I think the reason that her announcement created such a firestorm of positive and negative attention was that many inside the Church stood up and defend the role and the positions of the Church and those outside the Church claimed the moment to condemn the Church and it’s perceived of hypocrisy. While I strongly disagree with Anne Rice’s position, to be honest, some of the comments made were so vitriolic, so angry, so wrapped up in hyper-religious language and legalism, to me they ended up sounding much more like the Pharisees and religious elite of Jesus’ era then they did Jesus.
Earlier in our worship service you head William Dooley read our focal passage for the morning. It is a powerful story where Jesus confronts religious tradition for the sake of grand act of love. Let’s look closer at the story together. 10On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." 13Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
We are invited in a special moment. We witness an amazing act of love. So often we listen as people call out to Jesus, demanding his attention, begging to be healed. This is a very different encounter. This nameless women had not said anything – had not done anything. Jesus sees the women, has compassion on her, and reaches out to her. It was an amazing personal encounter.
In his commentary on Luke, Hershel Hobbs points to something worthy of our attention in verse twelve. The Greek term for this healing moment uses the perfect tense reflects a completed action – a permanent act. (3)For 18 years she had been bent and crippled, struggling in every move in every moment. Then, in a word her world was changed. When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. She was surrounded by her friends and community of faith – you would think everyone would rejoice with her. But, a voice of objection calls out.
14Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath." In a single sentence the leader of the synagogue transforms what should have been a grand moment of worship and celebration into a moment when religion comes in conflict with love, when law and tradition gets in the way of an encounter with the living Son of God. William Barclay reminds us that, “The president of the synagogue and those like him were people who loved systems more than people. They were more concerned that their own petty little laws should be observed than that a woman should be helped.” (4) Have you ever known anyone more concerned about the rules than people?
I can relate to this story on a very personal basis. After four years in Christian schools spread across my middle school and high school years I chose to leave the Church. I had become so weary of the markers of being a good Christian being tied to thinks like the length of my hair, the shade of blue in my blue jeans, and other meaningless external expressions. They were so focused on how I behaved they missed who I was. They were so focused on their rules and regulations that forgot to care about me as a person. At the close of the fourth school year I told my mother that I was not going back to the school and I was not going back to Church. I told her that the legalism that defined these people seemed far from Jesus to me and that I had enough. I know my words concerned her, but she trusted me and trusted God. While I never went back to the school, after a matter of months I found myself missing something - something important. I missed the heart, the grace, and the love of God. God called me back in spite of those who had been so busy behaving like they thought they should that they missed the heart of God.
“The synagogue ruler, indignant over a healing on the Sabbath, makes his appeal to the people: there are six other days in the week for healing, but not on the Sabbath. His words are an indirect attack on Jesus and a strong reprimand of the people as accessories in the violation of the law because they came on the Sabbath for healing.” (5)He was angry. He probably thought that it was fine for Jesus to heal people – but not on the Sabbath!!!! In our context his call would be “Never on Sunday!” Jesus was interrupting his carefully planned worship service. In his mind, Jesus did the right thing at the wrong time – which made it the wrong thing to do. The leader of the synagogue was so caught up in the religious rules he missed the heart of God.
15The Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?" 17When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. This is not the first time Jesus had to deal with doing the right thing at the wrong religious time. There are other times in scripture we see him deal with this issue. His understanding of the Sabbath was bigger than the leadership of the synagogue. The leader of the synagogue understood that you could care for the need of your work animals on the Sabbath – that you could deal with an emergency need. But, apparently did not see the bent and crippled woman as worth of a Sabbath act. I guess he figured that if she had suffered for 18 years that another day would not hurt her – after all this healing moment was a clear interruption of their formal traditional worship experience.
To help the leader of the synagogue and the crowd to understand the scope of the insanity of the moment, Jesus uses a specific term for the woman; he calls her a “daughter of Abraham.” Piper tells us that “Those words, ‘daughter of Abraham’ are intended to carry a message to the synagogue leaders. The message goes something like this: On top of all the other reasons why you should care more about a suffering person than a thirsty ox, is the fact that this woman is a fellow heir of the blessing promised to Abraham. You pride yourselves in saying, ‘We are the children of Abraham.’ Well, she too is a child of Abraham. You hide from the warnings of John the Baptist by saying, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ Well, she too has Abraham as her father.” (6) So, Jesus makes it clear – a valued child of God was bound and wounded – the right act is love and compassion – regardless of time or place. In the book of John, chapter 13, verses 34-35, Jesus tells is followers, "A new command I give you: Love one another . As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (NIV) A Christ like love becomes the marker – the sign – the seal of those that choose to follow.
This story of a Sabbath healing is a gospel story that makes me nervous. It makes me nervous because I know how easy it is to get trapped in the traditions of religion and miss those who walk among us who are wounded and need to be healed by Jesus. It makes me nervous because I know how easy it is to go through our Sunday morning motions and missed God moments in our midst. I know how easy it is to live and worship comfortably with our “Christian” friends and close our eyes to others who live outside of faith and are still consumed by the evil that haunts their lives.
But the intent of this gospel story is not condemnation but rather is offered as a challenges to us to be a people who chose to be a part of a celebration of someone who was lost who is now found, someone who was captive who is now set free, someone who was apart from God who is now a child of God. We are to be a people of redemption rather than self-righteousness; a people of healing rather than heralds of the law; a people of grace, loving and caring for the God places in our midst. We have taken many significant steps on that journey and I celebrate it with you. Recently one of our summer interns told the staff of an encounter she had when she was on the SNU campus handling some business. She ran into a casual friend who in the course of the conversation asked her where she went to church. When she told him she went to FBC OKC, he responded, “oh, the Jesus church.” She asked him what he meant and he explained that we were the church that worked with the homeless and refugees, that really cared for people...that we were a “Jesus church.” While I am glad for the historic moniker of “the lighthouse on the corner” being described as a “Jesus church” thrills my soul. Being called a “Jesus Church” touches me and challenges me. It draws me to this story with a passion to make sure that I am – that we are – not so consumed by “doing church” we forget to “be church” for the wounded and weary walking among us.
Lord, help me; help us, to choose to be so faithful to love like Jesus that perceived bounds religious rules and regulations fade away. Help me; help us, radiate the love of Christ to all we encounter and never miss a moment of your work in our midst.
(1)Available online at http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/faith/2010/07/anne_rice_christian.html on August 19, 2010
(2)Available online at http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100730/anne-rice-quits-christianity/index.html on August 19, 2010
(3)Hershel Hobss, An Exposition of the Gospel of Luke, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1966), p. 216.
(4)The Gospel of Luke. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.) (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. The Westminster Press: Philadelphia
(5)Craddock, F. B. 1990. Luke. Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching . John Knox Press: Louisville, Ky.
(6)John Piper, “Jesus, Women, and Men,” available online at http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper89/6-4-89.htm on August 24, 2007.