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Pentecost 13 Proper 16 C RCL August 22, 2010

Pentecost 13 Proper 16 C RCL August 22, 2010

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

In our first lesson today, God tells the young prophet Jeremiah that God knew Jeremiah even before Jeremiah was formed in the womb and that God had called Jeremiah to be a prophet before he was born. Jeremiah tells God that he can’t possibly carry out this ministry because he is too young. But God puts God’s hand on Jeremiah’s mouth and puts God’s words in Jeremiah’s mouth.

This lesson applies directly to you and me. God had us in mind even before we were born. God created each of us in our uniqueness and called us to our ministries and gave us the gifts we need to do our ministries. Like so many of God’s servants who say they aren’t good enough or strong enough, we may feel inadequate, but we are in good company there. Time and time again, God calls people, and they say, but there’s no way I can do that, and God gives them the gifts they need. God does that with us, too. Each and every one of you is ministering to the needs of others in your daily lives. Each of you has amazing gifts. If I began to name them, the list would go on and on. But at the root of all the gifts which you folks show forth in ministry is that wonderful gift of seeing what others need, seeing what could lift up someone who is down, seeing ways to reach out to others who are struggling, offering a listening ear and a caring heart, helping people to belong, helping people to be a part of things. We may feel inadequate to do our ministries, but God gives us the grace and power to share God’s love and care with others.

In today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we begin with the early experience of God during the time of the Exodus. The general belief was that one could not see the face of God and live. God was, in a word, terrifying. When God came to Mt. Sinai to give Moses the Law, there was fire and thunder and a cloud which covered the mountain. Moses had to put a veil over his face when he came down from the mountain so the people would not see the light of the glory of God which shone on Moses face and die.

Now we are able to meet God face to face in our Lord Jesus Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant. God has come to meet us. God has come among us. God has become one of us, fully human as well as fully divine. Yes, God is a God of justice. And God is also a God of mercy and compassion.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. There is a woman who has been crippled for 18 years. She is bent over and cannot stand up straight. As a woman and a person who was ill, she was considered doubly unclean. People would not associate with her. This woman does not go up to Jesus and ask for help. Jesus notices her, even though she is the least of the least—a woman and a cripple. Jesus calls her over and says, “Woman, you are free from your ailment.” He lays his hands on her and she stands up straight and begins praising the Lord.

The leader of the synagogue gets upset that Jesus has done a healing on the Sabbath. We need to be careful not to be anti-Jewish when we think about this situation. We in the Church can get legalistic about things, too. Think of the furor about the new prayer book (1979) or the new hymnal (1982), or the various other upsets that have happened in the Church.

Jesus responds with a classic rabbinic argument that goes from the lesser to the greater. Everyone knows that we will take our ox or our donkey from the manger and lead it to water on the Sabbath. Doesn’t it make sense that we would free this daughter of Abraham from her illness?

Yes, it is important to have Sabbath time, time for rest, recreation, and refreshment. But Jesus calls us to remember the meaning of rules, not turn them into new forms of oppression. Here is God’s own child who has been isolated and ill for 18 years. God wants her to be whole and a full member of society.

This gospel is new in the Revised Common Lectionary. One of its many points is that God wants people to be healed and whole. God does not want people to suffer from illness or isolation. The ministry of healing is a crucial part of our life together as a praying community.

Barbara R. Rossing writes of this passage: “By calling to the crippled woman and healing her, Jesus affirms the importance of the physical body and the importance of health. Morton Kelsey, who writes about the changes in the attitude of the church toward spiritual healing through the centuries, notes that of the 3,779 verses in the four Gospels of the New Testament, 727 relate specifically to healing and another 31 verses refer to miracles that include healings. Contemporary attitudes toward spiritual healing are complicated by the questionable practices of some healers and televangelists who prey on the vulnerable. At the same time, spiritual healing and healing services that invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit on behalf of those who are suffering are part of a long tradition within Christianity.” Rossing, New Proclamation, Year C, 2001, p. 174.)

Our prayers for healing make a huge difference. There is substantial research which shows that people who pray and people who are prayed for do better during and after surgery and during recovery from illness. We are called to pray with deep faith that God’s healing power is always at work in people’s lives and that healing will take place, often in ways we could not imagine.

God works through researchers, doctors and nurses, and everyone on a medical team treating a patient. I almost laugh when people talk about the conflict between religion and science. There is no conflict. God gave us brains so that we can find cures, find the right treatment, and do whatever is necessary to help people be whole. In our prayers for our brothers and sisters who are ill, let us remember this gospel and let us remember that our Lord wants everyone to be whole.

Loving and gracious God, thank you for loving us even before we were born. Thank you that nothing can ever get in the way of your love. Thank you for your healing, which makes us wounded humans whole. Help us to have unshakeable faith in your healing power, which helps us to stand up straight and lift our voices in praise to you. In your Holy Name we pray.

Amen

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