Set Free!

Meditation on Luke 13:10–17

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Aug. 21, 2022

Watch our livestream recording of the service:

https://fb.watch/f3mydaJHvx/

The Early Bird Circle organized an excursion to Connecticut last Wednesday. They invited me to go along! Picked me up in my driveway in St. James on their way to the Port Jefferson ferry. It was my first time on the ferry, though most of the other women were veteran ferry riders.

Funny stuff happened to us. Funny stuff always happens when we go out together. We ate and shopped at Cracker Barrel. We had plenty of food! We laughed a lot and got to know each other better and just enjoyed one another. We had the gift of time!

After a leisurely lunch and shopping, we went back to the ferry a different way. We were guided to wait in lane 4. June was driving. And though we were one of the first cars to arrive, cars coming after us in lanes 1-3 were guided to enter the ferry before us.

We wondered what the deal was—why we were waiting so long. June called a ferry employee over to our car to ask what was happening. The orange-vested man said with a straight face, “5 dollars. You got 5 dollars?” When we didn’t respond right away, he said, “5 dollars for EACH!”

There was a pause—then we all started laughing. He was kidding. He still didn’t tell us the reason for the delay. We just had to wait. Finally, it was our turn—and he directed us to our space at the back of the boat, right near the elevator, as we had requested for those who have trouble with stairs.

His face burst into the brightest smile as he waved us on.

The women commented later how the trip was more pleasant because of his kindness and humor. His playfulness made us all feel welcome.

Looking back at the excursion on Wednesday, I remember the lovely ride on the ferry with my sisters in the faith. And all the healing words and laughter—the best medicine–throughout the day.

***

The example of Jesus in Luke 13 today is one of both healing and challenging words. First, the healing words as Jesus demonstrates the need for mercy and compassion for people in need is more important than a debate with the elite.

Jesus is teaching in “one of the synagogues on the sabbath” and his message is suddenly interrupted. A woman with a spirit appears. The interruption isn’t because she is a woman and not allowed to be there! Women in first Century Judaism worshiped alongside men in the synagogue; there was no separation of the sexes—no men on one side and women on the other as we see in some early churches in America! Women actively participated in the life of faith in the Jewish community. Unless, they were like this woman, who has an unclean spirit that has crippled her body for 18 years.

She wouldn’t have been welcome in religious or many other gatherings. She would have been marginalized if not a downright outcast.

The spirit has caused her to be bent over and “quite unable to stand up straight.” Walking is painful, if not impossible. There are no wheelchairs. No one to carry her or help her. No friends to lower her down on a mat from the roof to where Jesus is—as we read in Luke 5 of the paralyzed man Jesus healed in Capernaum.

No cure for her ailment. And yet—and yet!– she has hope and courage this day to quietly make her way into the synagogue where Jesus is teaching.  She doesn’t ask for healing. She doesn’t speak at all. Being in Christ’s presence is enough.

She wants to hear healing words.

Jesus sees her and calls her. He has chosen her. In my mind, I am thinking that he calls her by name, except Luke hasn’t thought her important enough to include her name in this story. Jesus utters healing words, “Woman, you are SET FREE from your ailment!” And he touches this spiritually unclean woman, laying his hands on her. Immediately, she stands up straight and begins praising God!

She has been SET FREE to be the woman God wants her to be. And she’s going to tell everyone her story! Nothing can stand in her way now. Except, well…Human beings.

The leader of the synagogue is “indignant” by what has happened. What has stirred such a rage in this man? What is his motivation to keep telling the assembly that Jesus has broken a rule of the Sabbath when he has done a work of healing? Is he jealous of all the attention this young teacher is receiving? Afraid of Christ’s power and authority? Why does he use words to hurt and destroy?

Jesus speaks to the man as if he is an entire group of people. He’s not the only one who has made himself an enemy of the Lord. He speaks challenging words to the religious leaders and others of high status who use religious rules to maintain their control and keep out people in need.

“You hypocrites!” he says. “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it to water?” In other words, don’t you care for your beasts of burden on the Sabbath, when they are thirsty?

Jesus includes a woman who has little or no value in her community in the covenant of God. “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?” He’s saying, “Look! She is one of us!”

With his healing words, Jesus unbinds her. Says Elizabeth Caldwell, “And in the act of healing, he challenged a synagogue leader’s understanding of Sabbath work. Jesus’ healing is holy Sabbath work. In calling her ‘daughter of Abraham,’ he names her, heals her, restores her health, and delivers her to her community…”

With his challenging words, all his opponents are put to shame. The entire crowd rejoices at all the wonderful things being done by him!

What a powerful testimony the woman will have with this public healing in a synagogue, with so many witnesses. After 18 years of pain, suffering, and loneliness, she is set free to live a whole new life in community!

Do you wonder what she will do first with her new-found freedom?  If you were her, what would you do?

***

This passage in Luke makes me think about all the people in our church family who are unable to attend worship and other church activities because of their health problems. How lonely they must feel, at times, not being able to gather with their sisters and brothers in the faith. Some of our members are dealing with new health challenges or have recently moved to senior living communities and don’t have transportation. With the pandemic restrictions, they may be feeling especially isolated.

Won’t you reach out and be like Christ to them—and speak healing words? Remind them of God’s mercy. Reassure them of God’s love. Tell them we all miss them and are praying for them.

This passage in Luke stirs me to wonder who in this room might feel bound by a spirit of discouragement or the very limits of your life?  Has there been a door that closed to you? Have you lost someone you loved or counted on as a friend and wonder what you will do now? Maybe you feel spiritually dry or unworthy to answer the call.

I want to assure you today that nothing can keep you from following Jesus. It doesn’t depend on what you do or feel about yourself! Nothing will disqualify you or separate you from the love and grace of God! You are wanted and needed to labor for the Harvest, to build the Church and serve the Kingdom of God.

  No matter our age or gender, physical or mental ability, size or appearance, our finances, housing, education or job and family situation…Whether we’re from around here or from far away. …No matter our life experiences or status in society. Even if we feel invisible and without any voice at all, like the bent-over woman in the synagogue on a day Jesus is teaching. Christ has chosen you just as he chose her to be a witness to his compassion and power, to experience his healing and be made whole.

All are welcome and wanted in this house of worship. All have been made members of the Body of Christ by our Savior’s sacrifice. No one is an outsider!

So here is my question for you, my friends. What are you going to do with your new life today?  Will you have courage to share challenging words to the people who need to hear them?

Will you have mercy to say healing words to those suffering in body, mind or spirit?

With whom will you share your story of faith and all your hopes and dreams?

For you have been SET FREE to be the people God wants you to be! To live abundantly!

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for setting us free in Christ from all that would bind us and the promise of life abundant in this world and the world to come. Thank you for your love and welcome to all people, including those who are marginalized or outcast, neglected and forgotten. Give us courage to speak challenging words to power as your Spirit leads us and compassion to speak healing words to those who are suffering or otherwise needy. Stir us to be as Christ to others and to live as those who have been SET FREE to be the people of faith you want us to be. In the Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Rory, a standard poodle.

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