To the End
2007-08-24 by Rick Brand
Since I suggested Luke and shared the story, I felt called to show the finished product as well.
Text: Luke 13:10-17 "Woman, you are freed..."
August 26, 2007
First Presbyterian Church of Henderson, NC
Rick Brand, Pastor
If you use your imagination a little, you can almost see how this story happening. It is a normal ordinary day of Worship. We are gathered in the sanctuary. Jesus has come and is sitting over here with the men. We have had the call to worship, sung the first hymn. During that first hymn the woman in Henderson who walks around half bent sideways and her daughter come in quietly and sit over with the women. As Jesus looks around during the choir's song, he sees the woman and has compassion on her. When I get up to go down for the Moment with Children, Jesus just gets up and walks across the sanctuary and goes up to her. He puts he hand on her and says,"Woman, you are freed from your infirmity." She stretches and twists and straightens up. She becomes so excited and so loud. She is shouting and praising God. She is jumping up and down, and thanking Jesus, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Lord." Jesus is clapping his hands in delight.
And I say to Jesus, "Ah, Jesus, why did you have to do that now. You got six days a week to do that kind of stuff. We are in the middle of a worship service here. I got a great sermon all ready and nobody will be interested in listening to it with this woman so excited and thrilled. You have really messed up the service today. There is no place in the bulletin for a healing. You just not supposed to do that kind of work on the Sabbath.
Jesus looks so disappointed. He looks at me and says, "Wow, that is really sad. We have a whole nation that is outraged by the stories of cruelty to animals done by a few famous people. There may be thousands of children being treated worst than these pit bulls but for weeks now the American public has been furious about the mistreatment of animals. The Torah even says that a person is permitted to do enough work on the Sabbath to untie the animal and walk it to water. If there were stories about anybody leaving an animal on a chain in this weather and not giving them water, you could expect a lynching. Yet when I want to untie this woman from the demon that has bound her for 18 years, all you are worried about is the order of service. That is really, really sad. You can't even stop and join her in the singing of praises and giving thanks. Don't you see that the Kingdom of God is not up to you to make, preserve, keep or protect. I give you the Kingdom. It is like this healing. This woman did not come seeking it. She did not ask for it. All you know about her is that she was here in the service. I gave her the healing. She gave thanks, and You were invited to enjoy the gift with her."
Jesus turns and leaves the sanctuary, and as far as the record in Scripture is given. He never attends worship in a synagogue again.
And we are left here looking around at each other. What is there to say? What he says hurts too much to talk about because it is so true. Somehow we do think that the Kingdom of God is dependent upon us. In the devotion to be faithful we end up thinking there are things we have to do, there are rules we have to keep, there are trues we have to protect and defend. God may have acted in Jesus Christ to redeem the world, but now it is up to us to save and defend the faith.
There are all those on one side who think that we have to pass laws and rules to make this nation a Christian nation. We need to put prayer back in school. We have to make illegal all of the bad consequences of our actions. Abortion has to be made to be murder. Homosexuals have to be fixed or excluded. It is the duty of Christians to require everybody to be Christians.
The same kind of conviction that the Kingdom of God is dependent upon our actions exists on the other side which wants to create a more open and just society, to make the great society, to be inclusive and kind and helpful. We have to give all children health care. God's creation has to be saved by our actions.
While all the time the story says that the salvation, the healing, the redemption has been done in Jesus Christ. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. It is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. The Kingdom of God is among you. The new creation has been accomplished in Jesus Christ, our invitation is to join the woman in the songs of thanksgiving and in share the her joy. God does not call us to make his kingdom, or to protect his kingdom, or enforce others to be in his kingdom. God invites us to live in his kingdom. To live in his kingdom which has been created by God in Christ is to be free from having to be right, free from having to be perfect, free from having to make a name for ourselves, free from having to be somebody, free from proving our worth. To live in the kingdom is to be free to find those gifts that bring you joy and to use them joyfully in a place in the world that needs them.
