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Sermon for August 21, 2022 – Proper 16

Speaking of Life 4039 | Remembering God’s Goodness

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 4039 | Remembering God’s Goodness
Cara Garrity

Have you ever left home without your wallet or cell phone? Or any item that you almost always have with you? I think most of us can relate to the wave of panic that ensues when we have forgotten something that was vitally important to us.

In the popular movie, “Home Alone”, Macaulay Calkin’s character, Kevin, accidentally gets left at home after his large family frantically leaves for the airport for their holiday vacation. A power outage the night before their trip turns off all their alarm clocks. Chaos ensues as the overslept family rushes out of the house as quickly as possible to meet their morning flight.

The family gets whisked off to the airport in two full-sized vans to accommodate all the brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles. As they arrive at the airport, they make a mad dash to reach their flight. The family arrives at the gate just in time. The doors to the plane are shut as they find their seats.

Once on board, and in the skies, Kevin’s parents breathe a sigh of relief and start to relax. After a few minutes of destressing, Kevin’s mother gets a sneaking suspicion that something is missing. As she starts to recount her steps, she frighteningly realizes what it is and screams, “KEVIN!!!”

In the busyness of life, it sometimes happens that we can forget to factor in God’s goodness towards us and fail to notice all the many blessings that he has bestowed upon our lives. So many things vie for our attention that it’s easy to get distracted as we rush through our days doing important things.

One such figure in the Bible who had a problem getting distracted and forgetting what was most important was King David. He truly needed to remind himself of all the ways that God had been faithful to him. You can imagine that David was no stranger to busyness. As king, he had an entire kingdom to run, and the pressure was at times overwhelming.

It seems like David made a discovery that something was missing – that something in his life had been forgotten. With that in mind, David says the following:

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 103:1-5

Losing our perspective and forgetting about God’s good nature can leave us in a bad place. A place that King David was familiar with. He was no stranger to life’s trials and tribulations. Perhaps David wrote this when he recognized his vulnerability and realized his soul needed to think differently. David had to remind himself of God’s good nature and hold onto this belief despite his circumstances.

We too get tempted to look at the negative things in this life and wonder where God is in all of this. If you watch the news daily, you can’t help but notice how the vast majority of the stories are negative. Even if there is something positive, the news will find a way to bring out the bad.

But here is the deeper truth that cannot be touched by our circumstances or our busyness or forgetfulness. The truth about who God is and how he cares for us never changes. Even when we sometimes lose sight of it, because we get lost in our rush to live and work and recreate.

If you feel overwhelmed, stressed, and burdened beyond your limits.

Stop and take a moment to reflect on who God is and what he has done for you and for all of humanity. Think about the things David mentions – forgiveness, redemption, love, compassion. Give your soul the refreshment it needs by basking in the goodness of God, the life you have in Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, who is our comforter.

While we may at times temporarily forget God’s faithfulness to us, we can be assured that he will remain faithful. In his kingdom, we will never get left home alone.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 71:1-6 • Jeremiah 1:4-10 • Hebrews 12:18-29 • Luke 13:10-17

This week’s theme is God’s abilities. In the call to worship Psalm, the psalmist makes his appeal to God’s ability to save him from the wicked. The prophet Jeremiah is being told not to fear as God assures him of his ability to rescue him. The author of Hebrews tells us that God has the ability to sustain us. And in Luke, we see God’s ability through Christ to heal and restore a broken woman.

Straightened Up in Christ

Luke 13:10-17

Read or have someone read Luke 13:10-17

Let’s consider, for a moment, the kind of life this woman must have led before encountering Jesus. It’s safe to say that she probably needed a lot of assistance. She couldn’t do what other Palestinian women were doing. We can only imagine her limitations. Because of being bent over she could only look down. Her view likely comprised only the lower portion of her body, her feet, and the feet of others. Oh, and whatever was on the street. Dirt, rock, sand, and animal filth. She hadn’t been able to look someone in the eyes for eighteen long years.

