Rev. George Miller
Oct 18, 2015
Today’s scripture is one of those that sound easy to hear, yet can be difficult to preach upon. It’s a miraculous healing story that goes against all logic, and yet miracles happen every day.
It’s a story that wrapped within great hope, yet it can also create extreme hurt for those longing to be healed from a chronic condition, and never are.
“If this woman can be healed, why not me?” one may ask with great sadness.
In today’s reading we are told of a woman with a spirit that has crippled her for 18 years. Jesus lays hands upon her, says “Woman you are set free from your ailment,” and immediately, kapooya!, she stands up straight and praises God.
Again, someone can ask “If her, why not me? Why am I living with a bad back? Why am I wheelchair bound? Why am I living with cancer? Doesn’t Jesus care about me too?”
A pastoral preacher can not overlook how this scripture has the ability to hurt, and it has the ability to heal.
So, today we are going to explore an alternative understanding of this story.
First- a question. When you hear this story, how do you picture this woman? What does her posture look like to you? Is she slightly hunched; is she like an upside L?
What age do you think she is? Luke tells us a spirit had crippled her for 18 years. Does that mean she was born this way and she’s a teenager with her life ahead of her?
Is she 36? Or 54? Or 72? Either way, we can all agree that 18 years is a long time to live crippled with anything.
But one thing is clear- after an encounter with the living Lord, she is set free from her crippling bondage. She is no longer enslaved by whatever was ailing her.
But how much do you think that changed her life? Sure, she experienced a major miracle, but she most likely still had to go home and contend with maintaining her house, wonder what she was going to eat for dinner, how she was going to pay her taxes, and worry about world events.
I doubt this woman lived the rest of her life care free, but because of the freedom she found in Jesus, she was at least able to go and live the rest of her life, as long as that might be, with at least one less thing to be burdened by; one less thing to be enslaved to.
Did you also notice something else? The Gospel writer uses very specific words. The delight is in the details. We are not told that she is crippled. We are told she had a spirit that had crippled here.
The spirit is what was crippling her. What can that mean? Was she demon possessed? Was a ghost riding her back?
While pondering this, I thought of my own story. This notion of a crippling spirit hits home. It’s no secret that I’m a big guy; growing up, I was the kid with the big red cheeks wearing Husky-size jeans.
Needless to say, body image was an issue for me, always trying to get to the right size.
Then in my 20’s I discovered something wonderful- there were people who found it attractive when a man was a bit bigger. Instead of husky, some called it healthy, some thought I was a linebacker. Others just appreciated that I liked to eat.
That was cool, but when I was 31 something happened. I began to develop a slight hump on my back. It has something to do with genetics, with the way my body processes sugar, and with sitting for hours at the computer.
So what did I do? I fixated on it. Checked my hump in the mirror every chance I got. Tried to massage it away, stopped wearing shirts that showed any sign of it.
Though the hump’s not huge, in my mind’s eye it was gi-normous and destined to consume my whole body. I worried about it. Let it affect my sense of self. Thought it made me less than.
I had allowed it to affect my spirit.
Then one day, I had an epiphany- no one else but I noticed it, and if they did, no one said anything or could care less.
When I walked down the street no one yelled “Oh my God, he has a hump!” When I wore tank-tops no one asked “Hey, what’s that thing on your back?”
Cornelius never noticed it all the times we went to the beach, and no one at Highlands Little Theater have said a thing when we do a wardrobe change.
I still have a hump, yes. And it does affect the way my shirts, suits and ties fit. But it is nowhere as debilitating, horrid or shameful as I originally viewed it. In fact, I now realize it is forever a part of me.
I guess you can say in a way I experienced a sense of healing. The physical aspect of my hump is not gone, but the spirit, the energy, the emotion I put around it is gone.
A huge part of today’s story is about the freedom that is found in Christ when a crippling spirit is set free.
Freedom, as we realize, is the underlying theme of most of the Bible, remembering that once we were slaves in Egypt.
For the Jewish people they had experienced slavery and bondage throughout history, and today we encounter a Jewish woman who is experiencing her own captivity, her own bondage, in which for 18 years she has been bound by a spirit that has crippled and weighed her down.
