(Proper 16C2) Psalm 103: 1-8; Luke 13: 10-17
Good morning, and grace and peace. It was like opening the first page of a new chapter last Sunday, as we returned home here to St. Andrew’s after our summer down the street at PTS. Jen Palmer made a digital slide show with photos of our first phase of construction, with Bill Ghrist's recording of the choir and congregation singing the last hymn last Sunday, and it was really stunning. Very exciting, so much fun, with thoughts so much about the future. Not just about the immediate future, as we complete the continuing “Opening Doors” projects and campaign over the next few months, with all the work in the parish house still steaming ahead--but also about the life and ministry and mission of this congregation in years and even decades and generations to come.
I thought it was especially fun to have Shana Hutchings, our summer seminary intern, preach that first Sunday, as another sign of “Opening Doors,” and moving forward. It wasn’t intentional, since we didn’t know at the beginning of the summer when the preaching schedule was being put together just when the return from PTS would be. But a nice coincidence, if there are such things. We care for the garden, but God gives the growth—sometimes in ways that we see immediately, and sometimes in a way that reveals itself to us only slowly and over time.
This privilege, to come into this holy place—but then I know even more importantly to go out through these open doors as we are dismissed, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” To trust God, love and serve the Lord Jesus faithfully, wherever we are, at home, at work, at school, in the neighborhood, and then see what happens. What God’s grace continues to accomplish every day in our lives. A costly road of discipleship in many ways, as we all will discover, but also so deeply rewarding.
Psalm 103 appointed this morning is special to me and Susy in something of a sentimental way because it was the psalm we selected to have read at our wedding. (Married folks: do you recall the readings from scripture read at your wedding? Nice to go back and to revisit those from time to time. One of themes that I talk about with couples in preparing for Christian marriage is what marriage is about as a vocation. Which is to say, how God is going to use us specifically in our marriage as his witnesses and representatives. And in some ways the planning of the wedding service itself and in that the selection of the readings from scripture represents the first sermon—if you want to think about it this way—the first sermon preached by this couple in their marriage. First opportunity to give a Christian testimony, to share the Good News, as husband and wife. Something of an indication and foretaste of what may follow in word and deed in years to come. And so, to think about that selection. What you really want to say.)
Psalm 103 as Mary Pat has sung it this morning--back on the evening of May 23, 1980 read by my, our brother-in-law and dear friend Dick Noble, Susy’s sister Marion’s husband, and we have a fun photo of him at the lectern. Our niece Kristin was about 3 at the time I think, and of course her dad couldn’t leave her in the pew by herself while he was going to read, since Marion was up front as Matron of Honor, so Dick held her up at his side, sort of on his hip, while he was reading. A nice family snapshot in the photo album. A great memory.
And I can still hear him in that moment, these words: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.” To take that word from scripture and to hear that, I know we did, as a benediction in that moment on our marriage, and as expressing how we hoped God would use us in the new life that was beginning for us. That in ways we could only just begin to imagine he might use our marriage and family to bless others. Just very special.
Trust God, be grounded in the gifts of his Word and sacraments, love and serve the Lord Jesus faithfully, and then see what happens. Notice his blessings. And give thanks.
The message swoops out in wider circles in the gospel reading set for us today. Luke the Physician often seems especially drawn to telling us about how Jesus revealed himself and taught his disciples and shared his compassion through the ministry of healing. And so here in the 13th chapter. Jesus. The Sabbath Day. The synagogue. And we can picture her: the woman bent over and subject to a spirit of disease that has crippled for 18 years. He sees her. Jesus sees her. And that’s something!
Jesus would have been teaching among the men, and she at a customary distance, in the gallery or back or side-area where the women would gather to pray and listen. But he sees her, even at that distance. And he calls her over. Interrupts his sermon. Breaks the rule of decorum by bringing her over and down front, into the synagogue proper. He doesn’t ask her any questions. He simply declares, announces, present-tense, that she is set free, healed. And then he touches her. And don’t think a few eyebrows in the crowd weren’t arched even higher at that! And she immediately straightens up. Immediately. Standing up. Immediately. Praising God.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name. Perhaps she would have remembered the Psalm in that moment. All that is within me, bless his holy Name.
The officials of the synagogue are in distress. I don’t care if our regular rabbi is on summer vacation, this is the last time we invite this guy as guest preacher. Nothing but trouble.
But it’s hard to make much headway with complaining. I mean, how can you complain? This woman is probably directly related to half the people in the little village, and everybody has watched with her and prayed with her and shed tears with her in her suffering all these many years. Hard to get too far with grumbling when the whole congregation is cheering and singing for joy. Whooping it up! As Luke says, “the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.”
What Jesus says in John 10:10 maybe echoing around this moment here for us. “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and have it in abundance.” Full and overflowing. What is in the heart of this one woman as she stands up. What he would have us know from him, and to share with one another. Blessing. Thanksgiving, in his presence.
As someone who is for heaven’s sake an Episcopalian, an introverted Northern European male descended from a very long line of introverted Northern European males, I guess it’s sometimes a little bit of a challenge for me. You know the story of the American woman who for the first time visited an English Cathedral to attend a service of Choral Evensong. At the end of the Choir’s wonderful Magnificat and as the last notes of the Gloria Patri hung in the air, she is swept up in wonder and leaps forward shouting “hallelujah, amen, praise the Lord!” Story goes that a sidesman, an usher, immediately comes over and tugs at her sleeve to move her back to her seat, and she shouts out, “I can’t sit down, I’ve got the Spirit!” And the sidesman says, “Madam, you didn’t get it here.”
Jump up out of your pews when you see all the wonderful things he is doing. Or at least in our hearts. And maybe a smile or two. If we can’t hold it in. Introverted Episcopalians, bless us all anyway: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
What is he doing in and around us? What do we see and hear and experience? Just to have in front of us this particular summer morning. In our renewed church. That we would experience also a renewal in our life and ministry as well as in the fabric of this great old building. A renewal of the whole church. Pray for that. Healing. Hope. Here at St. Andrew’s and out in wider and wider circles. As we turn toward fall and as so much in our lives begins to restart after the pause of the summer.
A reminder of the word about what we might call "Christian lifestyle" from St. Paul in First Thessalonians: Pray always, and in everything give thanks. People are always saying that the Bible is full of rules, and that’s a good one to notice. Be thankful unto him and call upon his name. For the Lord is gracious, and his mercy is everlasting.
One of the chief goals of a preacher is pretty simple. To lift up a word from scripture with some clarity and then to present it in such a way that we can all apply in our own lives. How to apply what we have read and heard this morning? Good news for a summer Sunday afternoon. In the late 1840’s an anonymous poet identified only as “Pauline T.” wrote the lyrics that the American Baptist composer Robert Wadsworth used in a hymn he called “Always rejoicing.” Found in a lot of Protestant hymnals in the 19th and 20th century and picked up and adapted by artists like Pete Seeger and Enya. But for us this summer, this morning, as we come to the Holy Table.
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
What tho' my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho' the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it;
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?