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Remove the Yoke!

  • August 25, 2019
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 25 August 2019 (Proper 16 Year C)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Isaiah 58.9b-14; Psalm 71.1-9; Luke 13.10-17

Title:               Remove The Yoke

“When Jesus saw [the woman in the synagogue], he called her over and [he] said [to her], ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment’” (Luke 13.12).

My friends, do you long to be noticed? To not be forgotten or ignored or overlooked? To know that your life matters? That who you are and what you do actually matters?

This is one part of what we hear today in the scriptures appointed for our meditation.

Note that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. This was his regular custom. He gathered with the people in the synagogue on the sabbath, on Shabbat, as it is called in the Hebrew.

Oddly enough, it seems that the synagogue leader was not bothered by what Jesus was teaching or by the fact that he was teaching. Everything seemed to be going along without incident – that is, until Jesus noticed something.

Or more directly, he noticed SOMEONE. Someone who had probably gone unnoticed for a very long time. An older woman, a disabled woman.

I’m willing to wager that the rest of the folks in that town took her for granted. She was just part of the background. She was not an important person.

Have you ever felt that way? Like you were overlooked, ignored, unnoticed, forgotten.

But, do you see what happened on this particular sabbath day? Jesus noticed her.

And to be clear: as Luke’s Gospel presents it, this woman was not asking for anything. She was not even asking to be healed. She did not do anything at all!

But Jesus noticed her. He saw her. He looked at her. He spoke to her. He placed his hands on her head. He set her free.

That’s the message! God notices you. Faith tells us that we ARE noticed, that we are NOT forgotten or ignored or overlooked. That God knows us better than we know ourselves. And that God sees us – really sees us, and loves us.

And that, my friends, is good news which sets us free. Alleluia!

But let’s be clear: this is just the beginning of the story! We are set free, we are liberated, we are healed, SO THAT we can go and do what God has created us to do.

Most of you know I am a football lover. So, for me, we are coming into a great time of year! I am getting excited – you know, it makes the end of summer a bit more palatable!

But right now, at least for the pros, we are still in the preseason, still at the end of training camp. I really enjoy reading about training camp, hearing the stories of what different guys are doing, about who has a chance to sneak onto the team’s roster.

And you see, for me, training camp explains what we are do here at church. This place – this sanctuary, and every place where the body of Christ gathers – this is a practice field. It’s training camp!   It is here that we get the coaching we need to succeed when the real test arrives.

We gather here to remember the message, the good news, and to practice what it means to live each day in the way of Jesus.

And THAT is where the real work is found – when we leave this place, in the places where we live and work and go to school.

In all of the decisions we make day-in and day-out, in all of our words and actions – THAT is where the game is played! That is where the real test comes.

The difference, of course, is that we never quite know when the real test will come. The schedule is never pre-released for us. God only knows what tests lie ahead for us, but without a doubt we know that EVERYONE gets tested eventually!

And in this training camp, we are always bringing in new players to build up the team.

Baptism is initiation into the team. Today, we welcome Anna Kenlan as part of our team! Before we baptize Anna, we will ask her family and her sponsors to make a number of commitments, like:

“Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?”

Which is another way of asking, will you ensure that this child receives the coaching and training needed to live in the life-giving and liberating way of Jesus?

Will you make sure that this child is ready for the real tests of life that are sure to come?

Now, if you happen to NOT be a football lover like me, I understand. There are lots of things NOT to like about it. That’s fine. But you can substitute anything else in this analogy. Baseball spring training, summer music camp, military training, learning a new language, parenting classes, – actually, school itself fits in perfectly.

What is done in the classroom is never the real deal. The goal is to prepare students to perform out there – where the real action takes place. School is practice; it is preparation for the real work to come in the future.

Now, are you aware that many religious people get confused about all this? Do you know that people so often turn things around and begin thinking of their practice as the real thing?

Whether it is keeping the Sabbath, gathering on the Lord’s Day, praying a certain number of times each day, praying or meditating in a certain method  – whatever the practice is, it is always that – PRACTICE! It is never the real thing.

When Jesus liberated the woman in the synagogue, he was putting things back in their proper order. Practice is practice. Observing the sabbath is practice. But full and abundant LIFE? That’s the real deal.

Now, please, don’t misunderstand! Practice is crucial. It is absolutely necessary! Musicians who fail to practice will never perform well! Those who do not do the basic repetitive exercises of speech will never be able to speak another language in the real world. Without thousands of free throws in the gym, a basketball star will never hit the game-winning free throws when the game is actually on the line.

Practice is essential, but let US never make the mistake of confusing it for the real thing.

I hope you noticed the image and the text on the front of today’s bulletin. Perhaps you recognize it. If not, I hope you will go and take a closer look on your way in to the Auditorium for a cup of coffee (and cake) after the Dismissal.

This sculpture is on a shelf at the entrance to the kitchen, next door in our Parish House. It was made by Kathy Stakel and placed in its spot shortly after her death. The scripture attached to this image comes from Isaiah, from the portion appointed for this morning.

HUNGER a sculpture by Catherine Stakel (1941 – 2015)

#10 Firing Clay baked at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Finished with stain and wax. Inspired by a MaryKnoll Sisters photograph of a child on the African plains suffering from severe protein deficiency.

“If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:10

Serving as a mouthpiece for the voice of God, the prophet Isaiah makes this exact point. This entire Chapter 58 of Isaiah calls on the people of God to recognize that their rituals of worship can never substitute for the real deal of seeing and noticing the other, of satisfying the needs of the afflicted.

The controversy in the synagogue on that sabbath day was about how to interpret the rules that governed sabbath.

But Jesus had no interest in rules. He did not issue rules. He had no interest in passing laws or changing legislation. He did not build walls. He had no interest in detaining people or controlling people.

The goal of Jesus was, and is, and always will be, to set people free. Freedom – isn’t that a great word! The apostle Paul said it best: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5.1).

Isaiah called on the people to remove the yoke from among them, to offer their food to the hungry, to satisfy the needs of the afflicted.

THIS is exactly what our Teacher did on that sabbath day in the synagogue.

This is exactly what our Lord empowers us to do when we ourselves are liberated by the extravagant and overflowing love of God.

So my friends, do you want to know that your life matters? That who you are and what you do actually matters? Then make it your aim in life to be part of this Jesus movement that continues to set people free!

You ARE seen and noticed and known and loved. And that means that you have a job to do! A great job. A wonderful job. A holy calling to share in the loving, liberating and life-giving way of Jesus.

So, welcome to the team, Anna. We’ve got some real work to do, so let’s get ready for practice! Amen.

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