Sunday, 28 August 2016

Serving and changing

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Jeremiah’s Call and Commission
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”
But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

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.

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

There are two things going on in our readings this week:
A call to serve - and a call to change.

Jeremiah is a really interesting character. A reluctant prophet - as were most prophets called out by God.
Because, really, who would want to serve God as a prophet - bringing an uncomfortable message that, inevitably, is going to make folk squirm.
Who would want to serve God as a prophet when the messages God gives to share are the last things folk want to hear - or are so incredible that ridicule is bound to ensue?
Who would want to serve God as a prophet?
Jeremiah voices his reluctance by claiming "I am only a boy."
God dismisses Jeremiah's reluctance, telling him:
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah, for all,his reluctance, went on to serve God, just as he was called.
Some of the things he got up to were quite bizarre as, time and again, God used Jeremiah to reveal the truth.
But, once Jeremiah responded to the call that God had on his life, there was no looking back.
Jeremiah constantly confronted God's people with the consequences of their actions.
And, when the people refused to turn around and mend their ways, when the disaster of which Jeremiah warned, befell them, Jeremiah was there to help them pick up the pieces and find their way back to God.
When the people were forced out of their land and found themselves in exile, Jeremiah was the one who encouraged them to return to the faith of their ancestors, to find comfort in the ancient paths even in a strange land.
And so, even in dire straits, God's people were able to turn their lives around.
Jeremiah was a man living out, in obedience, a call from God.
Caring for God's people and helping them recover faith.

Rarely is God's call on our lives simple or straightforward.
There will always be obstacles to overcome, struggles with doubt and feelings of inadequacy - fears not unfounded.
But God not only calls but equips us for service.
God calls us today to faithful service, to discover for ourselves and to share with others those ancient paths that lead us home to the God who loved us before we were born, who loves us now and whose love beckons us forward in faith.

In our gospel reading today, we find Jesus demonstrating that love by healing the woman unable to stand up straight for many years.
And using that healing as a teaching opportunity.
I've always felt uncomfortable about Jesus speaking of this woman"being bound by Satan".
But people believed then that illness was due to evil spirits or to past wrong doing.
And Jesus, as he is wont to do, uses that common belief and sets the healing he has performed against that backdrop.
Just as Jesus told stories about things with which people of the day were familiar - sowers,lost sheep, the road to Jericho - so he also sets his healing in a context with which folk would be familiar:
So you think this woman has been bound by Satan all these years? Well, I choose to release her - on the Sabbath of all days.
Jesus used what people know to show how things could be different.
Against the forces of love, nothing will prevail.
Even the most unlikely situations can be changed by the power of love to set things free.
Love is no respecter of customs and traditions.
Love breaks through barriers that may have been in place a long time.
Love brings about change.
Jesus, in healing the woman on the Sabbath shows how love can turn things around, how change is possible when we allow God space to work.

Let me share with you a reflection on how life might have looked for that woman:

Shuffling along always looking down
unable to stand up straight
Noticing all the traffic on the street:
Feet striding past
shod in boots and shoes and sandals
Some stepping out briskly, some dragging along
skipping or tripping
disturbing the litter strewn on the ground
lifted and laid by the breeze
avoiding the cracks in the stone slabs
and the gum ground in by other feet
Observing the cigarette ends -
those with lipstick
those smoked down to the very last gasp
and those tossed down still reeking
their rancid fumes.
Looking down for eighteen long years
Looking down
but catching, in all the greyness
the vibrancy and colour
that rushes past
The reflections in the shiny surfaces
the clouds and rainbows in the puddles.
Flashes of glory in eyes cast down.
Glimpses of God in the detritus of the street.
Healing becomes possible when God stoops down
and looks into the eyes
of a woman weighed down by life.

In healing that woman on the Sabbath, Jesus demonstrated the ability of God to bring change.
To bring change into customs and practices.
To bring change into hearts hardened by sticking to the rules.
Jesus demonstrated the ability of God to turn things around, bit by bit - to raise questions, to soften attitudes, to invoke compassion, thawing closed hearts and minds enough for love to penetrate until it gets a hold and causes change.

Two things going on in our readings today - a call to serve and a call to change.
Choosing one means choosing both.
To serve God means changing the world around us, not least the church in which we serve.
Not all at once.
But bit by bit, as attitudes and customs are changed.
As love prevails.
And as all of us are freed from whatever holds us back from responding wholeheartedly to God's call on our lives - a call to love and service.
For the glory of God