Freeing the Bent Woman
2010-08-18 by Leah D. Schade
The drama of this scene in Luke is stunning. First, Jesus brings the woman into the middle of the synagogue. To place her in this area that is forbidden to women was to challenge exclusive male claims on the means of grace and access to God. Second, he declares that she is free from her ailment. To speak to her in this way was to challenge male restraints on women’s freedom. Then, he lays his hands on her. To touch her in this way was to revoke the codes forbidding physical contact because of male scruples about menstrual uncleanness and sexual advances.
And once he touches her, immediately, she stands upright, no longer doubled over by the spinal ailment that had crippled her for eighteen years. It’s like the grip of the satanic, serpentine force has been severed, and the weight of countless generations of Edenic sin has suddenly been lifted from her shoulders. She is free – free to stand tall, to be reconciled to her body which has been her enemy for so long. Not only is her body released, but so is her voice, for it says that she began praising God. What a scandal – a woman talking freely and without fear, praising God in the midst of men and in the presence of God. But there she is – the choke-hold on her voice released, and she speaks loud and clear, telling everyone about this mighty act of God.
The reaction of the men is not surprising. The leader of the synagogue first attacks Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. But this probably masks his true fear – his fear of chaos, his fear of what allowing women to have their own voice, and assert their presence would mean for their well-established hierarchy. Then in verse 15, it says “the Lord answered him” – notice the change in how Jesus is referred to in the text. The Greek word is kurios, meaning Lord. This is God This is the word of the Lord. And what does God say? “You hypocrites! Don’t each of you untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it to water? You treat your animals better than you treat your women! 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?” speaking.
To refer to this woman as a “daughter of Abraham” is astounding. According to Walter Wink, in his book, Engaging the Powers, in all of ancient Jewish literature, this expression has never before been used. Up to this point, “Women were saved through their men; to call her a ‘daughter of Abraham’ was to make her a full-fledged member of the covenant and of equal standing before God with men,” (Wink, 129). And more – Jesus is asserting that her illness is not divine punishment for sin, but is due to satanic oppression. When he frees this woman of her eighteen-year affliction from Satan, he is symbolically freeing all women from the affliction of Satan that began in the Garden of Eden so long ago.
Thoughts on Jeremiah's Call
2010-08-18 by Laurie McKnight
Thoughts on Jeremiah this morning – this is his call story. I think of my own call story – perhaps every pastor preaching this passage this week could take a moment or two out of their sermon to tell their congregation their call story – what do your parishioners know about how you chose to become a pastor – and why? Or you might invite congregation members to share their own call stories. What are our parishioners called to do? This might be (probably should be?) separate from their jobs – what they do to earn a living. Vocation and avocation could be discussed – what we do for food money, vs. what we do that feeds our souls. Where do your parishioners feel that God is calling/leading them? How well (and how quickly) do they answer/respond?
I felt called by God at age 15, and yet I declined the call. Not, like Jeremiah, because I was too young (or a girl), but because I felt I wasn’t “nice enough.” God could certainly not call someone like ME! I didn’t know that much of my bible at that point, and I had no idea that fully human people fill every page – I didn’t know the history of reluctant prophets (like Jeremiah, or Jonah, or Moses…the list goes on…) – all the people who said “No” to God (or made up excuses) before they reluctantly said “Yes.” It took me about 30 years to answer God’s call – but I’m so glad I did! My life is much better/happier now – which is not to say that it’s without its hardships, but truly “letting go and letting God” has been a gift.
I wonder if our parishioners feel God’s call on their lives. I wonder if they feel they have answered God’s call, if they feel they have committed to God, and where their satisfaction/contentment now lies. Do they wrestle with measuring “happiness” by worldly or cultural standards? Or is knowing and serving and loving the Lord its own reward – its own measure of a life well and obediently lived?
I'm looking at Jeremiah 1:9: Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”
And I’m reminded of a situation that occurred in church last Sunday. A parishioner told me that my sermon really resonated with her and with her daughter (a young adult who has caused her mother some worry over the years), and the mother told me that my sermon had helped get her daughter back on the right path. I demurred, not only to try and attempt to be humble, but also to give God the glory, the “credit” due – because I truly believe God speaks through me, and the Holy Spirit blesses to everyone’s understanding the message they need to hear. I don’t think I’m the crafter of magic or salvific words; I believe God does that, and I said as much to this parishioner. And then she said to me, without missing a beat, “Well, then, that sort of takes the pressure off of you, doesn’t it?” So I don’t get the “credit” when my message is “good” – but does God get the “blame” when my message is “bad”? Can my message ever BE “bad” when God is the architect of the message, and blesses the understanding of scripture to my parishioners’ ears?
