(Luke 13: 10-17)
People love to get stuff for free, especially if it’s legal advice. Back in my lawyering days, people were always hitting me up for free advice. When I lived in Teresa’s hometown and was in private practice people would come up to me at the café while I was eating lunch, pull out a chair and plop down to just “run something by me”. I’d get approached at the gas pumps for some quick advice or at football games when the action got slow or we were behind. I’d even get approached before and after church. Once, someone called my home and one of my kids answered explaining that I was not home. Undeterred, they asked my teenager what they thought. Most of the time I would tell them that it sounded more complicated than they thought and that I’d have to ask some questions and get some more information. I’d suggest that they call my office for an appointment which was usually followed by an awkward silence. Darn, they’d be thinking, if I come in for a consultation, he’ll charge me! A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock and trade. Yeah, that’s the point. Legal advice is best given in the attorney’s office or while he or she is visiting the client in jail. There’s a proper time and place.
In the Jesus business you can be called upon anytime of the day and in the most unusual of places. And that’s the point of our scripture reading for this morning. There is no bad or inappropriate time to do something in God’s service. Unless I’m missing something here, the time and place to do what Jesus would do is always right. There are no prohibitions or laws against it. Yet.
In our scripture reading we learn that Jesus is teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath when he spots a woman who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was all bent over and couldn’t straighten up. Jesus called for her to come to him and said; Woman, you are set free from your infirmity. He then put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the leader of the synagogue said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” Jesus shot back, You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her? When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
Jesus could have waited an extra day. He could have told her to meet him the next day. Afterall, she had been afflicted for 18 years. What’s one more day? His point was simple: Compassion should come before all else. Regarding the synagogue leader, Jesus understood that sometimes even people’s sincere religious convictions can lead them astray. The Old Testament forbid working on the Sabbath. Remember the Sabbath day keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20: 8-11, one of the Ten Commandments, repeated again in Deuteronomy 5: 12-15. Many ancient Jews, no doubt in sincerity, carried the prohibition to an extreme. They had over 600 ancillary laws that had little, if anything, to do with loving your neighbor as yourself. The synagogue leader could not see beyond the law to Jesus’ compassion in healing this crippled woman. His view of his religion got in the way of doing what God wanted, what God expected him to do, what God needed him to do. They treated their animals better than they treated human beings who were suffering. They had more compassion for their animals and valued them more.
When you scratch the surface of this lesson it raises a multitude of issues and questions. First and foremost is, like the synagogue leader, we Christians may be able to talk the Christian talk, but when it comes right down to it, can we walk the Christian walk, especially when it doesn’t fit into our schedule or may be inconvenient? I mean, how could they consider healing or helping someone work? If you’re a pastor and you consider helping people work, you’re in the wrong profession. I would hope that for most pastors who haven’t burned out, that helping people would be a blessing and would only be frustrating when you realize you can’t do more. The same applies to us as a church and as individual Christians. Church is not just a Sunday “thing”. It’s something we do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We do it without thinking. You’ve heard it said, or maybe you’ve even said it yourself, when in response to some charitable solicitation the person glibly says: “I gave at church.” I know that sometimes these requests for worthy causes can be overwhelming and it is hard to say no. You have to draw the line somewhere. Hopefully, you are giving at church. Lord knows we provide you with many opportunities for the giving of your time, talents and money.
Like the leader of the synagogue, sometimes we Christians get it backwards and the only day we act like Christians is on Sunday, and then it’s only for an hour, and fewer and fewer of us are doing that. We wonder why people won’t come worship with us. I think one reason is that they don’t view organized religion as relevant. They think we don’t do anything other than get together on Sunday mornings to hear speeches on what’s wrong with everyone else. I’ve said it before that if someone is going to go to all the trouble of getting up early on a Sunday morning, shower, put on clean clothes and come to church they have to leave at the end of the service with the feeling that their effort was worth it. Not that they were entertained but that they were in an environment conducive to a worshipful experience. Did it feel like some place special? Were the people friendly? Did they seem like they loved one another? Did they seem interested in me? Was there a message that made sense and it was something applicable to what’s going on in the world and their lives? Was the church concerned about the surrounding community and involved in a course of action that was genuinely designed to make a difference in the lives of others? Were they interested in others or only interested in people that looked like them and thought like them?
My point is, I don’t think the people who were present the day Jesus dressed down the leaders of the synagogue felt that their church was meeting their needs. I don’t think they saw their church as being relevant or truly caring about them. Why do I say this? What proof do I have? The very last sentence of the scripture lesson reads; 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. Finally, they thought, someone was stating the obvious. Someone was bold enough to tell them that they had it backwards. It is about the people and not preserving your institution. Jesus was an action figure.
I firmly believe that we are earnestly doing all we can as a congregation to be relevant in our community. We don’t just think of church on Sunday mornings. We strive to do church twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We are always looking for ways in which we can be of service whether it is to the non-profits we support like the food banks, ECHHO (Ecumenical Christian Helping Hands Organization), OlyCAP (Olympic Community Action Program), UMCOR (United Methodist Committee On Relief), and Bayside Housing and Services or to the individuals who come to our doors during the week looking for whatever assistance we can give them. Our biggest fear should be the missed opportunities that occur when we’re not paying attention or are preoccupied with our own lives. How fortunate we are that we can count ourselves as the somebodies who do something when somebody says somebody oughta do something. The place is right here and the time is right now.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving Father, move us to be one in the Spirit and one with you as we walk with each other hand in hand as we work to spread the news that you are in our land. Create in us a unity of heart and purpose as we work side by side to guard human dignity and save human pride. All praise we give to you from whom all things come and to Jesus Christ your only son, and all praise to the Spirit who unifies us as your people. Create in us that tenderness of heart and compassion for others so that all will know we are Christians by our love. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.