The sermon for week August 21, 2016
Stand UpThe Rev. Barbara Lundblad has great insight on the crippled woman in today’s text. Barbara states that “She had grown accustomed to looking at feet. Her own feet. And your feet. She had learned after 18 years to tell people by their bunions. We don’t know what the diagnosis would be, arthritis in her spine or osteoporosis. The text just said a spirit had that had crippled her for eighteen years.
The Revised Standard Version says, ‘She had a spirit of infirmity.’ Barbara points out that the woman also has an infirmity of spirit. She had learned to deal with the spirit of infirmity but the infirmity of spirit…that was harder. It was because of the way she was treated because she was bent down. People talked over her back like she wasn’t there. Or sometimes walked away from her in the middle of a conversation as if she wouldn’t notice.” When you don’t look someone in the eye, you can treat them poorly.
When she stood up straight, she began praising God. She was cured! Yet the religious leaders were indignant. They complained. They pointed to their tradition, “No work on the Sabbath.” Must one person's liberation be a threat to someone else? We heard this with the women’s right to vote. We heard this with giving black people the right to vote. How were white men affected in this? We heard it most recently with same-sex marriage and the discussion around transgender bathroom usage.
Here’s the fact. When that woman stood up straight and could look the clergy in the eye, they averted their gaze. They avoided looking at her. They were accustomed to avoiding her, I guess. Here was their charity case that they could help, feel better that they were helping. Yet they didn’t cure her. They didn’t help her heal
Clergy are still thinking like this to this day. I would like to think I’m helping you, but maybe I’m not. And it’s not just clergy, it’s entire churches and denominations. Growing up, I was taught this lesson the hard way in an encounter with my friend Phil.
Phil was a few years older than I was, but he was a geek like me. We talked at the comic book store. He was a smart guy but he got into some trouble. He was working for the church and I was tutoring for my senior service requirements. I was speaking to Phil, talking about comic books, and he just opened up. He started telling me about his struggles and I listened. When he was done, I told him how I thought he was very smart and how he'd figure it out. I told him about God's goodness and forgiveness and asked him if he had confessed this to the priest. He said no. He then quickly shifted the conversation to speculation if the X-Men movie would ever happen.
I wondered at the sudden shift in conversation. Standing behind me was the priest. He barked an order at Phil and told me to walk with him. He asked me what I was doing. I felt the tension and tried to break it by saying, “Saving souls. I was just telling Phil that he should go to confes...”
“You should leave that to the professionals.” He said.
My head bowed and I looked at my feet. I say this not to condemn the priest but to point out that the spirit that was in him is also in me. I pray I haven’t done that to any of you and I ask your forgiveness. I’d like to think I’m helping you, but maybe… maybe not.
In his book, God in Public, Mark Toulouse talks about three types of faith: Iconic, priestly, and public.
Iconic faith has all the trappings of Christianity. The cross is there, people say all the right things about God, Jesus, and the Bible, and people wear crosses and religious symbols. But that’s where it stops. Things are just symbols. This faith would say something like “You know what the Bible says, God helps those who help themselves.” Or “You know what Jesus taught, give someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day. Teach someone to fish, and they’ll eat for a lifetime.” Y’all read that in your bible? They aren’t there. Nowhere in the bible does it say either of those phrases. This is iconic faith. It’s like what theologian Stanley Hauerwas says, “Most Christians know more about what it means to be American than they do about being Christian.” Iconic faith would be having a peace pole and never having a prayer vigil around it. It is simply a nice idea, and gives me warm fuzzies when I look at it. Like a snow globe from a great vacation. No more meaning other than that.
The Priestly faith is concerned with worshiping and beliefs. They are not concerned with public policy or context. The sacraments and preaching are the focus and these things are above the goings on of the world. This is the faith that the religious leaders are displaying. Adhering to the rules instead of the spirit of the rules. The spirit of Sabbath is to provide rest for people. To make a day dedicated for God, rest and renewal. Even animals have to observe the Sabbath.
The priestly faith leads to a passivity. I once heard of a man researching a famous preacher in his denomination. The preacher was very popular in Pennsylvania during the Civil War. The researcher found the sermons to be sublime; theologically rich, and dripping with Biblical teachings. However, not once did this preacher mention the Civil War. How does the church serve to orient people to the kingdom if they don't preach to where people are? It's like trying to get to Jesus and punching in his address into the GPS but the GPS doesn't know where you're starting from. It'll never get you anywhere.
This is the faith practiced by the religious leaders in today’s scripture and in my story with Phil. The message is “Leave it to the professionals. Just do what I say.”
Yet a public faith… that’s a faith that’s active. It’s a faith that knows what it stands for and fights for it on every level: the individual and the corporate level. It even seeks to shape political policies to the ethics of the beloved community of God. Policies that feed the hungry, that are just and fair, that are good news to those on the margin of our society. It has prayers around the peace pole and allows it’s church to be used by anyone, as public faith knows that since it follows of God of self-emptying love, it must do likewise. The trick of this is preaching politics from the pulpit without being partisan. When someone accuses the preacher of being political, the preacher's correct response is "I didn't invent the values of the kingdom of God, I just talk about them."
It is the public faith that calls for curing and healing. There’s a difference between healing and curing. You will never be cured of your disability but you can be healed. The woman today, when she encountered Jesus, she might not have been cured, but she would have been healed. Healing is a spirit-level thing. It’s being okay with who and whose you are. It’s not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought, but knowing yourself and your limits and knowing whom you can serve and heal in return. That woman would have stood up because she was healed, not because she was cured.
There are many of us here who might be wishing for a magical cure. To be free of a medical condition, a mental state. To no longer have a big nose and be so bald. Odds are, that might not happen. But to be healed means that you’d be ok with that. And when you act as you are, anyone who says otherwise, “Hey! You can’t do that because you’re too tall/short/skinny/fat/fit/too male or too female or too trans or gay or too flirty or not flirty enough or too whatever.” We say, “Too bad.” And the entire crowd will rejoice at all the wonderful things that you are doing.
Yet the iconic and priestly faith, they can’t stand for anything. Iconic is too shallow to sustain standing. The priestly only cares about their own authority and their own stands. They demand conformity and a faith that only requires you to say “yes, I believe” as you sit in your pew. Then you do nothing for another week. It’s the type of faith that complains when someone is set free. But must one person’s liberation be a threat to someone else?
Yet a public faith… that requires you to stand up. It requires you to say, “You hypocrites! Everyone needs rest. People have been bound for so long, and they need to be set free! Their liberation is my liberation!” That’s a faith that requires you to do something. That faith states that when this service ends, your service then begins. You reach out, you love with abandon, to tell the good news of Jesus who came to set free the captives and provide healing to a hurting world.
A public faith means looking everyone in the eye. To say, “I see you. You are loved. We are here for you. You who fight the unseen fight of mental illness or loneliness. You who are overworked and underpaid. You whose body is betraying you. You who are trying to be the best parent you can be. You who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. You who carry so much that your spirit is bent over.” I want to be that place. That place that says, “You are set free from your ailment.” That we stand up for people.
We stand for love and compassion. We stand for cures and healing because that’s what the Sabbath is for, a time to stretch out and be free of your burdens. We stand for love and sometimes standing for love means blessing a same-sex couple. We now have two years of legal same-sex marriage, how’s the sanctity of your marriage holding up? I think mine is better actually. How about yours?
A public faith means hanging rainbows and marching in Pride. It means so much. It’s risky, but the rewards are more important. And if we are persecuted for standing, remember the words of Christ, “Blessed are you who are persecuted…”
During the Marathon Classic, the folks from the Golf Channel used our lot. That crew came from Orlando, Florida. Imagine what our rainbow banner meant to them not too weeks after the Pulse shooting. We don't have to imagine. As one worker told Cheryl Crandell that when she made that turn and saw the rainbow banner, she got really emotional. “You just don't know how much that meant.” That’s what healing looks like.
You provide healing because you stand for something. You provide a place to gather safely and hear words of challenge and encouragement and to ponder and discuss the great mysteries of life Sunday after Sunday since 1834. You provide families who are celebrating a birth or mourning a death with food and comfort and healing. You build homes with Habitat. You listen to stories of those struggling with addiction, those freed from the bounds of human trafficking, and more. May we keep looking for ways to step out and show the love of God in Jesus to our community.
We do so because there are people who have grown accustomed to looking at feet. Their feet. And your feet. They have learned after all these years years to tell people by their bunions. Now they will stand. They look people in the eye and say, “I love you. I see you. I will stand with you as you have stood for me.” This is what standing for Jesus means. It means that we struggle with what others struggle with. We take stands based on the consensus of the church yet knowing that we won’t agree on everything. If you disagree, you are still Christian and still loved. It sets the church as a community of moral deliberation. It means that your life is my life and my life is our life.
I love you.
I see you.
I stand for you. Go and do the same for others. All. Others. Amen.
Barbara Lundblad “Happiness Begrudged” July 21-26, 2013, Sermons at Chautauqua. Chautauqua Institution, 2013.
Mark Toulouse. God in Public. 2006 Westminster John Knox Press.