A Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 21, 2016
(Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17)
(Hand out photocopied paper doll sheets and scissors).
I want to invite you today to set this paper doll free.
We’ve just heard Luke’s account of Jesus healing of a woman who was ‘bent over’. With a word, Jesus made her back straight.
This is a good news – because backs are made to be straight. Bent backs don’t function like backs are supposed to. Strong, straight backs work better.
And so, Jesus declares to this woman: ‘you are set free from your ailment’. This upright woman is now more like the whole person God created her to be.
God is still working on freeing us to be who we were created to be. You were not created to hate, but to love. You were not created for war, but for peace. You were not created to hold your grudges, but to forgive. You were not created for sin, but for righteousness and justice. You were not created for sickness, but health. You were not created for death, but for life.
In essence, you were created to follow the gospel path of Jesus – from dying to rising.
Jesus’ freedom-miracle inspires this woman’s praise of God and indeed the congregation’s spontaneous ‘rejoicing at the wonderful things he was doing’.
Not all, however see things so positively. The religious leader – of all people – begins to object – rebuking the crowd – not Jesus. His problem? They are gathering around this maverick healer on the wrong day: ‘Come to be healed some other time’.
The sabbath is a great gift. God gave it (along with the other Ten Commandments) to the newly freed Israel for a specific reason. No one from that generation had ever been free. God’s people had only known Egyptian slavery. God wanted to both give – and, now, preserve – their freedom.
By the time of our Gospel reading, however, rules and regulations have grown up around the sabbath day. What was given to nurture their God-won freedom, in the hands of people, become – of all things – oppressive.
Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t point to the lack of humanity in these sabbath laws as he offers his uninvited opinion. Rather, he points to the hypocrisy of those who claim to hold to them. Jesus’ brash assumption that each one frees his donkey to drink each sabbath morning receives no rebuttal. When he then holds this inconsistency next to the ruler’s objection to God setting this woman free on the sabbath, the discussion is over.
And the rejoicing begins.
Is it any wonder Irenaeus insisted ‘the glory of God is a human being fully alive’. The Apostle Paul put it this way: ‘For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery’.
Again, our reading from Hebrews reminds us, that we have not encountered a legalistic gospel of ‘darkness, gloom, and tempest’ that inspires a cowering fear. In Jesus we have come face to face with the ‘living God’ who ‘speaks a better word’. If we dare try to name this radical, world-shaking, God-word, ‘freedom’ might be the place to start.
Jeremiah was used to bring about freedom. God’s word on his timid lips both ‘plucked up’ that which destroyed freedom – and ‘planted’ that which created it.
So, Parish of St Barnabas – you need to find something of your God-won voice for freedom.
I have here a letter to one of our local politicians. Let me read it to you:
The Parish of St Barnabas Anglican Church,
PO Box 6870,
Charnwood, ACT, 2615.
Sunday, August 21, 2016.
The Hon. Andrew Leigh MP
Unit 8/1 Torrens St
Braddon, ACT, 2612
We write as a small Anglican community in Charnwood and Hall. We are, however, joining this weekend with churches across Australia who are expressing their dismay at the injustices being reported through our media.
Over the past weeks Australians have been rocked by the revelations of abuse within Australian run detention centres. These include revelations of grave mistreatment in the Northern Territory juvenile detention system and, more recently, the publication of the Naru Files by the Guardian documenting a staggering 2,116 ‘incidents’ experienced by detained people.
Together these reports amount to a heartbreaking account of our country’s systemic failure to recognise the inherent value of each human being.
As Christians we believe all people are made in the ‘image of God’ and that – in the face of such injustice – our faith calls us to respond compassionately. We feel called to do so when it comes to the the most vulnerable.
Please find enclosed the coloured paper dolls that we have made during today’s service.
They are our simple reminder of the individuals who have sought safe asylum in our country and instead been detained in our immigration centres. They are also a reminder of the young lives our juvenile justice system is failing.
We urge you, as our representative, to do all in your power to rectify both these situations. We have recently given you a prominent voice. Please use it to bring freedom and justice to our refugees and young people.
Rev’d Mark Beresford,
and The Parish of St Barnabas.
So, if you would like to add your signature – and your newly-freed paper doll – to mine, we will post it tomorrow.
Who knows what God might do with a million small voices for freedom!
(The above letter and the paper dolls we used for this are adapted from the ‘Love Makes a Way’ website).