My parishioner is absolutely right. We can’t have it both ways. But I’m not sure we need to have it both ways. If, like Jeremiah, God has touched my mouth and filled me with words, then I have no worries about being a “good enough” preacher (or even a “nice enough” pastor). Perhaps God has touched the ears (and the hearts and the souls and the minds and the hearts) of my parishioners, and they hear what they need to hear – they hear God’s call to them; they hear God’s unique message to them.
With God on our side (Emanuel – God with us) we are capable of doing great things: leading and inspiring others, praying for others, caring for others, showing God’s love to others, sharing God’s love with others…. We are all called as God’s children to be in loving relationship with all of God’s other children – our sisters and brothers in the faith (in the Old Testament) and our sisters and brothers in Christ (in the New Testament). We are all called – we all have call stories – and we are all called to care. And because God loves and cares for us, we are all enabled to do. We are all able to be vessels, servants, workers in the vineyard….to build and plant and minister to all nations in God’s name.
Shock or Awe
2010-08-17 by Stephen Schuette
What’s your yoke? (No reference to breakfast intended.) There are hints in the text about what Isaiah means by “yoke”….the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, and hording food while a neighbor goes hungry, trampling the Sabbath and pursuing your own interests on the Holy Day. I get the sense it’s about being caught, stuck, bound in a way of life from which you can’t look up (the woman’s ailment).
I’m indebted to a colleague for this obvious, but insightful observation: an ox cannot remove its own yoke. Just to give you enough time to let that sink in I’ll repeat: an ox cannot remove its own yoke.
Perhaps there is a yoke that comes in the form of responsibility, as in, everyone needs to take responsibility for their own life, each one needs to pull their own weight, if you want economic freedom then take on your economic responsibility, and if you’re bent over straighten yourself up.
The leader of the synagogue is in both a position of authority and responsibility. He sees his authority being undermined and so he “points the finger” and wants to hold Jesus responsible. It’s a kind of a magic trick if he can pull it off: don’t look at what Jesus just did, but think about the old, regular times and stay with them (and me). So this leader had co-opted radically liberating notions like Sabbath and fit them in with regular yoke-days. There’s something settled and at least predictable about more of the same.
But if you’re aware at all it’s impossible to get past the obvious. Jesus just lifted the yoke. No one had really done that before. They had lived through many weeks in their lives and never known a real Sabbath.
Responsibility is often pointed with fingers. And then when it begins to break down and an awareness of some degree of interdependence creeps in there’s often a shocked response, “You mean I’m not responsible?” meaning, “I’m not in control?” I repeat: an ox cannot remove its own yoke.
The realization that your life is gift will overwhelm you one way or another, either in shock over what you imagined and the control you believe you’ve lost, or in awe that brings you to faith.
Looking at the Psalm
2010-08-17 by Laurie McKnight
Like 85% of North American preachers, I most often preach from the gospel. But I do love the Old Testament – great stories, great histories, lyrical language and poetic sayings – and I love ancient Hebrew more than I love ancient Greek. So I think that after an overnight of “marinating,” I will preach from Jeremiah, and tie it into the Psalm, which I will have the congregation read responsively. Their last words (before settling down for the Jeremiah lesson and the sermon) will be “My praise is continually of you.”
What resources do we have for the Psalm? One of my good friends, the Rev. Paul Heller, was kind enough to gift me with his back issues of Lectionary Homiletics (all the back issues are on this website) when he retired from pulpit ministry and headed off to Malawi as a PC(USA) missionary to head the Mzuzu Crisis Nursery.
The Luke passage is the focus of the August 2001 issue; the Jeremiah passage is the focus of the August 2004 issue; the Hebrews passage is the focus of the August 2007 issue. I’ll bet we preach rarely from the psalms, whether or not we include them in worship every week (I know we included a psalm every day in worship at seminary); my favorite psalm is 133, and I have preached on that one. Recognizing that I am not planning to preach on Psalm 71:1-6, I still might like to incorporate it into what Jeremiah has to say to us….
