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Sermon for August 21, 2016

Anna V. Copeland

Text: Luke 13:10-17

                 

Last week we discussed one of Jesus’ fierce teachings, about bringing fire to the earth, and the floods of baptism. We considered the hard teaching that following the way of Jesus can be costly. We concluded that Jesus was a faithful man but he wasn’t always a nice guy. He openly expressed anger towards the leaders of his faith tradition for their rigid and hard hearted ways. This morning’s story of the healing of the bent over woman places Jesus once again at odds with the leaders of the synagogue. Pray with me that God will grant us the courage of conviction to follow in the Way of Jesus that leads to life.

Please pray with me….May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be an acceptable offering to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer.

                                              “Brave”   

            “Bravery is overcoming fear for a heroic purpose.” 

         It was my turn to lead worship at the nursing home this week, so I went there. We sang hymns, read the psalms, and prayed. I told stories about God’s everlasting love for those residents who came, offering words of hope that I want someone to say to me one day when I’m sitting where they sit now.

After worship I spent the rest of the morning visiting with members of this church who live there. And for an hour, I listened as Don Trenholm told me a story that with his permission I share in part with you today.

He said that God was with him when as a young man he got into a bit of trouble with the law. Back in those days, the court let him off with the understanding that he would join the Army, something he would not have been able to do if he had a police record. He said, “I never set out to be a paratrooper. I didn’t join up so that I could jump out of airplanes. I signed up to get out of trouble, but God changed me there. I learned discipline, and respect, and something more.”

He went on to tell me how God changed his life after boot camp and the paratrooper training that followed. “One day”, he said, “We were told to suit up and all of us went up to this tower to practice what it would be like to jump out of a plane. We climbed the tower twenty feet and put our hands on both sides of the tower like it was a plane. We listened for the order and one by one we jumped. We then climbed the tower thirty feet into the air, and walked up the stairs, held on to the side of the platform, and listened for the command. One by one the young men in front of me took their turn. “Jump,” the commander said, “and they jumped.”

“And then it was my turn. I stepped onto the platform, and put both my hands on the sides of the tower and I looked down at the ground and I listened for the command to jump. The commander said, “Jump”, and I couldn’t do it. I was overcome with fear. The commander issued the order again, “Jump”, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t make myself do it.

 I wonder if Jesus was afraid on that Sabbath Day when he broke the law and healed a woman bent over for eighteen years. It was a Sabbath morning when the story opens, and Jesus was walking to the Synagogue with his disciples for worship. When he reached the Synagogue, the Rabbi stood on the front steps no doubt greeting people much as we do today, and he saw Jesus come upon a woman who had been bent over for 18 years. Jesus called the woman over to him. And he had compassion on her, and he healed her. Then the trouble started.

         Jesus didn’t do what he was supposed to do when he healed the woman on the Sabbath. It was against the law and he knew it. And he knew that the Rabbi knew that he knew it. And that he broke the rules when he did what he did. Let’s hear this story from her point of view.

        

“You can’t imagine the life I’ve lived for eighteen years. I have suffered with so much pain that no one sees. It hurts to move and is excruciating to try to stand. I’m left out of every conversation. No one can look me in the eye to greet me. Everyone talks over me or about me, except very small children and dogs. I have become invisible.

         Then came this man Jesus. I had heard about him. He did a daring and foolish thing. He saw me, a woman. He spoke to me, a woman. He had compassion on my suffering. He healed me and gave me new life. What he did was very brave. He gave me new life in the Kingdom of God.”

It takes courage to act on our faith. It takes courage for us, and it took courage for Jesus. You have to be brave to follow Jesus.

The Bible doesn’t comment much on how people felt in Bible stories like this one, but we know that Jesus, in his humanity, felt deeply. He wept with grief when his friend Lazarus died, he expressed anger by turning over the tables in the Temple when he thought the leaders were abusing their power at the people’s expense. Jesus enjoyed weddings and dinner parties, and I cannot imagine a Jesus who didn’t laugh. In today’s story, Jesus healed a suffering woman, but he knew that the way he did it broke the law.

It’s curious, isn’t it, that Jesus healed the bent over woman right in front of the leader of the Synagogue?” It would be as if you decided to park illegally in a tow away zone right in front of a York Policeman, or take all the money out of the collection plate and stick it in your pockets in front of a Deacon. You would know when you did it that it was against the rules, but you did it anyway. You’d have to have a really good reason, like you parked illegally because your wife was in labor, or you took the money from the collection plate because your family was starving.

