August 24, 2010

Sermon 8/22/2010


Sermon for Proper 16 C
August 22, 2010
Michael Coffey

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



The woman was bent over,
stooping, lowly in appearance.
Her back had failed her.
She had not been able to look anyone in the eye for 18 years.
She was frozen in a position of humility
and stuck in pain.
Then Jesus came along
and used the power of God to heal her.
She didn’t even ask, you know.
She wasn=t even looking for him.
She just thought she had come
for another day of worship in the synagogue,
and then maybe go have a light lunch
and head home for a nap.

But Jesus saw her and her need was so obvious, so painful to look at.
So he came over and said:
Woman, you are healed.
And he touched her with a touch
that was strangely gentle and powerful at the same time,
the touch of deep mercy
and the touch of creative, healing energy,
the touch of God.
And she was healed.
She stood up straight.
She looked everyone in the eye
with joyful gratitude and a renewed sense of self-worth.
She hadn=t done that in nearly two decades,
stood up like that and looked at people!
And she praised God,
because where else does such life-giving healing come from but God?
I imagine she sang Psalm 103:
Bless the Lord, my soul!

This story is unique to Luke,
and it is a key metaphor in Luke for the good news of God in Jesus.
You might remember back at the beginning of Luke:
Mary was pregnant and expecting the good news of God
to break into the world through her baby.
And she said that God was lifting up the lowly,
raising up the humble,
bringing up the poor to a new place of mercy and blessing.
Everything about the good news of God in Luke
can be pictured in this raising up,
this lifting up what had fallen down,
this bringing up what was made lowly.
And this woman, bent over,
aching in her bones and in her psyche,
she was lifted up.
This, in the most visual and dramatic way,
is the good news of God in Jesus.
God lifts up what was brought down low.
God heals and brings new life.

So often in the Bible,
the good news is enacted as healing.
So often, what God is doing to bring about his good news kingdom
is to heal the hurt and pain and suffering
and fractured lives we live,
so we can be lifted up.

So much of what we struggle with in life
can only be addressed by God=s power to heal.
Think of those things that are beyond your control,
outside your power to change.
Think of all the problems we are unable to do anything about,
so we must submit ourselves to the power of the other,
and trust that power will be merciful and benevolent.
This is the spiritual journey of the addict,
the chronically ill,
the depressed,
the abused,
the dying, and so many others:
We are in a deep need to be healed and restored to wholeness.
We know that only God can do this,
and the good news of Jesus
is that God is all about doing this.

I don=t for a minute pretend to understand much
about the way God works and heals
and brings life and health and wholeness
to us and to all the world.
I don=t have any system,
any prescribed prayers,
any liturgy that can make it happen.
I don=t know what to say about all those prayers for healing
that we sense have gone unanswered.
I don=t have any simple or easy way
to make healing stories or healing power
make sense to our modern ears.
I just know that the good news is about God bringing healing
to a diseased and fractured and falling world,
so that life and health and wholeness
can be celebrated
and God can be praised.

I do know that there are many who bring healing to others,
and they are surely doing the work of God.
When I visit people in the hospital,
people facing surgery or chemotherapy
or unanswered questions,
I always pray with thanks for the healing gifts
given to doctors and nurses .
And we could do the same for therapists,
and friends,
and pastors,
and church members,
and strangers,
and pharmacists,
and artists,
and you,
and for all the ways that healing happens
and life is restored and hope regained.
No, I can=t understand or manipulate or formulate all that,
but I can, we can,
like the woman who was healed,
give thanks and praise God for it.

The year after September 11, 2001
Bruce Springsteen released an album and song called “The Rising.”
In it, he presents a holy vision
that transcends the events of those days.
He sees firefighters and rescue workers
ascending the stairs of the Twin Towers.
He seels the towers falling down, made low,
and the immense pain and tears that this brings.
But he also sees what he calls The Rising:
Those firefighters and rescue works
and all the injured and falling souls
rising up, transcending the fallenness of that day,
and bringing new hope to the world
through a vision of healing and divine mercy.
What makes the song so powerful
is this contrast of the tragic falling of the towers and the people in it,
and the rising of hope, life, and trust in God’s power to save.
He sings this contrast in a rapturous rock/gospel climax:
Sky of blackness and sorrow ( a dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness ( a dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear ( a dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow ( a dream of life)
Your burnin' wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Jesus calls us to such rapturous faith and trust in God
where we can be among all the falling of ourselves and our world,
and still sing praise to God, and be part of the rising.

We do have to hear something else going on in the story.
We do need to listen to the road block in the story.
You would think that an event of healing,
of real good news stuff happening right in your midst,
would bring a reaction of thanksgiving and wonderment.
But, for some, there is only trouble accepting what God is up to.
For some, the work of God=s healing
doesn=t fit within their religious requirements
or understanding of the world.

Instead, these religious leaders
seem intent not on lifting people up,
but on bringing them down.
So much of what goes on between people
is a roadblock to the healing,
the lifting up of people from old ways that bring them low
to new life and wholeness.
It might be hard to see how we could be bringing people down
instead of being a part of the lifting up of God=s work,
but we should assume we might be doing that sometimes.
Isaiah talks about his own people
who are in a state of bringing people down,
to the point that it is crushing all the healing and wholeness
and peace that God is trying to work in them.
They are speaking ill of others,
taking advantage of others,
using the economic and social systems
for their own aggrandizement
and dragging others down low.
Isaiah says it is time to start lifting people up,
time to start working towards the Sabbath vision
of shalom, peace, neighborliness, and wholeness,
that God intends for all people,
for that is the good news.
Healing isn=t just about me or you,
but about the economic, social, and political lives we share.
God knows there is much to be healed in those realms,
and no Gospel says it better than Luke:
All brought down low and hurting in this world of injustice
will be lifted up and healed.

We gather as a people who know all about the falling down,
all about humility and lowliness,
all about disease and pain.
It is part of the human journey.
But we also gather as a people
who have been lifted up in some way:
through grace and forgiveness,
through healing and reconciliation,
through the Word and the Bread and Wine.
So as people who know something of the rising,
we also lift people up,
we help healing to happen,
we bring people up from their low places,
from their downward spiral,
from their despair and pain,
before they can have a response of praise and service.
So much of what we need to do together
is simply lifting each other up,
bringing the healing that is God=s healing,
and strive to stop bringing each other and ourselves down.
One of the most profound things about this story of the woman
is that Jesus names her: Daughter of Abraham.
He reminds her, and everyone else,
that she has been lifted up high
because she is part of the story of God=s people.
Through baptism, this is our heritage as well.
We are sons of Abraham,
daughters of Abraham,
descendants of saints who walked by faith,
children of the Father,
beloved as of a mother=s own womb.
This naming is itself a lifting up,
a raising up high so we can rise above all that would bring us down.
We are someone=s beloved son,
someone=s beloved daughter,
and that someone is the God of healing and life.

We could end every worship service something like this,
and in a a way, we do:
Did you get healed? Did you get lifted up?
If not, then we will wait with you, hand in hand,
and trust God in Jesus to do that for you.
If so, then sing praise to God,
and rise up, rise up, rise up,
and go lift up all who are bowed down,
and bring a song of praise to their lips, too.
Bless the Lord, my soul…

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