Tag Archives: women

Just Poking Around [OR Longing for Restoration] John 20:19-31, Acts 4:32-35, 1 John 1:1-2:2

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 8, 2018

[sermon begins after three Bible readings]

John 20:19-31 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Acts 4:32-35 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

1 John 1:1-2:2 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

[sermon begins]

 

I’m caught between generations who like to shop – a sandwich generation of a different sort.  Both my mom and my mother-in-law as well as my daughter like to dabble in the aisles, across shelves, and around carousel racks to find the finds. Me, not so much. But their enthusiasm is contagious. So I tag along for the company and you just never know what the find will be. This is especially true when I shop with my mother-in-law, Carol. When store clerks ask her if she needs help finding something in particular, Carol replies, “No thanks, we’re just poking around.” Her non-committal answer, and the meandering that goes with it, opens up space to see what finds might be lurking on the next shelf.  I have a couple favorites from the hospice consignment shop in Grand Junction that include an antique porcelain bud vase and a silver filigreed shell dish. Must-haves in any household, I’m sure. The point being that sometimes you need to poke around to find what you didn’t know you were looking for.

Which leads me to Thomas. Some scholars will tell you that he’s not the doubter he’s claimed to be by church tradition and centuries of painters. I don’t really have a problem naming him a doubter but if that title troubles you we can lean toward skeptic or find some other label that edges us toward his non-committal, wary attitude. Thomas’ friends had an experience with the resurrected Jesus and he hasn’t. He’s a bit guarded about their reports. Perhaps it’s news that’s too creepy or too weird or too good to be true. Whatever the reason, he’s not about to accept his friends’ reports about Jesus. He seems to want his own moment with Jesus. Because the friends who first see Jesus in the locked room are privy to more than a sighting. Jesus gives them something. Peace, for starters. Then he sends them on their way by breathing the Holy Spirit on them.

I don’t know about you, but the breath of a three-day-dead, freshly resurrected guy doesn’t sound that appealing.[1] Regardless, it seems to cause something big. This rag-tag band of Jesus followers that were locked in a room become something so much more.[2] They become the church. Except Thomas. He’s not sure about anything now that his friends had an experience that he hasn’t had. But sometimes you need to poke around to find what you didn’t know you were looking for.  In Thomas’ case, it’s Jesus whose hands and side are made available.

A Bible story to poke around in is one thing but let’s think about what it looks like today to poke around to find what you didn’t know you were looking for. On March 24, a woman named Jennifer Reali died of cancer. Twenty-eight years ago she was convicted of murder in Colorado Springs. I’ll refrain from the gory details. They’re available online. Some of you may even remember the case. She is guilty of killing Diane Hood.

I first met Jen 11 years ago in a Friday evening worship service at New Beginnings Church in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. Honest and blunt, she was clear that she cut short Diane’s life, causing pain and grief for Diane’s family and friends. She would also say that Jesus found her in prison. For the skeptics among us, her confession of faith seems convenient, easily dismissed as one manipulation among many. Regardless, her sentence was commuted in 2011 by then Governor Ritter making her eligible for parole. Jennifer was released to a halfway-house in 2014, diagnosed with cancer soon afterwards, granted parole on the fourth try, and released on December 12, 2017.  One of Jennifer’s original songs has this line, “If you knew my dark side, would you sense the hands of Christ?”[3]

The hands of Christ were on display for the disciples in the locked room as the resurrected Jesus showed them his hands and his side. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.”[4]  While we’re poking around, we could consider that the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to forgive even Jennifer. Make no mistake, her act of evil is neither forgotten nor condoned. Diane and her family deserve more than that. Rather, we proclaim by faith that evil is NOT more powerful than the good.[5]  Or, in the words of the gospel of John, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”[6]

Restoration is what the resurrection makes possible.  Restoration that turns a murderer into a repentant, zealous Jesus follower. Restoration that turns a fearful, ragtag band of Jesus followers into the church.  A church that went from hiding in the darkness to walking in the light, from hiding the truth of sin to confessing it.  A church of fellowship who completed each other’s joy as told by the First John reading.[7]  A church of shared resources who testified to the resurrection with great grace upon them as told by the Acts reading.[8]

