Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 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. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 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.”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? 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?” 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.
Pastor Marc's sermon on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (August 25, 2019) on Luke 13:10-17. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
So when Kate and I got married, I knew our life together would have its share of joys. Some of that joy was exactly what I expected - like the birth of our children , the various adventures we’ve been on, and what it’s like growing older together. But there was one joy that showed up at the beginning of our marriage that I didn’t expect to be as special as it was. And that’s because when we married, I regained grandparents. Growing up, I only knew one of my grandparents and he died when I was in high school. I still remember everything about him - like how he loved going to mass, got a kick out of watching the Phillies play, and how he always bought polo shirts at garage sales but only when they had other people’s names stitched on them. My grandfather would then, when he met someone new, introduce himself with the name on the shirt. I still miss him and I know I always will. But it was neat to marry into a family with a set of grandparents that let me call them Grampy and Grammy. They were wonderful, salt of the earth kind of folks, with their own personalities, quirks, and humor. They were also devout Christians and they had a habit of including the entire family into their religious rituals. That meant they gave me the same yearly devotional calendar everyone received on Christmas. But it also meant that, even before we were married, they included me in their prayer life. It’s hard to describe what it was like to know that Grammy prayed for me. But knowing that she did, I think, changed me. I knew, even on the weeks when I was too tired or sad or angry to pray, God still heard someone else say my name. I was worthy of prayer and on some days, that grace made all the difference.
Now, during August, we participated in a prayer experiment here at church. Every Sunday, you wrote your name on a piece of green paper and dropped it in the baptismal font. You later took a card from the font and we invited you to include that person in your personal prayers. Sometimes, you knew exactly what the other person needed. Other times, all you had was their name. You might have struggled to figure out how to pray for them because saying their name didn’t feel like it was enough. Praying for others can be awkward - but, this time, when you prayed, someone else was praying for you. I wonder what that felt like. I wonder if this experiment moved you in some way. And I’d like for us to take a few moments to talk to each other about it. Even if you didn’t have a chance to participate in our prayer experiment, I want you to remember a time when you were prayed for by name. Let’s break off into groups of 3 or 4 people, and let’s talk about what it was like to pray for someone else and what it felt like to know that someone prayed for you.
Break into groups. And then, after you wrap up and see if people share - move to the gospel.
Now as we talk about our experiences of being prayed for, I find myself wondering about the prayer life of the woman in today’s reading from the gospel according to Luke. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about who she was but that doesn’t mean we can’t use our imagination to flesh out her story. I’m sure she prayed the same prayers we do. She asked God to make her well. But as the years went on, I bet her prayers changed. She knew she wasn’t getting better so she might have asked God to teach her the right prayers to say that might fix her. Yet, when that didn’t seem to work, she hoped that God would at least grant her a few moments of relief and peace. Her prayer life, I imagine, was strong. And I bet there were others who prayed for her.
I say that because this story takes place in a synagogue. There was an entire community that knew her. And this community took their job as being faithful - pretty seriously. We see that in the actions of the synagogue’s leader. They valued the sabbath and wanted to make sure it was available for everyone. We tend to imagine the sabbath as being a day when people don’t work; as if it’s meant to be empty. But it really isn’t. The sabbath was also a day when everyone, including slaves and farm animals, had their productivity interrupted by a God who told them to just stop. The sabbath was designed as a day to pull us out from the busyness of the week and remind us that God is present with us all. The leader in this story wanted to “preserve a positive aspect of their...faith…[so] they set up rules” to protect it. But our desire to protect what is important can sometimes cause us to miss why it’s important in the first place. The woman coming to the synagogue wasn’t doing work and she wasn’t asking for a work to help her. She needed grace. And that’s what Jesus gave her. Because “if it was permissible to untie animals and let them drink, [it certainly] should be permissible to untie a woman from her bondage.”* The Sabbath isn’t meant to be a day defined by its emptiness of work. It’s also a day, according to Jesus, designed for the giving of grace. That grace can be as dramatic as healing someone through the gifts God has given us. But it can also be as small as naming someone in your prayers. There will be times when our prayer will feel like it’s work. We will find ourselves adding a reminder on our phone to tell us it’s time to pray. We might think this need for a reminder shows that we’re not praying correctly. And we’ll be worried that our prayers are not doing any good because so little seems to change. Those moments are completely normal and they're a sign that we should pray, anyways. Because, as we heard from those around us, being prayed for actually makes a difference. And since Jesus is already part of your life, you can be like him, by giving grace to others through your ability to pray.
*Feasting on the Word, Luke, Volume 2.
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