The Lord as refuge is appealing. Have any of us ever not needed refuge? Maybe not constantly, but perhaps a time or two. A time or two where human solutions were inadequate. A time or two when our human problems were bigger than we could manage. Knowing that there’s an omniscient God (who knows our troubles without our having to detail them) and knowing that there’s a loving God (who is there to shelter and comfort us without our having to ask) can certainly make the darkest nights of our souls bearable, endurable. A Lord who would listen to us, who would save us (and who CAN and DOES save us), a rock, a strong fortress – this is a God into whom we can put our faith and trust, a God with whom we can have a relationship, sharing our hopes and dreams. This God will protect us from our enemies: the wicked, the unjust and cruel. (Maybe this God can even protect us from the wicked, unjust and cruel impulses we harbor, ourselves!) This psalm says we have had hope in this Lord, we have trusted this Lord, our Lord, from our youth. [That may be a theme worth investigating – because maybe not everyone in the sanctuary will have felt that they’ve known and trusted and hoped in God since their youth.] This youthful theme ties in with the Jeremiah lesson of being called as a boy (“only a boy”). The psalm says that God took us from our mother’s wombs. Perhaps without the intervention of God, we would not have been born. But certainly, God has known us (whether or not we have known God) from the very day we were born. The Jeremiah passage says that God formed us in the womb – indeed God knew us before we were formed! God consecrated us, and made us special – therefore, what else would we say back to God but, “My praise is continually of you”? We have an intimate, long-term (eternally existing?) relationship with God. Nothing we can do will separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39). God is our Creator, our great comforter, our rock, our refuge, our strong fortress.
Looking At The Texts
2010-08-16 by Laurie McKnight
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
Here in Kentucky, where I live and work and serve, the kids have already been back in school for nearly 2 weeks, so we are back to more “normal” attendance in worship; I will be preaching to my “regular” attendees, who are also back on their normal work-week schedules.
On June 17, 2010 Jeffrey Nelson wrote in the Homiletical Hot Tub: “While I spend a day or more just with the text, I begin jotting down any potential tie-in that pops into my mind. It doesn't matter to me how nominal it may be related – I consider it worthwhile.” My process is like Jeffrey’s: generally I navigate around www.goodpreacher.com and www.textweek.com and decide if I “like” any particular passage more than any other, or if one passage “speaks” to me more than the others, and I usually begin with the NRSV – it’s most often my “favorite” translation.
First I look at Jeremiah. What jumps out at me first is “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” -- God has always been with us, knowing the number of hairs on our heads and the number of days in our lives. This is a comforting passage, and whether we are only boys (or girls!), or men (and women!), God has loved us enough and equipped us enough and trusts us enough to set us on our way and let us be prophets -- indeed, encouraging us to be prophets. Jeremiah was hesitant to go and tell (as were so many others, as we are, often), and yet God had faith in him. God has faith in us. Love this passage -- already a strong contender for worship this week.
Next I look at the psalm. I like to have the congregation read the psalms responsively in worship, but more the psalms that glorify the Lord and less the ones that talk about lament to God or punishment from God. This psalm talks about having trust in God, finding a refuge in God, seeing hope in God. This psalm sees God as our rescuer, and womb is mentioned again -- a great tie-in with the Jeremiah passage. This psalm gives God glory and reminds us that God is our rock. This is also a "contender."
So on to Hebrews we go. Blazing fire, gloom and darkness, visions of animals being stoned to death and the blood of Abel, rejecting the one who warns from heaven -- these are not pleasant images, and so very scattered that it would be hard (for me) to preach a coherent sermon tying these various elements together (or even explaining them). Shaking things, God as a consuming fire -- I don't do as well with these potentially threatening or destructive images of God, though I know they exist, and they are a portion of our God. That could be a growing edge for me -- some day. It's difficult for me to focus on the more positive images of Mount Zion and the innumerable angels and the festal gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn and the spirits of the righteous made perfect... So I'm thinking I am neither preaching on Hebrews this week nor including Hebrews to be read in worship, by me or by the liturgist/lay-leader.
And finally, the gospel. Ah, Luke! Jesus healing on the Sabbath – awesome, and a well-known story, and something that addresses OUR failure to keep the Sabbath holy, in our culture today.
Sermons4Kids http://www.sermons4kids.com/bent-out-of-shape.htm recommends using a bent spoon as a prop, and talking about people being "bent out of shape" -- what the women in need of healing was -- also what the Pharisees were when Jesus healed her on the Sabbath. As of this moment, not sure what I am preaching on. Jeremiah and Psalm 71, or Jeremiah and Luke, or the Psalm and Luke. Could link any two of those three scriptures together. Time for marinating! That’s enough wrangling for today.
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