In this story, Luke is attributing her infirmity to Satan. It was a common belief amongst the ancient Jewish people that a person’s infirmity was brought on by sin. If they weren’t saying it directly to her, you can be sure that they were murmuring about her character behind her bent and stooped back.

Wearing her shame like a wet cloak, she more than likely positioned herself away from the others in the synagogue. Perhaps far into the back in a lonely corner so she could at least hear what this captivating rabbi everyone was talking about, had to say. Little did she know that she would become the main attraction and that her world was about to be turned upside down. Or rather, her world was going to be straightened up.

Make no mistake, the way that Jesus goes about this healing shows that he intended a confrontation. He knew all about how many interpreted observing the Sabbath, and in particular, healing on the Sabbath. He surely could have waited for the next day until he was out of sight of the religious leaders. But he doesn’t because he has a bigger purpose in mind.

There are numerous accounts in the Gospels where people sought out Jesus to either be healed themselves or ask for healing for someone else. Some even initiated the encounter by touching Jesus directly. But not this time. This time, Jesus initiates the encounter. He sees her, he calls her forward, he proclaims her healing, and then he touches her.

Jesus knows that what he is doing is considered taboo on the Sabbath to some in the crowd. But he also knows what the Sabbath was intended for. It was intended to help people focus on God. In addition, it was intended to provide rest for the people of God. It was a time for people to be refreshed and restored and renewed – a healing time from their labors. Jesus argues that contrary to this act violating the Sabbath, healing fits the very spirit of the day. What better way is there to celebrate the Sabbath rest?

Theologian Charles Spurgeon commented on this story, saying, “…our Savior, by giving rest to that poor burdened woman, was in truth, making Sabbath in her body and in her soul.” What better place and time for a healing to occur than on the Sabbath? And that is the point that Jesus makes to the synagogue ruler.

Love not only often moves us beyond the law, it also points to who God is. The law of love nullifies and replaces any other law that conflicts with it, including when an interpretation of the Sabbath contradicts the law of love.

Jesus even goes so far as to point out their hypocrisy since they violate the Sabbath by untying their animals so that they can drink. Jesus makes the point that this woman was bound up worse than their animals. While they had compassion for their own animals, they did not show compassion to this woman who is a daughter of Abraham. They did not ascribe to her the value that she had before God.

There is no more common religious mistake than to identify righteousness with certain so-called religious acts. Whether it be church-going, bible-reading, financial giving, and a disciplined prayer life, none of these things make you right in the sight of God. The fundamental question is: where is your heart towards God and your fellow brother or sister?

Jesus pointedly gets to the very heart of the issue with the synagogue ruler and those that agreed with him. That they are far more bent than this woman ever was. She received her healing, but they still desperately needed to be straightened up.

Augustine coined the term, “Cor Curvum in see,” meaning, “curved in on ourselves.” While it started with Augustine, others like Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer would also pick up on this theme. The idea is that humanity is bent inward, seeking its own good apart from God.

C.S. Lewis, in his space trilogy, refers to earth as “The Silent Planet.” The inhabitants of other planets call earthlings “the bent ones.” When we spend our lives with this inward bent, we start to believe that truth begins and ends with us. We become little gods.

When we are curved in on ourselves, the world also reflects back to us what we see in ourselves. For those who are angry, the world is an angry place. For those who cannot trust, the world is an untrustworthy place. For those with despair, they see a world without hope. But for those whom God has straightened up, we see a world of faith, hope, and love.

Chances are that your local bookstore has quite a variety of self-help books. And I’m sure you can find any number of books to help you improve every area of your life. Everything from finances, diet, exercise, etc… Even in your local church there is probably someone that can help you improve in all these areas. Especially if you plan on gaining weight, what church doesn’t consist of a few elderly ladies who can bake you into a few extra pounds this week.

While all these things mentioned can help you in your areas of interest, there is one thing that none of them can do, and that is solve you. That work is reserved solely for Christ and his wonder-working power. There is no self-help to getting straightened up.

Sometimes we want so badly to see the change in our lives. If we aren’t careful, we can adopt the belief that says, when I have conquered my sin, or my bad habits are behind me, when all is right in my life, THEN I will be right, and all will be well.”

