The true breaker of chains

File:Hitda-Codex-Healing of a man with a withered hand.jpgWatching for the Morning of June 3, 2018

Year B

The Second Sunday after Pentecost

The Sabbath command takes center stage on Sunday. We hear Moses recall the commandment in his sermon to the Israelites before they cross the Jordan to enter Canaan. They are not to be an enslaved or enslaving people: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”

The psalm also speaks of God’s deliverance from bondage: “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I rescued you.” But law intended to free can also be used to bind, and so conflict erupts between Jesus and the Pharisees. The disciples dare to pluck a few grains of wheat to snack on as they walk through the fields and the Pharisees accuse them of doing the work of “harvesting” on the Sabbath. Then comes a man with a withered hand into the synagogue. To the Pharisees this is a chronic condition and Jesus nothing but a village healer, so the “work” of doctoring can wait until the Sabbath is over. But to Jesus the Sabbath is God’s deliverance from bondage and deliverance ought not wait. Nothing is more appropriate to the Sabbath than freeing those who are bound. The Lord of the Sabbath is come. In Jesus the reign of God, our true Sabbath rest, is at hand.

It is a claim to so radical, so profoundly challenging to “what everybody knows,” so powerfully transformative of “the way things are,” that it cannot go unanswered: “The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

We can turn Christianity into a new set of velvet lined manacles – or we can trust and show allegiance to the true breaker of chains.

The Prayer for June 3, 2018

Gracious God,
whose will it is to gather all creation into your eternal peace,
send forth your Spirit
that we may ever dwell in your healing presence.

The Texts for June 3, 2018

First Reading: Deuteronomy 5:12-15
“Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.” – The book of Deuteronomy is composed as an exhortation from Moses to the people at the end of their journey through the wilderness. He reminds this new generation of their covenant with God and the commands God has given – including this Sabbath command. The God who freed slaves intends they stay free and commands a day of rest for all.

Psalmody: Psalm 81:1-10
“It is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.”
– The community is called to worship and reminded of God’s deliverance and commands.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
“We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” – Paul writes to the conflicted congregation in Corinth reminding them that his ministry – and the struggles he has endured – have been for their sake, that life in Christ may be made known to them

Gospel: Mark 2:23-3:6
“Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent.”
– Conflict erupts with the Pharisees over Jesus apparent violation of the Sabbath command.

+   +   +

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hitda-Codex-Healing_of_a_man_with_a_withered_hand.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The face of a priceless love

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Washing of the Feet (Le lavement des pieds) - James Tissot.jpgMaundy Thursday
March 29, 2018

Our gathering on Maundy Thursday is the beginning of the three-day service known as the Paschal Triduum, the central worship of the year that proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus. (Click here for an account of these three days). We begin our celebration with an exhortation, allowing the washing of feet to serve as a visible sermon following the reading of the Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35.

The texts we will hear this evening are important for us to keep in mind as we come together over these next three days to let the cross and resurrection speak to our lives. I want to talk about them briefly – but first I want to say something more about this last sentence: we come together over these next three days to let the cross and resurrection speak to our lives.

We are here to hear the voice of God. We are here trusting the promise that, in these words and actions, we will hear the whisper of the eternal call our name, lift us up, touch us with the Spirit, lead us in love, grant us strength and courage, and fill us with hope and joy. We are here trusting the promise that somewhere “in, with and under” the sound of the splashing water, the caress of the towel, the words of the readings, the cry of the prayers, the taste of bread and wine, we will feel the embrace of a wondrous love.

We are here to let this whole majestic and profound story of the cross and resurrection speak to our lives. We are also here to let this majestic and profound story be spoken into the world.

The world needs to hear this story of suffering love. The world needs to hear this story that the one who is the perfect image of God bends to wash feet. He bends the knee; he does not bend the truth. He prays for the world and seeks to fulfill God’s will. He endures spittle and shame and does not respond with hate. He forgives his torturers and takes no revenge upon a brutal world. To the end, he remains faithful to God and to us.

We need to be brought back again and again to this story. But we are also here to let this story loose into the world.

