Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Pain in the Tush: Proper 16 C, August 25, 2013


Isaiah 58:9b-14

9b If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 14 then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Luke 13:10-17

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 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?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

I have been a bit down in my back since last week.  Just strained muscles, nothing drastic, but getting in and out of the car, bed, down to the pots and pans in the lower cupboards has been trying.  And as I began to think about this week's readings, I was overwhelmed with the power of this story.  That is what Scripture does for us at times.   It grabs us by the lapels and allows us to understand the power of what Jesus' compassion is like. The thought of being bent over for 18 years just made my back hurt--literally.  And in my meditation on this scene I could feel Jesus' hands on her as my doctor had done for me.  That is what these stories do for us;  they allow us to experience God's love for us in rather intimate ways.  Of course not all of the stories in the Bible affect us this way, but sometimes just the image of Jesus' understanding give us comfort or the ability to face issues that we would generally not see.

 The healing, however, is not really the point of this story.  The point of the story is to show how corrupt the worshiping system had become in Judaism in Jesus' day.  Any good Jew who understood the Law of Moses would never have found anything wrong with healing on the Sabbath. A rabbi friend of mine would often get exasperated by the way that Judaism has been portrayed in the New Testament.  He would say, "But Jews don't really think that!"  And I have to always listen to the critique of Christianity by those who have never lived it in the news and on TV.

The problem was that there were those who wanted to control the Sabbath, the Law, the Temple, the faith of the people of Israel just as we find the same thing these days in all religions.  We hear it constantly within our own denomination, we hear it in Judaism, Islam, all denominations of Christianity, and I am sure you can find it among the Coptic Christians, the Jainists, the Sikhs, the Shinto followers, or the Tao.  It is a problem with all religions--it is called dogmatism or literalism.  It is the place in which certainty replaces faith, and order and expediency trumps compassion.

If there is anything that we have 'always had with us' in matters of faith, is the need to control our
universe, our lives, before the Holy One.  And it is precisely that which works against the kind of faith that Jesus taught.  We have 2000 years in Christianity in which there have been methods of trying to controlling God or God's people.  We try to control the Holy with our prayers, with the way that we say how we believe,  how we articulate what it is we believe.  We have centuries of decrying heresies when people find the Holy in different ways, or describe that encounter with the Divine in ways that are foreign to the majority.

And we still hear "Ye hypocrites" when we do not endeavor to create structure to aid the faithful to attain that incredible touch with that which is so far beyond us that all we can do is breathe.  Those who do not believe in God, or have never had a mystical encounter with the Holy often laugh or they believe that they can keep belief well contained.  For those who have identified those glorious events in life for which there are no words can only recognize that there is no way to contain the wonder, the awe, the all-encompassing presence of that which is so beyond but also so intimate.

Jesus called that entity 'Abba' or Father.  Throughout the centuries there have been many names for that existence.  We generally call it God.  The leader of the synagogue in this passage was one who want to make sure he kept every thing 'Kosher'.  He didn't want some out-of-town preacher come in and say things that he couldn't control.  He bashed Jesus because he allowed the holiness of the love and compassion of God's relationship to the woman who was bent to be made known.  He let God's love out of the nice convenient little box that he had built to keep control of the synagogue of which he was the elder.

Perhaps it is precisely this passage that we need to hear in our diocese at this time.  Perhaps it is precisely this message that we need to hear in our own parishes or in our personal lives.  It may give us the courage of the woman who was healed--to stand up straight, to look the world in the eye and demand of the Church, our society, our nation that we quit trying to stop the free, grace-filled, goodness that emanates from compassion and love.  We do not need to make the Church this complex, well-guarded, safe place just for us to be comfortable.  We need to be willing to look the loss of character, the loss of concern for others, the loss of ability our laws to provide for the common weal of our communities.  We must be willing to recognize that the pain in our tush that we have been nursing is of our own making because we are too afraid to trust in the Holy One of Israel who had been with us for all time.

The reading from Isaiah we find the people of Judah who have returned to Jerusalem fussing with one another and the prophet admonishing them to find delight in their rebuilding of the Temple rather that fighting over what it should be.  It reminds me so of Vestry or board meetings during my career.  All
too often  we quarreled over nothing of substance.  We spent inordinate amounts of time worrying about what color to paint he bathrooms rather than take on the serious topics of faith.  We complained about how much was spent on candles when we could not rejoice in the the work of God among us.

I wish I could say that after many thousands of years, we have gotten better at being able to experience the Holy and point it out to people.  But we haven't because there are so many who need to control God.  So today I would ask you to ask yourself where are you controlling the Divine in your life?  Where are you not allowing the incredible joy of the touch of the Ineffable to drive your congregation?  Where are you blocking the healing of those bent over by the weight of being starved of the Spirit?  We all do it.  But we are called by the pain in the tush to recognize that we too have been bent by the fear of embracing faith completely and allowing God to transform us to the upright people he created.  

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