That kind of thinking is falling away from grace. And that’s just not how it works in the kingdom of God. His grace is for us now. Not for some future date when we arrive at a healthy place in our lives. His grace is sufficient for us because his power is made perfect in our weakness. So, while we stumble, while we fail, and while we fall, he is able to help us stand.

Just as a person can curve in on themselves, a congregation can be just as vulnerable. We are embracing the idea of our churches being Team Based — Pastor Lead. Gone are the days in which we look upon the pastor to come up with all the ideas and solutions. The body of Christ is comprised of members. Not members and specialists. This is about the priesthood of all believers standing tall together. This is what it means for a church to be relevant. Standing in our communities and serving consistently with the love of God through Christ.

We also participate in this story that we read about today. Humanity was the crippled woman. We stood at the back in our shame and broken condition. Christ called us forward and took the initiative to straighten us up. He took away our condition that kept us bound to sin and death. The works of the enemy in our lives has been done away with.

In calling us forward, Jesus makes it personal. Knowing Jesus, he would have gotten down low enough for the woman to make eye contact with him. In the same way, in his Incarnation, he meets us in our humanity. He takes a lowly form of an infant and starts from there. He makes face-to-face contact with humanity and embraces us and takes us into his trinitarian family.

Jesus reminds this woman, and all within earshot, that she is not the person everyone else tried to label her as. She is a daughter of Abraham. She has a place of honor amongst God’s people. So too, because of all that God has accomplished through Christ, the Holy Spirit is there to remind us of who we truly are. Because of Christ, we no longer must wear the old, heavy, worn-out cloak of shame that would cause us to stoop inward.  We now stand and stand tall in Christ. And as we do, our gaze is no longer directed toward all the lower things of this life, but we gaze straight forward with our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

Humble Hospitality w/ Chris Breslin W3

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August 21 – Proper 16
Luke 13:10-17 “Missing the Point”

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Resource:  “The Place Where We Are Right” by Jewish poet, Yehuda Amichai

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Program Transcript

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next passage, which is Luke 13:10 – 17. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 16 in Ordinary Time, which is August 21.

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a Spirit; and she was bent over double, and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” 13 And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she stood up straight again, and began glorifying God. 14 But the synagogue leader, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days during which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does each of you on the Sabbath not untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it away to water it16 And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this restraint on the Sabbath day?” 17 And as He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.

In his effort to be right, lawfully, it seems—it doesn’t just seem—the synagogue leader is getting it all wrong, Chris.

So, my question for you is this, is there something for us to think about? Any parallels to maybe how believers are acting today? How might we, in an effort to be right, be getting it wrong?

Chris: This is only an hour-long podcast.

Anthony: Loaded question, sir.

Chris: Reading this, I thought about a poem by a Jewish poet. Yehuda Amichai wrote a poem called, “The Place Where We Are Right.” He says, “From the place where we are right, flowers will never grow in the spring. The place where we are right is hard and trampled like a yard. But doubts and loves dig up the world like a mole, a plow. And a whisper will be heard in the place where the ruined house once stood.”

And so, I just love that poem, and I love that poem how it sparks off of this passage, because in your question you ask how they are trying to be right.

And in some ways, that’s really commendable to try to be right. I think Pharisees, synagogue leaders, the people who often directly encounter and serve as foils to Jesus, I think most church people have way more in common with them than Jesus in our impulses and practices.

So first off, maybe that’s one thing we should get used to being in that role of the story and being encountered by Jesus in a way that reminds us that we’re not just not always right, but often not right.

But I love that poem because it reminds us that where we are right, where we circle the wagons, where we just stay in one place, we trample the ground so much that nothing can ever grow—no flowers in the spring. That is hard and trampled like a yard instead of churned up and verdant like a garden.

I think that this is our camel / needle for American Christians—to be that sort of people, that it’s really hard for us to be, not just right, but righteous, to be just, to be true.

Whenever I read to be right, I think of the etymology of righteousness in the Bible, dikaiosunē in the Greek. I think to get a fuller picture, or a more rounded version of what that means, it’s not just like some sort of static rightness, but it is this really dynamic deliverance.

When God is righteous, it is fundamentally liberative. This is Paul’s, “You are now free to be free.” Like, you are free for freedom. You are righteous for the sake of something. And so, in this passage, they have good concerns about being righteous and being right about the Sabbath. Sabbath is so important. Ceasing to be with God is really important. It’s one of the things that constitutes a whole people.

But in their ceasing, they’ve lost an imagination for how that they can still take up and embrace. They can cease and embrace all in the same space and at the same time. Their righteousness and our righteousness have to be more concerned and bound up with God’s liberative work than our rightness. We need to find freedom in that.

Anthony: Yeah, I’ve heard you use the word imagination three or four times. And in thinking about this pericope and sacred prophetic imagination, I think one of the things that stunts our imagination is dualism, where it’s just either/or. It’s this or that. And you see it all over American society right now.

You’re either on this side or that side, and it doesn’t give us the space to humbly learn and to move more rightly into liberation by the Spirit. I just think in asking that question, how we may we be right, but all wrong—boy, you’re right! We could spend days talking through that, don’t you think?

Chris: Yeah. And to go back to the poem and he says, “But doubts and loves, dig up the world, like a mole, a plow.” The doubts and loves.

So, something that finds us that we don’t necessarily welcome, like doubt, and something so basic to us, like our loves or desires, the way that we are oriented to the world, dig up the world, like a mole, or like a plow, like a pest, or like something that we set our hands to and intend.

And the way out of this sort of hardness of heart, (I think of like Pharaoh or name your local politician, right?) that an antidote to that is, doubts and loves that dig up the world, like a mole, a plow.

Anthony: So, this woman that has been identified had been living with an infliction for 18 years, and Jesus spoke words of life.

He was the embodiment of life. He touched her with a healing embrace that ultimately would change her life. I’m curious, in what ways can we actively participate in that healing ministry of Jesus by the Spirit?

Chris: I mentioned how, when we started the church, how we embraced and were named by the Isaiah’s 61 text, and to put some handles and watch words around that, we came up with [and] we extracted: hope, healing, and hospitality in Christ. And those seemed to sum up some of the prophetic vision of Isaiah and in the words of Jesus.

And I think the middle one—healing—was the most kind of uncanny thing for us to try to get our heads around, because what do you mean you are a healing church? Not that kind of church, right? But over the years (and this hasn’t happened automatically and sometimes it happens in spite of us), but we live in a really transient area that a lot of people come here for a little time for grad school and then leave.

And you’ll touch base with people, or they’ll send you an email, or around church homecomings and anniversaries, you make contact with people you hadn’t heard from in a while or who have some distance from you. And we’re getting a lot of people saying, being at Oak Church was really healing for me, and people using that language.

And it’s been interesting that has happened and is happening. And we’re trying to figure out how God is doing that. And so, I think part of that is making space and being responsive, and trying to cultivate a church culture where things can be different.

Like this lady comes to Jesus, probably not with a whole lot of an imagination, maybe just a little spark of an imagination for how an 18-year-old sickness can be changed. She had enough of an imagination to come to Jesus, but I’m not even sure she knew how her life could be different. If something has been happening in your life for 18 years, that is like deeply woven into who you are.

And so having a little bit of an imagination, even if it’s a really open-ended imagination for how God is going to work and then having a patience and an urgency to bring about that newness.

In the passage, I think it’s significant that Jesus spoke freedom to her, and then he touched her. There was a word and a deed happening there, and it brought about her worship and her health.

You have word and flesh; there’s a declaration and there’s a follow-through. And it happens in a mode of direct presence and intimacy. I think our encounters with Jesus still happen this way, through an encounter with the word and through really regular hands and feet—that we recognize sometimes they’re even our own hands and feet for others.

Anthony: Yeah. Proximity begets compassion. Doesn’t it? There’s something about seeing the need and being present to witness it that is so powerful. And I really appreciated your insight about her imagination and probably it not being vivid to what could happen.

