The Very Rev.Tom Callard – August 25, 2019
Someone once told me that you have to preach realizing that probably 1/3 of the people in the congregation almost didn’t come to church. And I can believe that. For there’s a back and forth that goes on in your mind on Sunday morning – should we go, should we stay home? Well, is it raining? Is the choir back? Who’s preaching? All of these questions we ask to determine whether or not to come here or to stay home and worship on the couch.
When I was on vacation a couple weeks ago, it was a Sunday morning and I woke up around 7:30 – which is late for me. And I lounged around the house until 10. It was very nice. And then I went out to the Big Y, where I prayed I wouldn’t see any of you, because it’s awkward to see you on a Sunday not being at church and me not being at church. And fortunately, I didn’t see any of you. But I did look around, as I always do on Sunday morning when I’m not here, and I saw what the people out there were doing. And I confess: It’s a foreign world to me, at this point, the world out there on Sunday morning.
But I also realize that this is the foreign world for most people. That this might as well be Mars, for all people know about what we do here and what we share together and the ways in which we are connected together to the presence of God in Jesus Christ, and connected to the community out there and the needs of the world. There’s a lot going on in here that you would never know about, especially if all you know about religion is what you see on the television and hear in the media.
You know so many people out there have limited information on which to judge churches and organized religion, and unfortunately much of what they see comes from these types of Christians who are less than charitable and less than loving, who give us all a bad name.
Some of my wife’s family attend a church of a different denomination. And from time to time she asks me – do you really think God is going to judge us and destroy the world because of our sin? – because that’s what they teach at this church. And I usually say – well we’re doing a pretty good job destroying the world ourselves. We don’t really need God’s help. But I’m surprised how many Christians believe God is a judgmental deity bent on making us obey him.
So if you’re there on your couch on a Sunday morning and you’re debating- should I go to church or stay on the couch, and you think you’re going to come here and get a sermon all about obeying God’s rules, and prayers of the people all about praying that we are spared from the fires of hell, and at the Holy Communion if you think you’re going to get a message from me that says – you can only come up here and receive the host if you’ve obeyed all the church’s laws, then why would you come to church on Sunday? Why not stay home.
So we have a perception problem with church, but it’s based in reality. And the reality is that religion often becomes about rules, and the religious leaders and church members often see themselves as the gatekeepers who are tasked with preserving and protecting those rules.
So here in the Gospel today we have this religious leader who witnesses this miracle. Jesus has been teaching in the temple. And there in the temple comes a woman, bent over and suffering with this spirit that has been with her for such a long time. And Jesus cures her. And that’s a cause for joy. The woman is happy. The community is ecstatic because everyone knows her. They know what she’s been through.
Except none of that matters to the religious leader who is upset because this is not just any other day but it is the Sabbath, and Jesus has broken the rules of what you cannot do on the Sabbath.
There’s a lot of suggestion in commentaries about this passage- that healing on the Sabbath would probably have been perfectly fine for many of the religious authorities in the time of Jesus. Because healing was not exactly work. But this religious leader in the Gospel today doesn’t see it that way. He is not happy, for he sees himself as the upholder of rules. That’s what he does.
So imagine him there in the Synagogue when for the first time in 18 years this woman stretches out her back and raises up her head and lifts up her arms and puts herself straight and begins, among the full assembly present, to praise the living God for what Jesus has done. And all he can see is that it’s against the rules.
You know some people today are so focused on the rules that they can put little children who were crossing the border into cages and separate them from their parents, and ignore their suffering, and ignore the pleas of mothers who are separated from their children, and ignore what must surely be tugging at their hearts and still lock those cages and drag the mothers away, because all they see is the rule.
To bring it home to us, the Episcopal Church, for decades, for generations, there were churches like one in downtown Los Angeles where the ushers would stand at the door and whenever a black family or a Mexican family came in, instead of giving them the Sunday bulletin they would give them a map. And this map would show their visitors where the black church was, or where the Mexican church was. For all they see is this rule.
And all of us are subject to the judgment of rules. For all of us are breakers of rules. Raise your hand if you have not done something wrong, broken some rule, and in some way fallen short of the model set forth for us in the Gospels by Christ. We have all done what we should not have done. And we have all not done what we should have done. Otherwise why would we have confession every week in church.
So how does Jesus see this woman? Well, how does Jesus see any of us? As judged according to a set of rules we have broken and failures that we have committed? Or does he see us as he sees her with love?
At the heart of the Gospel is this relationship between Jesus and the woman, and what we see here is that Jesus sees her with love. And the Gospel, interestingly enough, doesn’t say the woman is sick, she’s not sick. And it doesn’t say she is possessed by a demon. She doesn’t have a demon. The Gospel says that she has a spirit that has crippled her. And what Jesus sees is her spirit.
He sees her spirit, and knows she is the bearer of this spirit. And that this Spirit, for some reason, is bent, and it is broken, and it is hurting, and it needs his help. I think that’s pretty much how Jesus sees us. When he comes to us, it is the spirit within us he responds to.
Out there, you tell the world that your spirit needs help, forget it. Because out there it’s in the realm of the rules. If you’re pleading your case with the bank trying to tell them why you’ve been late on your payments and they shouldn’t take away your car, and you say – well just look at my spirit. Forget it.
Out there we are seen and criticized and evaluated and condemned according to our ability to follow the sabbath and all the laws to which we are beholding, and all the judgments because of the color of our skin or the fact of being divorced or our wealth or our social status or sexual orientation or the neighborhood we grew up in. All of these are the measure by which we are judged.
And the truth is that no matter who we are, the rules are stacked against us. No one out there is set up to win. It is only with Jesus that we find ourselves loved as we are, and find that the spirit within us is so lovingly taken and cared for and healed and straightened and cured, like the woman today.
I, for my part, spent many years on that couch out there on a Sunday morning, content to judge and be judged by the rules of the world, measuring my successes and my failures according to what I saw of others around me. According to what the world told me was success. And I was always falling short, and always just a little bit behind. And always just a little bit empty. Because that’s what you are, living by the rules of the world, you are always just a little bit empty.
And it could have been that way forever. I could see a world in which that was my life, day after day being kind of happy and kind of content but with the spirit within me never knowing, as this woman does today, what it’s like to really have this moment where Jesus takes you in his hands and says: spirit stand up. Spirit be free, for you are made for more than this, And I have come for you.
It might have been that way forever, on my couch, were it not for my courage, at some point, to tell the Lord that I wanted help. That within me too, I wanted God’s peace and needed to feel God’s love, and I asked Jesus to come. And I offered my spirit to him
Have you been that woman in the temple? Have you had that experience? I know all of us have been the leader of the temple. That all of us at one time or another have been guilty of judging someone and failing to see that person beyond the categories or rules.
But have we been the woman in the temple? Have we found ourselves in our lives at some point telling Jesus how much the spirit within us needs him and how much it wants to be made whole and straight by his love? That try as we might, we can no longer live bent and broken by the challenges of life and the disgusts of the world, but that we want him to come and help us stand up straight and give us peace. That we want him to come and show us the way. That we want him to come and just love us as we are. So we too can stand in his temple in praise, for we are made for this.
And if all I’m doing is sitting out there on my couch, I’m not going to be whole. And I’m not going to be particularly happy. And I’m pretty sure that that’s what I want, to have this thing which the world in all its rules can never give me, happiness. Which is why I’m at church today. And why not ask for that today. Why not ask for his love? For that’s why we’re here.