Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bowed down, lifted up

Isaiah 58: 9b-14; Luke 13: 10-17

Today we have a story of Jesus healing a woman, and having a dispute with the leader of the synagogue about the timing of the healing. By now, Jesus is well-known, and he gets invited to teach and preach in synagogues along the way as he travels to Jerusalem.
This time, he is teaching on the Sabbath, a time when one’s focus is to be on God. Sabbath rules varied slightly from town to town, but were intended to give all a time of rest from work. Servants and employees got one day off a week. Food was prepared and set out for the Sabbath day meals. No work is to be done, other than the care of one’s animals. Emergency medical aid was permitted, but for chronic conditions, healing must wait until after the Sabbath.
Jesus knows this rule, and he intentionally ignores it. As he is teaching, he notices a woman who is badly bent over. He knows, or discovers, that she has been this way for 18 years.
For all that time, she has not been able to see the sky, look people in the eye, or stand upright and praise the Lord. Jesus calls to her and she comes to him. He says simply, “You are set free, healed from your ailment.” He touches her, and immediately she stands up straight and begins praising God. Now, she can look Jesus and everyone else in the eye, she can see the world around her, she can raise her hands in praise to God. She once was bowed down, but now Jesus has lifted her up.
While others may be rejoicing with the woman, the leader of the synagogue is not so happy. He knows this woman, and knows that her ailment is not sudden nor life-threatening. She can live one more day as she is and be healed the next day. Apparently a lot of people have been asking for healing, because the leader yells at the folks inside the synagogue and the crowd listening outside the door as well. “Come tomorrow to be healed! Today is a day for worshiping God.”
Jesus objects. “Do you not care for your animals on the Sabbath, taking them to water and feeding them? Is this woman not a daughter of Abraham? Does she not deserve the same care from God as all of you, who are sons of Abraham? You have all been set free from your bondage by Moses, and so has she, finally, after 18 long years.”
The crowd begins to shout at the leader, “He’s right! We should be praising God because of this healing instead of shouting about rules.” We don’t know if the leader was changed by this event, but we remember it as a reminder that God cares more about us, God’s children, than God cares about rules.
God wants all who are bowed down to be healed. Sometimes our bowing down is physical, as it was for the woman in the gospel. We have a serious disease, or someone we love is ill. Sometimes, it is something else: fear, grief, depression, anger, addiction, oppression, an inability to forgive. 
Bowing down can be the consequences of our mistakes catching up with us. We are in a real prison, or in a virtual prison. At these times, we know we need help; we know we need healing; we know we need to be lifted up. We know we need Jesus to heal us. Jesus comes to us in many ways, reaching out to heal us and lift us up. 
He comes to us in the oil of anointing, holding his hands on our heads, and telling us we have been set free and healed of our ailments. As you come forward in a few minutes, feel Jesus touch you as the oil cross is made on your forehead. Hear the words intended to bring healing to your body, your spirit, your heart. Be lifted up.
Jesus comes to us in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. I like to imagine the piece of bread and the swallow of wine being consumed and spread throughout our bodies. We need a chunk of Jesus to chew on, so his gift of life and love and mercy can flow through us and bring us healing. As you come forward for Holy Communion, feel Jesus filling you with healing and love. Be lifted up.
Whatever is going on in our lives, Jesus is with us, never absent from us. His Spirit joins us in prayer, in praise, in laughter, and in tears. We can imagine Jesus sitting in the chair next to us as we pour out our heart to him. We can also imagine Jesus reaching out his hands to touch us, to heal us. We can imagine Jesus lifting us up.
Lifting up also happens in many ways. Someone calls to say they care about us. Doctors figure out how to heal us. We suddenly believe Jesus has answered a prayer.
And here is another way to be lifted up. Did you see this on TV? Abbey D’Agostino, an American runner, and Nikki Hamblin, from New Zealand, were competing in the 5,000 meter race. The runners tripped and fell over each other. Abbey helped Nikki get up, but it turns out Abbey was seriously injured, and fell to the ground again. Nikki could have left Abbey on the ground and run to finish the race, but she didn’t. Instead, she helped Abbey up again.
Abbey had sustained damaged ligaments in her knee, and she has no idea how she managed to finish the 4 ½ laps in the race. She calls it a miracle, saying she prayed her way through it. She will learn when she gets home to the US if she needs surgery.
Nikki has received lots of praise for what she did, with people everywhere acclaiming her for displaying the Olympic Spirit. As she lifted up Abbey, the world has been lifted up to witness these competitors take the time to help one another.  
Whatever is going on in your life, Jesus is with you, reaching out to you, wanting to heal you and lift you up. In response, in gratitude, you can lift your hands in praise.

Please pray with me. Jesus, our Healer, we present ourselves to you. Touch us, touch our wounds, touch our hearts, and heal us. Lift us up to praise you. In your holy name. Amen