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Sometimes You Just Need to Rejoice (Mar 22, 2020)

John 9:1-41

I just need to say, first of all, how much I miss you. Gathering here for worship each week is something, quite honestly, I’ve taken for granted. Every week some of you are here. The next week it can be whole different bunch. But it’s us, together. I didn’t realize how important that is.

I’ve spent too much time trying to figure out how to increase those Sunday morning worship numbers. Rather than rejoicing with those of you who are here, celebrating God’s presence among us, I would at times focus more on the numbers. How can we raise them? How can we get more people to show up? How can we reach new people and include them?

But not today. Today I just wish any of you could gather here. Today I’m imagining the celebration we’ll have the first Sunday we can sit together. Today, I want to pray and sing with you in person. Today I long to share the Lord’s Supper with you and look you in the eye as the bread and wine are shared. Today, I’m realizing my priorities haven’t been great when it comes to worshiping together with this community I love.

Instead of asking “how can we increase worship attendance?” I should simply have been rejoicing that we actually could worship and gather together in the presence of God. I should have quit asking “how?” and started rejoicing that Jesus showed up with whoever was here.

All that makes me read this gospel text differently. Jesus healed a man born blind. No one had ever even heard of that being done before. It was an absolutely astonishing feat, totally and completely marvelous.

But instead of celebrating and rejoicing that Jesus showed up, both the man’s neighbors and the Church leaders kept asking, “How? How did this happen? How did this Jesus character make you see? Are you sure he did it? Are you sure you were actually blind? Are you really the same person who used to beg?”

Jesus has done an amazing thing here. Right in their midst. They are in the presence of God, yet instead of rejoicing that God’s grace and mercy have been revealed, they are only interested in asking “how?”

Our world is different right now. Our lives are turned upside down these days. It’s easy to become despondent or angry. I know I find myself irritable and grumpy. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Why can’t things get back to normal? How much longer will this virus keep us penned in our homes like zoo animals?

Which, again, makes me read this gospel text differently. Jesus is doing amazing things all around us. Have you seen how people all over the place are reaching out by phone or email or online connections? We’ve opened a Zoom account, which is an online videoconferencing program. They’re indicating that requests for accounts with them have skyrocketed. Watch your email for Zoom meetings and gatherings, because that’s how we’ll be connecting for the time being. Have you seen how creative people are becoming in establishing some kind of community?

I saw a guy in Italy standing on his balcony in the middle of a huge apartment complex singing opera to his neighbors.

I saw another person leading an exercise class on his roof so his neighbors could join in.

Some food delivery services have quit charging the restaurants they deliver from so the restaurants have a chance of making payroll.

One of our music copyright suppliers, who permits us to print songs in bulletins and on the screens, has given us one month of free permission to play and sing their songs online—which is how we’re able to sing together.

Celebrities reading stories to kids online.

Those with the means to do so are donating large sums of money to help food banks and food pantries around the country.

Jesus is doing miraculous things right here, right now.

Even though Jesus is moving people in new ways of compassion and care, there will be people who will only ask the “how?” questions. “How much toilet paper can I horde?” “How can I clean out the grocery store even if that means some homebound people get nothing?” And in focusing on the “how,” they’re missing the miracles, the new things that Jesus is doing right here in our very midst.

Yes, I’m reading this gospel text differently. And I’m celebrating that even though we are not gathered in the same room at the same time, Jesus still shows up with us. Whether we’re together in person or in virtual space, we are still in the presence of God together. We are not alone. Jesus still shows up. In that, we can rejoice together.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2020 in Sermon

 

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Sabbath, Rejoicing, God at Work, Racism (August 21, 2016)

Luke 13:10-17

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 up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured 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 him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 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.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jesus is teaching in a synagogue and gets into an argument with the pastor, or the council president, or some leader. It’s the Sabbath, he has cured a woman who had a crippling spirit and the leader of the synagogue was quite upset. So they argue about what the Sabbath is all about.

Now, first of all, I find it interesting that Luke often describes ailments, impairments, and diseases in spiritual terms. This woman in the synagogue had a “sprit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight.” In our sophisticated 21st century arrogance, we know better. We figure poor Luke was just doing the best he could.

But what if he’s right?

We assume this woman was physically crippled. That her body was unable to stand up straight. But what if it isn’t a physical crippling but a spiritual one?

What if she was carrying such a weight in her heart that her spirit was bent over. Consider that for a minute. It’s actually not too difficult to imagine. Have you ever been so full of grief that you couldn’t get out of bed? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that you felt you had the weight of the world pressing down on you?

Couldn’t this be what Luke is describing here?

Regardless, this woman is afflicted with a spirit, the weight of which bent her over. Yet Jesus sees her and frees her from her bondage. Because that’s what Jesus does. The crowd in the synagogue rejoiced at the wonderful thing Jesus did. They rejoiced because God was active right there in their midst right then.

Perhaps that’s what “Sabbath” is all about—taking time from the chaos and stress of our week to recognize what God is actually doing among us and rejoicing in that! That seems to be what Jesus is pointing out. Sabbath isn’t about what we ought to do, but about noticing—and then rejoicing—in what God is doing.

The people in the synagogue get it. They see a woman set free and recognize God at work and rejoice. Sabbath.

When you pay attention, there’s a lot to rejoice about, because God is all about setting people free from bondage. There are all different kinds of bondage that make us quite unable to stand up. All different kinds of crippling spirits that keep us bent over. And Jesus has come to set us free from them.

What weight are you carrying around that prevents you from standing fully in what God created you to do? What stresses, worries, anxieties, pressures are keeping you bent over? What spirit has you held captive, keeping you from moving? We’re all crippled by something that cripples us from being fully who God calls us to be.

We’re so bent over with the weight of religious activity, trying to get all the right church-things done that we are quite unable to stand up straight and actually be the church.

We’re so bent over with the weight of righteousness that we end up judging those who behave differently that we, and are then quite unable to stand up straight in love for them.

We’re so bent over with the weight of justifying ourselves that we are quite unable to stand up straight and see Christ already present within us.

We’re so bent over with the weight of increasing our faith that we are quite unable to stand up straight and recognize God’s love already present.

And, we’re so bent over with the weight of fear of the unknown that we are quite unable to stand up straight and see Christ in those different than us.

But Jesus has come to set us free. Free to see God’s love and grace at work around us; free to rejoice; free to be part of it.

Jesus sees us, and next week Jesus is calling us over to be cured of a spirit that is crippling us. God is already active in breaking the bondage of racism and God has called us to be part of that redemptive work.

Racism is more than an individual’s prejudice. Racism is a systemic evil that pervades our culture. Racism, which includes our white inability to recognize the depth and the evil of it, keeps us bent over. We are unable to stand up straight with our Black sisters and brothers because of this horror that hangs on us. Racism is a weight that presses down on us and cripples us.

Jesus has come to set us free. As we gather with our brothers and sisters from Zion next Sunday, Jesus will be laying his hands on us so we can stand up and praise God together. And all of us—Black and White—together can rejoice at all the wonderful things Jesus is doing.

Recognizing God at work, and rejoicing in it. That’s Sabbath.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in Sermon

 

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