Proper 16C Sermon (2001)

Proper 16 (August 21-27)
Texts: Luke 13:10-17;
Heb. 12:18-29; Isa. 58:9b-14


I took notice this week of this woman’s ailment as Jesus healed her. She had been bent over for eighteen years, not able to stand up straight, so when Jesus calls her over, lays his hands on her, and heals her, she stands up straight and praises God.

I took notice of her ailment and Jesus’ healing this week, because I have been suffering a bout of spinal stenosis such that it is difficult for me to stand up straight without it hurting. When I am standing up, I don’t feel much like praising God, to be honest, because I hurt quite a bit.

So you can be sure that I took notice of her ailment, and that Jesus healed her, but there was a big part of me that also didn’t want to hear it for myself — and I certainly was wary of talking about it with all of you today, because that would really mean that I need to try to hear this passage for myself today. Where does that feeling come from?

  • [extemporizing “bullet” points] Some is denial and a touch of anger. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. I don’t want others to feel sorry for me. I want to deny that things might need to change for me a bit.
  • Some fear. Even being afraid of being disappointed if I hope for healing like the woman and don’t get it.
  • So there’s also a struggle with faith. Could Jesus dramatically heal me like this woman? I know more about my ailment than simply that it was a spirit getting the best of me. I know that I have arthritis, and that this disease takes a certain course with even modern medicine not being able to do anything but treat the symptoms. I’d rather be “realistic” and simply put things in the hands of the doctors and other modern medical professionals.

So I’m going to take a bit of a risk today by trying to hear this gospel for myself, too. I’m going to believe that there is definitely a spiritual side to my illness that Jesus can help to heal me. Perhaps you can listen in, too, and consider the ways in which Jesus can bring healing to your life.

One thing that we do need to get over as modern people is the tendency to forget about the spiritual. We read in today’s lesson that “there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” That spirit stuff seems awfully primitive to us. Modern medicine has helped us get over some of the superstitious ways of thinking about illness in terms of “spirits.”

But do we do ourselves a favor by making it only a matter of physical healing? Get away from the superstitious aspects, yes, but not completely away from the spiritual aspects. Redemption is blessed with a fine Parish Nurse, Marianne Martin, who is here to help us tap into the spiritual side, too. Increasingly, modern medicine is learning how important our spiritual lives are to healing.

There’s this thing called “genetic predisposition,” for example. In my case, I’m genetically predisposed for arthritis. But that doesn’t dictate that I have to get it, or that I need to get it in a certain way. It means that I have a certain weakness or susceptibility that may come into play in the right conditions. What are the right conditions? We are finding out increasingly that a lot has to do with our spiritual lives! Stress. Grief. Fatigue. Bitterness and anger. These can be the conditions that help make for the onset of illness, especially around those susceptibilities to which we’re genetically predisposed.

So what does it mean to be healed? To stand up straight and praise God. In other words, to live a life of thanks to God for many blessings. Learning to live a life of thanks can be helpful in times of grief, fatigue, bitterness, etc. But living a life of praise to God means something more, too. It means what the prophet Isaiah is trying to get at in our First Lesson this morning:

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the LORD…

Not focused on my own self-interests only, but to have a mission in life of pursuing God’s interests — that can go a long way in helping to keep a healthy spirit. The Sabbath is about orienting our work, our lives, our interests, to be in keeping with what our loving God wants not only for us but for the whole Creation. God has a continuing work of creation, and we are invited to join in. Working with God is a key to a healthy spirit.

What holds us back spiritually? What helps lead to dis-ease? Jesus talks about being bound by Satan. We need to be very careful here! Here is where we make sure to unlearn the superstitious aspects of a spiritual understanding of dis-ease. Jesus is freeing this woman from Satan’s power, not accusing the woman of being allied with Satan. How can we understand Satan’s power and the ways in which it has all of us bound? That’s what’s at stake here.

There’s two primary ways that Satan ties us up. We see the first right from the beginning of time in that story of the first man and woman in the garden. Satan’s power is represented in the serpent’s temptation to follow their own desire for the fruit, rebelling against God’s desire. It’s also what we’ve already talked about from our First Lesson: living according to our own interests instead of God’s. When we don’t live our lives according to God’s interests, we end up living them according to each other’s interests. We fall into all kinds of rivalry, envy, conflict, and violence. There’s a touch of it, no doubt, in the Gospel Lesson, too. The leader of the synagogue is jealousy guarding his own turf, the synagogue on the sabbath. He doesn’t want Jesus to take the spotlight away — ‘Go heal somewhere else on a different day.’ Jesus tries to get him to focus on what God’s interest is here, namely, that this daughter of God’s people in Abraham would be freed from her slavery to Satan’s power. But this leader of the synagogue is good at doing what we are all so good at: falsely representing our own self-interests as God’s interests. It is the kind of turf issue in which we constantly see Jesus embroiled with the leaders of his day. Eventually, the jealousy and envy will lead them to kill Jesus. Jealousy leading to violence.

So if we’re enslaved to Satan’s temptations to jealousy, to covetousness, how do we ever enjoy times of relative peace and order? What prevents us from the total dis-ease of everyone fighting everyone? This is Satan’s even greater trick, the one that it takes the Cross of Jesus to finally reveal. After Satan gets us all against each other by tempting us to follow each other’s interests, he brings us relative peace and order by doing exactly what it says in the first line of the Isaiah passage, namely, by pointing the finger at someone and calling them evil. When most of us point the finger at someone, naming them as the problem, as the source of evil, the rest of us pull together in a relative peace. We stop fighting with each other so that we can join together against someone else. It is an age-old human game that goes back to ritual sacrifice, designating a scapegoat to carry all of our sins. It’s still one played in many ways, shapes, and forms today — from the realm of politics, like Hitler against the Jews, right on down to the nuclear family, when someone gets to be the “black sheep” of the family. We point our fingers and label someone as the cause of our problems. It is an age-old game of Satan’s that has us bound up, never being able to achieve the greater wholeness that God has planned for us, because our brand of wholeness always depends of some of us trying to win our wholeness at another’s expense.

In Jesus’ day, one of the most popular targets for finger-pointing were sick and disabled people. This woman had no doubt been the target of much finger-pointing. Others would have assumed that she must have been a sinner to have deserved such a fate. But not Jesus. No, instead of playing along with the Satanic spirit, Jesus frees this woman from it. After eighteen years of being bent over under this oppression, she is able to stand up straight and praise God. No, Jesus would ultimately take her place as the target of such accusation. He would let himself be accused, mocked, convicted, and even executed, so that as our Risen Lord he would be able to free all of us from Satan’s power.

There is so much more to say, so many more ways in which we need to understand Satan’s power that binds us. It is part of my wholeness, part of my sense of calling to be able to share these things with you through the Gospel’s anthropology, the Gospel’s understanding of who we are as human beings. I invite you to come to the Adult Forums next month — part of my therapy, being able to share these things with you!

Let me simply end here with several ways in which I hear this Good News of healing from God for myself today. . . . [extemporizing several points]

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Redemption Lutheran,
Wauwatosa, WI, August 25-26, 2001

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