For some, like Thomas and his friends, there was a quick turnaround from fear to courage. For others, it took time for the early, first century church to get its act together. Time for the way women were respected in Christianity as they weren’t in classical culture. Time for life in the way of Jesus to crack through social class and tribal lines. Time for the selflessness of caring for all the sick, not just their own, in the age of plagues.[9]

The disciples’ and Jennifer’s stories are uncommon – drawing both attention and disbelief. Ordinary people seldom have such gripping tales to tell or even interesting sin. Although, when it comes down to it, there are common threads of grief, fear, sin, and skepticism that lead to poking around to find what we didn’t know we were looking for. A lot of people are looking for something, poking around into all kinds of things. Longing, hoping for restoration. I run into these people everywhere. They tell stories of pain. Personal pain inflicted by themselves or other people. Public pain experienced in the very churches where great grace should be upon them.

Healing from grief, fear, sin, and skepticism can take time. You may be one of these people. Perhaps you’ve had an experience of Christianity not letting go of you or you’re unable to let go of it. So I’ll tell you what I tell these people. I have amazing colleagues all over town in all kinds of parishes with all kinds of people in the congregations. Find a pew. Let the hymns and prayers wash over you. Receive communion. Heal. Talk with God, not about God. Listen for God’s voice. Don’t look for anything in particular while you’re just poking around.

Jesus’ resurrection makes restoration possible. The Holy Spirit is breathed on us by the risen Christ in ways that cannot be described, only experienced. God is not irresistible. We can and do screw things up regularly. Here’s the promise though, God’s presence and pursuit of you is relentless – through the cross, grave, and back again. God’s restoration is for you.  Alleluia and amen.

____________________________________________________

[1] Mary Beard’s research includes the investigation into what made ancient Romans laugh – apparently bad breath is among the topics which makes me wonder how early Christian listeners in the Roman Empire heard this bit of scripture. This historical gem is in an article about Beard’s work by Rebecca Mead, “The Troll Slayer: A Roman Classicist Takes On Her Sexist Detractors.” The New Yorker, September 14, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/01/troll-slayer

[2] George Wiegel. The Saturday Essay: The Easter Effect and How It Changed the World. The Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2018. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-easter-effect-and-how-it-changed-the-world-1522418701

[3] Michael Roberts. “Fatal Attraction” Killer Jennifer Reali Finally Granted Parole.” Westword: November 8, 2017. http://www.westword.com/news/fatal-attraction-killer-jennifer-reali-seeks-parole-for-fourth-time-9590521

[4] John 20:22-23.

[5] Nadia Bolz-Weber. “Forgiveness.” The Nantucket Project. Video posted on September 21, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9RTvRhXATo

[6] John 1:5

[7] 1 John 1:3-4

[8] Acts 4:32-35

[9] Wiegel, ibid.

Matthew 22:1-14 – A Haunted House and A Flashlight

Matthew 22:1-14 – “A Haunted House and A Flashlight” [OR “Of A King and A Son and A Thrown-Out One”]

Caitlin Trussell on  October 12, 2014 with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver

 

Matthew 22:1-14 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

 

 

It’s closing in on that time of year.  The time of spooks and ghouls, candy and costumes.  As the official door answerer in our home, I myself sport a combo of halo and horns – get it, saint and sinner – a ginormous bowl of candy, and a big smile for the kids in costume…and maybe even a tolerant smile for the teenagers in masks and make-up who show up hoping for the Snickers score.  It’s also the time of year when someone invariably comes up with the idea for a field trip to a haunted house.

Haunted houses are a thrill-a-minute for those who love them.  For me, they’re too much.  Too much dread.  Too much dark.  Too much lurking in the dark.  I’m not built to enjoy the buzz of adrenalin in response to being terrified.  In fact, midway through the last haunted house I let myself get talked into twenty years ago, I stopped in my tracks and said into the pitch-black-dark, “Show me the way out of here…RIGHT NOW!”  To which some ghoul flicked on a flash-light and, said in that ghoulish Hollywood way, “Waaalk thisss waaay…” while guiding me out with the flashlight.