There are lots of things to worship in the world, lots of things in which we are tempted to put our trust. There are plenty of stories about what we should be: There are people telling us how to get rich. There are people telling us how to be youthful and sexy. There are people telling us how to be successful in life and love. There are people telling us that these things are the secrets to life. They tell us such things are worthy of our worship, adoration and praise. They are worthy of our time and energy, our mind and heart, our wealth and resources. But the truth is that all these things are rendered powerless by death. There is only one who is not undone by death.

We are here to let this majestic and profound story of the cross and resurrection speak to our lives and be spoken into the world. We are here to hear the voice of the angels who sang at Jesus’ birth and waited in the tomb to declare: “He is not here; he has been raised.”

Tonight we see the face of God that bends to wash feet. But this night is also the night of the last supper when Jesus took bread and broke it saying that his body would be broken. And this is the night we remember the Passover when the blood of a lamb saved Israel from death – and Christ is revealed as the true Passover lamb whose blood is poured out to deliver us from death’s power.

So our first reading is about the Passover. The instructions on the annual observance of the Passover are placed within the historical account of that first Passover. Every year Israel is to remember this night. Every year Israel is to remember that they were slaves and God set them free. It was supposed to keep them from surrendering their freedom and becoming slaves again. And it was supposed to keep them from betraying their freedom and making slaves of others.

The story also commands them to eat this meal with their bags packed and their shoes on their feet. They are to be ready to move, ready to follow where God shall lead, ready to live their freedom.

The lamb is to be roasted – roasted because it is quicker to cook, quicker to eat. There is no time to bring the pot to boil and let the meat simmer all day. They need to be ready to go. The bread is unleavened because there is no time to wait for bread to rise. They are a people on the move from bondage into freedom. They need to remember all this in the years to come.

The second reading will tell us give us Paul’s instructions to the believers in Corinth about the Lord’s Supper. These are the familiar words we use every week over the bread and wine. It is part of a longer conversation about what it means to share in this meal. The Corinthians had forgotten that they are members of one another, that at the heart of this meal is the example of priceless love. This is why, when John (the writer of the Gospel) wants to talk about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, he doesn’t talk about the bread and wine, he tells us about Jesus washing feet. At the heart of this meal is priceless love. Christ’s body is given for us. Christ’s blood is shed for us. Christ kneels in priceless love.

The psalm that lies between these two readings speaks of lifting up the cup of salvation. In this psalm the Christian community through the centuries have heard words and phrases that evoke Jesus and what we do in Holy Communion.

Then, finally, we will hear of Jesus bending to wash feet and giving us the mandate to love one another. That mandate gives us the name Maundy Thursday. Mandate Thursday. Commandment Thursday. Whatever else we may be as a Christian community, we are to be a community where love dwells. It is by love that everyone will know that we are followers of Jesus.

When Jesus bends to wash feet, he shows us the face of God and the face of our true humanity. I remember reading some book when I was a child that told the story of Narcissus. Narcissus, in Greek Mythology, was known for his beauty. But he was full of himself and spurned the affection of those who loved him. He was lured by the goddess Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, to a pool where he fell in love with his own reflection. He couldn’t ear himself away from his own reflection and it led ultimately to his self-destruction.

Somewhere along the way I read a similar story about an enchanted room where the more you looked into the mirrors, the larger they became while the windows grew progressively smaller. Ultimately this person was left in total darkness.

Our self-concern is not the path to our true humanity; it is the path to darkness. We are most fully human when we look out the windows toward God and others rather than in the mirror at ourselves.

The Christ who meets us this night, and in this entire story of the cross and empty tomb, is a man who loves completely. He is crucified for this. He is judged and condemned as a liar about God and a danger to the people. But God will overturn that judgment. God will void the sentence of death. God will declare Jesus true.

Here in this man with a washbasin and a towel is the true face of our humanity. Here is the true face of God. This is the story we come to hear. This is the story we come to set loose into the world.

Amen

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_Washing_of_the_Feet_(Le_lavement_des_pieds)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Making space

File:Moving Mess.jpgWednesday

John 8:31-36

31“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

It doesn’t sound like an insult to us. It sounds like a promise. But we are not a society that makes a sharp social distinction between those who are freeborn and those who are manumitted. Jesus’ hearers take offense at the suggestion that they need to be made free and respond indignantly: “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

This little exchange reveals much. These Judeans have pledged their allegiance to Jesus; they have ‘believed’ in him. But Jesus is doubtful and tests their fidelity.

John’s Gospel is full of examples where Jesus is speaking of a spiritual reality and his hearers are stuck in a literal meaning. Nicodemus is told he must be born ‘from above’, but the word also means ‘a second time’ and he puzzles over how it is possible to enter back into the womb. Jesus tells the woman at the well that if she knew who it was that asked her for a drink, she would ask him for living water (which also means fresh, running water), but she responds that Jesus has no bucket. So here, Jesus speaks of freedom and his hearers think only of the institutions of slavery and bond-service. All by itself, this opening exchange reveals that there is something lacking in the professed faith of these Judeans.

The dialogue will get worse. Jesus will question their parentage. He will announce that their deeds show they are not children of God but children of the devil. “There is no place in you for my word,” says Jesus.

The Greek word means to make space. Imagine moving in with a new spouse who makes no room in the closet for your clothes, no shelf in the bathroom for your sundries, no space in the living room for your family photos. These pseudo-disciples have made no space in their lives for Jesus’ teaching, his word, his Spirit.

There is a reason that Christians spend time in the scriptures, in worship, in books that deepen the life of faith. They are trying to make room for the things that Jesus says. They are trying to make room for the Spirit’s gifts. They are moving out old furniture and clearing out closets in order to make room for God.

They want to know true freedom.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMoving_Mess.jpg, By Steve Ryan from Groveland, CA, USA (Moving Mess – Day 4) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Open spaces

Wednesday

Nevada desert roadPsalm 4

1“Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.”

I have been pondering over the recent years why I have come to like the high desert so much. Country that once seemed arid and barren, something to be endured to get from mountains to mountains, has become compellingly beautiful. I find myself looking for excuses to drive the back roads of Nevada and Wyoming. I spent my brief vacation time last summer going to Great Basin National Park. And even when I finally got on the freeway to hurry on to my father’s house, I found myself stopping at every scenic stop to go clamber over the rocks and look out at the austere vistas.

Tree in the Great BasinI suspect that it has something to do with living in an apartment that still has many boxes of unsorted stuff from my previous home.

Neighbors are close. I can hear them sing in the shower and chop whatever they’re chopping in the kitchen. I can hear their telephone calls and the laughter of their parties. I can hear their occasional snoring and someone’s squawking efforts to play “Mary had a Little Lamb” as they learn the clarinet. The noise of leaf blowers, the sound of hammers and construction, the roar of chippers and rug cleaning services, the compressed quality of urban life makes me feel squeezed. Even the demands of work and inevitable gossip in the congregation presses in on me. So the vast emptiness of the desert appeals to my soul. I can breathe. I can sit in the silence. I do not have to negotiate constant traffic. I can drive for hours without seeing another car.

These are the words our psalmist uses in the opening line of his prayer: “You gave me room when I was in distress.” The line sounds odd to us, but the words are related to the feeling of being boxed in and the grace of open spaces.

God delivers him from the constrictions that squeeze him from all sides and leads him into broad open valleys. He has not traveled to the desert; he has entered the expansive realm of prayer, of quiet before God, of the majesty of holiness, of the beauty of divine faithfulness and love.

In prayer God carries him to a new place, a realm of grace and life, of assurance and hope, of tranquility and trust, a realm of wide-open spaces and grand vistas, a world of boundless love where spirit takes flight.

 

Photocredits: dkbonde

We have seen the Chariots of Fire

Wednesday

2 Kings 2

File:ElijahAscension.jpg

Fiery ascension of prophet Elijah. Russian icon (Novgorod school), Late 1400’s

1Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.

The opening words of our first reading for Sunday troubled me as I met with colleagues to study the upcoming texts. It took me a while to put my finger on it. I thank them for their patience and tolerance as I groped for what felt wrong.

