Saturday, August 24, 2019

Year C, Pentecost 11, Luke 13.10-17, Becoming Well

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
We don’t know what to make of the demons in the New Testament.
Our modern minds and worldview leaves little room for ghosts, demons, and other spiritual beings, even good ones such as angels.
Also, our understanding of the world and our growing expertise in healthcare changes the way we view diseases, either mental health issues or physical health issues.
And so today, when we read the scripture, we recognize many of the ailments that Jesus cured and understand them, not as demons, but in light of our 21st century medical knowledge.
Mental health.
And in today’s lesson, Osteoporosis.
Even in the lesson itself it is viewed in two different lights.
We read on the one hand that she had “a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years”, but also Jesus refers to it as an “ailment”.
Is she ‘possessed’, or simply suffering from a disease?
According to Dr. Ira Brent Driggers, who wrote the commentary in Working Preacher for today:
“Luke and the other evangelists emphasize Jesus’ power to heal physical brokenness because they are convinced that God created everything and called it good, meaning Jesus’ messianic mission is not some Gnostic deliverance of the spirit out of the body but a healing of the entire person.  In the case of the bent over woman, Luke goes so far as to call her condition a form of Satanic bondage, which is an ancient apocalyptic way of saying her condition violates God’s will for her life (and is not her own fault!).  To be clear, she is not demon-possessed.  But according to the Lukan Jesus, she is tragically broken.
Disease is not God’s will for our lives.
And it is not our fault.
That’s what demon possession in the New Testament signifies. 
In contrast to this we often hear people respond to adversity in their lives by saying “it must be God’s will”.  There is a sense that everything that happens, happens according to God’s plan and will. 
People will say all sorts of things in this light, for example, when a child dies they will say things like “God needed another little angel in heaven.” 
Against all that, the Bible uses demonic possession as a way of saying that no, everything is not according to the will of God.  Evil exists.
And neither is everything bad that happens to you a punishment for having done something wrong.
We know today that some diseases are the consequence of our actions.
You smoke your whole life and the risk of lung cancer and other diseases goes way up.
People who drink excessively experience health issues related to that drinking, including cirrhosis of the liver.
If you’re obese, other risk factors come into play.
 And in addition to this sort of thing, other actions on our part may contribute to suffering, such as taking risks driving, or carelessness at work, and such.
That said, though, most of the diseases we will experience are not our fault.
Nor are they the will of God.
To the contrary, it is God’s will that we be set free from this type of bondage.
Bottom line:  call it a disease, or call it demon possession, it is against God’s will and his plan is that we be set free from it.
One of the things that strikes me about Jesus’ ministry is how much of his time and energy was devoted to the task of making people well.
Jesus was not just about saving souls, and neglecting the rest of our lives, our bodies and minds.
Rather redemption means wholeness in body, mind, and spirit. 
And yet, so often we suffer for years without hope of getting better.  Eighteen years this woman in our Gospel lesson suffered.
It is simply part of life, it seems, that each of us will eventually get some chronic condition from which there will be no relief.
One of the conclusions that I have come to over the years is that no one can pray their way out of their own mortality.
We will die.
And yet we have the promise, that even in death God is at work bringing about a new creation and wiping away every tear from our eyes.
Again, redemption means wholeness in body, mind, and spirit.
If Jesus’ ministry is in any way instructive to us, then we would devote ourselves first and foremost to this task of health and wellness.
Somewhere along the way, though, we got distracted.
We started focusing more on being religious, than on being well.
And believe it or not, Jesus had very little time for our religiosity.  He did not come that we might be more religious, he came that we might be made well.
When Jesus cured the woman in today’s lesson, all the religious leaders could think about was that he had done so on the Sabbath.  Their religious traditions were more important to them than the wellness of this woman.
This was a pattern that was repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry.
The religious leaders were more concerned about people being religious, than they were about them being whole.
As a pastor, I find myself questioning whether I am likewise more concerned about how religious people are, than how well they are.
And if we are totally honest, our well being as pastors and the Church is dependent in no small way on the religious devotion of our parishioners.
Let’s just focus on the Sabbath as an example.
We don’t have the same sorts of Sabbath laws as they did in Jesus’ day.
But we have our own religious practices associated with the Sabbath.
“Be in Church.”
That’s something we highly value.  Be in Church on Sunday morning.
Yet we live in a world that draws people away from church on Sundays.
All sorts of activities compete for our time.
And in the face of that, there is an unwritten rule that says that “good Christians” will be in Church each Sunday morning.  That’s what it means to be religious, right????
And the truth be told, there is a very self centered reason that religious leaders are concerned about people observing the Sabbath by being in Church Sunday mornings.
That’s when we take the offerings.
People who are in Church every week tend to give more than people who aren’t.
And so the Church as an institution, and pastors as leaders, tend to promote religious behaviors that are beneficial to the Church and to the pastor’s own well being.
Go to Church.
Two measures of how religious we are.
OK, so these things are important.
It’s important that we hear God’s word and receive the sacraments. 
And none of our ministries would be possible apart from your gifts that make them possible, gifts not only of your money, but of your time and talents, as well.
And yet, that said, it is far more important that you be made whole, than that you become religious.
There was even a book written about this back in the ‘60s. 
One of the ways that this comes into play, is that when a new visitor, especially one who has never or rarely been to church before, comes to worship they find themselves feeling rather lost and alone because they don’t know all the religious rituals that we observe. 
But what brought them here?
Was it a desire to learn all sorts of religious rituals and observances?
OK, here’s a news flash.
People who come to the Church for the first time are not concerned with how to hold their hands in prayer, or when to stand and when to sit in worship, or any other such things.
There is one reason above all others that brings people to Church for the first time.
It is a sense that there is a void in their life, that something’s missing, or something’s wrong.
And they long to be made whole.
People yearn to become spiritually whole, not religiously devout.
That is what Jesus’ ministry was all about, and it remains the most important thing about our ministry.
If someone is not healed, in body, mind, and spirit, it does not matter how religious they are.
What matters is if they are well.

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