At least when we open the Bible, there’s no haunted house there.  Oh, wait, maybe there is, sort of.  At least this parable that Jesus is telling sure seems dark, with a lot of built in dread.

Jesus has already told a few stories since entering the temple after being questioned by the religious leaders.  These religious leaders ask him about where his authority comes from and then Jesus waxes on into story, into parable.[1]  If the first two parables he told were intense, this third one is downright extreme.  And Jesus also ups the ante by beginning with the teaser, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…”  This lead-in is so much bigger than “once upon a time.”  Jesus’ listeners, the religious leaders, having already challenged his authority, are even more attentive to what he might say because he mentions the kingdom of heaven.

“Once more, Jesus spoke to them in parables saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”   There’s an immediate kicker in that no one who is invited to the party comes to the party.  Huh.  The king, to whom no one usually says, “no,” suddenly isn’t even getting RSVPs.  People just simply aren’t showing up.  And this is only the beginning of the absurdity.

The king sends slaves with a message of good food, good smells, and good company with the king.  Some of the people laugh and walk away, while other people kill the king’s messengers.  The king throws a king-sized hissy fit – kills the people invited but who didn’t show up to the wedding banquet and burns down their city.  Anyone in need of that ghoul with a flashlight from the haunted house yet – showing us the way out of this death and destruction?

Then the story softens just a bit, going from worse to just bad, when the king sends out more slaves to simply collect whoever will come to this now farcically enforced banquet.  “Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”  I don’t know where you land on the topic of forced festivity but it doesn’t work for me.  Imagine being collected for a party where you know the host killed the other people who didn’t show up for the party and burned down their town.

In the middle of this murder, mayhem, and enforced festivity, is a man.  A man not dressed to play the part into which he was conscripted by the king.  A speechless man who did not respond when the king would call him, “Friend.”

One horrifying part of this parable is indeed the king and his actions.  The move that often gets made out of this parable is that this king is interpreted to be God.[2]  Jesus begins the parable by saying that, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king…”  Suddenly, we as listeners’ make the leap that the king must then be God before we get to the end of the parable.  Yet another easy move to make in this parable is that it’s so easy for us as listeners to equate ourselves with the ones not thrown out.  And suddenly we live into what the theologian James Alison calls the pathology of belonging – creating togetherness by getting rid of someone.[3]

This speechless man is bound hand and foot and tossed out.  Not just tossed out of the party but tossed out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  He becomes the tossed-out one.  Where else in the Gospel of Matthew may there be found such a one?  Try a few chapters later in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. During the events leading up to his crucifixion, through the crucifixion itself, we are told of one who dies.  The one who is silent in the face of challenge[4], the one who is mocked for being in the wrong clothes[5], the one who is bound hand and foot[6], the one who is hung on a cross where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth[7], the one who is forsaken,[8] the one who hangs under a sign announcing his kingship[9], and the one who is finally announced as God’s Son.[10]

The parable’s king and the wedding banquet for his son are an absurd portrait of kingship and its festive accoutrement run amuck.  The parable’s thrown-out-one is the one who reveals the farce.

On Friday evening, my husband Rob and I attended the New Beginnings Church Annual Celebration and Fundraiser here in Augustana’s Fellowship Hall.  Many Augustana people were also in the mix of almost 200 people from other churches and denominations.   Thank you to those of you who came, those who gave money, and those who pray for and volunteer with New Beginnings Church.

New Beginnings is a congregation that worships within the walls of the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility.  This is a great ministry for which I’ve been substitute preaching over the last seven years.  For the obvious reason of incarceration, the congregation is 100% dependent on donations that include supporting the leadership and pastoral care given to the women by ordained Pastor Terry Schjang.

The women of New Beginnings are held accountable for their crimes while at the same time receive care for the high rate of sexual and physical abuse they experienced prior to incarceration, typically early in their lives.  These women are often the thrown-out ones, forgotten behind the double razor wire fences and the severity of their crimes.

