Painting credit: “Reading the Torah” (ink and acrylic) by Martina Shapiro
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 21, 2016
[sermon begins after Bible reading]
Luke 13:10-17 Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Two weeks ago, on a blue-skied, puffy-white-clouded Saturday morning, Rob and I drove up to Congregation Beth Evergreen to celebrate a longtime friends’ daughter becoming a Bat Mitzvah. Between my brother’s Jewish family and these longtime Jewish friends of ours, I’ve been to several such services. After many months of preparation, the 13 year old Bat Mitzvah helps to lead the Shabbat service – chanting prayers and scripture in Hebrew. They are joyous and reverent services. Family and friends come together to celebrate her as she comes of age.
The prayers bounce around in my head for days and days afterwards:
[chanting] Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam…
This prayer means, “Praised are You, the Eternal One our God.” It’s sung throughout Shabbat services and leads into a variety of other prayers and scripture readings. I’m ask for forgiveness from our Jewish cousins in the faith for any clumsy moves here.
Shabbat means Sabbath, literally in Hebrew a “rest” or “ceasing.” Many times during the Shabbat service we are greeted with “Shabbat shalom” and the response together is, “Shabbat shalom.” Shalom is Hebrew for “peace.” More specifically it means the peace of God. The greeting exchange of “Shabbat Shalom” hopes for each other the peace of God on the day of rest.
In Leviticus 23, is the command to recognize the Sabbath: “For six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work: it is a sabbath to the Lord throughout your settlements.”
“A holy convocation.” A holy gathering. It is in a holy gathering on the Sabbath that we enter the story with Jesus. He is teaching in one of the synagogues – a Jewish teacher’s weekly ritual. In walks the woman as she’s been doing for 18 years – bent over, quite unable to stand up straight. Jesus calls her over. Notice that she doesn’t approach him. She’s on her way to do her usual thing. He is teaching and calls her over. One could argue that in calling her over to his location that he is continuing his teaching or, at the very least, redirecting his teaching to include her. The woman becomes a living, breathing teaching story.
There is someone there who argues with Jesus. Arguing over teaching of the Torah is a robust tradition in synagogues. Torah are the Five Books of Moses that include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Christians call these five books of the Bible the Pentateuch.
Back to argument that’s brewing in the Bible story. The argument is about the essence of what Jesus does by healing the woman. The leader of the synagogue starts it. Another teacher. The argument from the synagogue leader’s point of view is that healing is work and that work belongs on the other six days of the week. “There are six days on which the work ought to be done.” This word “ought” is translated from a verb that indicates divine necessity – a command. So the synagogue leader is arguing that work happens the other six days by divine necessity.
Jesus counters the argument. Jesus argues that freedom from bondage is the higher divine necessity with that same word – “ought.” “…ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham…be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” By calling her a daughter of Abraham, Jesus is identifying the woman as part of God’s covenant with Abraham. He is also identifying her as a part of the holy gathering on the Sabbath. She is part of her community as they gather and healed within it.
Professor David Jacobsen of Boston University says that this is evidence that Jewishness is not being superseded by Jesus. Rather, Jesus is expanding the circle of God’s promises to Abraham. God’s promise to the Jewish people remains. Jesus does not negate God promise to them. Also by healing the woman, Jesus shows that God doesn’t separate us from each other within holy gatherings but deepens us into those connections.
My young friend, the Bat Mitzvah, gave her prepared speech toward the end of leading the Shabbat service. She talked about being a difficult student as she thanked her Hebrew teacher. The same Hebrew teacher who bestowed the Bat Mitzvah certificate while congratulating her on accomplishing the impossible.
My young friend talked about her own significant issue that affects the people around her and the way her family and her congregation loves her while challenging her to grow through her issue. I was struck, not for the first time, how communities of faith form us and heal us. Like the woman in the Bible story who was bent over or my young friend the Bat Mitzvah, we are changed by the people drawn into these holy gatherings. Sometimes this can take a long time. Often, it takes a long time.
I remember telling my kids from time-to-time that they were taking advantage of how much their church people love them. My kids, now 17 and 19 years old, are who they are today, in part, because of the love shared as part of the holy gathering of church people of all ages. It hasn’t always been easy but it has been part of forming them into the young adults they are today.
The formation and healing through community isn’t reserved for the young. All of us, at any age, can find ourselves loved and challenged through our issues. It’s that paradox of being made free by God’s promises in the holy gathering and also made free for each other. In the freedom for each other we are formed and healed by each other. Straightened from being curved in on ourselves.
As the Body of Christ called Augustana, there are ways we bring this healing to each other. Last Sunday, I met with the Sunday worship Prayer Leaders who pray weekly in worship for the concerns of the world and the congregation. The leaders’ faith and prayers are a gift to this congregation because it’s an example of faith to strengthen our own. The Sunday prayers are continued into Monday morning Chapel Prayer and even further into the weekly e-mailed Prayer Chain. We pray for hope and healing for so many people for so many reasons – illness, mental health, job loss, etc. It’s one more way that we’re honest about our frail human bodies and fragile lives. It’s one more way that we bring healing to each other through our challenges.
By way of Christ, we are drawn into a holy gathering in worship this morning. Trusting that Jesus is here. Like the synagogue in the Bible story, we are not an echo chamber of agreement. There are challenges to work through just as there are causes for celebration. And still, God brings healing through the holy gathering. We are challenged and we celebrate as we, along with the crowd in the Bible story rejoice in all that [Jesus] is doing through the holy gathering for the sake of the world:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam… Amen.
Praised are You, the Eternal One our God… Amen.
 Jill Suzanne Jacobs. A Basic Blessing in Hebrew part of Hebrew for Dummies® Cheatsheet. http://www.dummies.com/languages/hebrew/a-basic-blessing-in-hebrew/
 Karol Thonton-Remiszewski, translator. “What Does Shabbat Shalom mean?” https://www.quora.com/What-does-Shabbat-Shalom-mean
 Leviticus 23:3
 Luke 13:11
 Luke 13:14
 David Schnasa Jacobsen, Professor of the Practice of Homiletics and Director of the Homiletical Theology Project, Boston University School of Theology, Boston, Mass.. Commentary on Luke 13:10-17 for August 21, 2016 at WorkingPreacher.org. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2956
 Luke 13:16
 Jacobsen, ibid.
 Luke 13:17 – paraphrased to conclude the sermon