- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

The following is an excerpt of a sermon given recently at Little River United Church of Christ by pastor Verne E. Arens:

In Luke 13:10-17, isn’t there something within us that is drawn to the bent-over woman in the synagogue? Maybe it’s that part of us which also is bent over. Maybe it’s that part of us which yearns to be more like everyone else. Are you in touch with a part of you that is bent over? A part which avoids sunlight and public notice?

Jesus took notice of the normally invisible, bent-over woman, called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Then, after Jesus laid his hands upon her, Luke says, “She stood up straight and began praising God.”

Can you imagine her surprise and joy? Afflicted for 18 years and then suddenly and unexpectedly set free? It would have been as if she had entered a different world: one she had longed for, but one she had considered beyond her reach.

Such miracles happen today, I believe. I am reminded of a story that is familiar to many of us: the story immortalized in William Gibson’s play “The Miracle Worker” of the young child Helen Keller rendered blind and deaf by a raging fever when she was but an infant.

Then Annie Sullivan entered Helen’s life. A teacher who was, herself, partially blind. Annie patiently spelled out the names of the objects in Helen’s day-to-day world, and Helen dutifully memorized them, but without understanding, without any real connection or meaning. Then one ordinary day, at a water pump, the breakthrough occurred, and Helen knew that the letters being tapped out on her hand referred to the liquid pouring over her hand. Helen described that moment with these words, which are filled with religious imagery: “It was a wonderful day never to be forgotten. … It was my mental awakening. I think it was an experience somewhat in the nature of revelation. … Nothingness was blotted out. I felt joyous, strong, equal to my limitations. … That first revelation was worth all those years I had spent in dark, soundless imprisonment.”

Have you ever experienced something akin to what Helen Keller described: a revelation, a mental or spiritual awakening rendering you joyous, strong and equal to your limitations? Surely that’s what the bent-over woman experienced after she was healed by Jesus: her prison doors flung wide, finally equal to her limitations.

Luke’s story is a reminder to us that the Jesus we worship, the Jesus we seek to know and understand better, was committed to setting people free from whatever bound them and kept them from realizing their full potential as children of God. We are familiar with such stories and grateful to them, for they remind us of how important it is we devote ourselves and our resources to transformation and setting people free, and if not free, at least equal to their limitations.

But Luke had something else to tell us in these eight verses. In addition to reminding us of the importance of ministries of liberation and empowerment, he also wanted to remind us that transformation is not always welcomed as good news. Sometimes it is experienced as bad news.

In Luke’s story it is the leader of the synagogue who saw the healing of the woman as bad news because it took place on the Sabbath. “There are six days on which work ought to be done,” said the official. “Come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”

The synagogue leader’s words are not altogether unreasonable. There is a time and a place for everything. And in the grand scheme of things would it have mattered all that much if the woman who had waited 18 years had waited one more day to be healed, thus preserving the sanctity of the Sabbath?

That’s when Jesus made it clear that the very hallmark of the Sabbath is compassion, seizing every opportunity to transform despair into hope and disease into wholeness. Yes, the very hallmark of worshipping God is to embody in our attitudes, actions and relationships the essence of God’s will, which has everything to do with wholeness and very little to do with rules.

“What does the Lord require of us,” asked the prophet? “To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)

And what better day to do that than the Sabbath?

Today, of course, is the Sabbath, and if we are to take it seriously we will see it as more than a day of worship and reflection, more than a day of rest and relaxation. There’s room for all these activities, of course, and all are needful, but I hear Jesus saying we would do better to look around and do what we can to move ourselves and our neighbors from despair to hope, from disease to wholeness, so that all of us may be equal to our limitations.

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