The Kingdom Comes with Dignity and Innocence
Sermon | August 21, 2016 | Proper 16 C
The Rev. Robert Fruehwirth. Associate Rector, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Raleigh, NC.
Introduction: God Heals
A woman who had been bent double with a crippling illness for 18 years, Jesus heals today.
And she, for her part, doesn’t even ask for this healing. She doesn’t seek Jesus out. Rather, she walks into the synagogue as he is teaching, and when he sees her, he calls her over, touches and heals her. And so she stands upright and praises God.
From this much of the Gospel, the very least we can say about God is that God heals and desires to heal, and in his healing, I see Jesus restoring two things to this woman: he restores her dignity and he restores her innocence — her dignity in being able to stand upright again, and her innocence in being able to praise her God
I find this very poignant.
All the longing after youth in our culture, all the idolizing of childhood and the quest to make our children always Instagram-ready: what is this but a distorted expression of our desire to have again that long-lost childhood innocence, that bright, confident, open joy of the child who walks into a fresh world, and delights there in all that they find, who are praise for God in their very being.
Jesus restores to us our dignity — being able to stand upright — and our innocence, being able to thank and praise God for our being alive in this world.
But the story of this healing, as wonderful as it is, in the Gospel, is merely a preamble for what happens next.
On witnessing the healing the leader of the synagogue objects to Jesus doing this on the sabbath. There are other days for healing, he says, come on them. There is for instance the Wednesday noon Eucharist: come then!
To our ears, this sounds petulant, puerile and mean-spirited in the face of such a wonderful healing.
But it’s not really, because keeping the sabbath was the way a great many Jews established, then and now, their covenant with the LORD, the mark and reality of their faithfulness.
And what a beautiful thing this was: keeping the sabbath, making time for God, was how they realized, expressed and celebrated their most fundamental belonging to God and their belonging to each other, and even to this earth that God has made. As Isaiah says:
If you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable…then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob. [Is. 58]
And even if Jesus had to heal on Sabbath, He didn’t have to do it in front of the whole synagogue. He could have quietly invited the woman to meet him in a private home after the service.
Jesus’ actions in this this Gospel are thus exasperating and gratuitously inflammatory: Does Jesus have to transgress every marker of spirituality holiness other than himself? Does everything have to be about him?
Well, in a way, maybe it does.
Jesus the Kingdom Come
You see, what Jesus was about in this Gospel was, after all, not extending his healing ministry to reach as many people as quickly as possible.
Jesus did not set out to heal everyone with infirmities. If that was his goal, he failed.
Rather, Jesus’ real aim, in this healing, as in every encounter, was to announce that God’s Kingdom had arrived, and had arrived in him.
He is, in his body, God’s Kingdom come.
And this is also why Jesus heals on the Sabbath, as unnecessary and inflammatory as that seems to be. It’s not because he doesn’t care about peoples belonging to God and each other and celebrating that belonging, but he is saying that he, in himself, their new covenant, their sabbath a new way of belonging to God and to each other.
Just as I am the new temple where heaven meets earth, and I am the new sacrifice that reconciles to God, so the rest you find in me, Jesus says, is the new sabbath rest through which you re-discover your rightful belonging to God and your belonging, not just to a family or a nation, but to the rest of the human race.
How The Kingdom Comes
I will tell you a little story about how God works, how God has worked in my life and maybe how God worked in yours, so that we find our true longing in Christ.
When I was 12 years old, in the midst of a idyllic and protected childhood composed of clarinet lessons and hours playing in the forest, I learned that my father had been diagnosed with brain cancer, the kind that you don’t survive. When I was almost 13, he died, and following that, I lost my mother emotionally to her necessary grief. We then moved across the country, away from my music teacher and mentor, and after my brother left for college and I was left pretty much on my own. It was not, you could say, a happy time.
And life for all of us can be gutting at times. God, the Lord of Life, can be at times, for all of us, a consuming fire.
How God worked for me in such a gutting time, and how God might work for all of us, is that he stepped into my grief, my loneliness, my suffering, and in the person of Jesus, particularly Jesus in his Passion on the Cross, showed himself as suffering with me, with all of us, all of human history, suffering all that we have ever done or endured or felt, and still tenderly open to us, still wanting us and our lives to be with him, and to be in him in spite of the pain and wrongness we might have known.
And this, I think, is how we find in Jesus a new dignity and a new innocence.
It is not the puffed-up dignity that comes from having crushed the competition, the pagan glory that comes from remarkable success. Nor is it even the dignity of the victim intent on accusing and damaging others.
Our dignity comes from a God who in Jesus invites us into full honesty about ourselves, all that we have ever done and suffered, and loves us in that truth. From being wanted by God.
And our innocence, that remarkable quality of innocence which we think belongs only to children, we rediscover in Jesus in our gratitude for what he has done for us, our gratitude for being alive in this world this new Kingdom, for his transformation of all that guts and consumes us like fire, all that cripples us like and 18-year illness, into a means of showing forth his love.
…you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to the blood [of Jesus] that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. [Heb 12]