Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sermon for the Proper 16 RCL
St. James Lutheran Church – Brunswick, GA
August 22, 2010

I want to thank Pastor Webb for the invitation to join you this morning to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Baptism of Grant Brian Coolidge, and the opportunity to preach within the context of this glorious service. To Kim and Carl, I extend my most profound gratitude to you in asking me to share in this even in your lives as we welcome Grant into the Body of Christ – the Church. It is a sacred moment that we share together as the gathered body of the faithful believers to take part in one of the two direct commands of Jesus. In the church we celebrate and most highly regard the two Dominical Sacraments – Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. These two were directly instituted by Christ himself, and He commands us to continue to celebrate them in our common life together.

In this service today we incorporate them both, as a new member is formally and sacramentally brought into our midst, and as we come to be fed by our Lord’s most precious Body and Blood. For Carl, Kim, Cohen, Grant’s grandparents and extended family, and most directly the members of this parish, we are all charged with the awesome responsibility of seeing that Grant is instructed, nurtured, and framed in the faith that we have made on his behalf this morning, but one day will take for his own, and declare them as a mature professing believer. Then he will join with us and receive in faith the Blessed Sacrament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is good and proper that we should hear those solemn vows of baptism again and reflect upon them to ensure that we not forget what our bounden duty is to ensure that Grant is brought up to live a life in the service and love of His Creator, His Redeemer, and His Lord.

Our Gospel lesson for today helps us see where this goes terribly wrong. When Pastor sent me the appointed lessons I noticed that this passage from St. Luke was new to the Lectionary. This particular story is one that most would be unfamiliar with outside a personal reading of Luke’s Gospel. This story is also unique in the sense that it is only found in Luke and the other three Gospels have no record of this healing miracle.

As we see from our text Jesus, as was his custom, was teaching in an unnamed synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus was doing what a good Rabbi and teacher should do, take his place in the reading and expounding upon the Scriptures.

Into this unnamed synagogue there is an unnamed woman who has suffered from a spirit that has crippled her for eighteen years. She has been permanently hunched over and has not been able to stand up straight for almost two decades. As the King James version records, “[she] could in no wise lift up herself.” Please hold that thought in your mind as we continue in the story. We don’t know if anything was said or if there were any other exchanges between Jesus and the woman other than Jesus sees her.

What a wonderful line of Scripture. Jesus saw her. Jesus sees us as well. He sees us in all of our infirmities, in all our sinfulness, in all our raw humanity. Jesus sees us. He doesn’t just see us, He goes one step further, He calls us to Himself like He did the woman. Jesus said, you have not chosen me, I have chosen you. He made the first move. Jesus then goes even one step further and provides an escape route, with a source of healing and wholeness. So he declares to the woman that she has been loosed from her infirmity. He laid his hands on her and her condition immediately changed.

I almost hesitate doing this, but I really must point out a place where I completely disagree with the NRSV’s handling of verse 13. In the text you heard read and have before you it says that after Jesus spoke and touched her that the woman stood up. Most of the time the way the translators render a particular verb form there isn’t a significant shift in meaning, let alone a theological implication. In this case here, I think there is a most important part of the story that would otherwise go unnoticed. The verb in this sentence is actually in the passive voice, and if you dig deep, and think back to high school English and Grammar, I know for some that might be a painful experience, the passive voice means that the subject isn’t doing the action, but rather it is being acted upon by an outside agent. In this case, see if you don’t hear the difference. If we translate this as a passive we would have “and immediately she was made straight.” She didn’t just stand up, she was given the ability to stand up, and it came from outside herself. She was incapable of doing it on her own, she needed help from without, and guess what folks, SO DO WE!

We don’t possess of our own volition the ability to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. That’s why we brought Grant here this morning. He comes here to receive that which by his nature he could not receive save through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. One of the prayers in the Lenten Season that we pray goes as follows:
ALMIGHTY God , who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.

Therefore, this morning, we come to receive again that which we cannot obtain on our own. We bring little Grant to receive cleansing from the stain of Original Sin through the waters of baptism, and we all come to receive the nourishment through our Lord’s shed Body and Blood. It is also appropriate that it be done in the Lord’s house.

As I mentioned earlier, here is the point in the story where things went totally wrong. The leader of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus would condescend to do work on the Sabbath, something that the Fourth Commandment strictly forbade.

This woman, presumably a member of the community, was doing the one thing that she was bidden to do on the Sabbath, be present in the worship of God. She was coming to the true place of healing, the only place where she might receive the gift of God’s Word proclaimed in her midst. Receiving a miracle was most certainly the last thing on her mind, and the Providence of God placed her in the path of His Son. The leader of the synagogue totally misunderstood the meaning of the word work. It was the most appropriate place for the woman to be healed and the most appropriate day for it to happen. Should not the power of God be revealed when the faithful are assembled to worship? Absolutely! That’s why it’s appropriate that we should assemble together in the Breaking of Bread, and in the admission of a Child of God into Holy Mother Church.

We’ve done good work here this morning. Through God’s Holy Spirit, we’ve started Grant on the path toward life, toward life eternal, toward life with His Creator and Heavenly Father.

When the woman who was set free from her infirmity, and was made straight she did the only thing that was meet and right for her to do – she worshipped God. Through the power of repentance, reconciliation, and amendment of life, we too are being set free from our infirmities as well, and are being set straight as we strive to be holy as our Father in Heaven is holy. In that light we too should imitate that woman from this morning’s Gospel and do the only thing that is appropriate in response, to come and worship Almighty God, to whom we honor, praise, laud, and glorify, both now and evermore.

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