Even so, you might be scared about the consequences, at least a little bit. Jesus broke the law when he healed a woman on the Sabbath. Remember that in Jesus’ time, much like Colonial America where the church set the moral compass for public law, the synagogue upheld God’s covenant through the law and teachings of the prophets. A great deal was a stake here.

Jesus risked everything to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Remember last week we talked about the incompatibility of certain things with the Kingdom of God. We compared preparing for the Kingdom of God with training to be an Olympic Athlete. We said that the cost of discipleship is high for Kingdom champions. God didn’t send us Jesus to make us feel more comfortable in our own skin. God sent Jesus to create Kingdom people. God sent Jesus to turn the corrupt, selfish, greedy, judging, blaming, shaming world on its head. There’s no room for that in the Kingdom of God. There’s no place for self-centered behavior or me-first thinking, or for feeling that we’re better than anybody else created in the image of God.

 We said that Jesus may not have been a nice guy, but he loved fiercely. He never shamed or blamed people into Kingdom life. He knew we have to want it more than anything if we’re going to stay the course. Like any dedicated and demanding coach, Jesus said, “I can make you a champion. You have what it takes. You’re going to have to work harder than you can imagine with singularity of focus and commitment. But most of all, you have to trust me with your life.”

Kingdom living is risky business. We make decisions based on what God wants not what we prefer. We cast vision based on God’s imagination for what we might become rather than on what makes us comfortable. We plan for a future that may cost us more than what we currently have in the Kennebunk bank in order to respond to the limitless return on our God investment.

The time is coming soon when much will be required of us. God is checking us out to see if we’re brave enough to live as Kingdom people.

When God’s spirit moved, Jesus couldn’t stand by and do things the way they had always been done. Jesus risked the anger, disagreement and disappointment of his neighbors and family. Jesus risked the loyalty of his disciples. Jesus risked everything, even his life, with singularity of focus for the sake of the kingdom of God. How could this not have been terrifying for him? He faced his fears and did it anyway. Jesus invites us to do the same.

When Don Trenholm froze on the tower platform so long ago, he said, “the commander on the ground looked up at me and motioned to me, “Soldier, come on down here.” I went down, and I saluted and he said, “Soldier, what happened up there.” “Captain,” I said, “I wanted to do it but I was terrified. I got so scared, I wanted to jump but I froze in place.” The captain thought about it a few moments and then said, “Soldier, I’m going to run an errand and I’ll be back in half an hour. While I’m gone, I want you to stand right here and watch every soldier that jumps out of that tower. Don’t move, watch them carefully, do you think you can do that?”

“I nodded, and saluted again and off he went. I stood there a long time, and watched soldier after soldier climb that tower and jump, then climb the stairs and listen for the command and do it again. After awhile the captain came back, and I saluted, and he asked me. ‘Soldier, how many people do you think jumped out of that tower while you were watching?’”

“I don’t know sir, maybe twenty-five maybe thirty.”

“Did you watch them carefully?”

“I did sir, I watched them carefully.”

“And how many of those twenty-five or thirty men got hurt?”

“I thought about it a minute, and said, ‘No one sir, no one got hurt.’”

“That’s right soldier. No one got hurt. And how many men do you suppose have practiced jumping from this tower?” “Hundreds, sir, I suppose.” “And do you suppose any of those hundreds of soldiers got hurt jumping out of that tower?” I thought about his question, and honestly responded, “No sir, I don’t suppose they did.”

“Good,” he said, “Now get back up in that tower and jump.”

“I climbed the tower, and I put my hands on the side of the tower, and the officer gave the command…and I jumped.”

When I passed by the Captain at the bottom, he pulled me aside.

“Uh, oh”, I thought, “What kind of trouble am I in now?”

“Soldier,” he said to me. “Bravery is overcoming your fear for a heroic purpose. Today you were brave.”

Bravery is overcoming your fears for a heroic purpose. Don Trenholm believes now as he believed then that God made it possible to overcome his fears, and that God has been with him as a follower of the Way of Jesus ever since.

Bravery is overcoming fear for a heroic purpose. Jesus’ heroic purpose was to share the good news that the Kingdom of God was at hand. He risked the consequences of what must have seemed like irrational behavior in order to heal a woman for her sake and for God’s glory. Becoming Kingdom people can be risky.

We may very well be afraid of a challenge that lies before us. Nevertheless, Jesus invites us to suspend our attachment to the way things have always been in order to respond to what God will yet do. Bravery is overcoming our fear for the sake of God’s kingdom and for God’s glory. When it’s your turn to take that leap of faith for the Kingdom of God, what will you do?

Jesus said: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”    

   God is looking for the few and for the brave for such a time as this.