The use of a temporal clause sets the stage for a story; it doesn’t announce the story. If I begin, “When 9-11 happened,” you know the story isn’t going to be about 9-11; it’s going to be about something in which 9-11 serves as the backdrop, the context for the story. If you start, “When King was killed,” I know that you are certainly not telling me what happened to Martin Luther King, Jr. You assume I know. What I don’t know is the piece you are about to add.

So this isn’t a story about Elijah being taken up in a whirlwind. The writer assumes everyone knows that story. It’s just the background for the story the author wants to tell. So the text isn’t about Elijah; it’s about Elisha. It’s not about the whirlwind or the chariots of fire; it’s about Elisha. And maybe it’s not even about Elisha; maybe it’s about what happens to the prophetic voice in Israel. When Elijah perishes, who will speak? Will the prophetic voice continue?

Elijah has been a great champion of the LORD. He has fought the king (and his lovely bride, Jezebel) for the faith of the nation. Will they worship a prosperity God, Baal, or the God who rescues the poor from slavery? If you are the king, which narrative do you want to be the national narrative: Freedom for slaves or prosperity for all? Care of the poor or letting loose the constraints on the wealthy? Sabbath observance (a day off even for slaves) or markets open for business?

What will happen to this prophetic voice that fought tirelessly for the desert God who parts rivers and gives land to the landless, strength to the faint, hope to the poor?

Elijah keeps telling Elisha to “Stay here.” “Go back. Go back and hang with the rest of the prophets who praise the LORD and serve the people but have not fought with kings. Go back to your place. Go back to your brotherhood. Go back to a quiet and peaceable life. Go back.”

But Elisha is determined. Elisha will not be left behind. He will go wherever his teacher/master goes. He will not be separated from him until he obtains the inheritance: a double share. As a double share falls to the eldest son, he would be the eldest son, the successor to Elijah.

But it is not Elijah’s to give. It can only come from God. And what will God do? This is the tension that builds in the narrative. Will the prophetic voice endure? Will God, the LORD, speak? Will God, the LORD, continue to challenge kings? Will God, the LORD, continue to part the sea to rescue his people? Everybody knows Elijah is going; what will remain?

What will happen to the voice of truth, to the call for justice, to the cry for mercy? What will happen to the weak and the widowed and the poor? Will God, the LORD, speak or will the voice of Baal triumph?

God gave us a prophet in Martin Luther King Jr. I did not realize at the time what a rare gift it was for the voice of the voiceless to find a national stage. And what will happen now? Are we doomed to have the airwaves filled with self-serving politicians and billionaires? Are we doomed to prosperity preachers getting rich off the sheep?

That is the haunting question that isn’t answered until Elijah sees the Chariots of Fire, until he picks up the prophet’s mantel, until he strikes the water and parts the river.

But it is answered.

It is answered in the time of Elijah and Elisha. It is answered in the time of Nathan who stood before David with pointed finger. It is answered in the time of Jeremiah who was thrown into the cistern. It is answered in the time of Isaiah and Ezekiel and Micah and so many others. It is answered in John the Baptist whom Herod killed.

And it is answered in the Word made flesh whom Rome silenced but God raised.

Thanks be to God.  We have seen the Chariots of Fire.

 

Image: By Anonymous artist from Novgorod (http://www.bibliotekar.ru/rusIcon/2.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Everlasting joy

Thursday

Isaiah 51

File:Happy face makes us happy.jpg

by Meghana Kulkarni from Pune, India

11 “The ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

In the song of the prophet proclaiming the return from exile we hear the song of all creation looking to the day of our redemption: the day when every marching army is disbanded, when every hate-filled voice runs out of words, when every angry passion is stilled; the day when every table has food to share, and every family overflows with kindness; the day when the name of God is invoked with joy rather than venom and lies; the day when children are safe and neighborhoods are safe and nations are safe; the day when our exile from the garden is over and perfect reconciliation reigns.

No more tears. No more weeping from hunger. No more weeping from fear. No more weeping for stolen children. No more weeping from bitter words.

No more shall the creation groan in travail.   No more shall it long for God’s children to become true children of God.

No more shall the holy be profaned, and the profane be regarded as holy.

We shall come to Zion. We shall come to the city of God. We shall come to the place where heaven and earth are joined. The New Jerusalem is described in Revelation as a vast perfect cube – thousands of miles on a side. A perfect cube, like the holy of holies, the most holy place of the temple. Humanity gathered shall be the sacred abiding place of God.

