On 21 August, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, Hebrews 12:18-end, Luke 13:10-17.
One of the wonderful aspects of Anglican worship is our connection with the Jewish people by using their forms of liturgy, particularly the Psalms.
Robert Benson, in his book ‘In Constant Prayer’ tells of our connection going back around 6000 years. In Psalm 119 there is reference to praying seven times a day. Apparently, written versions of daily fixed-hour prayer come from around four thousand years before Christ. The Hebrews prayed at daybreak, before work, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, before bed and at midnight. The prayers were much the same in format to those we say at noon and midnight here on Epiphany each day, including readings from the scriptures and the use of the Psalms as prayers and hymns of praise.
Then as now, the daily offices were said in homes and in places of worship. They were part of the worship in the Temple and the synagogue at the time of Jesus’ life on earth. Sometimes in the gospels there are references to the hour of prayer in the Temple. Jesus would have grown up with this rhythm of prayer and praise, as would those who attended the synagogue referred to in today’s gospel, among them a woman who for eighteen years had been unable to stand up because of some spinal problem.
How often in those eighteen years had she heard the words of Psalm 71:
In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free;
incline your ear to me and save me.
For you are my hope, O Lord God,
my confidence, even from my youth.
Yet, despite that prayer the woman wasn’t healed. She may have wondered if God thought of her as a terrible sinner, as the Jews at that time associated physical affliction with sin. You’ll notice that the ailment was attributed to a spirit which was crippling her. You may remember the disciples asking Jesus about a blind man: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus put them right: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Once again, as when Jesus healed that blind man and others, the works of God were displayed as Jesus called the woman over and told her she was free of what bound her. As he laid hands on her she was able to stand up for the first time in eighteen years. She was obviously in no doubt about where her healing had come from as she immediately began to praise God.
She was definitely happy with what had happened to her but the ruler of the synagogue wasn’t. A ruler of a synagogue was a lay person whose job it was to conduct worship (or some sources say to supervise it), to maintain order in the services and to invite people to participate. It would have been this man who invited Jesus to teach on that Sabbath. I have to wonder just what he expected as Jesus must by then have had a reputation for disrupting the carefully ordered life of synagogues.
It was, of course, the ruler’s job to keep order and he may have worried that things were getting very much out of hand. It’s interesting to note that the woman’s entry into the synagogue interrupted Jesus’ teaching, presumably on the important topic of the Kingdom of God, but he was not annoyed. The ruler, in contrast, seems to have tried hard to impress on people that this was not the way to behave. He probably didn’t dare to criticise Jesus as he had invited him to teach. Instead, the ruler directed his criticism at the people, telling them repeatedly to come on a different day to be cured.
The ruler was right in considering that what Jesus had done was work. By healing someone Jesus was doing the work of a physician, thus practising his profession. This was not allowed in the law. In the book of Exodus the people were told not to do their normal job on the Sabbath but to dedicate themselves to God on that day. However, it could be said that looking after animals was a normal job, yet the Jews allowed this, as Jesus pointed out. This was not the first time that Jesus had accused those who followed the Law of doing it to their own advantage. Effectively they considered the needs of their animals to be more important than the needs of this poor woman who had suffered for eighteen long years.
As usual, it was the ordinary people who really understood what was going on. Despite the protests of the ruler of the synagogue, it sounds like a celebration was launched in the synagogue that day, and why not. In the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day a daughter of Abraham had been restored to health. She had been set free of a body that imprisoned her and could stand up straight and praise God. What could be better.
We do need to consider what might happen if Jesus choose to be similarly disruptive in our lives today. What if he suddenly healed someone right here in the cathedral, right now? Would we be rejoicing and partying like the people in the synagogue or would we be complaining that this has interrupted the main worship of the week?
What about if Jesus decides to disrupt our lives in some way? We each develop ways of doing things, habits that make us comfortable, and so on. What if Jesus decided to interfere with those? Would we cope, or would we resist with protests that that is not the way we usually do things?
I hope and pray that we as individuals and as a community could cope with Jesus stirring things up and changing our ways. It might not be a comfortable experience but I think it would be very exciting!
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor