Abundant Faith

Sunday, October 6, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 17:5-10,   Hab. 1:1-4; 2:1-4
2 Tim. 1: 1-14

 

“Increase our faith!” This request or plea from the apostles centuries ago is still the same request today. When faced with great challenges and struggles, it seems like an appropriate request. Increase our faith! We need more of it in order to overcome what seems to be impossible. This question is really a stewardship question. We’ve spent the last month reflecting on how we are good stewards of the time, talents, and resources including financial ones that God has entrusted to us. This year we as a congregation are reflecting on how we are good stewards of creation during our Faith Formation hour. How is asking for an increase in faith a stewardship question? It all comes down to the mentally of scarcity vs. abundance. This is what Jesus is once again talking about in our gospel lesson today, and what the writers in our other readings are addressing.

The prophet Habakkuk struggled with the same questions we do. Why does God allow bad things to happen? When is God going to do something about these things? Yet instead of complaining to anyone who would listen, he took his concerns to God, and like the apostles in our gospel reading, compelled God to give him an answer. Habakkuk knew that God is a God of abundance, so then where was that abundance for those who suffer? The inequity between God’s vision of a beloved community and reality were great and continue even today. Habakkuk was afflicted with the same thing that the apostles and us today are afflicted with – a mindset of scarcity vs. abundance. Habakkuk believed in the generosity and faithfulness of God or else he would not have poured out his heart to God. Habakkuk prayed and committed to keeping watch to see what God would say. Yet Habakkuk expected God to solve the problems with additional resources. More was needed.

God’s answer however, was that God’s vision was still very much alive, and that it was being implemented even though Habakkuk couldn’t see it. It’s hard to see the vision when we are focused on darkness of the problems. God’s faithfulness and ongoing creative energy continues despite our human trapping to see lack where there is enough. The temptation is to think that faith is something we can understand, but faith is not an intellectual pursuit, but a spiritual practice. We profess our faith as an expression of our faith, but faith is demonstrated with our actions. Faith is action. Faith is active. Faith is moving forward even when we don’t see the evidence. At the end of the last chapter in Habakkuk, we see that the prophet understands this when he says, “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.

Through practicing faith through prayer, Habakkuk experienced a stirring of his faith to trust in the abundant mercy and generosity of God to work in the world. And as a result, Habakkuk put his faith in action by keeping God’s vision focused in his mind, and doing his part in whatever role God had for him. The answer was not more faith, but more trust not in our faith, but the faithfulness of God. And God gives that in generous supply to all who seek.

God spoke again through Jesus, when the apostles asked for more faith, and Jesus responded “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it would obey you.” Jesus was telling them, and us today, that we don’t need more faith. Even the smallest amount of faith – the size of a tiny mustard seed – is more than enough to do things that seem impossible. Jesus’ message for us is to break free from the mentality of scarcity, and trust in the abundance of our generous and loving God. When we do that, the impossible is not impossible.

The second half of our gospel lesson touches on slavery, which is a hard topic to discuss today. At the time this gospel was written between 30 – 50% of the people under the Roman government occupation were slaves. And it had been become an accepted form of reality. Human sinfulness has caused this acceptance of many kinds of evil to continue. The pain and suffering in our country from the slavery of African Americans continues. And many people today in our country and around the world continue to suffer from slavery of many kinds. Human trafficking is rampant in every city in our country, and most people have accepted that this is the way life is.

But Jesus offers us another reality. He says that faith – even a small amount – can do impossible things. Practicing our faith – not merely professing it – produces change. Practicing faith allows us to do the things we are called to do trusting in the abundant grace of God to work through us. That is why the writer of the letter to Timothy said, to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” He said “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
When we practice our faith through actions of Christ’s love and service, we “Guard the good treasure entrusted to us, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”

There are a lot of problems and challenges in this world we live in, but we don’t need a lot of faith to accomplish a lot. We are called to do our part trusting in the abundance of God. Later this afternoon, we’ll be doing a Blessing of the Animals on the front lawn as we commemorate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment and creation. I close today with a prayer from St. Francis. May it stir up in our hearts a knowing of the abundance of God’s love and grace so that we will practice our faith, a faith that can do the impossible.

“May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we will live deeply in our hearts. May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people and the earth, so that we will work for justice, equity, and peace. May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer, so that we will reach out our hands to comfort them and change their pain to joy. And may God bless us with the foolishness to think that we can make a difference in our world, so that we can do the things which others say cannot be done.” Amen.

 

 

Christ Our Bridge

Sunday, September 29, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 16:19-31 & 1 Tim. 6:4-19

 

On an unusually hot Thanksgiving Day almost ten years ago, I traveled from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire to celebrate the day with my daughters. As people who were accustomed to cold and even snowy Thanksgivings, it felt strange to be wearing shorts with the doors and windows open. Despite the heat, we still cooked the traditional and longed-for turkey dinner. They didn’t have a large turkey pan for the turkey, so they put it in a doubled up disposable aluminum pan. Warning: Do not attempt this in your own home. As I was lifting the turkey out of the oven, the pan started to bend, and the scalding hot turkey juice poured out all over my bare naked feet. That’s when the chaos ensued. My skin turned bright red, blisters immediately began to form on my feet, my daughters screamed, I stood frozen in pain, and the dog ran over and began to lick the juice from the sores on my feet. Yes, my mind immediately remembered today’s gospel parable about Lazarus and how the dogs came and licked his sores. And every time I hear this story, I now think of that incident. The chasm between that ancient story and my modern day life had been bridged.

That’s the problem with chasms, they’re hard to bridge without a lot of commitment. How fitting then for this story to be our gospel text for our Commitment Sunday this year. For the past several weeks our congregation has focused on stewardship. Through videos and scripture readings we have been invited us to think about how we are good stewards of the time, talents, and financial resources God has entrusted to us. Jesus has stressed how it takes commitment to be good stewards. It’s not easy to give of our time and talents when there are so many other things that compete for our devotion and commitment. There’s a growing chasm between communal worship and other activities.

The chasm is even greater when it comes to finances. Jesus said, we can’t serve God and money. Even St. Paul says in his letter to Timothy “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  When we make money our focus it creates a great divide between us and God, and between us and our neighbor. That’s what Jesus’ point is in the parable about the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus wasn’t condemning the rich man, but he was pointing out that the rich man’s love and devotion to his money, created a great chasm between himself and the poor man named Lazarus. The rich man was so focused and committed to his wealth that he was pushing his commitment to God further away, and pushing everyone else further and further away. The rich man couldn’t even see or acknowledge Lazarus. Only the dogs saw Lazarus. It wasn’t until after death did the rich man see the great chasm his self-centeredness caused, but his confession was too late. The chasm was permanent.

There are so many great divides, great chasms that happen in our everyday lives some of which are caused by our lack of putting God first in our lives. In verses 4 and 5 of the letter to Timothy prior to the ones read today, Paul states that when we don’t follow in the ways of Christ we can have a “morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling…” What he is saying is that if we’re not careful, unhealthy conversations can break relationships – personal and even communally within congregations. Instead of talking directly to each other we may succumb to gossip. St. Paul reminds us that the way to bridge the chasms caused by our sinfulness is to confess our sins, and commit to living godly lives of faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

We can’t bridge gaps and chasms on our own, but the good news is that God through Christ can! Christ is the bridge between our sinfulness and forgiveness. Christ is the bridge between chaos and peace. Christ is the bridge between pain and joy. Christ is the bridge between this life and eternal life. And because of Christ eternal life begins now. That is what Abraham was trying to tell the rich man. He was trying to tell him that commitment to living a godly life begins here and now. It begins today. There is no time to waste. We have no time to waste. We need to commit our lives to Christ and follow in his ways so that other false teachings don’t lead us astray. That means caring for those who are poor and unseen like Lazarus. It means advocating for those who have no voice, including children, refugees, and this planet that God created. It means remembering what the prophet Micah says the Lord requires of us, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”

So today, on this Commitment Sunday we confess to all the sins we have committed – the things we’ve done, and the things we’ve left undone – and we let them go trusting in the abundant forgiveness and mercy of Christ. And with our sins forgiven, we forgive ourselves, the sins of others; we let go of the past hurts, burdens, and grudges we are holding on to, and embrace the love and compassion of Christ. We commit not only our financial pledges to God for God’s mission, but also our lives – all of it.

Starting today, let’s commit to really experiencing God with us every day. Everywhere we go, everything we say, let’s remember that God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit is right there with us. We confess that Jesus is alive, and so we need to commit to living into this belief. What a difference that will make! Let’s remember our baptism. Remember that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Let’s focus on what really matters – the love of God in Christ Jesus who committed to giving his very life for each one of us so that we can live in true freedom. In gratitude and joy let’s commit to serving God and our neighbor. Let’s commit to building bridges that remove divisions, spreading love, kindness, peace, and joy, and living in God’s amazing grace. Amen.

 

Money, Wisdom, and the Kingdom of God

Sunday, September 22, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 16:1-13

Our gospel reading this week is a challenging one. First, because it talks about money, which is often a subject many don’t want to talk about, and second, because it seems that Jesus is condoning dishonesty. What is going on here?

It may be surprising to know that Jesus actually talked about money more than any other topic besides the Kingdom of God. Almost half of the 40 parables he told were about finances. And the reason is simple, the love of money can get in the way of working toward the Kingdom of God. Jesus knew that the temptation is to think that of all the gifts we have, money is not a gift, but something we own. The temptation is to believe that since we earn money through hard work, that it’s ours, but we often forget who gave us the abilities and talents to earn the money. Jesus understood that the love of money could easily become our god. Maybe that’s one of the reasons people don’t like to talk about money. It has become too sacred to discuss. It has become the focus of all our energies – whether we have a lot or very little. In congregations, money can quickly become the focus rather than the tool to help us to ministry.

We need wisdom in dealing with money. Jesus wants us to have a different kind of relationship with money, one that sees ourselves as stewards or caretakers of it like the rest of God’s gifts. We need a new understanding of money that Jesus demonstrates in this unusual parable. The manager in this story wasn’t managing the money well at all, and was about to be fired. This dishonest manager was now worried about his future, which forced him to think about his relationship with money in a new way. He lessoned the amount of debt that each person owed. He may have actually been making right what he had previously dishonestly overcharged them. Jesus was commending him for finally seeing what was really important, and using the talents and skills he was given to deal wisely with the situation. He realized that relationships were more important than money. And he changed his view and relationship with money from one of scarcity to one of abundance.

So now we are going to watch a brief video from some of our congregational members on their views of money, and our relationship with it. Let’s watch.

(Roll video.)

Leighann, Carol, and William all talked about money as an expression of the core value of God modeled through Jesus – generosity. When we understand that we are stewards or caretakers of money, rather than letting money possess us we are opened to an abundance of possibilities. When we view money and all the gifts of God from a view of abundance vs. scarcity, we are able to focus on the Kingdom of God because we know that our abundant God will provide. This congregation’s purpose is to proclaim Christ’s love to the world, and the many ministries we do here are the way we do that. It’s important to think of our building as a mission station where ministry happens. Therefore, even the heating, cooling, lights, and other maintenance we do are not for our own benefit, but a way to show hospitality and welcoming to others. We are to be stewards of money in a Spirit-led way trusting in the abundance of God. Through prayer we receive the gift of wisdom that motivates us to share what we have for the benefit of all God’s children. The Holy Spirit assures us we do not make these decisions alone.

This week, let’s spend some time on how we can be good stewards or caretakers of the money God has entrusted to us. Let’s let go of the scarcity mentality that causes us to fear and worry about so many things, and embrace and dwell in the abundance that God provides. Like the manager in the parable, let’s focus on what’s really important – the Kingdom of God – and use creativity and resourcefulness to bring others on board to this Spirit-filled life. Let’s live our lives as an offering to God by trusting in the abundance of God’s love, grace, and mercy. Amen.

Valued & Valuable to God

Sunday, September 15, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 15:1-10 & 1 Tim. 1:12-17

Last week we kicked off our stewardship campaign with the focus on time.  How are we good stewards of time? For those of you who weren’t here last week, my sermons are always posted on our website, and we’ll have the stewardship videos that we are showing each week posted on our website soon too.

This week our stewardship focus is on using our talents. How are we good stewards of our talents or the gifts and skills God has given to each one of us? A perfect example of this is from our scripture reading from the Letter to Timothy. In this letter Paul talks about his former sinful actions. He led a life that was driven by hatred and violence. His persecution and killing of Christians was extreme. Yet, despite his sinful behavior, God saw in Paul leadership qualities that could be used for good. As relentless as Paul was pursuing Christians to harm them, God was even more relentless in pursuing Paul to save him from his lost ways.

In our first reading from the book of Exodus, God also was relentless in not giving up on the Israelites. They too had lost their way. When Moses didn’t come down right away from the mountain where he spent time with God, they used their creative talents to build a golden calf – a false idol.  Instead of using their talents for good, they used it for idolatry. Yet, by Moses using his talent for praying and advocating for these people, God didn’t give up on them.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus tells two parables about a lost sheep and a lost coin. These parables show us that while we may think what we have to offer is not that valuable, our talents, our lives are that valuable to God. Everyone is valuable to God. That is why God goes after the one lost sheep and the one lost coin. We are the lost sheep. We are the lost coin. And what we have to offer is so valuable that God searches us out to save us.

So now we are going to watch a brief video from some of our congregational members on the value of our talents, and using them for God’s glory.  Let’s watch.

(Roll video.)

Atif, Meg, and Marie gave us examples of how they use their talents for God’s glory. As they said, they didn’t choose these talents; they were given to them by God. Yet, through nurturing their talents, they help nurture others. They use their talents not just here in our congregation, but in the rest of the parts of their lives – their work, and their family. We all have been given talents and gifts by God. Think about the things you love to do; that is where your talents and gifts reside. Enthusiasm, warmth, and humor are all talents from God, and the more we use them, the more they grow and expand.

Like the lost sheep and the lost coin, we may think that what we have to offer is not a lot, but it is.  It is valuable. You may think, “Oh, I’m not great at …..” But you don’t have to be great at something in order to use your talent. Tap into your joy; that is your talent. It could be singing, or just listening to music. Sharing your faith story with a child is teaching, and helps them grow in faith. Gardening and weeding is caring for God’s creation, and the beauty brings joy to others. Making crafts, designing banners, cleaning, reading, writing letters, making phone calls, visiting people, cooking, bringing laughter, praying……There are so many things that each one of you loves to do, and when you share that with others, you share God with others. Each person’s talents and abilities add to the collective whole of all humanity. Using your gifts and talents make the world a better place.

This week, let’s spend some time on how we can be good stewards or caretakers of the talents God has given to us. On this journey of faith that we are all on, God is with us. God sees the best in us. God searches us out, and God says “You are treasured and loved. “God is relentless and extravagant in God’s love for us. That is reason to rejoice! That is reason to celebrate! And joy is one of the greatest gifts we can give on this journey of faith we travel. Amen.

 

Counting the Cost of Discipleship

Sunday, September 8, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 14:2-33 & Philemon 1:1-21

 

Today is Rally Day! It’s the day we kick-off everyone returning from summer vacations and settling in to the routine of fall, which is just around the corner in a couple weeks. Children are back in school or will be by Monday at the latest in some districts. We’re setting in to a back to normal way of life. But what does this way of life mean for a Christian? In the first reading from Deuteronomy we hear God’s message to “choose life” but what kind of life are we asked to choose? It is a life of stewardship, which means being caretakers of all living things. It’s a life lived following God’s ways. Jesus showed us how to do this. And he said in our gospel lesson today that if we are to be his disciple, we must carry the cross. We must estimate the cost. We must calculate the risk. These words spoken by Jesus are challenging ones to hear.

They convey that there is indeed a cost to discipleship. Choosing to live a life committed to God based on the model Jesus taught us is not easy. Being committed to putting God first in our lives has serious consequences. It means reorienting our time so that nothing steals our time from God. This is costly. In may cost us friends, family members, or others who don’t understand this priority. In Paul’s letter to Philemon he takes the time to write a letter to advocate for the slave Onesimus. While Paul isn’t able to change the entire system of oppression, he is able to make a start. He urged Philemon to treat Onesimus no longer as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. Later, Church history tells us that Onesimus went on to become a bishop. That one letter to Philemon that Paul wrote changed the course of history. It only takes a little time to make a big difference.

During the next four weeks, the Stewardship Team has put in a lot of time and worked very hard to focus our attention on different aspects of stewardship each week through the means of special videos. This week, our stewardship video focuses on time. We’ll hear from a few people in our congregation on how they see themselves as good stewards of time.  Let’s take a look.

(Roll video)

Just as Paul took time by advocating for Onesimus – Dick, Bertie, and Pauline spoke about their journey of faith, and how being a good steward of time is essential in being a faithful disciple of Jesus. They each take the time to show hospitality, to welcome and care for others, and to find time to connect with God through scripture and prayer. By doing so, they are able to be fully present in life, and to be present for others.

We can all be good stewards of our time. All the time we give to show kindness, compassion, and love matters. A letter, a phone call, volunteering to help in some small way, all makes a big difference. As we reflect on our scripture texts, and let the words of Jesus really sink in, let us ask ourselves, “How am I a good steward of the time God has given me? How am I using that time to carry the cross so that God’s kingdom may be made known? Time is so very short. We need to make the most of it. We need to count the cost, and make it count. Amen.

 

By Invitation Only

Sunday, September 1, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 14:1, 7-14 & Hebrews 13:1-2

 

When was the last time you received a special invitation? You were excited right? Was it to a birthday party? Anniversary? Graduation? A wedding? Whatever the occasion they are all reasons to celebrate. We all love to be on a special guest list. And often we want to know who else will be going? Who’s going to be joining in on the celebration with us? The guest list is pretty important for many people. If it’s someone well-liked or famous we want to make sure we’re there and we don’t miss it, hoping to get close to them. There’s a sense that when you’re around someone important, you feel important and special too.

With the rise of social media and sites like FB and Instagram, a person can take a photo with someone important or famous and share it with everyone they know. It could be a famous singer, sports figure, or even an author. Whoever the celebrity is the pictures are shared so everyone can see you were with this person. You feel special that you got to be in their presence. If Jesus were walking around on earth as he did thousands of years ago, I’m sure people would be taking selfies with him on their phones and posting pictures of them all over social media. It’s human nature to want to be near important people like that. It makes us feel special.

The questions Jesus wanted the Pharisees back then and us today to think about is, “Who are the important people? How do we determine that? And is there enough room for everyone on the guest list?” In ancient times dinner feasts were places where a person’s status was determined by who you associated with. You wanted to be seated next to the distinguished guest. And if you were around them, then your status was immediately elevated. “Wow, did you see who he/she was hanging around?”

That hasn’t changed over the centuries. It’s happens in schools where the popular kids are treated great and those who are considered nerds, or geeks, or some other negative name are not. There’s a line drawn between who is part of the “in crowd” and who is not. But it doesn’t just happen at schools, it happens at places of work, with people we meet, and yes, even in churches. Judgments are made as to who is good and who is bad. Judgments are made as to who is doing what is acceptable in God’s eyes and who is not.

That’s why Jesus’ preaching and teaching caused so much commotion. He hung out with all the people that all the so called good or religious people said were bad – tax collectors, people who took money for themselves, prostitutes, people who led shady lives, poor people, outcasts, people who were unclean, those considered enemies, and people who had nothing to offer society. These are the people Jesus hung out with, and these are the people he said should be invited to the banquet table. He said not to invite those who we expect could give back, but put those people on the special invite list. And the reason is that in the kingdom of God there is room for everyone. And there, no one is better than anyone else. Everyone is deserving of love. In God’s eyes, everyone is important, a V.I.P.

Paul reiterates this in his letter to the Hebrew church. He says “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” So who’s important? Everyone. What if we treated everyone as angels in disguise? What if we treated everyone as if they were Jesus?
Wouldn’t the way we treat each other be a lot different? We’d go out of our way to make sure they had everything they needed. We’d show them generosity and hospitality. We’d go the extra mile and never let anything or anyone hurt them. We’d put ourselves in their shoes, feel their pain, and do what we could to bring them joy. We’d pour out an abundance of love and blessing on them. They’d all be welcome and loved by us even if they looked weird or acted strange or did things we didn’t think were right. We’d treat them differently if we thought there was a possibility they were God’s angels.

Angels are messengers. And God still speaks through messengers today. Messengers of peace, messengers of hope, messengers of love. These messengers are all around us. The Holy Spirit is speaking through them and inviting us to experience God through the ordinary things of our life. We come to God knowing we are sinners, yet at the same time saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus we all have a place at the table of God. The invitation has been extended to all of us beginning in our baptism. Mya Gallucci has received this invitation today. It’s an invitation that comes from the Holy Spirit, and has called her to the water of new life. Nothing she did or her parents did earned her this V.I.P. status. It is a gift from God. This gift, this special invitation is open to all.

This is exciting news, and news we ought to be running to share with everyone. There are people who do not know about Jesus and the only way they will ever know him is if each of us invites them to come and know him. We do this not only through the words we say, but more importantly through the lives we live. When we show mutual love toward one another, when we show kindness and compassion, we show others a glimpse of the Divine. We show others the most important V.I.P. of all – Jesus, the Christ. Whenever we gather together Jesus promised that he is present among us. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” When was the last time you received a special invitation? The answer is today. The Holy Spirit has called us –invited us – together to hear God’s word and join in the feast and the celebration.

This week, remember the gift of your own baptism. Know that you are a V.I.P. in God’s eyes, and let someone else know that they too are a V.I.P. Invite someone – anyone – to worship with us. It could be someone you go to school with, someone you work with, someone you randomly meet in the store or even on the street. That’s what Jesus did.
Let them know they don’t have to look a certain way, or act a certain way, or even believe a certain way. Let them know God loves them just the way they are – because God does. Invite them to come as they are and that there is a place at the table for them. Show them God’s love and let them experience God’s grace. Be God’s messengers, and let them be God’s messengers to you. Let them know that a place at God’s table is by invitation only and there’s an invitation for everyone. Amen!

 

 

Seen By God

Sunday, August 25, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 13:10-17

 

Imagine being crippled and bent over for eighteen years. Really put yourself in her place for a moment. You’re unable to look up at the sun, or see a shooting star, or even a rainbow in the sky. You wouldn’t be able to see that sign of God’s promise because all you would be able to see is what’s under your feet. Sometimes looking down can be a good thing in that you notice the crickets, the flowers, or even have time to see a four leaf clover. But most of the time, you’d be noticing the dirt below you, the sidewalks, the shadows. In fact, living bent over and crippled for eighteen years you might very well feel like a shadow of a person. You wouldn’t be able to look people directly in the face, and they in turn, wouldn’t fully see you. Just your physical stature would make you feel small and unnoticeable. That must be how the woman in our story today must have felt.

But one person noticed her. While Jesus was preaching in the synagogue that day, he noticed the woman – whose name wasn’t even noticed or mentioned – and he called her over. Of all the people in the synagogue that day, she stood out to Jesus. Why? Because Jesus was always in a state of being aware of his surroundings. And he noticed when someone was in need. She didn’t ask him for anything. She didn’t ask for healing. In fact, after all these years she had accepted her fate. This is the way life was for her. She didn’t expect that it was ever going to change. In fact, she most likely expected it would get worse over time. And the people in her community had come to accept that that was just the way it was.

Centuries later we are still trapped in thinking the same way. In fact, this kind of thinking is more crippling than the physical ailment the woman in the story was afflicted with. Complacency is a much more insidious affliction because – unlike the illness the crippled woman experienced – complacency spreads. Thinking “that’s just the way it is” slowly erodes our humanity. Eventually we don’t see those who are suffering. We don’t see the systems that are crippling people. We don’t see the damage we are inflicting on each other and God’s planet. “That’s just the way it is” causes us to lack the ability to put ourselves in their shoes and feel their pain. It causes our ears to become deaf to the language of contempt turned toward certain individuals. It slowly erodes our compassion and replaces it with apathy.

Fear can be a strong component in causing this erosion. We might worry that if we get involved the cost may be too great. What will happen to us? Jesus gives us a better example to follow. Previously in Luke’s gospel Jesus heals a man with a withered hand simply with his command. He did not even touch the man and he was healed. Jesus had the power to do this. He could have done the same with this woman, but instead, he chose to touch her. He didn’t care that others would accuse him of violating purity laws. He wasn’t concerned that he was touching someone who was considered “unclean.” Jesus wasn’t even concerned that it was on the Sabbath day, a day set aside for rest and not work. This woman was a child of God. This woman was in need of healing, and Jesus had the power to heal her.  It couldn’t wait. Now some would argue that it could wait. She had been afflicted for eighteen years. What would one more day have mattered? It mattered to Jesus. We all matter to Jesus. One more day to those who are suffering is just too long to wait.

God sees us. God hears our cries for help even when we have given up hope that things will ever change. The touch of God heals. We, like the woman bent over and crippled, are always in need of healing. What is it that is robbing us or others of living a life of wholeness? Perhaps we are bent over and crippled with a hardness of heart, an unforgiving spirit, a heart filled with worry, animosity toward a certain person or group of people, or a lack of compassion. Can we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and feel their pain as Jesus did? That is at the heart of this story today. Jesus showed us by his example that we need to be aware of the sufferings of those around us and do whatever we can to help with the gifts and talents God has given to us. Jesus wants all of us to be able to stand up, look around, and not just give in to the belief that things are “just the way they are so what’s the use of trying” or even asking for help.

The power of God’s Holy Spirit resides in each one of us. God’s power is stronger than evil. It is stronger than our fears. It is stronger than whatever that tries to keep us held captive. In God there is always hope – not a hope that is just wishful thinking, but a hope that is active and transformative. This transformation begins with us, so that we can then heal others and the world.

Like the woman in this story, Jesus has seen us, called us, and extended his healing hand to us. We, like her, have been blessed, and can now be a blessing to others. We bless God with our whole lives, our whole beings, not just one day a week, but every day. Sabbath and blessing are a way of life. May we live each day with the awareness of its sacredness, and like Christ be a source of healing to all. Amen.