Saturday, 24 August 2013

Standing up straight

Luke 13:10-17
Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

When we read this passage today, we do so with no small measure of contempt. We are outraged at how the synagogue officials could be so short sighted, preferring their rules that kept folk down and in control to the freedom offered by Jesus.
We see immediately how their view of Gods word and of God's world is self limiting and confining.
And, when we've stopped being outraged by them, perhaps we might even pity them.
That they are so straight laced, so buttoned up. That they fail to see the extraordinary freedom that Jesus offers, mirroring the will of God- that all should know freedom from all that keeps us down, from all that stops us loving life in all its fulness.
It IS outrageous that anyone should want to be limiting or prescriptive with the amazing love and the incredible Spirit of God.
We do well to be outraged.
But wait a minute.
What about all those times that we behave just as the leaders of the synagogue did?
What about all those times when we find ourselves being inflexible?
When we insist on sticking to the letter of the law instead of the spirit?
What about all those conditions we impose that seek to limit the life giving, freedom bringing, full on loving gifts of healing that God holds out to us?
How often do we find ourselves saying...
You can't do that...
You're not old enough or, indeed - you're too old
That's not the way we do it...
That would never work...
How often do we find ourselves saying:
Been there, tried that, got the T shirt...
When we make these statements, aren't we being just as inflexible as the leaders of the synagogue who witnessed something good and lovely but couldn't allow it because, among other things, they weren't part of it.
So, before we condemn those leaders, lets step back and see the similarities in our actions today, clinging to all those rules that we hold dear.
And, when we catch ourselves about to proclaim - you can't do that, lets bite our tongues and appreciate all who contribute in all sorts of different ways to the work of the kingdom.
When we find ourselves excluding others because we have our own carefully worked out system, lets take a step back.
Who knows, we might find an even better way to get something done when we let others play too.
Jesus has just done something incredible when he cops all this flak.
He has just healed a woman who couldn't stand up straight for many years.
What's to get angry about in that?
But, as well as noting how uptight those around him get at him flouting rules, I also want to ask of this passage:
What about all those daughters and sons of Abraham who do not find healing from their ailments, who are not able to suddenly stand up straight.
The way this story is told, it would seem that you have to be able to stand up straight to praise God.
And we know that that is certainly not the truth.
How many folk do you know who are willing to praise God in all manner of trying circumstances.
How many people do you know who are constantly bent out of shape, physically and emotionally by all that life throws at them and yet continue to give God praise.
What is that that allows such people, even in the midst of difficulty, to consider themselves still beloved of God?
Perhaps it's the fact that as they look down, they don't only see the things that other folk discard and trample underfoot.
They are able to glimpse glory in the glaur.
To see reflected in the mud the image of stars.
To see shimmering on the puddles the outline of the rainbow.
Their perspective is different from ours but it is enhanced by their experience - whether that be the experience of trial or exclusion, of being invisible or discarded, whether it be the experience of pain or loss, the experience affords them depth and insight.
Our gospel today, though it speaks of physical appearance, takes us to a much deeper place.
A place where rules are broken, where conformity is cast aside.
A place where what you see is NOT what you get.
Because the love of God confounds expectation.
And allows miracles to happen.
Allows despair to become hope.
Allows dire straits to become places of possibility.
Allows the trials of life to become places of growth.
And allows those on whom we would look down or pity to teach us the most valuable lessons about life and about the transforming love of God.
We're very good at jumping to conclusions.
At deciding how things will turn out before we've even given them a chance.
At dismissing the possibility of being surprised by joy
We're bent down by rules and expectations.
Just as burdened as the Daughter of Abraham whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath.
And when we close ourselves off to new possibilities we limit that slow winding work of God.
Lets see ourselves today as those folk we shake our heads over - the leaders of the synagogue.
Lets acknowledge that our clinging to rules and our trampling on dreams consign us firmly into the same category, even when we think we're doing our best to protect the traditions of our faith.
God does not need our protection.
But even as we are chastened, lets give thanks that there will always be sons and daughters of Abraham such as the one in our gospel today who will challenge and confront, who will go on seeing the best in all things and who will always mirror for us the love of God that is not stifled by our smallness of heart.
And let us be prepared to listen to another perspective, to view things through a different lens and, in it all, to know our rule breaking God bringing freedom, bringing healing and bringing joy.
Thanks be to God.
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