And isn’t that the way it is? It’s like music. I have heard somebody say, it’s the one thing that can get to your heart without your permission. It just does.

Chris: We don’t have ear lids; we have eyelids, but we don’t have ear lids.

Anthony: Yeah. And I think healing can show up in surprising ways like that. And we know he is Jehovah-Rapha; he’s the healer. Yet we don’t dehumanize ourselves to think that we can’t participate in some very tangible way.

I think it was Bart talked about how theology should always lead to doxology. In other words, if we’re doing the good work of theology and we don’t end up praising God, we’re doing something wrong.

I’m struck by the church people of the day missing the miracle if they’re not praising God in their desire to be right. Maybe I’m reworking the same question, but is there anything else you want to touch on and what this can teach us?

Chris: Yeah, I think awareness of God’s work comes via testimony, and I think that’s a hard thing for sophisticated modern people like us to learn how to do—to talk about unwieldy and mysterious things of God with passion and gratefulness without sounding like lunatics, and sometimes you can’t help it.

But I’ve learned a lot about this with my kids in the last decade—swimming against this disenchanting tide in order to re-enchant the world. Not that we’re doing anything, but rather we’re learning to notice and expect and narrate what God is already doing. I want them to have a vivid imagination for how God is working without leaning on tired religious speech that’s empty. I’ve been trying to really discipline myself with a certain way of talking, with a certain expectation. So, when they come to me with a paper cut, we talk about how God will heal them; we ask God to heal them.

Less we forget in our forgetfulness that that healing is somehow natural or that it’s not a gift from God, no matter how minute or how normal it seems. How can we expect God to arrive, to act, to intervene in big ways (God forbid, if we want someone to be healed of cancer or after a car accident), if God hasn’t been the healer all along of rug burns and paper cuts and scrapes and bruises from learning how to ride our bikes and from self-imposed, damage we’ve done to ourselves? That’s one thing is re-enchanting our normal speech to create an expectation.

In terms of the passages, that “humiliated opponents,” I don’t know, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. It feels bad, in the midst of it when you are being brought down, humbled, subverted, surprised, but what if that is actually a gift? I think about the rich young ruler who came to Jesus, and it says that he went away sad because he had so much, but it leaves it really open-ended. He still might have embraced that as a gift and a calling and just did an accurate accounting of his life.

What if instead of when we find out we’re wrong or when we find out we actually missed out on what God has been doing all along, what if instead of doubling down or powering up or circling wagons or defending, what if there was an expectation that God was also working in us being wrong? And then there’s time and space to change our minds. There’s not a whole lot of value in that. It’ll be interesting if Elon Musk gives Twitter an edit button because we’re so used to our whole lives becoming un-editable hot takes that we can’t take back. So, we just double down and trench.

I don’t know. What if that is also a gift from God, proving us wrong and not in a vicious way, but in a gracious way? It’s not like divine gas lighting, but a way that can make us people able to ask forgiveness because we realize that we are often wrong.

Anthony: Well, it seems to me it ties back into being ready, right? As the Spirit woos us into greater maturity into the head, Jesus, it looks like that. And humiliation is painful, but it’s like our mutual friend, Jeff McSwain—I’ve heard him say often, “Life is just ongoing repentance.” Every day, it’s oh, I got that wrong! But we have one who knows what it looks like to condescend. And thanks be to God for that.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Why do we sometimes forget what God has done for us?
  • Are there ways that we can intentionally remember God’s goodness to us?
  • Are there triggers we can spot in our lives when we are starting to get to a bad place emotionally?
  • How can we assist others when we recognize that others are overly negative or depressed?

From the sermon

  • According to the sermon, what does it mean to be “straightened up in Christ”?
  • How is the life of Christ different from one that is curved inward? Name some things that would typify each life.
  • Why do you think that Jesus didn’t wait until after the Sabbath to heal the woman?
  • Why do people sometimes place rule-keeping over relationship and the needs of others?
  • How can our congregation be less inward-focused and more outward-focused? Where do you think your congregation is in this regard?

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