We shall come to Zion with singing. Our exile is over. God has come in the child of Bethlehem. In the man from Nazareth. In the risen and ascended Lord. In the Holy Spirit outpoured. God has done more than reach across time and eternity; he has traveled across it to dwell with us, to lead us to Zion with singing. Our exile is over. We can go home.

I love Thanksgiving. I love the family gatherings. I love the aroma of roasting turkey and homemade bread. I love the taste of gravy and mashed potatoes and the laughter of memory and story and wine freely poured. I love the football game (though today’s late game was painful) and the noise of children and the clacking of the old hockey game with the twirling men on the end of those sliding metal rods.

I know that not every family’s Thanksgiving is a day of joy – there are scars and fractures and immoderate words – and that even our best thanksgiving gatherings cannot escape the occasional sight or sound of bitter wounds. But that to which Thanksgiving aspires has been promised to us: “the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

And in the joy of that day we find our true freedom and life.

Being made free

Friday

John 8

File:Jacob Savery the Elder - Garden of Eden - 1601.jpg

Jacob Savery the elder, Garden of Eden, 1601

31“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

It is a tragic conversation. Jesus offers freedom and they take offense: “We…have never been slaves to anyone.” How dare you?! How dare you suggest that we are not free?! How dare you suggest that we are not liberated people, able to chose our own way?! How dare you suggest that we are bound in ignorance, passions and fears?! How dare you suggest that we are captive to our own brokenness?! How dare you suggest that we need some word, some spirit, some vision besides our own?! What do we need from you that we cannot do on our own?! We can make our own choices, chart our own path, seek our own destiny!

The truth is they abide in themselves. Like we all do.

The narrative of Adam and Eve is a rich and subtle text. Created by the breath of God and the soil of the earth, our first parents are given a royal garden to tend. They may feast upon the bounty of that garden. Every fruit of every tree save one is theirs, including the tree of life. But the serpent breaks the spell. With that crafty question “Did God say?” they become the interpreters of God’s word rather than the hearers of it. They now decide what God means instead of living in his word. But some words are not meant to be analyzed. A marriage vow is spoken and received, not evaluated and interpreted. A parent’s love is spoken and inhabited, not studied and debated. What should be a handshake is now an 80 page contract. We do not trust and abide in God’s declaration of love; we parse it.

We imagine we are free, when we are bound within ourselves. We cannot escape our self-consciousness. We cannot let go our self-concern. Only God’s word, God’s speech, God’s declaration of love and grace can free us from ourselves.

Some belief is not belief at all. It is a religiousness that serves the self: inflating my self-image, enhancing my self-righteousness, seeking God’s favor and protection. If Jesus can feed 5,000 from five small bits of bread, I will never be hungry again. Nothing here about feeding the hungry, only feeding myself and my own.

And there is only one remedy for untwisting my soul. Abiding in his word. Dwelling in his promise. Being daily encountered by an incomprehensible self-sacrificing love. Eating the bread that gives eternal life rather than the bread that sustains daily life.

Abiding there will show me the truth of all existence and free me from myself, free me to love God and neighbor, free me to live as heaven’s gardeners in true innocence and faithfulness, in true grace and life.

Follow me

Watching for the morning of January 26

Year A

The Third Sunday after EpiphanyFile:Я дверь овцам. Картина XXI века.jpg

Though the sounds and images of the Christmas season linger as we sing the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest,” and hear of light shining in the darkness, the Gospel takes us to the dawning days of Jesus’ public ministry with the summoning of Peter, Andrew, James and John from their nets.

Fishing in the Sea of Galilee was licensed by the Emperor.  As rough and hardy as they may be, these are not independent working stiffs, but men caught up in the imperial rule of Rome.  Jesus summons them to serve a different empire, a kingdom that frees rather than enslaves.  In the irony of the image, to become fishers for people is not a summons to ensnare people into service of God, but to liberate them from the nets that falsely claim their lives.