On Friday night, we heard from Denise.  Denise is a four-time offender recently released from prison.  She claimed responsibility for her choices and named the shame that began it all.  Different for her this time in prison is her experience in New Beginnings.  Different for her this time is how she hears that Jesus, the thrown-out one, the crucified and risen one, is the one who has occupied the place of shame and is not run by it.[11]  Jesus, the one who undoes our narrative of futility.  Jesus, the one whose forgiveness opens up our past in such a way that stretches out our future.[12]

Denise’s story, while socially extreme, bears similarities to many of our own stories.  The mash-up of paradoxes may be more visible in her story but the tension of those paradoxes exist nonetheless.  The paradoxes of accountability and forgiveness, justice and freedom, past and future, shame and wholeness, perpetrator and victim all collide at the cross of Christ.

This collision at the cross of Christ puts to death the pathology of belonging and brings to life a community through which God brings all people into God, through which God reconciles us to God. All of us brought to God through the God humbly born into skin and solidarity with us in the person of Jesus, the God who shows us through Jesus how to love and how much we are loved even through death on a cross.  This is the mystery of faith that is for Denise, for me, and for you.  This is the mystery of faith that we are called to steward.  This is the mystery of faith that claims us in a broken world, in the valley of the shadow of death, drawing us into life right now, today, through the cross of Christ singing a defiant “alleluia”.

 

[Those who assemble for worship sing many “alleluias” together in the hymn “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” – ELW #362]

 



[1] Many people try to explain what a parable is by explaining what it’s sort of like.  Explaining parable can sometimes sound like this, “Well, it’s allegory but not really clean allegory with obvious 1:1 correlation; it’s metaphor but not simple poetry.”   Since it’s not clear-cut, I’m going to suggest that today we go with James Allison’s explanation of parable – that parable disrupts the listeners’ unexamined assumptions.

[2] Debbie Blue, one of the founding pastors of House of Mercy in St. Paul, MN.  Find her commentary on Matthew 22:1-14, “Murder and Mayhem” archived at the following link to Spark House: The Hardest Question: http://thq.wearesparkhouse.org/yeara/ordinary28gospel/

[3] James Alison, Catholic theologian, writer and speaker presenting at Rocky Mountain Synod Theological Conference in Colorado Springs; September 24-25, 2014.  Dr. Alison’s website: www.jamesalison.co.uk

[4] Matthew 26:63

[5] Matthew 27:28,

[6] Matthew 27:31b

[7] Matthew 27:33

[8] Matthew 27:46

[9] Matthew 27:37

[10] Matthew 27:54

[11] More from James Alison’s lecture – see footnote #3.

[12] Ibid.

Luke 13:10-17 – “Freed Into Rest [or Jewish Patriarchs through Moses in 2 Minutes or Less]”

Luke 13:10-17 –  “Freed Into Rest [or Jewish Patriarchs through Moses in 2 Minutes or Less]”

August 25, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 13:10-17   Now he 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.

 

I’m going to show my hand and let you know straight out of the gate that my sympathies lie with the leader of the synagogue.[1]  Not because there are parallels between his position and my own as pastor – that would be way too easy  of a target; plus it would leave you all out of it which basically means I’d be preaching to only myself which I can do on any old day without you sitting here while I do it.

To give us some understanding of the leader of the synagogue, think with me for a bit about the history of our Jewish cousins and our common ancestors of faith.  The story of Abraham and Sarah gives us the courageous travelers, uprooted by God and sent to a land far away.[2]  We can appreciate the romantic adventure of their tale from beginning to end; or we could read it through the hard lens of being migrants and immigrants.  Regardless, they were free people.

Sarah and Abraham’s son Isaac and the shenanigans of Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau lead us right into the Joseph story.[3]  Joseph, the favorite son sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, ends up second-in-command of Egypt – saving his band of brothers as the sun sets dreamily in Egypt over the happy family reunion.  Okay, that last part smacks of Hollywood cinematography but you get the picture.  We get to end of the book of Genesis on a high as Joseph, with his dying breath, tells his brothers once more about God’s promises.[4]  So far, these are great stories of deeply flawed people but wildly free people.

