Sunday, August 22, 2010

We Love it Here/Timing is Everything

It is hard to believe we've been here nearly 3 weeks. We are feeling very much at home in this small community. Being all unpacked and having the parsonage settled has helped a lot. We've even learned our way around enough to feel quite comfortable going to the next town to get things unavailable here.

Tuesday night at a meeting, I had the opportunity to hear more of this church's history. Over the years the people have grown in so many ways. Today I started teaching adult Bible study and preached my first sermon for Grace. Grace is such an appropriate name for this community of faith.

Here is the sermon I preached this morning:



How often have we heard or used the phrase “Timing is everything?”  We might think of this in the middle of hearing funny stories or jokes. Two people can tell the same story using the same words, but one is a good story teller and the other may not tell it as well, with the right pauses and cadence. Then there are some people that have instant comebacks in a conversation that are perfect while there are others like myself who only think of the great response about a week later. Yes, timing is everything.

It was the sabbath, a holy time set apart for rest, for worship. God gave it as a gift. Over the centuries however, oral laws and rules were added which were deemed as binding as God’s own commands regarding sabbath. In Jesus’ day, what was meant as a gift and blessing became a burden. Just as in last week’s gospel God was turning everything upside down by toppling the powerful and lifting up the weak, so this week Jesus is at it again. This sabbath would be different.

Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. That’s pretty ordinary so far. “And just then there appeared a woman…”  (Luk 13:11 NRS). The Greek is more dramatic about this than the English. The Greek translates, “And look! See! Behold! a woman…” This is meant to be an attention getter.

What kind of woman was she? Why should we look and see? She had endured a long term, chronic illness that she was probably used to. How difficult must it have been for her-- so bent over that she was powerless to straighten up. How hard must her journey have been to the synagogue? What effort must it have taken just to look up to make sure she wouldn’t crash into someone on the way there? We don’t know if she experienced any compassion whatsoever. Would anyone ever intentionally look her in the eyes or engage her in any way other than that of annoyance as they went around her to get to where they needed to go? She was a suffering, marginalized Jewish woman, a daughter of Abraham.

Perhaps she slipped into the synagogue unnoticed. Who would want to get close to her, to really notice her? If she was really living right and was blessed by God she wouldn’t be in this condition, would she? In our day, just as in Jesus’ the victim is blamed for the situation they’re in. Haven’t we heard that if we only prayed harder, had more faith, said the right words that we would find relief?

The gospel says, “Look! Pay attention!” Something is going to happen. Are you ready? This will be no ordinary sabbath. Jesus notices this suffering woman. But how? She didn’t call out to him requesting healing like others did.

How would Jesus react to the Father’s timing for healing? It was the sabbath after all…but come to think of it, Jesus seems to delight in stirring things up. She is healed in two stages. First, Jesus declares she is set free from her affliction. It happened. It was happening and it was going to happen. It was not something she did to or for herself, but it was done to her. Secondly, it isn’t until Jesus lays hands on her that the healing is manifested for all to see.

This woman’s affliction made her unclean by the standards of the Jewish law. By Jesus touching her, he not only restored her to health, but restored her socially as a daughter of Abraham to her community of faith. Everyone would be gathered together on the sabbath. Was there any better time to reestablish her in the faith life of Israel?

How did this woman respond to God’s timing to heal her? How do you think you would? Maybe you’d cry out, “YIPPEE!” or “WOO HOO!” She praised God, not just once, but continually and repeatedly. When we experience God’s blessings, we may praise and thank God, but do we do so repeatedly, continually?  She did.

How did the leader of the synagogue react to God’s timing? He was indignant. We are often quite hard on this man, but remember he was supposed to be in charge. Everything had to be done in good order, at the right time. Healing was considered work and one was not to work on the sabbath. He kept reminding them, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." Can’t you hear him saying this over and over in the background to no avail as Jesus heals the woman anyway? He wasn’t against the woman being healed per se, but the issue was timing. She wasn’t dying. Why couldn’t she just come back the next day, after the sabbath, at the right time? Professor and author Christine Pohl suggests:

It wasn’t wrong for the leader to want to protect the Sabbath day and worship from intrusions of regular work. But in the context of this miracle, the leader appears silly and [small]; being indignant at mercy and goodness looks ridiculous. What is missing is a delight in God’s mercy, in Jesus’ power, in the Sabbath, in a restored sister. In attempting to protect
what was holy, the leader misses a transforming encounter with Jesus, the Holy One. And in trying to protect the holy, he sees the broken woman as an intrusion.

When is the right time for God’s healing power to reign over human suffering? Remember God likes to upset the status quo, to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it.

It is ALWAYS the right time for the kingdom of God to break through, coming at an unexpected hour. God is God and we are not. The woman’s disease was not life threatening, but Jesus recognized her suffering and released her from bondage.

What about us? Many of us have suffered in various ways throughout our lives. Maybe we’re suffering even now. Sometimes we think our problems are too insignificant, too small for God to notice or care about. There are so many people with far greater needs, we may think. The woman wasn’t dying, but Christ cared deeply about her pain. He cares deeply about our pain too.

Further in the gospel, Jesus debates with the synagogue ruler. People take care of their animals on the sabbath. If it’s ok to do that kind of work, shouldn’t it be ok to do the work of healing? Jesus makes a play on words here as he compares the two issues. Concerning animals, the Greek is translated untie and concerning the woman it is translated set free but it’s the same word that’s used in each case. So…“If you untie your animals, shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham be untied?” or “If you set free your animals shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham be set free?” If it was the right time to for the one, certainly it was the right time to free a daughter of Abraham. 

“Well Jesus, if you put it that way…”    Jesus opponents were routed while the crowd rejoiced. That was their reaction to this in breaking of God’s kingdom. They rejoiced, not once, not twice, but continually and repeatedly. The powerful rule makers were brought low, while the powerless that had to keep those rules were lifted up.

God has lifted you all up too. Tuesday night you recounted some of your history; that a bishop said your church should close. But God had other things in mind and turned everything around. Grace Lutheran has stayed open and is growing. God makes churches that should be closing healthy and flourishing--all because of God’s grace, work, and timing—making this indeed a place where “grace matters.”

By allowing God to be God, by not boxing him in, God works in unexpected ways, at unexpected times. If we really believe that grace matters, that should impact us individually and as a church. Are we ready for the next step God has in mind? Are we ready for God’s timing, for the next phase of ministry to each other, to the community, to the world? Listen to this challenge from Christian singer/songwriter, Ken Medema:

If this is not a place, where tears are understood, where can I go to cry?
And if this is not a place where my spirit can take wing, where can I go to fly?
If this is not a place where my questions can be asked where shall I go to seek?
And if this is not a place where my heart cries can be heard, where shall I go to speak?
If this is not a place where tears are understood, where shall I go, where shall I go, to fly?


2 comments:

Unlikely said...

blessings in the journey. May Grace be a good place for you not only to ask questions but to uncover some of the answers in the Word in the company of other believers.

Ivy said...

Thank you Unlikely. I believe it is and will be that kind of place. God's peace.