Praising God from a Different Perspective
By Rev. Dr. Karen Schuder
Message on Luke 13:10-17 and Psalm 103:1-8
August 25, 2019
Take a moment to greet the people around you and share a positive statement of affirmation. If you are reading this and are on your own, think of people you can connect with later today to share a positive affirmation with.
Now let’s say the people you are talking to and seeing around you are not just individuals attending the same worship service you may or may not know well, but are partners in ministry. As Christians with a variety of experiences and beliefs, we are teammates, each having responsibility to praise God and participate in God’s work. With this in mind, we remember this worship service, even our own daily lives, is not about what we want, like, or dislike, but is about what we do to praise and help God. We each choose whether we promote or prevent God’s work.
A recent example of positive teamwork allowing God to work in powerful ways, was our team of 16 who spent a week serving God in Guatemala with the organization Common Hope. From the beginning it was clear we were a team and we weren’t in Guatemala to focus on our own pleasure. We carried heavy loads, painted poison on wood and a few even had to dodge a charging pig. My memory may be selective, but I don’t remember hearing anyone complain the whole trip. In fact, I heard people sharing a lot of gratitude, encouragement, and positive responses to difficult situations. While the trip was a great experience, it was also hard in many ways. We frequently faced suffering along with the awareness there was very little we could do to help. Despite such difficulty we were deeply touched by many of the people we interacted with.
One of the profound ways we were exposed to people’s stories was by accompanying Common Hope Social workers on visits. One of the visits I witnessed was with a family of 5 who lives in a one room apartment with only a curtain for the door. While watching the social worker visit with the father, a Chihuahua puppy peeked out at us, barked a warning, ran behind someone and repeated the process many times. After the visit I was able to get a translated summary of the conversation and learned one of their daughters has had asthma problems. Someone told them getting a Chihuahua would help, so they did and their daughter has been better since. Learning about Chihuahua therapy, but especially this family’s challenges, and seeing their determination to care for each other in the midst of extreme poverty is an example of one moment that pushed me to get new perspectives on life and faith. To be open to new possibilities and be thankful even in the face of challenges.
Today’s Scripture story, like many in the Gospels, revealed Jesus emphasis on being open to God working in unexpected ways and seeing the world, people and faith differently. This he clearly showed when he healed a woman while teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath despite opposition by leadership. At least two important things happened in this story we are going to look at and what message they have for us today.
First, there is the healing of the woman who had suffered for 18 years from being bent over. As I spent time with this story, I was struck with the question: how do we deal with this story knowing there are many who suffer from such a chronic physical injury and do not experience miraculous healing? I think of my Grandmother who endured being bent over for years. With the back injury I have, there is little doubt I will have the same fate in years to come. The miracle of Jesus healing the woman is inspiring, but we need more for this story to really speak to us today.
One of the most endearing points of this story is that the woman who had suffered for 18 years was at the synagogue worshipping God. According to what we are told in the Gospel, she did not ask Jesus for help, but was simply at the synagogue to praise and worship God. This woman is an illustration of faithfulness and determination. She didn’t wait until it was convenient or easy to attend worship, but she went in the midst of great challenges.
Given the context of Jesus’ time, the woman’s challenges most likely went far beyond her physical health. In their setting illnesses were often thought to be punishment and the work of Satan in response to a lack of faith in God. The more visible a physical ailment was, the more punishment or negatives were attributed to the person’s condition. This is what we see reflected in Jesus’ statement, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has bound for 18 long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”
From such perspective, individuals with visible ailments were most likely outcasts and low on the social ladder with few resources. It is likely the woman suffered for 18 years spiritually, socially and psychologically as well as physically. Yet there she was at the synagogue praising God and living out her faith despite 18 years of suffering. When Jesus bestowed upon her the honored title ‘daughter of Abraham’ and helped her stand up straight, she was freed in many ways and praised God with a different perspective. Perhaps she sang out praise like the Psalmist saying, (Psalm 103:1 NIV) –
“1Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
In our practical, educated world do we allow ourselves to be inspired by a story such as this? Do we allow ourselves to believe God can work in unexpected ways at unexpected times? This story reminds us that the mysterious, healing work of God breaks into our world in ways that can give us freedom: physical, spiritual, social and psychological. God is not confined to our expectations or limitations. Simply allowing new possibilities for God’s work as Jesus did can bring surprises and new life. As people of faith we are called to experience and make manifest God’s healing work.
Despite the miraculous work of God through Jesus to heal in a powerful way and inspire many, there was opposition by those who could not see past their own expectations. As so often happened in the stories of Jesus’ interactions, there is a complete reversal of power. He healed the woman, releasing her from the shame she had endured, while those who held much of the power and opposed Jesus were put to shame. This reversal of power and opposition to Jesus brings us to a second significant point and lesson of today’s Scripture reading.
Jesus responded to his opponents by providing a different way of understanding God’s will according to Scripture, yet they failed to see God’s work and will in new ways. They were tied to what they believed fit in the religious system, forgetting it was supposed to be about praising our unpredictable, unconfinable God. The synagogue leader may not have had a physical ailment, but from Jesus’ perspective he was confined by more brokenness than the woman. In focusing on his power and desires rather than being open to the unexpected work of God, he reduced the possibilities of experiencing God’s Spirit for himself and the members of his faith community.
