(A sermon based on Luke 13:10-17 for Sunday, August 22, 2010)
While neatly defined categories don’t work, I can fairly say that everyone here today falls into one of three categories. First, some of us are broken down and busted up and messed up and we need God to put us back together. Second, some of us think we have it all together and have it all figured out—particularly when it comes to who God is and how God works and what God wants, not to mention what’s going in other people’s lives— and we need God to break us down so that we can be built back better. Third—and I imagine that the vast majority fit here—some of us are kind of busted up and kind of have it together all at the same time and so we need all kinds of help; we need in some ways to be put back together and we need in some ways to be broken apart!
Jesus went to a synagogue on the Sabbath—the equivalent of going to church on Sunday morning in our setting—and there, just like he would (and just like we do) here, he encountered someone who was broken down. In that case it was a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years; she was perpetually bent over because, the text says, of a “spirit.”
That woman had been walking around looking at the dirt for eighteen years.
A lot of us spend a lot of time looking down at the dirt.
Lots of factors cause some of us to spend most of our time looking at the dirt.
It may be that we have a spiritual condition.
It may be that we have a psychological condition.
It may be that we have a spiritual condition.
Sometimes we choose to look at the dirt for so long that it becomes ingrained in us.
Sometimes we’re forced by circumstances to look at the dirt for so long that we don’t think we have another option.
Sometimes we have looked at the dirt for so long that it has come to affect everything about us.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus did not ask about or address what had placed the woman in the condition in which she found herself?
Jesus decided, even though the woman didn’t even ask him to do anything about her condition, that it was high time that she not have to look at the dirt anymore. So he touched her and healed her and she most understandably immediately began to praise God.
You may be one of those who is here broken, looking at the dirt—and you need to be picked up and put back together so you can see the sky again, so you can look people in the eye again, and especially so that you can look to God again.
God is that kind of God; Jesus is that kind of Savior. God will break into your life right where you are and right how you are and will do something about it.
A broken life can result in a broken heart and it is exactly that kind of heart into which Jesus can and will come!
If our God is that kind of God we want to be that kind of Christian body; we want to be that kind of church.
But sometimes we church people get too broken up about what God and the church are doing for and with the broken down!
In need of being broken down
And so it came to pass that the fellow in charge (beware of the person in charge!) of that local synagogue expressed his displeasure over Jesus’ healing of the crippled woman on the Sabbath day. He said to the crowd (and thus indirectly to Jesus and to the woman in question—although isn’t it interesting that he didn’t address them directly?), “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14).
You have to wonder: if that was the pervasive attitude among the leadership of the synagogue, how much help and healing really got offered on the other days? If that statement accurately reflects the level of care and compassion that was in the hearts of the people in charge, how could the atmosphere have bred much help and healing?
We want leaders in the church whose hearts are filled with compassion and caring and grace rather than with rules and traditions—don’t we?
Understand now that the leader of the synagogue was the type of fellow that most people in any time and in any place admire; he was, after all, the one who was aware of and who enforced the rules. We like such people and we frankly need such people. And the rules he wanted to enforce had as their aim the promotion of a healthy respect for a healthy practice, namely, the practice of Sabbath. It was out of concern for keeping the Sabbath holy that all kinds of rules had developed over what constituted working on that day and thus should be avoided.
The Sabbath mattered to Jesus, too; we have plenty of evidence that he observed it faithfully. But Jesus practiced what he elsewhere taught as the greatest commandments: he loved God and he loved his neighbor. And he knew and lived in light of the truth that God prefers compassion and mercy toward others as expressions of our love for God to the slavish following of all the rules and the following of tradition as an expression of that love.
To Jesus a broken rule was a small price to pay to help a broken person.
We have in our church hurting, broken people. We have in our community hurting, broken people. We have in our congregation today hurting, broken people. The Lord wants to help them and to heal them and to build them up and the Lord furthermore wants to do that through us.
None of us would object to helping someone on a Sunday so we might think that we don’t need to learn the lesson that the leader of the synagogue needed to learn. The truth is, though, that just like that leader got all bothered over Jesus breaking a Sabbath rule to heal the crippled woman so we might get all bothered by challenges to our set ways of thinking, to our assumptions about the way church—particularly polite, respectable, don’t rock the boat, maintain the status quo church—ought to be done.
For Jesus the bottom line was that a woman needed help and he helped her when the opportunity presented itself. One result of what Jesus did was that the assumptions and presuppositions and practices of the religious folks in the room got shaken up and turned on their heads.
In other words, God broke in.
God broke in, in the person of and through the actions of Jesus, to the broken down life of that broken down woman and healed and helped her. In so doing, God broke down the assumptions and practices—the very lives—of the synagogue leader and those who thought like he did. Who knows to what extent, if any, they adjusted. We’re only told that Jesus’ “opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing” (v. 17).
Do we need to be put to shame? Maybe—and if so, then let us be. If we need to be put to shame over the way we think about other people, if we need to be put to shame over how we value comfortableness over ministry, if we need to be put to shame over how we see people in need as an inconvenience rather than as an opportunity to show the love and grace of God, if we need to put to shame over our desire to preserve what we have rather than to share what God has given us, if we need to be put to shame over our focus on meeting the needs of people most of whose basic needs are met just fine rather than on meeting the needs of people whose basic needs aren’t being met, if we need to be put to shame over seeking even better news for us more than on sharing the Good News with those who don’t know it—then let us be shamed.
May God break us down if we need to be broken down.
But then—let us repent. Let us change. Let us turn around and go forth serving and helping and healing and rejoicing. Let us accept the grace and mercy of God and then go out to share that same grace and mercy.
Are you broken down or do you need to be broken down? Either way, God is breaking in…