Sunday, August 25, 2019

Rachel's Story. Jesus Restores a Woman on the Sabbath.

• Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
with Luke 13:10-17    @FirstUMCBville   @kerrfunk
A video of the worship service was posted on Facebook 8/25/19

• For Rachel, it was a good day if she could get to the market and back without falling – or being tripped. It was a GREAT day if she could go pray in the synagogue without being teased or harassed. There were times when children imitated her bent walk, but that didn’t bother her too much. They were children.
The thing that hurt her even more than a day’s difficult bent-over journey was how her former playmates treated her. Some of her peers were disciples of rabbis now, some even in training to become rabbis.
And she couldn’t decide: was it worse when they openly talked about what sin she must’ve done to be bent over (and I won’t enumerate the sins they considered), or was it worse when they ignored her entirely? For eighteen years she had born both the insults and the isolation.
• One unbearable thing was watching her girlfriends get married and start families. At least at their weddings, though, she could escape for a few hours with the help of the abundant wine. And really, can you blame her?
Worse though than watching her friends marry was the shame and indignity of her younger sister wed, though she had had not so much as an inquiry even from an old widower. She could not bear a child, this she knew, and even if she could, she couldn’t care for it.
• Rachel didn’t know why or how it happened, but during her years of becoming a woman, her back had not grown right and she could not stand straight. Sometimes the memories of running and playing with friends were all that she had to make it through the days anymore.
She had lost count of the number of “healers” she had seen and the number of attempts that had been made to straighten her. It was humiliating, strangers touching her to try to fix her, and from time to time a “helping” hand lingered where it oughtn’t.
But what could she do? Who would believe her if she told anybody? So she bore the shame as best she could. At least the bottle didn’t judge her, though its relief was temporary and often came with a cost.
• Still she loved the Sabbath. Rachel was not as weary on the Sabbath. She felt like somehow in spite of the synagogue leaders, there was… “life” in the synagogue. Especially when it was quiet and nobody spoke.
Often times those precious moments of peace carried her through the week, and sometimes she felt like she could fly. (Isaiah 40 those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; she remembered. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint. She remembered. She hoped. Sometimes she had to make herself hope, she had to fake it til she made it, and sometimes she failed, but she tried to hope.)
And believe it or not, her prayers every week, every day, were not for her own healing. That was too selfish, she thought. Her prayers were for those who ridiculed or mocked her, judged her or ignored her. That their hearts might be turned. And maybe, that she would have the strength to bear their slings and arrows.
• Recently, Rachel had heard a bit about a new traveling rabbi, though. Heard of authentic healings, not shams and quacks. She’d heard of powerful teachings and stories. She’d even heard a bit about religious leaders shamed by this man’s calm reasoning.
She bit down on the inside of her cheek to shock herself from the pleasure of thinking of those who looked down on her getting theirs. Still, as she washed on Friday afternoon and helped prepare the sabbath meal for tomorrow, she hoped. She wasn’t sure what she hoped, but she hoped.
• And then the time came. Time to go to synagogue. Whispering a quiet prayer for strength for the journey, she went. There were more people than usual, she noticed with a bit of dismay. More people to look at her sideways or ignore her.
She resolved to make herself as small as possible, to attract as little attention as she could. She arrived at the synagogue and attempted to be invisible.
• But after years of being stared at, she suddenly knew everyone was looking at her. Her peers, her sister and her husband and children, the synagogue leader. And the teacher. The rabbi she’d heard about.
Not only was he looking at her, but she could feel… genuine love as he approached. It dawned on her that this man was not going to judge her or make fun of her, and even as she was coming to this realization, trying to stand up a little straighter so she might see him better, she heard him say – apparently to her – “Woman, you are free of your disability.”
• Rachel was still reeling from his address – he spoke clearly and with honor and dignity somehow, she could feel it, like he knew her, like he really knew who she was, and not just the unmarried bent-over woman.
And as this realization was beginning to sink in, he touched her, and she didn’t shudder or pull back in shame – she stood! Right up! Oh! She looked into his face instead of at his adams apple or up his nostrils – right in his face!
And his eyes, there were worlds in those eyes and she was standing and she was restored and what could she do but fall to her knees – kneeling but upright – and cry through her tears, Hallelujah, give thanks to the Lord for He is good, his love endures forever!
She remembered the words of Moses’ sister Miriam, The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. And again, his eyes, and his hands, and her back, and his voice. Glory to God. Glory to God.

• She didn’t know how much time had passed. Could’ve been seconds, could’ve been a month, she had no idea. But the air felt suddenly cold as the synagogue leader cast a disdainful eye at her – there were no worlds in his eye, not like the traveling rabbi – and he spoke to the crowd over her through her.
She was invisible again, or she wanted to be invisible, as the leader rebuked the traveling rabbi, for making her well on the sabbath. But, but, this is an occasion to rejoice, she thought to herself. No wrong has been done – we’re all supposed to be praising the Lord… Sabbath was created by God to celebrate life, creation, which God declared Very Good. Sabbath was not a punishment a chore or a sentence. It was a gift. To be shared with others who have worlds in their eyes.
• The teacher then honored her even more: already she’d received more than she’d ever dreamed of, yet here the teacher called her Daughter of Abraham. Oh! To be restored to physical wellness and to community – the community she lived in and the community of the Lord. Tears continued to flow as she repeated again and again, Glory to God. Glory to God.
• And she noticed she was not the only one crying Glory to God. Indeed, the entire crowd was now praising the Lord, rejoicing at her salvation, and Rachel noted with curiosity that behind the beards of the religious authorities, cheeks flushed red with shame as they not she rushed to escape the attention of the crowd. They were ashamed, not she. She never imagined it was possible.

• Did you know, You have a savior who sees you, knows you truly, loves you.
Who wants to touch you and restore you to life, heal you from whatever it is that ails you, restore you to the heart of worship.
Do you know, that same savior calls you, sets you aside in spite of your history, your addictions, your infirmities, says Follow me as well as Go and tell. Our job our calling is to seek to know the Lord who gives life and focus on that
• What do you suppose Rachel did the next day, or the next week? She’s won the lottery. Her shame is gone and she can hold her head up high, literally.
I see her with renewed confidence, no longer wishing to be invisible, but shining bright the love that shined on her.
• Imagining her restoration lifts me up, gives me hope and peace,
inspires my praise and makes me want to sing and share.

• One other thing. Did you notice what happened before Jesus restored the woman? He saw her. He saw her, he called to her, he treated her with respect and dignity, he announced her freedom, and then he defended her honor.
• Who do we see. What people, bent broken and ashamed, do we see, cut off from community, in need of restoration do we see, and how do we see them.
Who do we see that is worthy of derision? Who do we see who could be restored by lovingkindness? Who do we see that is beloved of God? Who do we see that is not?

Hymn 262 Heal Me, Hands of Jesus