The synagogue leaders’ reaction to Jesus healing on the Sabbath is a classic example of the organizational reality that there is going to be opposition to change. Jesus was fully aware of this and previously explained to his followers “I came to bring fire to earth.” He knew the radical changes he was calling for would be met with conflict. If we really look at this story, it was not the opponents who wielded the power, but it was the crowd who rejoiced at what God was doing despite the opposition’s negativity and limited view of what God could do.
What if many or most of those people had responded differently? Perhaps if they joined the chorus of complaints or even if they had remained silent, Jesus’ ministry in that time and place would have been very different. The people’s response did affect the story’s outcome for everyone involved: Jesus, the woman who was healed, the disciples, the congregation and the opponents. The crowd’s rejoicing rather than getting caught up in the negative, is still having an impact today through the timeless voice of Scripture. Although we are thousands of years removed from this story there is a powerful lesson and reminder for us: How we respond to challenge and change does impact whatever family, faith community, group or society we are a part of.
On this, my final Sunday leading worship at Pilgrim, we cannot overlook this important reminder that we can promote or prevent God’s work within the church, any church. Concluding my work at Pilgrim is difficult and sad, yet I am also mindful of the many joys and meaningful moments providing insight to God’s love in our midst. I give thanks to God for this. I am thankful for those of you willing to venture with me in learning more deeply about God’s love and living our faith in new ways. Thank you to those of you who have allowed me to be a part of your life journey and who have showed me care and respect. Thank you to everyone who is committed to doing God’s work within and outside of Pilgrim. To those of you who have been exposed to the negativity and falsehoods directed at me, but did not allow them to dominate your participation or derail your respect for me, thank you. You are an inspiration and source of strength.
As today’s Scripture lesson reminds us, there is going to be conflict and opposition to change, even if that change is good for the organization’s future. It is not necessarily the leaders of the opposition who will determine what happens, it is how people respond. Although the opposition to my leadership has been distressful, it was how people responded to the negative that led me to see I can no longer lead Pilgrim. Too much silence or buying into false narratives without talking to me showed there was not enough support enabling me to help you face the challenges of being a congregation in today’s world. Living with faith in God was not easy in Jesus’ time, nor is it easy in today’s world especially when peer pressure is part of the mix.
Yet, we are called to see and be different. Praising God includes responding more to the positives of God’s work than to the negativity and opposition of others. Amidst the challenges of living out our faith, every one of us has the choice in how we participate in God’s work and whether or not we promote God’s healing Spirit. As you move forward may you be grounded in this simple fact: Pilgrim is not just yours, it is God’s. When you allow God to be in charge, you will probably struggle with some things, but you will also experience healing love and grace in powerful ways. Allow yourself to experience the unpredictable, unconfinable work of God and the resurrecting love given through Jesus.
Doing so will require you to be grounded in your purpose and faith. We are on a spiritual journey together praising God with a SONG:
S eeking to know and live the way of Jesus
O ffering inspiring worship, music and arts
N urturing an inclusive and loving community
G enerating social and environmental justice
When you encounter negativity or opposition to change, encourage yourself to think beyond the emotionality you are hearing. If you remain passive or continue the negativity, you will affect others negatively. Be sure this is the impact you want to have. If you disagree with what you are hearing, politely say “no” and make it clear you will not carry on the negative narrative. Remember the church is to be about allowing God to work in new ways, even if you are not always comfortable with those ways. I pray you can face the negativity and challenges with honesty and faith trusting God will help, while remembering to praise God for the blessings in your midst.
When we respond to challengers of change with clarity of purpose as Jesus did in today’s story, we live like the people who rejoiced and praised God with a new perspective. Those of us who went to Guatemala experienced being part of a positive team while being exposed to the unexpected and difficult. We learned more deeply about our connectedness with each other and with people who live very different lives far away, while being forced to see differently. Our Scripture story today reminds us we do not need to go to a foreign country to do this. We can experience God’s healing, changing love right here, whenever we gather to worship and praise God. Chihuahua therapy, I’m not sure about. God’s Spirit and hope I am sure about. I pray you choose as individuals and as a congregation to experience God’s healing love and share it with the world while rejoicing and praising God. You are part of a team and each of you determines whether to help or hamper God’s work in your midst.
My closing prayer is this:
I praise you, O Lord for the many gifts and blessings you bestow upon us without our even asking.
In this time of challenge and change, give us the faith, courage and wisdom to face challenges honestly while trusting in your work so we can move forward as you call us to on our separate faith journeys and as partners in your work beyond Pilgrim.
Help us to know your healing Spirit more deeply, so that with humility and grace we may experience the resurrection hope of reconciliation in life giving ways. Peel our fingers away from the doors in our hearts we are holding shut and the hurts we won’t let go of, so new windows and doors can be opened to let your light shine within and without.
Living God, to the depths of my heart, I pray you hold each member and friend of this congregation in your care, so that together they may experience and share your healing in new ways radiating your beauty and life within and outside of the walls surrounding us.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.