We can literally turn the page to the book of Exodus and all manner of hell has broken loose.  Hundreds of years have passed, the new king does not know Joseph, and has no appreciation for the numerous descendents of Joseph and his eleven brothers.  “The Egyptians came to dread the Israelites…and became ruthless in imposing tasks on [them], and made their lives bitter with hard service.”[5]  These were hard times that lead to harder times that led to Moses’ leading the Israelites out of slavery to the Egyptians into…well, the wilderness.  But they were a free people there!  They were a free people who were given laws – laws given by God to preserve life and protect people’s relationships with God and each other.

Some of you could likely come up with the ten big laws, a.k.a. the Ten Commandments.  The one I’m really interested in this morning is the third one.[6]  After being told to have no other gods and to not misuse the name of God, comes commandment number three to:

“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”[7]

Just sit for a moment with this and think about how huge it must have sounded to a newly freed people who were freed from ruthlessly imposed tasks and bitter lives of hard service.  Just imagine that.  It’s difficult at best to understand the magnitude of the freedom given by this law.  At worst, our understanding of it becomes blasé in our current context of labor laws, workers’ rights, and weekends off.  But for the Jewish people of the 1st century, keeping Sabbath meant to be freed into rest by the law of God!  Freed into rest.  Take a breath on that one for a minute.   Freed into rest….

The leader of the synagogue would have worked very hard to make sure that the people followed this law because it was for their good and for their God.  This doesn’t mean he had pure motives when confronted by Jesus’ healing the woman.  It’s a given that he didn’t.  But it does mean that the Sabbath being held up by the leader of the synagogue is a good thing.  So then where does it go awry for the synagogue leader?

Listen again to the beginning of the story:

“ Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 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. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”

Jesus is teaching away, he sees this woman who he can help and so he does.  The problem is that Jesus does this on a day when there is a rule of law about work; a rule of law that has the big history and current meaning of being freed into rest.  And the leader of the synagogue becomes indignant on behalf of this law, starts talking to the people about coming to be cured on any other day but the Sabbath, and gets an earful from Jesus.  Not just any old earful, but a shaming earful.

Jesus clearly did not get the current parenting advice about public shaming.  You may have heard some of this advice.  If your child or grandchild or someone else’s child is up to no good, you are to talk to the child privately to preserve their dignity and create a safe space.  It’s good advice.  It’s even wise advice.  It’s advice that applies well to adults too.  Jesus didn’t get the memo.  While I feel for the leader of the synagogue, I’m grateful for what comes next in the story because then Jesus makes an interesting move that actually isn’t about shaming.  It’s an exegetical move – a move that interprets scriptural law as it has been handed down through the centuries and lived out in that synagogue, a move that breathes new life into the law.

The leader of the synagogue had become so bound into the law, the law was no longer doing its job of preserving life and people’s relationships with God and each other.  Jesus’ interpretation of the law frees the law so that, at least the woman, could be freed by the law.  I like to think that the leader of the synagogue took some time later to ponder the moves that Jesus makes in the synagogue – first freeing the woman from that which binds her, then freeing the law from the person who would try to bind it, and, maybe, just maybe, freeing the lead of the synagogue, the very one who would bind the law.

My sympathies lie with the leader of the synagogue because we can get curved in on ourselves and the law in the same way.  We are given a law to preserve life and protect people’s relationships with God and with each other.  And then we bind up that law, playing a kind of keep-away game between Jesus and law, wondering what will happen to that which we hold dear if we are compelled to a different interpretation of the law – slavery and the role of women in the church are two recent historical examples.  It is into this bound up, curled up mess that Jesus saves by the power of the Spirit.  Calling us on all the ways in which we bind ourselves and each other into the law and freeing us back into the law as a place of rest.

For this and for all that Jesus has done and is doing, thanks be to God!



[1] David Lose, “Dear Working Preacher” for Sunday, August 25, 2013.   http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=2699

[2] Genesis 12-20.

[3] Genesis 21-34.

[4] Genesis 35-50.

[5] Exodus 1:12-13, New Revised Standard Version.

[6] In Jewish tradition, the commandment to keep the Sabbath is number four.  Luther’s Small Catechism lists it third.

[7] Exodus 20:8-11, New Revised Standard Version.