Has anyone here ever felt weighed down? Anyone ever feel crippled, overwhelmed, that things are just too much to bear?
Sometimes that spirit is a direct result of what’s happening in our lives. Sometimes that spirit is directly related to a health issue. Sometimes that spirit is the result of worries about the future and regrets about the past.
When that spirit occurs, when worries weigh us down, what happens? The head hangs low, the back slouches, you feel like you have to drag yourself through the day.
Perhaps this story is speaking about that, of how the things that weigh on our mind, on our spirit, have a way of manifesting in our body, of slowing us down, making it feel as if we’re crippled, bent, broken and fractured.
If that is the case, then this story speaks of how Jesus is able to set us free. How Jesus is able to release what binds us. How Jesus can loosen the leashes around our neck.
This particular woman with this particular spirit has an experience with Jesus, and it allows her to unbend, to be free, to raise her head and shoulders high and tall and to say “Thank you, Lord!”
Besides our flesh and blood bodies, there are other bodies that can be in bondage or crippled by a spirit.
There is the family body. We all know what it is like to be part of family in which there are secrets to be hid, realities of illness and disease, feelings of shame about some event.
Families where people are worried about their parents, their spouse, their child. Are they OK? Where are they? What can I do? When will this end?
All those things create a spirit, and if not one’s not careful, that spirit can cripple, enslave, hold down that entire family, until they are able to seek healing.
Organizations can also be crippled by a spirit. Whenever there is too much drama, too much controversy, issues with leadership, difficult decisions to be made.
Just like a human or a family body, an organizational body can also feel as though they are weighed down with heavy burden.
Sometimes the crippling spirit can come from church growth. People who leave when plans are made to build a new building. Those who don’t approve of a new program. Those who don’t like the choice made about the color of the carpet.
I share this, because on Monday we had a productive Council Meeting; the kind that gets a lot done. One of those things we discussed was the Safe Policy that we’ve been working on for over a year.
It is a policy that has not yet been accepted or set in stone, but here is the good news: if accepted, it is a policy that will help to protect our children, youth and our vulnerable adults from being hurt or abused.
That is a good thing, right? We should all want to ensure that our children and our elderly or vulnerable members are kept safe.
That’s healing; that’s healthy.
Here’s the thing, this policy will also create the need for new rules and regulations, new policies, the need to do background checks and the time to properly cross our t's and dot our i's.
All this to ensure that we have left no opportunity for anyone to ever be hurt on church property.
For some people this may feel like an extra burden; it may seem like an extra chore.
Some of you may be thinking “Wow- that sounds like a lot of work; it sounds like too much to bear. Could it cripple us, could it slow us down, could it scare folk away?”
Let’s be honest, some won’t be too happy with it at first, asking “Why are we even doing this?”
But let me share this with you: the trick will be not to let it cripple us or to slow us down, not to approach this as a burden or a chore.
The secret is to embrace it with the spirit it was intended- to create a safe, healthy and happy place for all to worship God, enjoy the bounty of Fellowship, and to do the ministry we’ve been blessed to do.
How can we do this? We can embrace the spirit of today’s scripture. We can listen to the voice of Christ calling us.
We can turn to the signs of grace found in the baptismal font and Communion table.
We can turn to the teachings of Christ and the stories of how God delivered God’s people.
We can recall that just a touch from Jesus can make the burden that much lighter,
A touch that can help us to stand tall and exclaim “In Christ we did what’s right. We are doing the work of the Kingdom. In Christ we are ensuring safety to all.”
In closing, today’s story continues the theme of remembering: that once we were captives in Egypt, once we were weighed down by our burdens, but we no longer need to be.
In Jesus Christ exists the spirit of healing, the spirit of freedom, and the assurance that God is doing something new.
We don’t have to be held captive by a crippling spirit because the Good News tells us that God can loose us from the bondage that tethers us to one place.
God can lighten the weight of the world we’ve been carrying on our backs, our necks, our souls.
When we remember this, we are free to experience new possibilities, free to join the crowds in rejoicing, and free to celebrate all the astounding things God through Christ is doing.
Amen and amen.