The Prayer for January 26, 2014

Gracious God,
you call us to follow your Son Jesus in lives of witness and love.
Form our hearts and minds by your Holy Spirit
that we may ever rejoice in the freedom of your grace
and be faithful in our calling as your voice and hands in the world.

The Texts for January 26, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-4
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” – In the aftermath of war, the prophet speaks to announce the dawning of a new day when “the rod of their oppressor” has been broken.

Psalmody: Psalm 27:1, 4-9
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” – A song of confident trust in God.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” –
Paul takes up the problem of a community divided into parties defined by various teachers, centering them instead in the message of the cross.

Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” – Matthew describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum as a fulfillment of the Isaiah text for Sunday, then relates the summoning of Andrew, Peter, James and John.

(Attribution for the image above: By Andrey Mironov (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A God who heals and frees

Thursday

2 Kings 5

Frontispiece for Incidents in the Life of a Sl...

Frontispiece for Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Written by Herself. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.

This is just a fragment of the story, a setup for what is to come.  By her, Naaman comes to learn that there is a possibility for healing in Israel.  Still, she represents an important theme in the story: it is the poor who understand the power and grace of God.  A slave girl trusts in the work of God through the prophet; the King of Israel has no such trust.  Naaman is offended and rejects the prophet; servants persuade him to undertake this simple task of washing in the Jordan River.  Those with wealth and power often have trouble trusting a higher power.  Those on the underside often have no other choice.

So here is this young girl, taken captive in a raid, taken from home and community, made a slave, but she has lost neither faith in God nor compassion for her captors.  “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

But it is hard to pass by this fragment of the story without recognizing that the stealing of people into bondage is taken for granted by the narrator.  There is no sense of horror at the idea of such bondage.  No pause to condemn our degraded humanity.  It just is what it is.  It is what it always has been. It is what it continues to be.  Human trafficking.  Child soldiers.  Economic enslavements.  Child brides sold into marriage.  Domestic violence.  We were not created to enslave or be enslaved.  It was not the way of God in creating and blessing the world.  It is not the way of God shown in liberating the children of Israel from Egypt (and liberating Egypt from slaveholding).  It is not the way of God in the legal codes at Sinai.  It is not the way of God voiced by the prophets.  It is not the way of God revealed in Jesus.  Disciples are called not conscripted.  Faith liberates not imprisons.

But we imprison.  And we often bless our prisoning with the name of God.

Though the narrative presumes a world of slavery, it is a story about being set free.  And Naaman is not only freed from his disease; a deeper, spiritual liberation occurs, a reorientation of his life.  He kneels now to a new god, a god who heals and frees.

Unbent

Saturday

Luke 13

English: Tree near Chilton Taken from the new ...

English: Tree near Chilton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

11 Just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

Eighteen years.  We bear our burdens for a long time.  Grief.  Shame.  Fear.  Such things do not go away easily.

I will never forget the elderly woman who called me one day with a plaintive request that I come hear her confession.  It was a powerful moment, a wrenching story during the depression when there was not enough food to feed her children.  Now, late in life, unable to escape the memory, she cried out for mercy.  The story poured forth, lingered in the prayer of David’s psalm, to be swept away by that precious word of absolution.  For the first time in 50 years she stood free.  But a few days later I received another phone call.  She had a confession to make, would I come.  The word of grace had been forgotten, and the shame had returned.

I understood, then, there were issues of memory at work.  But I grieved for her – her memory of guilt was greater than her memory of grace.  She lived bent over, not 18 years but more than 50.

The miracle of healing is not what happens in our bones; it is what happens in our hearts.  It is what happens when a wounded and bent life is brought under the reign of grace.  It is not in the text, the text says he laid hands on her, but I imagine Jesus reaching out to lift this woman’s face – and in lifting her face, straightening her whole life.

Lifting our face is the hardest thing to do when we are ashamed, hard to do when we are carrying secrets.  Every impulse is to curl up, to look down, to look away, to slump over, to hide behind whatever masks or duty is at hand.  But there is that strong, tender hand of Jesus, lifting our face to his, meeting our shame with his healing light and freeing us to stand upright.

Each day we may call, and each day he will come back, until our memory of grace is stronger than our memory of shame.

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits–
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,  (Psalm 103)