Year C — the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16)

Commentary for August 25, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Jeremiah’s call story: is it our call story, too?

Whether we are called to be “preachers” in a pulpit on Sunday, or simply “proclaimers” by our lives and with our words wherever we go, it is the Lord who has known us since we were in the womb, and who gives us God’s word in our mouths.

Psalm 71:1-6
What beautiful and excellent counterpoint this psalm makes for Jeremiah’s account of his calling. 

Isaiah 58:9b-14
It is always interesting to me to see just how passionately God spoke through the Hebrew prophets concerning God’s “will” for those who are hungry, afflicted, powerless and broken down by life. Apparently, Jesus shared that same concern — as today’s gospel lesson will illustrate.

Psalm 103:1-8
This is one of my favorite passages of scripture, and these are verses that I often pray — in my own life and in my pastoral practice. 

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name…for God forgives all our iniquity and heals all our diseases…bless the Lord, O my soul!”

Hebrews 12:18-29
The preacher of Hebrews has taken great pains to build up the virtues of faith and hope in God; here, we are reminded that faith is sometimes a fearful thing. We approach God with a certain amount of trembling, as did the Israelites at Mt. Sinai.

When we do survive our “fear and trembling” before the Lord, we are amazed to see what remains when all that is impermanent has been removed: the unshakable kingdom of God!

Luke 13:10-17
Jesus is doing the right thing on the Sabbath day; like a good Jewish rabbi, he is teaching in the synagogue. Then, he crosses a line and reaches out to heal a poor, doubled-over woman who can’t even look him in the eye.

As Dr. Chilton says on today’s Lectionary Lab Live podcast, “Sometimes you have to choose between breaking a rule and mending a broken life.” 

I’m glad Jesus is always on the side of life!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Ravi Zacharias tells this story:

“On his way to work every day, a man walked past a clockmaker’s store. Without fail, he would stop and reset his watch from the clock in the window, then proceed on to the factory.

The clockmaker observed this scene morning after morning. One day he stepped outside and asked the man what he did and why he set his watch every morning.

The man replied, ‘I’m the watchman at the factory, and it’s part of my job to blow the 4:00 o’clock whistle for the end of the day. My watch is slow so I re-set it every morning.’

The clockmaker laughed and said, ‘You won’t believe this. That clock in the window is fast, so I re-set it every afternoon by the factory whistle. Heaven only knows what time it really is.’ ”

(retold from The Real Face of Atheism, BakerBooks, 2004, p. 52)

That story is about the search for a true and reliable standard by which to measure time.  Our Gospel lesson is about the search for a true and reliable standard by which to measure morality.

Jesus is at worship on the Sabbath day. There is a woman present who has suffered for almost twenty years from a crippling disease. Jesus responds to her illness with love and compassion; he reaches out and heals her. And immediately, the leader of the synagogue attacks Jesus for having the wrong standard for moral behavior, for coloring outside the lines, for not following the exact letter of the law.

Jesus responds by pointing out that even the strictest interpretation of the Law, the most reliable eternal timepiece, allows people to untie their cows and horses and mules and lead them to water on the Sabbath in order to prevent unnecessary cruelty. Jesus then asks the rhetorical question: 
“Is not a woman’s unloosing from the suffering of disease as important as the unloosing of an animal from its thirst?

We will lose the point of this story for us if we dwell too long on the subject of Sabbath observance; that battle has already been won or lost, depending on your point of view. Very few of us here would really hesitate to do anything on Sunday that we would do any other day of the week.About the only thing that Jesus could have done in this situation that would have shocked us would have been to not heal the woman because it was the Sabbath.

For us to get the point for us, today, we must think outside the box and consider ways in which our understanding of religious rules and regulations could block us from showing genuine, heartfelt compassion to those in need. Hmm. Gee, I can’t think of any right off the top of my head.  Which is precisely the problem. 

No one of us considers our self to be a cruel and unjust person. Nobody here thinks that our way of being Christian gets in the way of our being kind, caring and compassionate.

I’m sure the leader of the synagogue surely thought of himself as a kind man; and so did his neighbors. After all, they made him their leader.  He’s just a local working man, a fisherman or cobbler or farmer or tentmaker, who has taken on the volunteer leadership role. He’s doing his best to interpret and enforce the rules as he knows them.  He says,There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, but not on the Sabbath Day.”

I’m sure he never imagined that one day, 2000 years later, he would be held up in sermons to millions of people as an example of religious hypocrisy. He would surely protest; “But, but, I’m an unpaid leader of a tiny congregation. I spend countless hours aiding the poor and the widows and the sick in our community. All I was trying to do was keep order, make sure everybody followed the rules; after all, that’s my job.

What it looks like to us may not be what it looks like to others; to someone looking in from the outside.  We may think we are friendly and caring and compassionate people, while other eyes may be the ones who see us more clearly as we are. This is why we need Jesus to look at us and speak to us about ourselves. 

Just as Jesus broke into the pat little world of first century Palestinian Judaism with a new set of eyes and a fresh voice; we need to let Jesus look US over and tell us what he sees. We need to hear and heed the call of Christ to break out of our old comfortable way of seeing things and doing things; we need to look at the world with the fresh eyes of Jesus, we need to look at the world as a place filled with opportunities to bend the rules in the name of love.

In his book How Sweet the Sound, Billy Graham’s long time songleader George Beverly Shea tells a story about one of Graham’s classmates at Wheaton College: 

Mr. Frizen, called Bert by his friends, was a talented and popular singer on campus, involved with several singing groups . . . .  He went on to serve in the military during World War II and was involved in the famous Battle of the Bulge . . . . Bert was wounded during one of the attacks and lay on the battlefield, slipping in and out of consciousness. At one point, with his eyes closed, he started singing his mother’s favorite hymn as best he could, “Jesus Whispers Peace.” When he opened his eyes, he saw a German soldier standing over him with a drawn bayonet.  Bert understood enough German to know that the soldier was saying to him, “Sing it again; sing it again.”  Bert continued the song; “There is a Name to me most dear, like sweetest music to my ear/And when my heart is troubled, filled with fear/Jesus whispers peace.” Soon he felt himself being gently lifted up in the arms of the enemy soldier, who carried him to a rock ledge nearby where the American medics found him a short time later, taking him to safety.

In the midst of war, one German soldier broke the rules in the name of love, in the name of compassion, in the name of Jesus.Our challenge today is to set our spiritual clock by the unchanging rhythm of God’s love. God calls us to look deep within and to find the courage and the faith to break the rules in the name of love, in the name of the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen and amen.

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