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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 08/25/2013

Another healing story; another healing story that takes place in the synagogue on the Sabbath thus irritating the leaders of the synagogue.  It seems like, with slight variations, we’ve heard all this before and it’s true.  If you were to go backwards through Luke’s gospel from chapter 13 where this story comes from, you would find that there have been a number of healing stories already, some of which have taken place on the Sabbath; this isn’t exactly new territory.  So, one could ask, “What purpose is served by Luke including another story like this?  Hasn’t he already made his point?”

One thing about this story is that it might tempt you to take the side of the leader of the synagogue in his complaint about Jesus healing on the Sabbath.  According to the text, the woman in question had been crippled for eighteen years.  She was bent over and couldn’t stand up straight all of which is unfortunate but it doesn’t seem like it calls for immediate action.  She’s not close to death or anything like that.  

Jesus was familiar with Judaism and with the significance of the Sabbath so what would have been the harm in him saying to the woman, “I’m staying in the house across the way; come by tomorrow and I’ll take care of this for you.”  After eighteen years would one more day make that big a difference?  Was it really necessary to upset the synagogue authorities, again?  Wait a day and everyone’s happy; the woman is healed and the Sabbath has been properly observed.  Why rock the boat unnecessarily?

On the other hand, maybe it’s hard for us to identify with the concern of the leader of the synagogue because it’s hard for us to see what the big deal is relative to the Sabbath.  What we have to try and understand though, is that it was a big deal.  We’ve pretty much lost the notion of the Sabbath, of Sunday being a day set apart.  For a lot of people it is just another day and even for those who do take time for worship the idea of Sabbath rest is still somewhat foreign.  Even if you go to church on Sunday morning, the rest of the day is open. 

But in Judaism, part of what was going on in the “Remember the Sabbath” commandment was the idea of trusting that for one day a week, God could take care of things; it was a faith statement.  To do any work on the Sabbath was to say that we don’t trust God’s ability to provide.  I don’t know how central that is to Judaism these days, but back then, it was.  We may have trouble understanding that, but Jesus wouldn’t have.  He would have known, and still, he acted.  But again, in Luke’s gospel none of this is new.  So what’s the point of another story that raises the same issues?  It’s got to be about more than emphasizing the significance of the Sabbath.

With any writer or speaker, if they keep repeating a theme it must mean that it’s important.  In this case you go back to Luke’s account of Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth.  He read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,” and he followed that with “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” a bold statement to say the least.  Later in Luke, when John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one?” he says “Go tell John what you’ve seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” 

These things that Isaiah says and Jesus repeats are signs of the kingdom and throughout Luke making the kingdom known and identifying Jesus as the one who brings the kingdom near is more important than anything else; anything, including that which is held sacred in the tradition represented by the Torah.  Making the kingdom known and identifying Jesus with it is so important that even the violation of a good rule is permitted and observation of the Sabbath is a good rule. 

For Jesus, what there is here is an urgency that takes precedence over everything else.  It’s kingdom urgency and for Jesus this kingdom business is serious; hence Luke’s repetition of this theme.  It’s not an effort to say that the law doesn’t matter; like I said, Sabbath keeping is a good rule and obviously Jesus knew that.  But for him, making the kingdom known was a matter of urgency; it couldn’t wait even one more day.

For most of us, the kingdom business isn’t so serious.  We don’t share Jesus sense of urgency.  But…making the kingdom known and identifying Jesus as the one who brings the kingdom near is as important now as it was then.  There really ought to be a sense of urgency about it especially because there does seem to be a sense of urgency among some who want to make it known that religion in general and Christianity in particular are bad, relics of unenlightened thinking that ought to be abandoned because it’s done more harm than good.

The sad part of it is, some of what they say is true.  You can’t argue with the fact that many battles and wars have been fought for religious reasons, people of one group being convinced that they’re right and those who disagree deserve to die.  As soon as I say that I’m sure people think of Muslim terrorists, but be careful; it’s not just them.  I’m rereading a history of the Reformation I read a few years ago and it really isn’t a pleasant read.  It didn’t take long for bloodshed to become a part of things and a lot of it was Christians fighting amongst themselves about theological issues that one would think should be open to interpretation.  But instead, those who had different ideas were called heretics and burnt at the stake.  Martin Luther himself was a target, but directly or indirectly he also sanctioned some of this violence. He had his flaws. 

All of which is more evidence that there is an urgency about making the kingdom known, about making the teachings of Jesus known, about making the teachings about Jesus known, because over the course of 2000 years a lot of distortion has taken place, much of it self inflicted.  That distortion can make Christianity seem to be a religion of intolerance and bigotry, a religion of ideological certainty that leaves no room for disagreement or other possibilities.  That kind of hard headed certainty does not help to reveal the kingdom Jesus talked about, thus the need to share in Jesus’ sense of urgency.  The distortion of Jesus’ life and message and what it means can’t go unchallenged!  It’s urgent!

It’s hard to say what is most urgent about making the kingdom and Jesus’ role in it known.  We have to try though because to simply say we have to preach Christ and Christ crucified is about the same as saying nothing these days.  That’s insider jargon that doesn’t reach very far.  But what are the kingdom characteristics that the world most needs to hear?  For the sake of discussion, let me offer three.

The kingdom Jesus proclaimed is about welcome, it’s about inclusion not because anything goes or because on our own we are good enough to be welcomed, but because we are, every one of us, simultaneously saints and sinners as Luther put it so well.  Christianity is not a holier than thou comparison game; we all share the same saint/sinner identity and we are welcomed and forgiven as such, every one of us.  As soon as we start making comparisons, distortion takes place.

The kingdom is also about possibilities, possibilities most fully revealed in Jesus’ death and resurrection where cruel, unjust death was transformed into new life, a death and a resurrection that are a reflection of God’s love for all of us, love that won’t let death and evil have the last word.  The kingdom is about hope that God is in control and that we are moving toward something better.

The kingdom is about radical care for each other, the kind of care that Jesus demonstrated in the story today and in many others.  Our basic instincts are selfish, me first but in the kingdom those instincts are set aside and overcome for the sake of the other. 

Those are three things that, for me, the world urgently needs to know about being a follower of Christ and what Christianity represents.  They are not the only three but it is urgent, because the distortions are out there.

I’ll end with a quote from our ELCA bishop elect Elizabeth Eaton.  I was curious to know more about her and found a post election article earlier this week. One of the things she was asked was who are your theological influences and she said, St. Paul, Martin Luther and…Walter Brueggemann!  She must  be pretty good!

Anyway, she was also asked about her vision for the church and she said this: “We want to be a place that says we can disagree on things that are vitally important but still listen to each other and see in the other a brother or sister in Christ and more importantly, someone for whom Christ died.”  That’s good, and that too is something the world urgently needs to hear.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
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