The Kingdom of God is given to us, we miss it, and we rush right by it because we are so concerned about something else. The great New Testament Scholar William Barclay in his commentary suggests that one of the things this story reveals is that individuals are more important than systems and bureaucratic regulations. And yet it seems to me that we are so preoccupied with our individual rights and privileges that we frequently miss the kingdom of God which is a community. Jesus is not "doing" his own thing here. Jesus is bringing in the Kingdom of God with an act of compassion for this woman. The Hope is that the whole synagogue will erupt in praise and worship. There is no license here to do whatever you want in worship, but there is evidence here that the one who does an act of gracious compassion is a part of the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God has been given. It is already ourselves. It does not depend upon our actions. The kingdom breaks out and flames up all around us and we blow right by it because we are so intent on what we think we have to do. There is the miracle of this day, but we have things we have to do and it is too hot or too cold. There is the miracle of your life and the people who love you, but your back hurts and the people you love are doing what you don't want them to do. There is the miracle of God's forgiveness for you and for all creation in Jesus Christ, but you have to hold on to that insult and get even. There is the miracle of God's forgiveness, but you in Turkey have to defend your honor and you have to kill the man who dishonors you.
The gifts of kingdom of God are being given to us all around and we are so focused on something else that we just rush by them and may never see them. My theologian friend Jimmy Buffett has some lines in one of his songs, a joyful song about looking back over his life and celebrating the good gifts life has given him. He says, "Yeah, that's why it's still a mystery to me, why some people live like they do. So many nice things happening out there, never even seen the clues." So many nice things happening out there, and some people just are so dedicated to what they think they have to do for God that they never see the clues to His Kingdom which he has already given in Jesus.
Zora Neal Hurston was a black woman from Florida. She was born in l891 and died in l960. She graduated from Barnard College and did extensive research into black culture in the South and the Caribbeans. She was a leading figure in the culture blooming called the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's and 30's. In her autobiography called Dust Tracks on a Road, she tells about a young man that she was dating and fell in love with. She tells about one event in her courtship."I lived in the Graham Court at 116th Street and Seventh Ave.in New York City. He lived way down in 64th Street, Columbus Hill. He came to call one night and everything went off sweetly until he got ready to leave. At the door he told me to let him go because he was going to walk home. He had spent the only nickel he had that night to come to see me. That upset me, and I ran to get a quarter to loan him until his pay day. What did I do that for? He flew hot. In fact, he was the hottest man in the five boroughs. Why did I insult him like that? The responsibility was all his . He had known that he did not have his return fare when he left home, but he had wanted to come, and so he had come. Let him take the consequences for his own acts. What kind of a coward did I take him for? How could he deserve my respect if he behaved like a cream puff? He was a man. No woman on earth could either lend him nor give him a cent. If a man could not do for a woman, what good was he on earth? He great desire was to do for me. Please let him be a man.
"For a minute I was hurt, and then I saw his point. He had done a beautiful thing and I was killing it off in my blindness." She almost missed that gift by looking at the money. He was looking at the gift of love he was trying to make.
Oh, today we would blow right by that gift with our outrage at the chauvinist attitude of the man. We blow right on by so many of the gifts of the Kingdom of God because we are so caught up in what we think we have to do for the Kingdom of God.
The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. It has been done by God for us. It is a gift we have been offered. The woman has been healed without her having to be worthy, without her having to ask, without her having to promise to do anything. The woman has been healed and she lifts up her voice in worship and praise.
The Kingdom of God is all around us. The gifts of grace appear in so many place. Monica Laliberte told the story of a community of more than two hundred volunteers, and forty nine different companies, who worked two weeks to restore a home for a woman and her stroke afflicted husband. A previous contractor had taken her money, torn up her house and left them in a mess. The community transformed the wreck into a home. The woman lifted up her tears of great joy. And we were invited simply to join her in that joy and from that joy go and watch for other signs of the Kingdom. Our chief end is to glorify God for the Kingdom that has been given and to enjoy it forever.
Sermon for August 26
2007-08-24 by David von Schlichten
(word count: 757)
Text: Luke 13:10-17
Main point: The Sabbath is not about rules and rubrics mainly but about a sacred time during which all are welcome to glorify God and to receive God's healing power.
In our Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus heals a crippled woman during a worship service on the Sabbath. The leader of the synagogue criticizes Jesus for doing work on the Sabbath, which, according to the leader, is a violation of the Ten Commandments.
Many of us see this leader of the synagogue as ridiculous. It is easy to put him down for criticizing Jesus for healing the crippled woman on the Sabbath. Jesus performs this miracle of healing during worship, but this so-called religious expert is too busy being angry about the rules to appreciate this wonder that Jesus has performed right in front of him.
It is indeed easy to be hard on the synagogue leader, but let's put ourselves in his sandals. He is simply trying to adhere to the Ten Commandments, which states that people are not to do work on the Sabbath. Don't we want to take the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath seriously? That's what this leader wants. He wants us to honor the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath, but here is this Jesus character violating both.
