22 August 2010
10.30 Communion Woodchurch
Rev’d Paul White
Readings Hebrews 12:18-29 and Luke 13:10-17
Vivienne and I took the children to Legoland last Monday with another family of four that we know from Shadoxhurst. I have to say that it was a fantastic day out – we arrived as the gates opened at 9.30 in the morning and we didn’t leave until they shut at 8.00 that night.
The main reason we went was because Annabelle won us four tickets in an Easter Bonnet competition that took place in Hamstreet. Believe me, if she reminded us once that day that we were all there because of her, she reminded us a thousand times. In addition to getting four free tickets we also had some two for one offers from a newspaper which actually meant that out of the 8 of us we only had to pay for 2 tickets, which made the day mildly affordable. That and the fact that we took rucksacks full of sandwiches and so could avoid the £7 burgers.
Although it was a great day out the worst thing about Legoland was the queues – there were long queues for every ride and the low point of the day was when we spent nearly 40 minutes queuing for a ride which was aimed at 4 year olds and was over in a couple of minutes. However Legoland have obviously realised that people don’t enjoy queuing and that some people will spend more money to avoid the queues – and so they have a device called a Q-Bot which costs an extra £15, it looks like a large pager and, basically, it allows those with Q-Bots to jump all the queues. It also allowed them to look extremely smug whilst doing so and offending all the proper English people who know how to queue up without pushing in.
Because the English are generally very good at queuing up aren’t we? In fact sometimes I think that the t Soviet era was wasted on the Russians and that we would be much better at standing in line for stuff. Jesus said “Where two or three are gathered together in my name I am there amongst them” but if an English person sees two or three people gathered together they are more likely to say : “Sorry, is this the back of the queue?”
We tend to be very good at waiting our turn and get all tutty when others think they can jump ahead.
However it has been rumoured in more progressive circles that God is not an Englishman and neither were the people of first century Israel and wherever Jesus went there often seemed to be a fair amount of pushing and shoving to get to the front in order to be near him. They didn’t even have Q-Bots just elbows or strong friends. A couple of incidents spring immediately to mind:
In Mark chapter 2 a large crowd had gathered around the house were Jesus was in Capernaum and there were so many that those outside stood little chance of getting in. Four men were carrying a disabled person who had come for healing and when they saw the impossibility of getting through the door they took the obvious route of opening up the roof and lowering the man in. No one mentioned the queue jumping or even the damage to the roof – Jesus simply forgave the man his sins and then told him to pick up his mat and walk. Which he did, without so much as a word of thanks.
The second incident of queue jumping that springs to mind is that recorded in Luke chapter 8 – the women who had been sick for 12 years with constant bleeding. The crowds were pressing around Jesus and in the crush the women reached out her hand to touch the edge of his cloak and was immediately healed. When Jesus discovered what had happened he was not concerned about the impoliteness, rather he blessed the women and, again, she disappears from the story without another word.
Today’s gospel reading is also from Luke and it also starts out as a story about healing but the person who is healed does not need to push to the front in order to be noticed by Jesus.
It was the Sabbath, and of course the Jewish Sabbath is not Sunday but is from sunset on Friday night to sunset on Saturday night, and Jesus was in the synagogue teaching. While he was there a women came in who had been crippled for 18 years and was bent right over. Imagine being crippled like that for all that time in that society. As a women she would have been separate from the men of the synagogue and as a crippled women it is likely that she was ostracised by many of the other women. All she could look at was the ground and it may have been many years since she had looked someone in the eye and shared a smile or even a polite conversation. However, despite her undoubted need she does not seek to push in , queue jump or asset herself. Rather Jesus sees her, sees her need and calls her over. He lays his hands on her and sets her free of her affliction. However, unlike the stories of the queue jumpers we thought about a moment ago, she does not disappear without another word, rather we are told that she stood up straight and began praising God. This women was truly thankful for being seen by Jesus, for being called by him and for being healed by him and she praised God for what he had done for her.
But the gospel reading did not end there. I don’t know about you but if I saw someone be healed like that, especially someone who I had probably seen suffering for many years, I would be overwhelmed with joy, not only for them but also for the wonder of God working in our midst.
Unfortunately the leader of the synagogue did not feel the same way. As I said this was the Sabbath and the Jewish law contained very strict rules about what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. Of course such rules had their basis in the fourth commandment in Exodus 20: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…on it you shall not do any work.” and this was elaborated on slightly later in Exodus 23: “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.” So the point of the Sabbath was twofold – it was to be a holy time in which there was no work to give people time with God and it was to be a time of rest and refreshment.
However people are very good at making things more complex then they need to be and the lawmakers set about drawing up lots of rules about what counted as work and what did not. Healing people fell within the definition of work and, from the point of view of doctors and nurses you can see why this might be the case. However it also meant that Jesus was outside the letter of the law by healing on the Sabbath and the Synagogue leader was indignant. However he is not brave enough to address Jesus himself, rather he addresses 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.”
However, Jesus is not so easily caught out and he shows that he knows the details of the law as well:
“Does not each of you untie his donkey or his ox from the manger and lead it away to give it water . And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for 18 long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”
Jesus is saying that if being kind to our animals and freeing them from their bonds and giving them refreshment is OK on the Sabbath then how come it is not acceptable to do the same thing for a fellow human being, a daughter of Abraham.
Of course there are other similar incidents recorded in the gospels. In Matthew 12 Jesus and the disciples picked and ate some ears of corn from a field on the Sabbath and on the same day he healed a man with a crippled hand and in Luke 14 after another healing on the Sabbath Jesus asked the Pharisees:
“If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on a Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” And they had nothing to say.”
Time and time again, in these stories and in others, Jesus asks us, no challenges us, to raise our eyes from our man made rules and to look at the purpose of the God made rules. In the case of Sabbath observance Jesus was clearly saying that in tying ourselves up in what counted as work and what did not count as work the people had actually lost touch with the holiness to which God had actually called them to observe – and there was nothing holy about allowing a person to remain in bondage to suffering. And of course Jesus does the same elsewhere when he speaks about the law concerning murder and adultery and reminds us that what counts is not outward observance or even non-observance of the law but what our motivations are and whether or not that brings us closer to God’s purpose for us.
All of which begs the question about what may be getting between us and a true experience of God’s call on us. Which man made rules or conventions are keeping us from lifting our eyes and experiencing true holiness? That answer may differ for each of us but we should all endeavour to ask the Holy Spirit day and night to make us the people that God wants us to be. Sometimes that will mean waiting patiently for Jesus to call us and heal us and sometimes that will mean taking our Q-bots, pushing English reserve and the crowds to one side and grabbing hold of Jesus’ cloak.