Six Days a Week

Luke 13:10-17 
In my first church, I started a Taize service along with a couple of musicians.  We took over the prayer chapel, and covered the altar with candles of various sizes.  Each Monday evening we joined with a dozen other parishioners to sing contemplative songs and petitions written by the ecumenical community in Taize, France.  It was moving and prayerful, and though the number of participants was not great, it was an oasis of peace for those who attended.
Until the altar guild came in to change the paraments.  They took one look at all those candles in various stages of becoming piles of wax, and said, “what is going on here?  How dare someone desecrate our chapel with these this ugly mess!  And on the altar, no less?” 
About the same time, our growing church was looking for more teaching and meeting space.  The chapel was the perfect spot— moving the pews against the walls, you had flexible space to teach confirmation and room to put up several long tables for a council meeting.  We didn’t have any other space like that.  But the complainers were back, saying that this was a place of prayer, not a place for teenagers to horse around.  It was terrible the way the church was going, without respect or reverence. 
Looking back, I could see their point. The candles were a far cry from the usual pristine tapers that graced the altar.  People remembered intimate weddings and funerals in there, not rambunctious teens.  It was a place of worship to them, and these new uses were not consonant with what they thought was right.  At time, though, I couldn’t believe their hardness of heart.  What person of faith can really get upset when kids are learning the faith they cherish?  What person of prayer can honestly judge as sacrilege songs that bring together people from nations around the world in prayer? It seemed to me that these folks were completely missing the point. 
Today’s gospel lesson seems like an echo of the complainers at my church.   Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, the local Jewish house of prayer.  All was well and good until Jesus noticed a woman so bent over she could not see what was in front of her.  Jesus called her over, and proclaimed, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  With one touch she stood up straight. 
The leader of the synagogue saw what had happened.  He was incensed, because it was the Sabbath day.  God’s law was specific: no work was to be done on the Sabbath.  It says so right in Exodus, that God worked six days and rested on the seventh day, and so should God’s people.  Immediately this local religious leader began hectoring the people gathered: “There are six days a week on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, not on the Sabbath day.”  In his efforts to keep the Sabbath holy, this religious leader missed the work God was doing right under his nose. 
It makes me think again of the protests about the chapel, and the times when I have missed the point.  Clearly this leader had not lived with an illness for years on end, or cared for others in their sickness.  His frame of reference was his own experience; he didn’t consider what Jesus’ healing might mean to this woman or others like her.  He comes across as completely tone deaf in the face of this woman’s suffering.  
ON top of that, it is clear that this leader thinks he is right.  Luke says this leader is indignant, angry because God is somehow being disrespected.  It’s moral indignation, and he has religious tradition on his side.  Generations of rabbis have established what is and is not work, what is and is not permitted on the Sabbath.   
Jesus, however, knew the religious tradition, too.  He brings out another teaching about untying an ox or donkey on the sabbath and leading it to water.  It connects to Moses’ words in Deuteronomy, where he states, “Remember 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, therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.”  Jesus saw that the Sabbath was as much about God’s freedom as it was about resting, and that in this case freeing this woman from the bondage of her illness was something to celebrate, not condemn.  And the people in the synagogue got it – they celebrated that God was active, healing and visiting his people. 
Sadly the religious leaders and the complainers are not the only ones who miss God’s work in the world.  It’s a danger of for all of us who have had significant religious experiences.  We too can be like the folks who remembered their wedding in the chapel, or the leader who remembered the goodness of the Sabbath as he had always kept it.  It’s not that those ways are bad; its just that God is bigger than our subset of experiences.  God is up to so much more in the world, and we miss out and sometimes exclude others when we are so narrow in our viewpoint. 
Take the gathering I attended yesterday.  My oldest friend Ann had a celebration of life for her dad, who died after struggling with mental and physical illnesses for over two decades.  Most of the folks at the gathering were not church goers, including Ann.  But this gathering of people knew how to support one another. They were the people who had supported Ann as she took care of her dad for the past 14 years.  Some were emotional support who brought humor and fun into Ann’s life; others stepped up to give financial advice and even help move Ann’s dad to Columbus from out of state.  Over the years, I have been impressed with Ann’s faithfulness as a friend and family member, and I was again moved by the love and commitment these largely secular people had for each other.  They didn’t go to church, but God’s work is evident in their lives in their selflessness and care.   
There was once a time when I might have thought, “It’s a shame these folks don’t go to church.”  I would have thought about all the things they are missing out on by not being a part of a faith community.  But I note that Jesus didn’t require this woman to follow the prescribed way of doing things in order to be a part of God’s work.  And I have been humbled by the genuine kindness and compassion folks who don’t go to church—kindness and compassion that sometimes I cannot seem to summon.  I could be like the leader of the synagogue and say, come to church if you want to experience God’s work!  But God is so clearly active in the lives of many people outside the church, that I would be the one missing the point.  I would miss out on the opportunity to praise God and be a part of that work in the world.   
We are church have something unique to offer – but it isn’t a corner of God’s goodness.  Like Jesus hung out with and healed all kinds of people, God continues to work in all kinds of lives and circumstances.  It is up to us to clear out our preconceived notions and look up to see what God is doing.  Then we are like the woman who was healed from being bent over and unable to see – we are healed from being focused on ourselves and can look up and proclaim what God is doing in the world.  In the end, that is the gift we have to share – a community that sees what God is up to, helps people identify it in their own lives, and joins in that loving and redeeming work for the sake of the world.   
Back at my first church, we decided to rededicate the chapel as a multi-purpose space.  We had a little service in which we remembered the worship life of that space, and the continued opportunity for small services to happen there.  We also blessed it for use for teaching, small groups, and meetings.  In acknowledging the range of religious experiences happening in that space, we were able to honor each other and God’s work in that place, in all its variety.   

And so I wonder if that is a kind of healing, too.  Healing of a narrow vision that limits our appreciation of what God can do.  The Greek word describing the healing of the bent over woman is ‘to set straight again,’ but it can also mean, ‘to set right again.’  So that is my prayer:  that we may be set straight, set right, with God and the others around us.  That we may lift our heads and see what God is up to in the world, in all the expected and unexpected places. That we may be healed of our hubris, that God may work in and through us, for good of the world. 

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