Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
Bound and Bent Over
A recent Forbes magazine article stated, “We spend as much as 12 hours a day in front of our screens.” Further, the report asserts, “Our time on social media shows measurable, causal differences in our mental health.” (6) As we Americans make the choice to remain “stooped over” distracted by our smart phone screens for over half of a day, our relationships and connections to one another are suffering, and so is our health.
I was at Coconut Point Mall the other day, and I noticed this phenomenon in real time. Nearly everyone who was supposed to be enjoying some time of leisure and fun were either texting or reading something on the their smart phones. There was no interaction between people, no relationships being cultivated, and no sharing of one’s life with another. Folks are imprisoned by that electronic leash that perpetually keeps us in a stooped position unable to see others in front of us, distracted from the lives of others (and our own lives), detached from God’s grace and peace, and imprisoned in a false reality not of our making or of God’s making. We need to silence our cell phones, the electronic prisons we inhabit, and start embracing and enjoying the movie of grace playing all around us.
Smart Phones and television screens are not the only prisons we live in today. Our culture pushes us to excel vocationally, financially, socially, and relationally, and yet there are high costs for that kind of pressure. Long work hours, anxiety filled schedules, over extended finances, and unfulfilled relationships are some of the pressures with which, many of us contend. It seems that life might be more joyful, we lived in a deeper spiritual peace, if we lived a little more simply, a little more balanced, and if we could shrug off the heavy burden of success drive, turn off the screens, and get back to basics.
Healed and Set Free
Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath in the synagogue. A woman comes in, all stooped over and bound up by her body’s infirmity, and Jesus stops and takes note. It is a good thing he was not texting or playing “Pokemon Go”, or he would have overlooked the woman’s pain, and the opportunity to bring healing. This poor woman’s life perspective, bent over by pain or spinal disease, meant she could not look others in the eye. She could not engage in relationship from the same level as everyone else. She was permanently seeing the world from a low place in society. She was literally spiritually, emotionally, socially and relationally dead.
Luckily, Jesus did not walk around with head down focused on himself. He was engaged in what is going on around him, with eyes wide open. He broke the norms of culture that day, and touched a woman in public and restored her to full health, on a day set aside for only holy rest. In an awkward twist to the story, the leader of the synagogue accused Jesus of breaking the law and accused him of heresy. Jesus responded with an indignant, but clear rebuttal. He told the religious leader (and us) that we all need to set aside the distractions and the legalistic barriers we create, which keep us from holy relationships with each other.
Jesus teaches that relationships are of greater importance than the law, cultural norms, political legislation, and yes even our electronic leashes. We are so distracted today that we cannot see what is really important and sometimes, we let the law get in the way of justice. Even back then the religious folk were blinded to the need for justice, dignity, and restoration. For instance, the law back then, allowed on the Sabbath an animal owner to unleash their ox or mule to go and get water, thus restoring them and keeping them fully alive, but what about the woman, a child of God? “Jesus insisted that the synagogue and the Sabbath are not the only things that are holy—so was this woman’s life.” (1) Are we like the leader of the synagogue, hell bent on following law above following the call to love our neighbor? Failing to love your neighbor is sin, and we must remember that sin is not about breaking law, but it is about breaking relationships. Sin is certainly rampant today.
Look at how we treat people today: the homeless, the immigrant, or the neighbor we do not like, and even the friend with whom we disagree. We often want to bind them up and place them in the chains of our own making. What about the children of God bound up in this world by tragedy, unjust laws, and unholy motivations that none of us really want to discuss. These are God’s people whether they are a part of our tribe or not. Ironically, many of us watch the Humane Society advertisements about dogs and cats suffering in cages, shivering, afraid and bound up, and these images break our hearts, and we hold our tiny pups and kittens close to our chest hoping they never experience that fate.
However, we are so distracted in this world by the frenzies of our individual lives that we forget, we imprison people both physically, economically, socially, and spiritually every day. We are so focused on improving our own place on the economic and social food chain that we forget what is most important in this life; loving God and loving our neighbor. There are people of God who are truly imprisoned by injustice, indignity, broken relationships, hardships, and even the simplest burdens of life, and we are so preoccupied that we do not see it. We all need a rest ,so we can be of service in God’s Kingdom.
