God. But there were some things which could be done on the Sabbath; in fact they were things which really could not be put off for another day. God made a list of these things and guess what, healing people was not something which God had seen as something which could not wait until the Sabbath was over.
So when the leader stepped in he was actually upholding what God had said. The leader wanted to protect the Sabbath and by doing so was in fact protecting people. The leader did not want people to start coming to the Sabbath worship service expecting to be healed, thus imposing on another person’s Sabbath and not allowing, healers to have this one day when they could set that aside, rest, worship and rely on God.
But Jesus was not so concerned about what might happen. Jesus was not concerned about someone imposing on his Sabbath. This woman had not come seeking to be healed but Jesus had chosen to heal her and he would have done it whether it was the Sabbath or the fourth of July. Jesus was not concerned about what day of the week it was; Jesus was concerned for the freedom of this woman. Jesus saw a woman who was enslaved to an illness and he desired to set her free and this was something which, in his mind, was completely in line with the spirit of what the Sabbath was all about.
Jesus argues his case by looking at the acts which God had allowed people to do on the Sabbath. God made allowances for animals to be set free to be able to get to the watering trough on the Sabbath, if God felt it important for an animal to be set free then how much more was God concerned about the freedom of those whom God created and loved. Basically Jesus was asking, “isn’t the freedom of this woman from the bonds of this illness, so that she may able to move freely more important than releasing the bonds of an animal so that it may be free to move to get water and food as it so choose?”
The Sabbath was not merely about sanctity and rest. It was also a day about being set free. It was a day which reminded the people about how God had set them free when they were slaves in Israel. It was a day in which a person was set free from the day to day grind, a day which was free, free of work free of worry; a day to be free to rest, worship and reunite yourself with your creator and with those around you. When you think about it that way, healing this woman is apart of the spirit of the Sabbath

Now I don’t want you to walk away from here today saying, that the pastor does not believe in taking a Sabbath; a “Sabbath” being a day set aside to rest, rejuvenate, worship God and focus on our relationships with each other and with God. I firmly and whole heartedly believe that God calls us to take one day, just one day out of each week to, STOP; to stop our normal routine, to take a break from that which drives us and causes us to go, go, go and rest, relax, take a day long deep breath, rejuvenate, focus on our relationships with one another and focus on our relationships with each other. I firmly believe that the call to Sabbath is just as strong as a call on the people of God today as it ever was.
The point of this passage it not that Jesus does not think that it is important that we have a day set aside for worshiping God and for rest, as commanded in Gen, Ex, and Deut. This passage is not here to show us how legalistic the Jews in Jesus’ day were and get down on them for it. The point of this passage is freedom, that God desires freedom for all those who are called by Christ’s name, that God desires freedom for all humanity, that God desires freedom for all creation.
The key words in this passage are “set free” and “bound.” Jesus tell the leader, as well as us, that this woman was bound by her illness, just like the animals God made provisions for in the OT law, just like the Israelites in slavery. Jesus tells the woman that she is set free, just like the animals, just like the Israelites. Jesus is concerned about setting the captives free, Jesus himself tells us this when he read from the scroll of Isaiah when he taught in the synagogue in Capernaum. Setting the captive free is one of the things we are told the Messiah would come and do. And here we have Jesus doing just that. Christianity and Freedom
People often think about Jesus in the do’s and do not’s. When we think about what it means to become a Christian we think about how when we become a Christian we have to give up what we want to do. We have to give up our Sunday mornings and spend that time at church. We have to give up our time, so we can spend time reading God’s word and praying. We have to give up getting to act in the ways we want to and give up simply saying whatever we want to say and instead we need to allow God to work in us and through us, acting as Jesus would act and saying the things Jesus would have us say. When we think not merely becoming a Christian and we think about becoming a Nazarene it gets even more complicated. We have to think about giving up drinking, smoking, participating in types of entertainments which would not glorify God, and being careful that our manner of dress reflects our belief in holiness of heart and life. I am sure many of us remember the days when as Nazarenes we were not allowed to, to dance (in fact I resigned my position as NYI vice president so I could go to my senior prom), go to theaters, wear earrings, wear weddings bands, wear hats which drew attention to one self, and of course the strict guidelines as to what made up a broach of modest size. It seems as if there can always be something added to the list of what a “good Christian” does and does not do. As Christians it is easy to get caught up in all these rules. And at their heart they have our best interest in mind. They are there to help us have a concrete understanding of what someone who is living and acting in Christ-like ways may act. But when we start focusing on the rules for the rules sake and not looking to the heart of the matter or to the real purpose such guidelines were laid down, we can be just like the leader, worried that rules have been broken and that the breaking of the rule this one time will lead to eternal rule breaking and soon utter chaos. So often, we are trying to do the right thing and are trying to simply encourage others to do the right thing, just like the synagogue leader. But too many times, we have our focus on the wrong thing. Our hearts are in the right places, we want what is right for God and for those around us, but our focus is not on God, our focus is not on the heart of the issues our focus is on the rules and the breaching of the rules, as if the rules themselves are an entity which need to be protected and shielded lest they be harmed in any way shape or from.
This passage is here to show us that Jesus did not come to bind us up with a set of rules, but came to set us free. The “rules” that we get so focused on are not and should not be the focus of our lives as Christians. In fact they can not be the focus. Least we loose who Jesus is and what Jesus came to this earth to do. Jesus is freedom focused; focused on our freedom to love God, our freedom to live in relationship with him, our freedom to live lives that are worthy of the God that we love so much. Living life as a Christian, not a set of rules, it is that ability to live life the way it was created to be lived.
Being free is about allowing yourself to be free, as well as about allowing others to be free. It is easy to not only judge ourselves, but it is all too easy to begin to judge others by a set of standards and rules. We inhibit not only our own freedom but we try to enslave others in the same bounds in which we bind ourselves. Not only do we beat ourselves up but we make sure others know when they have done things wrong. Jesus simply did not come so that we could live our lives bound by a set of rules, no matter how right those rules may be. Jesus came so that we can know the freedom of living life for Jesus, the freedom of living life the way we were created to live, reunited in relationship with one another and reunited in relationship with our God. Living like as Christian may mean that the way in which we live our life will align with a list or a set of guidelines but that is not because we live by that set of rules or guidelines but because when we are living life reunited with our God, loving God and neighbor the way we were created to love it just so happens to align with that list or set of guidelines. We differently because we are compelled to live differently because we are living lives marked by love; marked by love of God and love of neighbor. We live differently, but we live this way freely out of love not obligation and living life this way results in a life marked by joy. Luke tells us that the lady and the crowd rejoiced afterward the healing and this whole discussion, because they were truly free to love, to worship God and to honor the Sabbath, not because God commanded them to do so but because these things are also a part of living life the way God calls for us to live life.
Following the commands of Jesus should be a freedom which we embrace because we love him, not a chore that we do because we must, because we are commanded to do so, or because it is on a set of rules or a set of guideline which tell us what it looks like to love Jesus. So allow yourself to rejoice in your freedom, allow yourself to follow Jesus, allow yourself to love the way God calls you to love. You are free to live, you are free to love you are fee to be the people God called you to be to be the people you were created to be and now THAT is something to rejoice because about because YOU, like this woman, have been set free.