A sermon for August 21, 2016
“Heretical so-called Prophet Curing On the Sabbath” is the headline I’d imagine being called out following this event. Here we have Jesus, again committing an unexpected act. An unexpected act from a truly revolutionary man. And, it’s not like Jesus did these revolutionary acts unintentionally, spinning the resultant heat into his advantage. No, Jesus was, if not a full-fledged expert, quite well versed in Jewish law, and he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew the reactions he would get. He knew that the religious authorities would question him, would call him out for committing acts that went above and beyond what was generally accepted. This is also why Jesus is so ready to respond when criticized. Jesus is ready to defend his actions, because he is willingly doing these acts with an intentionality that is being missed by the religious authorities. They see a misguided healer-prophet who has forgotten his place. Jesus knows that his work is counter-cultural and refuses to limit his work to the predescribed ways of his time and place. Jesus knows full well his place, and is attempting to teach others that his place, and by extension our place, is not within the man-made structures and limits of our time, but rather responds to the call of God when that call is received, Sabbath or not.
So, here we find a woman, crippled, struggling, bound by Satan for eighteen long and excruciating years. The pain has crippled her so much that she cannot even stand up straight. She has been bound for so long that she doesn’t even request this healing from Christ, she’s simply present, hoping perhaps that maybe this prophet and healer will send her at least a little comfort, or at least she can find a little bit of it by simply being in his presence. But Christ does see her. Christ recognizes the pain, the weight of the burden that has been upon her for those long eighteen years, and he calls her over. He frees her of this burden. He heals her. He enables her to stand up straight, to rejoice in the power of God, to once again experience this world with joy, shedding that burden that had so weighed her, that had crippled her.
The woman is set free from the bondage of Satan. She is set free from a spirit that has beat her down. She is set free from a life that has become so limited, so painful, so debilitating that her very spirit was nearly gone, replaced with that spirit that took so much away from her. And, Christ is there. Christ is there to free her. Christ is there to free her, even on a day that he shouldn’t be. Christ is there to free her, even though it goes against the accepted rule of order. Christ is there to free her, because Christ is always there. For it must be true that Christ is ever present with us. That the healing of Christ is within our reach at all times. That the healing power that we experience through Christ will come to us if we simply show up to be in Christ’s presence. We don’t even have to ask for it. We simply have to be present to hear Christ’s call to us. To hear the call from Christ to come to him, to receive that healing power. To receive the blessing and love that flows out from Christ into this world. Calling us to him every day, calling us to simply show up and be open to hearing the call to give up those spirits that keep us in bondage and accept the healing of Christ, even on days that are inconvenient for everyone else.
This is why we come to this table every Sunday. Our Christian Sabbath calls us forward to be reminded that Christ worked to heal even on his holy day, so the least we can do as we commemorate Christ’s death and resurrection on the third day, is to hear this call of radical invitation to be in the presence of Christ, a presence that our simply being in front of can lead to hearing that voice of Christ calling us forward, to accept the healing gift of Christ in our lives. We experience this call every time we are called to the altar to receive the body and blood of our Lord and Savior. We experience this call as we come forward as a community to partake in a meal that unites us to one another, to every other person taking communion on this day in this town, country, world. And, we experience this call when the dismissal is proclaimed sending us out into the world. To spread the presence of Christ out into the world. To take this experience of communion out into the world. For it must be true that the work of Christ cannot be held to only six days, or on the flip side only to one special day, rather it is a constant, continuous, and consistent call to us.
We have to take this message with us and spread it to the world seven days a week. We find our rest in Sabbath when we come here to receive the body and blood and be renewed in our weekly work. We find our rest in Sabbath as we spend time with our families on what has become one of the last days to be overly-scheduled (and even that is disappearing). We find our rest in Sabbath by being in the presence of Christ, sharing that presence of Christ with our communities, and drawing others who are broken, hurting, crippled, to be in the presence of Christ with us on each and every Sunday. And this is what communion is about. It is not about hoarding it just for our community. It is not about hoarding it just for our own individual healing and renewal. Rather, communion is about creating the opportunity for everyone to be in the presence of Christ. Knowing that if we can draw others into the presence of Christ, they may hear the call of Christ to come forward, receive healing, have that crippling spirit lifted off of them.
But, I’ll admit that I talk a big game in this regard. And now that I’m a priest, it can come across as disingenuous, for of course I want more people here each Sunday. Of course I want to see this place grow. Of course I want to see our programs thriving, our building bursting, the sound of our voices crying out deafening. But, what work have I done in the past to draw others in. What work do I do now to share this healing presence of Christ.
And, I’ll admit that this next paragraph started differently until I took a moment to ponder my own question, to remember that bringing Christ to others does not necessarily mean bringing others to Christ. In college I worked as a peer educator and peer counselor, because it was vitally important to me to ensure that our campus was a place that fostered health and wellness more than pain and sickness. Later as a campus minister I worked to bring people into our little community of openness and acceptance, that fed all who came to our dinner table, and offered a glimpse of Christ’s presence through our eating, program and worship together. Neither of these actions brought people to Church on Sundays, and that was perfectly ok because it still enabled the presence of Christ to be fully felt in the lives of those who we touched, it enabled them to to know that Christ was there for them, and we most assuredly made an impact on their lives.
I wasn’t with you all last week because I was trying to bring the presence of Christ into the lives of 40 campers aged 15-18, 9 counselors aged 21-61, and 14 staff aged 19-45. Camp Cross is a place where I feel called to bring Christ forth into this world. It is a place where I hope I encourage those gathered to bring Christ forth into the world as they experience it. We talked a lot during Senior High of acknowledging our own knowledge and power in knowing what Christ has done for us in his death and resurrection. In acknowledging that through that death and resurrection we are called to go forth and wake the world with the unique beauty and truth that we all possess. To wake the world with our own experience of Christ, and in doing so bring Christ to the world and hopefully bring the world to Christ.
Our shared call to wake the world is also about the permission we must accept in the fact that we have the power and knowledge to take our experience of Christ and share it broadly. Jesus puts the religious authority to shame with his response today because they are trying to restrict the power of God, to restrict access to God and the power of healing that is in this world. They were putting man-made constraints around what it means to experience rest, for doesn’t the healing of Christ provide to us rest? Doesn’t the healing power of Christ, that power we can experience if we are simply open to being in its presence, provide to us rest, experienced through a renewal that comes in having our spiritual burdens lifted off, that comes in having the bondage of Satan removed from us. Bondage that when removed allows us to instantly bounce back even after eighteen, thirty, a hundred years.
I challenge you to see how you can bring the presence of Christ out into this world this week. We, you and I together, must join in the shared call we have to take our experience of communion together and take it with us out into the world this and every week. And, we must not be discouraged if this doesn’t equate to more seats in the pews in the coming weeks. For we can and often do bring Christ to others through our own examples of love, compassion, radical invitation and hospitality. We just need to acknowledge for ourselves that we have the power and ability to answer this call and recognize for ourselves when we are emulating the radical example that has been left for us. Heed the dismissal charge this and every week, and you will be successful in providing rest for others, even on the Sabbath. Amen.