Moreover, according to the Jews, the day ends at sundown, so if Jesus waits just a few more hours, he can perform the miracle without violating the Sabbath. What's a few more hours?
The leader of the synagogue seems extreme and legalistic, but he has a point. After all, aren't rules important? Don't we need to follow the rules, especially the ones that come from God?
Jesus himself endorses rules. When a young man asks what he must do to receive eternal life, Jesus starts off by reminding him to follow the Ten Commandments. Jesus values rules.
Even so, the leader of the synagogue is in error for at least two reasons. First, as Jesus notes, there is precedent for tending to animals on the Sabbath. If it is all right to tend to animals on the Sabbath, then surely it is acceptable to heal a daughter of Abraham on the Sabbath, right? That just makes sense.
But there is a larger, deeper misunderstanding on the part of the synagogue leader, and that is this: healing someone is not a violation of the Sabbath. It is indeed part of honoring the Sabbath.
Many people misunderstand this truth about the Sabbath. Legions of us think the Sabbath, be it Saturday or Sunday, is just a day for following rules. “Go to church. Don't do work.” But actually, according to the Ten Commandments and the rest of Scripture, the Sabbath is a day of rest on which we glorify God.
Let me elaborate. First, the Sabbath is a day of rest. Why rest? Because rest rejuvenates us, heals us, strengthens us. God knows the importance of rest.
But it's not just any day of rest. The Sabbath is a day of rest on which we glorify God.
With those two points in mind, think about Jesus healing the crippled woman. What can be more rejuvenating and strengthening than that great rest called miraculous healing? And does not such a miraculous healing, when properly understood, lead to glorifying God? You bet it does.
Healing the woman on the Sabbath brings both rest, for the woman, and glory for God. What could be a better Sabbath event?
Why do you honor the Sabbath by coming to church? Because you're supposed to? Because you're trying to get God on your good side? Because it makes you feel good?
Soren Kierkegaard complained that people came to worship to watch the pastor put on a performance. Many people still think of worship along those lines. Let's be entertained or dazzled by the preacher. Sometimes we even mistakenly call the congregation “the audience” and the bulletin “a program,” as if this is a concert or a play and not a worship service.
Kierkegaard went on to say that, yes, worship is theater, but it is the congregation that is performing, with God as the audience (and, I would add, the guest of honor), and the pastor as the prompter, reminding us of our lines.
In any case, coming to Church to honor the Sabbath, foremost and first, is to be an activity of rest and renewal that glorifies God. In that great event, God helps us to stand tall by teaching us and feeding us.
The Sabbath is, not a chore, but a blessing. Thanks be to God for giving us rest and for granting us the opportunity to glorify God, for in glorifying God, we find true rest, clarity, and renewal.
David von Schlichten, poedifier
Outline for Sunday (August 26)
2007-08-22 by David von Schlichten
I'm having trouble coming up with an outline. My Wednesday Bible study fell apart this morning, so I didn't get much from it, unfortunately. (It's days like these that I wish I did something else for a living.)
Rick Brand's comment and Jimmy Buffet quote are compelling. (Scroll down to read Rick's blog entry, as well as my summary of LH articles for this week.)
Also, it is important to stress the value of the sabbath, since most people seem to misunderstand it.
Next, in Back to the Well: Women's Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels (Westminster John Knox, 2004), Frances Taylor Gench makes numerous valuable points, including that there is a place for the crippled and lame in worship. (By the way, Frances' husband Roger is the author of articles for September 2, 9 and 16 in Lectionary Homiletics).
With all this in mind, as well as the Kierkegaard quote from LH about worship, here, with some strain, is my outline:
title: True Sabbath
main point: The Sabbath is not about rules and rubrics mainly but about a sacred time where all are welcome to glorify God and to receive God's healing power.
A. It is easy to put down the religious official in the synagogue for criticizing Jesus for doing work on the Sabbath, but let's put ourselves in the official's sandals
1. he is just trying to follow Scripture
2. also, rules and rubrics are important for structure and direction
B. We have rules here at St. James: don't run in church, the candles need to be lit before we begin worship, etc.
C. Jesus is saying that healing this crippled woman is more important than rules
D. Indeed, isn't the Sabbath really the perfect time for such a healing?
E. The Sabbath is about life, refreshment, renewal, all as a result of glorifying God
F. Many see worship as a chore, a performance by the pastor, or a quid-pro-quo with God (I come to worship, and God responds by doing what I want)
G. Instead, worship on the Sabbath (which is Sunday for many of us Christians) is greater: it is a time of sacred power during which we glorify God because God deserves our glorification
H. God welcomes all, gives us healing, not because we earn it, but because God is gracious
I. The selflessness of true worship has healing power
J. Women, the bent-over, everyone is welcome: glorify God
We'll see where this goes. I'm not sure. Help, Spirit. (Man, what a day. Tomorrow'll be better.)
