A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.
Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”
hen he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
Why was she there?
Why was she there, in a synagogue?
On the Sabbath?
We might presume to answer, “Because she needed healing.”
After all, the gospels are filled with story who came to Jesus and asked to be healed.
And that might be the right answer- we can’t say, not for certain.
But if we listen, we won’t hear her asking to be healed.
No. so I think that maybe she was there, in a synagogue, on the Sabbath,
Because that’s where she was on EVERY Sabbath.
She was there, the week before, and the week before that,
And she was there THAT Sabbath,
The week that Jesus came to teach.
And he saw her there.
And when he saw her, he said, “Come up.”
It was obvious, she needed something miraculous,
Because she was bent over and could not stand up straight.
So maybe it was, well, a bit demanding of Jesus to ask her to come up.
Maybe. But we KNOW why Jesus was there, in a synagogue, on the Sabbath.
Because he was teaching. So when he asked her to come up, it was so he could teach something.
And she did come up- we might wonder how long it took her to come up- but she did. She made it. And immediately, in the twinkling of his brown eyes, he put his hands on her-
And she was healed.
And the lesson was this: This is what God is doing, here, in a synagogue, on the Sabbath-
And this is what God is doing whenever we will open our eyes and our hearts and let God do it-
God is setting people free.
God is giving sight to the blind,
And freedom to the imprisoned,
And justice to the oppressed.
God is GIVING whatever God has to give
Because that’s what God does!
Well, there was an argument.
Remember that, the next time there is an argument at church. Because SOMETIMES, arguments are part of the lesson.
But remember this: Jesus was there to teach, and he taught, and he healed, and the healing was PART of the lesson.
Last week I was reading a book about the growth of the early church- early meaning, from the time of Pentecost up until the fourth century.
In the opening pages, I was taught a lesson.
I knew PART of the lesson, but not the whole story.
Most of those 400 years, church services were closed: members only.
I didn’t know that.
And people who wanted to join church, for MOST of those years, had to commit themselves to going to class, week after week, until they were baptized. And only then could they have communion.
That’s the little bit that I knew.
But even THEY didn’t go to what we call “church.”
Church was members only. Mostly that was because Christians were persecuted, and the church was worried about who would sneak in and make trouble.
I didn’t know about that.
But I didn’t know this, either: when Church members went to church, they expected to learn, they expected to be nurtured in their transformation- THEY EXPECTED TO CHANGE!
They expected those things, because that’s WHY they went: to learn the practices of the Christian faith, to be transformed from people who once walked in darkness, into people who walked in a great light.
So when they went to church, they were taught. And when they left church, they practiced. And when they practiced, they became better. And when their lives changed because of what they learned and practiced, their neighbors noticed.
Hey, what’s up with Annabelle? She forgave her sister!
Did you notice- those crazy Smiths gave their extra car to that family of immigrants that live on the corner! Wacko!
What? Are you kidding me? The McCarthys took in two more foster kids? I’m telling you, they’ve got no sense!
But sooner or later, the neighbors noticed something else: those Christians were happy. They were unafraid, no matter how perilous it was to be a Christian in those times.
So when they went to church, it was for a twofold reason: to praise God, and be thankful- and to figure out, and wrestle with, what it meant to live in response to what God had done, and was doing, in their lives.
And sometimes, the neighbors noticed- and asked, “How can I get what you have?”
And the next thing they knew, they were taking night classes, so they could go to church.
That’s why they were there, in church, on a Sunday morning.
But the real question is, why are WE here?
Why ARE we here? Because the lesson WE had was this, from Jeremiah: “Today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
That is a very tall order, and I’m not sure I’m up to it.
Excuse for why I cannot do those things are a dime-a-dozen.
But the thing is, Jesus had some of those same excuses:
It’s the Sabbath.
It will make people mad.
She didn’t ASK to be healed.
But he went ahead and healed her anyway.
So what I need to do is figure out what needs uprooting,
Figure out what needs building,
And figure out what needs planting.
And then learn how to do it.
And all of these things are likely to start right here- not in church, but in me.
Lord, make me more patient.
Lord, make me more loving.
Lord, make me more willing.
Lord, make me more generous.
Lord, make me more forgiving.
And if I ask those things, and I’m listening for answers, then look out!
Because Jesus is likely to give me some things to practice on.
And those things might happen
And kingdoms might get torn down.
They were there on the Sabbath, and Jesus began to teach.
And things happened,
Because when Jesus teaches, things happen.
But the first thing that MUST happen is this:
We have to show up, ready to learn.
There’s a poem I came across, written by a faithful Christian who, I presume, like me, has never seen a miracle. But she’s ready, for things to happen. And while she waits, she’s being changed.
The poem, by Amy Frykholm, goes like this:
What if there was another girl
To whom the angel did not come,
One who said, every day, “I am ready.”
She woke, she dressed, she went to the well
to draw water.
Still no flutter of wings
No gifts delivered in the dark.
No sudden lights.
Just ordinary grit and labor.
She knew the stories—Samuel, Miriam.
The power of, “Here I am.”
She wiped sleep from her eyes.
Readied the day. Waited.
Let the people say, Amen.
Then let’s consider those stories- a boy named Jeremiah, Jesus, and old woman who came every week-
And then let’s go practice.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.