God’s long-term plan for healing all things is a path of joy and hope, which we’ll find when we choose to walk it.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 21 C
Texts: Isaiah 58:9b-14; Luke 13:10-17
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It’s easy to see and smugly point the finger at the bad person in this Gospel.
This synagogue leader, working his way through the crowd repeatedly telling people in need of healing to go away and come back when it isn’t Sabbath, is clearly wrong. How could he not rejoice that this woman received life and healing from God on this Sabbath day?
But there’s a trap in how easy it is for us to point that finger. We see these stories and easily say, “those Pharisees, those scribes, those leaders – what idiots they were, and how ignorant of what God was doing.”
Be careful, Isaiah says. When you point the finger, the prophet declares, whether at our indignant, angry friend in this story, or at others we could name, you are missing the life God hopes for you. You’re missing a truth God is showing that you need to see to live. And today, that truth is we’re often very much like this synagogue leader.
It’s easy to mock our friend here because this is so obviously a reason for joy.
In a small village like this, this woman, crippled with scoliosis, bent over double for nearly two decades, was likely known to everyone. To have this visiting rabbi stop his sermon, call her over, and heal her, would have been joy and wonder to all, Sabbath or no Sabbath.
That’s why we love Jesus’ healing miracles. God’s goodness is obvious, God’s healing is immediate, and it’s time to celebrate. We’re stunned at the religious leaders who repeatedly can’t see this obviousness.
But Jesus didn’t come to do healings. He often resisted doing them. Many times afterward, he told people not to tell anyone. His mission was far different. The healing the Triune God intended in coming as Christ in our human body was far greater than these miracles.
God’s greater mission is to bring healing to the whole creation. Everything.
The healing God sees the world needs is so much greater than individual diseases. God’s children are dying of hunger, are being destroyed by war and violence. So many of God’s children can’t find homes in which to live, so many work multiple jobs in a vain attempt to feed their families on unfair wages. God’s children are crushed by other children of God because of their skin color or their gender or their orientation, crushed by laws and systems and embedded behaviors and attitudes. God’s children living in other countries suffer because God’s children living in this country hoard resources and abuse the planet at a rate far beyond our numbers.
And it is the healing of all this that the Triune God intends to bring this world, the prophets declare and Jesus proclaims. But such healing isn’t a one time, immediate thing, like this woman today. It takes much longer. Such healing comes when God changes me and my heart. You and your heart. This community and our heart. And more and more communities and cities and nations. God will heal the whole creation by transforming God’s children one at a time, putting them in community, and sending them into the world on a mission of God’s love and justice and mercy and peace.
And now we recognize our own inability to see and our unwillingness to do.
We’re astonished that anyone wouldn’t be blown away by such a healing as this woman received. But healing that unfolds so slowly is much harder to see, and easily derailed by God’s own children. And the problems that ail our world are so great they seem intractable. So we can despair and even become apathetic.
But we can also resist being a part of God’s mission. If God’s long healing is going to happen, all sorts of changes will come for you and me. If systems need to be dismantled, that’s going to affect you and me. If you have embedded biases keeping you from seeing certain others as God’s children, those will have to be changed. In all that needs to be healed by God through you and me and all people, countless things will inconvenience, or frustrate, or frighten, or anger you and me.
So we can easily fall into our friend’s pattern today, grumbling around the edges that there have to be other ways, that this shouldn’t have to change so much, that surely all this isn’t necessary. We can say, sure, God desires justice and peace and mercy for all. But can’t I stay the same while that happens? Does this have to really change so much inside me, and in our community, and in our society and world?
Now, you and I can say no to working in God’s healing mission, just like this leader.
We can say we’ve got other priorities, we don’t really want to be changed, or see our society and world change as they need to for God’s dream to become reality.
But if we do that, we have a serious problem. You see, just this summer we promised Felix at his baptism, and Oren and Joanna at theirs, that they’re joining us in this mission. Today we’ll promise Isaac, and next week James and Annika. We welcome those who are baptized into the mission of Christ we claim to share. We promise to join them in bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world. We promise to pray for them and their parents and sponsors so these children can learn to trust God, live this mission of God’s healing in their words and actions, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.
The Triune God’s part of baptism is not in question. Today God will claim Isaac as a beloved child in Christ, wash him and seal him with the cross of Christ. The Holy Spirit will continue to work in him, transforming him to be Christ.
But if we’re going to make promises, we’d better be ready to mean them and live them. We can’t send these six, and all the other children we’ve carried to baptism’s waters, into God’s healing mission for the world, God’s reign of love for all God’s children, God’s dream of justice and mercy and peace, all by themselves.
God’s mission sounds dauntingly hard to do. That’s why we hesitate.
But that’s because we haven’t really understood the joy God is offering. If we focus on the challenges of walking Christ’s path, we miss that it is the only path of life and hope and love and grace. It’s a beautiful life, living in God’s reign, loving God and neighbor, even in a broken world in desperate need of healing.
Isaiah says when you stop pointing the finger and start offering your food to the hungry and satisfying the needs of the afflicted, you enter an amazing new world of hope and life together.
You become a light that breaks through the deep shadows of night that cover our world. You become a watered garden that feeds and nourishes many. You become like a desert filling with rivers and grass and fruit trees. You become a spring of clean water that never fails.
That’s the delight of the path of Christ, the joy of the mission of God’s healing.
If God can open your eyes to see this joy in God’s long plan of healing, you’ll never want to walk another path. And we can take the hands of Felix and Oren and Joanna and Isaac and James and Annika and all we’ve promised to join in this mission, and walk with them together bearing God’s healing in our life and in our world.
After today’s miracle, two groups emerged. Some, shamed by Jesus’ rebuke, were filled with anger. But the vast majority of those in the synagogue celebrated the wonderful thing God had done.
That’s the group we want to choose to be in, the people of joy. There’s nothing keeping you from that party except maybe you yourself. And if God can convince more and more of us of the joy of this path, then the healing of all things God desires so deeply can come even sooner than we might ever have dreamed.
In the name of Jesus. Amen