RCL Proper 16C
Jeremiah 1: 4-10; Luke 13: 10-17
I’ve been fascinated by all the uproar in the last week or two in the debate over the development of an Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque near the Ground Zero site of the former World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Probably you’ve heard something about this as well, if you’ve turned on the radio or television or your computer. Of course I have my own fuzzy and evolving thoughts and opinions about this--probably like all my fuzzy thoughts and opinions guaranteed to annoy at least some segment of the circle of my family and friends (which seems to be the case whenever I express an opinion about anything).
But what’s really been fascinating for me about this, I guess troubling and kind of sad, has less to do with the content of the arguments on one side or the other—and I actually think both sides have some good and important arguments to make--than it does about this sense that we seem to be becoming more and more a society where just about everybody all the time is itching for a fight. Maybe it’s the confluence of Talk Radio and the internet. We’re just all the time primed, ready for action, leaning forward in our seats with a sense almost of eagerness for conflict. Just flash a picture of President Obama across the screen, or Sarah Palin, and you can almost hear the adrenaline surging and screaming through the Body Politic.
And it almost doesn’t matter what the topic is. A line gets drawn in the sand and two sides form and there’s this almost palpable tension. Not for a minute a conversation between two who would approach one another with a spirit of mutual respect, forbearance--but from the very beginning a sense of detachment, an absence of respect not just for the opinions of the other, but seemingly for the persons themselves. Anger, almost a sense of meanness. As though the dialogue of public discourse were to be reduced to two boxers warily circling in the ring, muscles tense, just waiting for the moment when there might be even for a moment a flash of vulnerability in the other. And there’s no real listening going on. As soon as those on one side start talking, those on the other side clap their hands over their ears.
The point not to achieve mutual understanding and resolution, but simply to win, and to say that the only team that really matters to me is my team. Left or right. Whether we’re arguing about health care or Afghanistan or the mosque or the oil well disaster or where the Obamas go for vacation, for heaven’s sake. It just always turns out to be the same familiar fight between the same familiar parties, over and over and over again. Not just social and political issues in the wide world, of course, but in recent years all this becoming also a familiar pattern in the Church as well.
And I confess that sometimes I get drawn into those emotions, as maybe we all do. Hard to avoid it. But it doesn’t make me feel good about myself. And it certainly doesn’t make me feel good or hopeful about the world we’re living in and the world we seem to be passing along to our kids. Just a mess of hostilities and grievances, and all the virtues of kindness and gentleness, generosity, and self-control only to be practiced within the ever smaller and smaller circles of our mutual admiration societies.
Sorry for that observation, I guess, but that’s what struck me this week as I’ve thought and prayed over this scene in the thirteenth chapter of St. Luke, and especially to see the leader of the synagogue. The critical character of the story. He’s one of a whole group of these establishment religious leaders, rabbis and Pharisees and the temple priesthood, who have gotten to the point with Jesus—where they are so frustrated with him, so angry with him, so frightened of him, I guess—where even the purest and most wonderful and graceful of his actions provoke only criticism and this profound negativity.
This woman is bent over in pain, crippled, suffering, and in a word, and with a touch, Jesus heals her. Jesus heals her. For the first time in years, she stands up straight, and takes a deep breath, and her suffering is gone. And she is filled with relief, and joy, and gives thanks to God. And those standing around are swept up in wonder and amazement at the gracious miracle that has taken place right in their midst. God not distant, not far away, but right there with them in such a beautiful way.
And even then, in that moment, the leader of the synagogue would say, “there’s got to be some way to spin this to make Jesus look bad.” Probably he’s going to go home and write something really sharp and outraged in his blog, and maybe find a couple of unflattering video clips of Jesus and his followers that can be posted up on Youtube.
The problem with all these arguments and disagreements and our intense polarities, or at least one of the problems with them, is that, believe it or not, believe it or not, it is simply not within the realities of human enterprise that any one of us or any one group of us can have all the truth and all the answers. The people that bug us the most, even that stir up the deepest dark and negative feelings--there are inevitably some places where they are right, and where we are wrong. There are some contexts where, if we were to listen to them, understand them, look for the best in them, we would find ourselves to be, let’s say, blessed, gifted.
And I feel sorry for this synagogue leader in the story this morning, because of everybody there in the room, he is the one who does not receive the gift, who does not come into the presence of God’s life-giving blessing in Jesus. He is the one who is not refreshed and restored. While all the crowd goes away rejoicing, he is left in shame and darkness. He is the one who is not healed.
We resist that, of course, with one another. For some reason there is in us sometimes a preference for the sweet pain of an unresolved grievance than for forgiveness and reconciliation and renewal. Letting go of all that is sometimes just hard to imagine. And I think sometimes like the synagogue official we resist even when our Lord Jesus is standing right there with us with all the graciousness of his love. We can be like Jeremiah in the Old Testament lesson, just trying to find every reason we can possibly come up with to send him away.
This maybe is hard for us Episcopalians. We recite the creeds. We participate in beautiful liturgies. We roll up our sleeves for many hours of caring service to others. But in it all, sometimes, do we have in ourselves that inner sense of expectation, leaning forward with a sense of openness that God might actually do something right here and now, show himself to us, lift us to his presence. Yet he is there and persistent. Here and persistent. The free gift. Seek and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened unto you. Without a deep inner inclination of openness, without dropping those defenses, without really a moment of listening, there can be no healing, no new life.
All the woman in the story needs to do is to come when Jesus calls her, and she is healed. He speaks, he reaches out his hand to her, and as she receives him, she stands up. A new woman. Renewed, refreshed, restored, forgiven. Full of blessing. And Luke would tell us the story so that we would know that of course he’s calling all of us, and all of the time. Today and this morning.
We are invited into his presence in the sacrament of his Holy Table: the Bread of Life. Lord open our eyes and ears and hearts, we pray. Open whatever doors and windows we have shut against you and one another, and lift us up to be rejoicing at all the wonderful things you are doing.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.