“The Law and Healing” – 08-25-13 – Proper 16 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here:

Scriptures: Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

The woman is healed. Great news! This particular woman had been bent for 18 years. Therefore, mostly she was seeing just the floor or ground or people’s feet. Along comes Jesus. He says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” He laid his hands on her. She was healed. She could see sky and people’s faces! Happy ending! At least for the woman!

But not for Jesus. The leader of the synagogue was bent on keeping the Sabbath rules. Setting this woman free was declared to be work. Jesus reminds this leader that the leader sets his ox and donkey free from the tether to find water to drink on the Sabbath. Should not this woman be set free of her condition on the Sabbath? The crowd rejoiced. They liked Jesus!

The leader of the synagogue was thinking narrowly and literally. Compassion helps us to open our eyes, to widen our interpretation. Do we cling to narrow interpretation ourselves? Are we open-minded or close-minded? Maybe there is a good reason for holding to the law. Which laws should be very firm? Traffic laws should be kept, especially stop signs and traffic lights. Speed limits save lives.

How are you on the laws concerning the Sabbath? If you are required to work on Sunday, do you find another day to serve the purpose of Sabbath? How strict does God want us to be about the Sabbath? Should it be a do-nothing, sit-still-in-a-chair day! Or would God be delighted if we used the day to take someone for a drive to enjoy God’s world? How about cleaning our house on the Sabbath? To be cleaning is plain work for me, but having a clean home provides much pleasure for me which I think Sabbath should be – experiencing pleasure. But if I am honest, I should do the cleaning on a Saturday and enjoy the clean house on Sunday.

Cheating on the rule about the Sabbath seems harmless compared to some of the other commandments or laws provided for an orderly life by God. It just occurred to me that the word “cheating” could be applied to most of the ten commandments, if not all. If we worship our bank accounts, we are moving our devotion from God to money. We are cheating God. If we steal, we are cheating someone else of their possessions, including spouses. If we kill we are cheating someone of his or her life. If we gossip, we are cheating someone of a good reputation.

What about the commandment, “You shall not “covet?” Covet is wanting what someone else has. It is unclear whether we want a second copy of the object, or style of living, or if we want to take that very thing from someone else. This is a bit tricky. If we want the actual item or way of life, that seems like stealing to me. If we want a duplicate copy, are we encroaching on the pleasure of the other person who has one-of-a-kind? Will copying someone’s way of life be pleasing to the other person or will it annoy the other person because the limelight becomes faded over his or her place on earth? Where does “cheating” enter the picture here?

Frankly, I think the cheating is hurtful to those of us who are coveting. We are cheating ourselves of peace. We are cheating ourselves of healing. We are making ourselves crippled. We become crippled in mind and spirit and eventually health. This disease of coveting gradually eats our well-being.

Does God care if we permit our health to deteriorate when we have a choice? You know things like smoking, candy, too much coffee, high-calorie food such as a Whopper or triple Wendy’s hamburger including french fries. I forgot to mention sugar and carbohydrates. Oh my! I love these things. Do you? Sometimes we let relationships get on our nerves and our health declines? Should we let another person ruin our health and joy? Maybe we don’t always have a choice about this. But, clinging to the hand of God can make a difference. God often opens the door for us to remove ourselves from the situation. This action takes much courage.

Some of us have enough self-confidence to let the usual negative feelings ride along in our back seat. Some of us have a weak self-confidence as some people have a weak heart or lungs. Having self-confidence is therapeutic. It is like having good tires filled just right. Good tires like this can bounce over bumps well. They don’t collapse for ordinary bumps. They can even take a bunch of bumpier bumps. Self-confidence is like having a balanced diet or a good regimen of vitamins and minerals. Self-confidence can mean the difference between forcing ourselves to rise in the morning or fairly jumping out of bed. You may want to challenge this last statement. Could a well-adjusted person still have difficulty getting those feet on the floor when the alarm sounds?

I have known people who sing as soon as they wake – not worldly songs but songs of the good life which comes when we are in Jesus. Maybe my self-confidence needs a bit of a boost since I don’t bounce from my bed. My covers move tighter to my neck when that alarm makes itself known. I do love the tune on my cell phone alarm. But I am afraid that it will wake other people in my home, so I immediately turn it to “off.” I can honestly say that I start to pray when I wake – first my memorized, every-day prayer before moving onto specific people or specific subjects. Finally, I need to say, “God help me. Get my body out of this bed. And then it happens. God does not disappoint.” I don’t have a policeman or a judge or even a parent to threaten me to get out of bed. No. I have God who moves by body. It is incredible every time it happens which of course is something like every day. As I continue my prayers, I thank God between the regular lines.

Soon I am thinking of all the good things that happened recently and something good that will happen that day. But, suppose something awful happened the previous day. Or suppose that we need to do something we are dreading that very day. Do we cringe in fear or do we turn the day into a Sabbath? Making every day Sabbath is like having an ice cream cone every single day. It is our responsibility to look for the delights of the day – previous or present. It is our responsibility to draw on God’s power and love to turn the day from nightmare into a walk with the Lord.

“How,” we say. “How?” Isaiah does have some suggestions. In Chapter 58, we read, “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer
your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”

No wonder we can say with the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the grave and crowns you with steadfast love and mercy; … Lord, you are full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Yes, Lord, you are so inviting. We want what you are offering – not just once, but over and over. We want to be healed of the unpleasant memories which pop into our thinking time and time again – times when we accidentally hurt someone’s feelings and they shrank into depression. Or, maybe it was the opposite. Maybe the person whom we hurt became belligerent and for the rest of this person’s life on earth, he or she carried regret for that unpleasant outburst. O Lord, save us from our own outbursts which hurt everyone in a large radius.

Psychiatrists and psychologists develop business from these very people. We thank God for these people who understand the workings of the mind and body together, being influenced or molded by the soul. But, when we combine our belief in God as healer with the talents and knowledge that God has given to psychiatrists and psychologists, we often see the person moving gradually toward healing. It is God’s mercy toward us and that kernel of joy which God waters and weeds to bring us to the light. “ … then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”

I think the very best way to come out of the gloom is to find some way to help other people. We need to find a purpose – maybe watering plants and pulling weeds. This sounds like ordinary gardening but, when we draw close and let that idea roll in our minds, it is like a dose of medicine. If we plead with God to lift us from our beds of hiding, he will make our bones strong. Our ruins shall be rebuilt, you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. The restorer of streets to live in.

Imagine, by calling God’s name, by depending on Him to raise us up … “And I will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of my hand.” Oh, this sounds so easy, almost like magic. It is not easy. But, putting ourselves in the hands of God and waiting, waiting, we feel something start to happen. The dawn is peeping through the night, waiting to be in charge. And God says, “ … and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Oh, God, mighty and immortal, you know that as fragile creatures, surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright. Give us strength of mind and body, so that even when we suffer because of human sin, we may rise victorious through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen