10 Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand upright. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When Jesus laid his hands on her, immediately she stood upright and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered the leader and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or your donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom the Accuser bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” 17 When Jesus said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God of wholeness,
Sometimes our lives feel broken,
And we long for your healing presence.
Come among us again, this morning.
Restore us through the meal,
Through this community, and through one another.
Growing up, we were very regular church goers. Like…every single week. Like, Sunday morning came around, your butt was in the car ready to go because you were going. “I don’t care if you don’t feel like it. I don’t care if you’re tired. You should have thought of that before you stayed up playing Sega Genesis or watching Nick at Nite. We’re going to church.”
“If you’re not in the car, you had either be dead or bleeding, and even then, here’s some neosporin and a band-aid. Let’s go.”
Yep, fairly regular.
Now, it helped that I actually enjoyed church. I enjoyed Sunday School and worship. I enjoyed seeing my friends, I enjoyed that time set aside. I especially enjoyed the after-church breakfast/brunch/lunch stop at Tippin’s, which was situated just diagonally across the street from the church. It was one of those diner-type places with a spinning case of pies and cakes next to the register.
Over those very formative years, my parents built up for me a habit.
And, I guess you could say it worked out ok, because here I am standing in front of you fine people every single Sunday morning, doing the Sunday morning thing as my call, as my vocation.
I still very much am a creature of habit. I love planned rhythms and predictable schedules. I used to say that one of the surprising things about me was that I had an unpredictable streak and that I enjoyed spontaneity. I don’t think that anymore. I think that was a lie I told myself. I’m a habit person, one who craves structure and schedule.
For at least 18 years, it was this woman’s habit to go to worship on the Sabbath. Very likely it was her habit her entire life, but for these past 18 years, she went to worship doubled over. Forced to stare at her feet and the ground, entirely unable to stand upright. What a painful posture to endure.
But she maintained her habit anyway.
Surely in the hopes of receiving something. Either the kindness of strangers, or a recognition by someone who might be able to help her, maybe even a desperately-held hope to be on the receiving end of a gift of divine healing. Whatever it was, she maintained her habit in the midst of excruciating pain and nearly two decades of certain disappointment, maybe even resignation.
Do you think she prayed to God to be corrected of her ailment? I do.
Could you persist throughout 18 years of feeling like your prayer went unanswered? I don’t think I could…
Jesus, too, is in a pattern in our Gospel story today. A familiar pattern of being in the synagogue, in worship, on the Sabbath, and a familiar pattern of teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus was, after all, a Rabbi, we would expect Jesus to be teaching. And to the indignation of the other religious leaders, Jesus heals this woman on the Sabbath. Healing, too, we’ve come to understand and recognize, is a familiar and typical pattern for Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, we’ve come to know Jesus as someone who provides healing.
How many of us, church, have similar patterns?
How many of you revert to habits and practices particularly when life feels difficult? Particularly when you slowly start coming to realization that maybe you can’t do it on your own… Particularly when you begin to recognize that you’ve done all you can do and so maybe you need someone else whom you trust to help you out along the way…
I don’t know if Jesus physically stretched this woman out like a chiropractor and she was suddenly able to stand upright. I don’t know if a man who had been blind since birth suddenly was able to actually see after Jesus rubbed mud on his eyes. I don’t know if lepers with scabs and boils and scars immediately had those wiped away and were cured of their disease. I don’t know if the young boy from Nain actually jumped off the funeral pyre where he once laid dead.
I do know that Jesus seems to have had a remarkably uncanny ability to expand the circle of who was welcomed into the community. By spending time with and hearing the stories of the most outcast and downtrodden, over and over again Jesus picks up their cause as his own, takes to task those in power, and restores dignity and relationship and value and belovedness to these folks who were previously seen as existing outside the community. Jesus forces the circle wider and the tent bigger so that those who were formerly not welcomed, not only are invited in to the banquet, but are in fact, given the seats of honor. Jesus elevates these marginalized and vulnerable people and restores their humanity back to them and restores them to their community.
There is no greater gift of healing than being told that in spite of your ailments, in spite of what the world says you are, you have worth and you have value and you are loved and you belong.
I’ve seen these shows where folks experience miraculous healing. People in wheelchairs get up and walk, folks with cataracts suddenly see clearly, people once unable to walk without difficulty start skipping around…I long for that kind of healing…for you. If that’s your prayer, I’ll hold that prayer with you. But I’ve never had that kind of touch. I can’t heal like it’s said Jesus can heal…
But I’ve sat with folks in some of their life’s most difficult moments. I’ve sat with folks in hospital rooms and funeral parlors and prayed with them. I’ve been angry with them, I’ve searched for meaning with them, I’ve cried with them… I’ve lifted up the causes and the pleas of the underserved and cast aside and looked down upon from this pulpit.
Maybe you’ve shared those burdens of others, too.
I don’t have Jesus’ healing touch…but I like to think that folks have experienced healing here.
I think they have. I’m pretty sure they have. I pray they have.
I pray that New Hope continues to be a place where healing is experienced. Where you experience healing. I pray that New Hope is place where we seek to mend and repair relationships, rather than tattering them further. I pray that we would be a place that seeks to draw the circle larger and make the tent bigger, where people who aren’t here yet find a place of community and welcome and inclusion and affirmation and celebration…where people hear over and over and over again that who they are is nothing less than a radiantly beautiful daughter, son, child made in God’s very own image, and that who they are is so extraordinarily valued by a God who is so deeply in love with them. And because God loves you, this community loves you, too.
I pray for that kind of healing.
As we get ready for our “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday on September 11 and the start of a new program year with Faith Formation and bible studies and choir and small groups and dinner groups…I pray you’ll take a moment to uncover a new passion. We’ll have a few service projects for you to devote your hands to, but we’re also going to have lists and signups for a lot of our ministries that we’re involved with and that go on here at New Hope. Stewardship, Congregational Care, Faith Formation, East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry, El Buen Pastor, Faith Formation…
Particularly Faith Formation… We’ve got a couple of great teachers that have already said yes, and we’d love to have a few more. This congregation has said over and over again that we value young people and their perspective and what a gift they are to our community…and I’m just asking you to back that up. Tell me, let me know…tell me that I can count on you to be one of our teachers for one of our Sunday School groups.
One of the best ways to build habits is through consistency. Consistent patterns of worship and faith formation. Not just for our young ones, but for you, too. There are no shortage of opportunities to keep learning, to keep growing in your faith.
And help us develop these patterns for our young people, as well.
We need your help to continue cultivating and growing New Hope as place of welcome and invitation and wholeness and healing.