Sabbath, Balance, and Ready for Service
We all need a break from these distractions, so like Jesus we can see the bent over, burden carrying neighbor who needs our tender touch of grace from God. We Christians need to find some balance in our lives, so we can be refreshed for active service. We all need to love God, so we can be filled up, strengthened, and equipped to love others. We all need a Sabbath.
Sabbath is supposed to be a “day set aside for us to rest, but it does not mean that we should take a break from bringing to the world a glimpse of the goodness of God.”(2) Sabbath is a break from the chaos, a respite to refresh, a moment spent in creation, a time for prayer, contemplation, and rejuvenation. Sabbath is a time for praising and worshipping God. “When Jesus touched the woman, she stood up straight and tall for the first time in 18 years, and she began to praise God. She knew the source of her healing. So on the Sabbath she praised God for this unexpected, wonderful, unbelievable gift of life.” (4)
You may say, Fr. Eric, “How in this chaotic, draining, demanding, success fueled life can I find time to pray, to sit at the beach with God, to even stop for 10 minutes and put down my cell phone?” You have to do it. We clergy have to do it. “But I am so busy, how can I respond to the needs of others, when I am so focused on what is challenging, distracting, and keeping me occupied 24/7,” you may ask. The question you need to ask is not how can I take a Sabbath, but the critical question with which you must wrestle is, “what happens to your spiritual health, if you do not?”
You cannot pour from an empty cup, you cannot run the engine of your ministry on an empty tank, and you cannot love God and others, when your spirit does not have an opportunity to refuel on grace. If we continue at the frenzied pace on which we all race, we will miss God’s dream. If we do not stop, put the cell phone down, and open our eyes to others around us and take some time for refreshment, we are going to miss God’s dream for us.
Rest, Freedom, and Rejoicing
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry once preached these words, “God has a dream for this world and a dream for every man, woman, and child who walks upon the face of this earth. That’s what Jesus is all about. That’s what he’s trying to get us to see. God has a dream.”(5) God has a dream for that poor bent over woman in the synagogue. God has a dream for the homeless man or woman on the street. God has a dream for the refugee seeking a safer life. God has a dream for the prisoner. God has a dream for you!
Some of you are held in spiritual bondage right here today, but God invites you to drop your baggage and take a rest. God invites you to experience healing, just like that experienced by the impaired woman that Sabbath day in the synagogue. However, we are hard pressed to experience that kind of healing, because we will not stop, in order to receive it. Jesus’ mission is “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” As his followers, we are also called to partner with him “to bring all people into unity with God and each other in Christ.” We are commissioned to experience healing and then, to go and be healers for others. In order to do that, we who have been bent over and bound by the troubles of life, must purposefully set aside time to sit at the Master’s feet and let him touch our hearts and heal our souls.
If we are truly called to be sent out to meet the least, lost and lonely at their level, and to see them fully in the blessedness that Christ sees them, and then love them and lift them up to new life, we need holy Sabbaths every week. We need opportunities for balance, rest, and refreshment. Now we are not commanded to abandon the mission and just be on spiritual vacation all the time, because we will risk losing sight of what is going on around us. We already have God’s blessing to be grace bearers in our lives anew every day, and I know Jesus believes we can do it. He even showed us how, because on a day of rest, he set aside the law, and with outstretched arms of love, touched a poor stooped over woman, who could not even look him in the eye. He raised her to new life and then she went out praising God and giving thanks.
You see, serving and resting are not opposites. You can rest and pray, and love and serve all at the same time, but you have to set aside that overwhelming desire to stay in the business of life all the time. You have to stand up straight and see the grace opportunities happening all around you. I encourage each of us, including me your priest, to stop and rest. I encourage each of us, including me to spend time each week seeking joy in Christ, living a little more simply and balanced, shrugging off the heavy burden of success drive, and just get back to basics. Oh, and when the movie of grace is playing play in front of your very eyes, please do not forget to silence your cell phones.
(1) Berger, Teresa. “Off the Record.” The Christian Century, vol. 121, no. 16, Aug. 2004, p. 19
(2)Moore, Joy J. “Bearing Witness.” The Christian Century, vol. 124, no. 16, Aug. 2007, p. 17.
(3) Phelps, Stephen H. “Luke 13:10-17.” Interpretation, vol. 55, no. 1, Jan. 2001, pp. 64–66.
(4) Ruth Hamilton: Keeping the Sabbath Holy http://day1.org/7404-keeping_the_sabbath_holy
(5) The Most Rev. Michael Curry, PB http://day1.org/5105-god_has_a_dream