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, poedifier
Stuck in Luke
2007-08-21 by Rick Brand
The Luke passage fascinates me because of how often the narrow focus on one thing, even a good thing, results in the complete missing of the miracle that happens right in front of us. Jesus demonstrates the power of Grace and the religious leaders don't even slow down to join the woman in praise. As Jimmy Buffet says, "so many good things happen around here and some people never see two."
Some Highlights of This Week's "LH" Articles
2007-08-21 by David von Schlichten
First, you can read David A. Davis' "Preaching the Lesson" piece for this week as a free sample. You'll also find a helpful article on the Gospel for this week.
Okay, here are my thoughts about this week's articles in Lectionary Homiletics. I have managed to swim over to my computer to post this blog. (Seriously, God bless all those who are struggling with flooding and other severe weather.)
Focus text: Hebrews 12:18-29
Richard A. Spencer rightly notes that the image of God as a consuming fire is difficult to reconcile with the more merciful image of Jesus who teaches us to call the Father "Pappa" (Abba). Spencer teaches that we exegetes must make our way through the language of Hebrews to hear “the Word behind the words” (p.29). He reminds us that we are to remember that the context of Hebrews prompted the writer to be more strident and urgent. Thus, “perseverance in their devotion to Christ is not a mild suggestion but an eschatological demand” (29).
Spencer adds that we preachers need to supplement this tough word with a Word of grace for a theological word that is “self-sufficient” (29).
Richard B. Steele writes about what makes worship acceptable and unacceptable to God. Steele contends that what made Abel's sacrifice acceptable was that it was “a token of unstinting gratitude, not a carefully calculated bribe” (p.29). Worship is unacceptable to God when it caters to the whims of the worshippers or tries to bribe God. Worship is acceptable to God when it honors God, acknowledges our sin and leads us to repentance, and gives glory to God for God's grace.
Steele quotes William Temple: "'Worship is the submission of all our nature to God'" (29). The selfless act of the adoration of God is, for Temple, paramount.
Steele also includes a fascinating endnote that summarizes what Kierkegaard says about worship in one of his books. Kierkegaard writes that many of us think of worship as theater, where we watch a performance by the pastor. Kierkegaard teaches that worship is indeed theater, but the parishioners are the actors, God is the audience, and the preacher is the prompter, reminding people of their lines (p.30). (Now that's my kind of endnote. That's a whole end-song I'll be humming all day.)
Rodney J. Hunter writes about the struggle many of us have with the law/gospel dialectic. What's the relationship between salvation by faith and our good works? Hunter uses helpful analogies on page 31 to suggest an exegetically sound answer. For instance, he writes that when a person is truly in love, her or his life is shaped around that love. Loving acts result from that love. Hunter suggests, "Perhaps it is imperfect love that distorts discipline into either anxious striving or phony freedom and irresponsibility" (31).
"Lesson and the Arts"
Troy Messenger writes well about William Blake, that enigmatic artist, prophet, and poet of the late eighteenth-century, who cared much about the injustices of his day and who saw God and eternity in the smallest of things. Thank you to Messenger for lifting up this amazing figure of literature, theology and art.
Heather Kirk-Davidoff, in summarizing a sermon by Raymond Calkins, indicates that we who are rooted in Christ can let our traditional beliefs and practices shake. The world may shake, but ours is the unshakeable kingdom (p.32).
Also, Kirk-Davidoff notes, a sermon by Roberta Hestenes stresses that gratitude toward God puts our feet on solid ground (33).
"Scripture and Screen"
David von Schlichten writes with his usual cogent brilliance about the following movies: The Fugitive, Twelve Angry Men, Erin Brockovich, The Lord of the Rings, and The Trip to Bountiful.
"Preaching the Lesson"
You'll want to read David A. Davis' article, in which he writes about the idea of stressing God's holiness as part of acceptable worship (p. 34; or see Samples).
John H. Pavelko preaches that the cloud of witnesses, the heroes of faith, are a bunch of sinning misfits; their story is primarily about God using these people despite their shortcomings (p.35).
These pages have lots of intelligent, faithful work, thanks be to the Holy Spirit.
David von Schlichten, poedifier
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