Sermon – August 25, 2019 – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost


A Sabbath Healing

I turned 65 on Friday and I was delighted to be reminded again that studies show that older Americans who engage in daily prayer, Bible study and go to church on Sunday have lower blood pressure.   That study goes on to say that those who watch television preachers have increased blood pressure.   I am not going to touch that.       We have spoken before of the medical studies that show people who pray or are prayed for tend to have quicker and less complicated recoveries from some illnesses and injuries.

In a time when there is a pill or a technological or an engineering answer for almost anything, we are rediscovering that prayer and worship bring peace and healing.   Medical science confirms that prayer facilitates healing, and those of us who believe that in faith,  want to say, “Duh,” but the skeptic in us always appreciates the confirmation of the academics and that’s fine.

The important question is; what is it about prayer, worship, Bible study, what is it about the religious life that facilitates healing?  Why does it matter that we pray and worship?   The answer is, of course, God.  The answer is that God’s intention for us is facilitated, acted out in these conversations.    And one of the most important consequences is that prayer addresses fear.  Often private fear, sometimes seemingly unreasonable fear.  Prayer attacks such things.  Now there are pharmaceutical answers to such things but they reduce us in other ways.

Fear is a great crippler, a great thief of our peace of mind and of our well being.   When we are afraid, others can control us.  When we are afraid, we are often less likely to fight for something , even something important.     When we are afraid we are probably not confident.  If we are afraid, well, then we have less emotional space to be something else, joyful, happy, peaceful, confident.   Fear is like a disease.  It is an alienating, isolating, reducing, life stealing force.  And prayer addresses fear in ways that medical science or pharmacy or technology simply cannot.  Because prayers are acts of faith; these are acts that bring us into the presence of God.   And despite all the wonderful and God-given things that medical science can bring us, this is one gap they cannot breach.

Prayer and worship address fear and to be liberated from fear is to begin healing.   Because fear is like a disease.   It is a prominent player in all the things that ail us.  If we are suffering from a physical problem, we fear for our continued health, our vocation, our families.    But if our fear is tempered, then we are better able to deal with the physical problem, we are stronger, more confident, more able to fight.   If circumstances have waylaid us, put us on the defensive, if others have betrayed us, then our fear is that we will be left outside of things important.   But if we can heal that fear, then we will be strong enough to deal with the particulars of the circumstances with clearer vision.   If our past or present behavior has been hurtful or inappropriate, we bear that weight.  We fear for the restoration of those relationships, even fear for our relationship with God.  But Christ says in repentance, in coming before him there is forgiveness and those fears need not bind us any longer, we can be free.

The healing power of prayer, going into the presence of God, taps the graceful resources that Christ bears into the world, taps the promises of Christ that his people are to be restored and their healing accomplished.

Todays gospel lesson tells the story of a woman who shuffles into the synagogue where Jesus is teaching one Sabbath.  She had probably been there countless times. For 18 years she had been bent over from some affliction.   Apparently, the medicine of the time could not relieve her.    She was the toughest of cases, and her affliction and her healing became Jesus’ sermon that Sabbath.   And as this wonderful thing happened, showing Jesus’ intent and power, a surprising thing also happened. Rather than celebrating the healing, the leaders of the synagogue objected to this healing on the Sabbath. Now, it is a legitimate question, “why after 18 years couldn’t this wait another day, a non Sabbath day?”  But Jesus point was not to violate the Sabbath or the sensibilities of those who followed these rules, but instead to make the point that nothing, no rules, no traditions, no skeptics will stand in the way of his mission and ministry of healing  God’s people.  Jesus met the fear of violating some rules with the grace of the promises of God. That amazing grace.  In the process, showed us  the rules had changed.   That someone outcast and infirm like this woman, can reclaim her place.  She wasn’t just physically bent, but socially.   But Jesus says, “Isn’t this woman a daughter of Abraham, a child of God?   He restores her, ‘sets her straight’ in the kingdom.  God will do this for you.

For 18 years,  her infirmity bent her down, but it had not robbed her of her faith.  She had not given up on herself, and she had not given up on God.   And Christ demonstrated he had not given up on her.   It took more than courage for her to come to the synagogue,  because she had not allowed her circumstances to separate her from God.   It took great faith to come there.    And it was that faith that drew her into her healing.  In her healing her whole perspective changed from eyes cast to the ground, to seeing the whole panorama of the kingdom.   And she praised God.

It is not much of a stretch for any of us to identify something that has bent us over, something that bears on us like a weight.  It may be a physical concern, it may be mistakes we have made in our past, it may be that our faith is shrouded in shadow.   All of us bear these weights, and that is why we are here.  And that is why we pray and worship, to stand again in that promise because we know that it is the intention and purpose and promises of Christ that we be whole

We come because we suspect, we want to know, that Christ never gives up on us.   One of the things that illness, fear does is make us question ourselves, our competence.  Fear can cause us to give up on ourselves.

I read something in one of those little books advice books, and it said “Don’t give up on anyone.   Miracles happen every day.    Don’t give up on anyone.  Miracles happen every day.”  We can’t, as God’s children, let the burdens of fear cause us to give up on ourselves.

The woman in the synagogue had not given up on God, because she was confident that God had not given up on her.  Even the toughest of cases

One final thing.    That changes not just for our own well-being or comfort, not just for our sake, but for the purposes of the kingdom.

We heard a reading from the prophet Isaiah who said, “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, they your light shall rise in the darkness . . . and your gloom be like the noonday. .. . and the Lord will water you like a garden  . . . your bones will be healed . . . and you will be called the repairer of the breach.”  The surprising, amazing thing is that as God works in us,  heals and restores us, clarifies our relationship, calls us again before his throne, then we are empowered to work that grace in others . . . to be the extension of God’s hand into the world . . . the broken ones called to repair the breach, the separated ones called to bridge the gap,  the fearful ones called to proclaim grace against fear . . . . the infirm, called to be healers.   Even the toughest cases among us.    God seeks the opportunity, makes a way for our hearts to be healed, our relationships, our faith . . .  and there’s not telling when that work is accomplished.  There are no failures so complete that they are beyond God’s intervention, there is no sinner who is so far removed that he or she has lost the right to appeal to God for forgiveness and healing.  There is no case too tough.

Not in the days that Jesus walked among us, and not in this chapel tonight.