“Standing Straighter”

August 21, 2016

Luke 13:10-17, Jeremiah 1:4-10

“Standing Straighter”

You have probably noticed that we don’t all treat rules the same way. Some of us take them very seriously. We drive the speed limit. We use our signal when we are turning. We pay our bills on time. When someone says to turn off our cell phones, we do it. Others of us see them like suggestions. We drive without paying attention to the speed limit signs. We may or may not use our signals. We pay our bills when we pay them. We may silence our phones, but we don’t turn them off.

I’m guessing we would all agree that rules are needed. We cannot drive vehicles without traffic laws. Rules keep us safe. But all rules are not created equal. One of the resources I have been using for preaching is called the prison lectionary. It is written by people who are incarcerated. This week’s reflection raised the issue of how far we take rules:

“During times of heightened danger the administration at this institution will declare a Level 1 Lockdown to be in effect. During such a lockdown, all prisoners must be handcuffed behind their backs before opening the doors at their cells, no exceptions. This procedure helps keep everyone safe until the time of heightened danger passes.

One night during such a lockdown, an old man I know had a heart attack. Although help was called and the medical staff responded fairly quickly to his aid, because the old man was lying prone on the floor unresponsive he could not walk to his door to allow the security personnel to handcuff him. As a result, security personnel refused to open the cell door to allow the medical team to treat the old man. After all, there was a Level 1 Lockdown in effect and rules are rules.

While awaiting direction on what to do from the higher ups the old man died. He was wheeled out of the cell house on a stretcher face down because his corpse was handcuffed behind his back. This old man was needlessly killed by blindly following a rule put into place for his own protection.” (https://prisonlectionary.net/category/lectionary/)

As we hear this story today, it may be easy to say with confidence, “Of course Jesus should heal her.” Our view on any situation is influenced by where we stand in the story. Alyce McKenzie tells us that both the woman and the synagogue leader have a partial view of the situation. Being bent over for eighteen years obstructs the woman’s view. She literally cannot see above her head and her viewpoint is grounded in her affliction. The synagogue leader’s vision was limited to the rules. He thought humans were doing the healing on the Sabbath which made it problematic, whereas Jesus thought God was doing it, which made it acceptable. (http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Partial-View-Seats-Alyce-McKenzie-08-16-2013)

Just as the woman couldn’t see above her, the synagogue leader couldn’t see the woman. He was too focused on keeping the rules. Today, we hear that and wonder why it mattered which day she was healed. Isn’t it wonderful that she was healed?

This woman is considered unclean because her body is not whole. When Jesus touches her and heals her, he restores her to the community. The synagogue leader may be saying, “be patient. You can be healed tomorrow. Today is not the right day.” Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a book in 1963 called Why We Can’t Wait. In it, he said, “The words 'bad timing' came to be ghosts haunting our every move in Birmingham. Yet people who used this argument were ignorant of the background of our planning...they did not realize that it was ridiculous to speak of timing when the clock of history showed that the Negro had already suffered one hundred years of delay.”

The woman in this story has waited eighteen years. For eighteen years, her vantage point has been the ground beneath her. For eighteen years, she has looked no one in the eye. For eighteen years, she has been unable to see the stars above. For eighteen years, she has lived with the physical pain and emotional pain of being bent over and the synagogue leader says that today is not a good day for healing??? I wonder if the synagogue leader had lived with this pain for eighteen years, it might have changed his thoughts about healing on the Sabbath. Most rules are created with good reason, but there are times that we realize some rules are no longer serving the greater good and must be revisited.

A refugee team was created for the first time to compete in the 2016 Olympics. You may have heard of the experience of a Syrian swimmer named Yusra Mardini. A high level swimmer in Syria, her home was destroyed by a bomb. She and her sister decided to flee a year ago, going through Lebanon and Turkey, before getting into a small boat (built for 6 or 7 occupants) with eighteen others, heading for Greece. The boat’s motor failed, and it began taking on water. Ms. Mardini and her sister, along with the only other two people on board who could swim, got into the water where they spent over three hours pulling and pushing the boat to safety. Everyone survived, and the Mardini sisters and their parents eventually ended up in Berlin, where Yusra continued her training and was selected for the Refugee Olympic Team.

Melissa Bane Sevier commented on this story by saying, “Whenever one person is able to rise from a situation that imprisons—illness, oppression, cruelty, misunderstanding, poverty—that story becomes part of the larger human narrative. It’s important to create a landscape where everyone has the opportunity to rise. Because the truth is, when any person rises, we all are inspired to stand a little straighter.” (https://melissabanesevier.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/standing-up-straight/)

Over and over scripture teaches us that the individual is the communal. That is, this woman’s healing was not just good for her; it was good for the entire community. Imagine how much more fully she can now participate in the life of the community. When the limitations are removed from her body, she is able to give more. Now she sees beyond herself. When our blinders are removed and we are given the gift of a larger lens, so much more is possible.

Helen Pearson says on that day that, “All rejoiced. All were freed from bondage of tradition that placed more importance on keeping law than responding to the needs of humans. When the woman is healed, all stand straighter.” (Do What You Have the Power to Do, p. 57)

This week we will host a meeting to talk about family detention centers for immigrants. In a few weeks, I will speak at an event about the need for mental health resources in this community. In early September, we have a guest doing a forum on disabilities. The following week, we have a speaker talking about the environment. Our Senior High and Adult Sunday school class are beginning a series together on White Privilege. Meanwhile, we are feeding people who are hungry and caring for people living with homelessness. Each of these remind us that God intends healing for all people. We are called to care for the individuals who suffer and to dismantle the systems that perpetuate suffering because in God’s reign there is no conflict between what is good for one and what is good for all.

We are in this together and as Paul reminds us, “When one suffers, all suffer and when one rejoices, all rejoice.” (I Corinthians 12:26) That is what we do together. We create opportunities for healing and rejoicing. When we are reaching out to the community, we are recognizing that we are all connected and the wellbeing of one is the wellbeing of us all…no matter what day it is!