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Should Not This Person Be Set Free?

Jeremiah 1:4-10;Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29;Luke 13:10-17

Bigfork Community United Methodist Church

August 25, 2019 –Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

We’ve come a long way since Henry Ford told America they could have a brand new Model T in any color so long as it was black. We have too many choices these days.

Now we have Neapolitan ice cream, 50 flavors of milkshakes and gas, electric and hybrid cars. Soon they will be driving themselves.We have so many choices that it’s hard for us to make up our minds between good choices.

Our great plight…woe is us…is how we are going to get all the things on our bucket list done. Oh, the anxiety that creates!

There is a famous experiment they did with jams a number of years ago. They offered free samples. One of them offered free samples of twenty-four different kinds of jam and the other offered six.

The customers who were offered only six choices were more likely to buy one than those who were offered twenty-four.Too many choices made the choosing harder. Sometimes we can have too many choices.

Jesus was able to see the choice and reduce it down to right and wrong …left or right…and find his way through the thicket of man-made rules to face of harsh consequences.

Today, Jesus heals a woman who was bent over for eighteen years. She has been seeking a release from her pain. She just wants to walk upright among the people of her village.

She still takes part in the life of her village…for here she is…in synagogue on the Sabbath…when Jesus sees her. He tells her she is healed…and she is healed. The prayer she has been raising for countless days and nights has been heard and answered.

She praises God, which is appropriate and just. She was without power, even to stand up, and now she has been raised up. It is about her…and Jesus…and the saving power of God. Everyone should be giving thanks.

But even then, there were too many choices. Those who had formal power…legal authority…the synagogue leader…complains that it is wrong to do any work on the Sabbath.

Back in Genesis it is written that on the seventh day the Lord rested from the work of Creation...and in Exodus we are commanded to rest and do no labor on the Sabbath. So Jesus was wrong to heal this woman …because he did it…on the Sabbath.

We create infinitely more choices for ourselves and all they do is to keep us from living our lives out in the sight of God and with love for our neighbor. Who would the savior of the world have been if he had seen suffering…and an opportunity to show God’s power to the world …and he balked at the chance?

He had a great number of prophets to learn from. We open our readings this morning from the most reluctant prophet of them all …Jeremiah.

We see the pattern that runs through the Bible in this call story. The mortal experiences a vision from God in which they have been identified as the chosen one.

They object. It must be a wrong number. They must be misunderstanding the meaning of the vision or experience. But God reassures them…clarifies the situation for them…continues the pursuit of them.

Moses was perhaps the most persistent recalcitrant. In front of the burning bush he pushed back again and again. Who am I? What power do I have?

God reassures him, as Jeremiah is reassured…and we are reassured…I will be with you. So Moses poses another objection: Who do I say sent me? What is your name?

God answers, “I am that I am. Tell them I Am sent you.” Moses is still unconvinced. “What if they don’t believe me?” Jeremiah says today, “Why should they believe me? I am only a youth.”

God shows Moses how to make his staff turn into a snake and back again. Moses says, “I am not a good public speaker.” Jeremiah says, “I don’t know how to speak.”

God tells Moses “Who gives speech to mortals? Trust in me and I will deliver you and your people. God tells Jeremiah, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.”

God touches Jeremiah’s lips, thereby putting God’s words into his mouth. He can deliver messages to his people…or some of his people…with words that come directly from God. He is untethered from this world and floats…as the spirit in the world.

This is complicated in today’s world. When you talk to people about heroes who became prophets for their people, people might think they hear their own call where there isn’t a call.

Woe to you…all who claim to be prophets. You have been sent to change the world and the world doesn’t want to be changed. And if you are wrong, you will only become known as a false prophet.

I have told you before about being mugged when I was in law school in Washington, D.C. I was walking my girlfriend back to her car so she wouldn’t get mugged. A guy hit me over the head with a shovel handle and I fell back into the street where a pickup truck ran over me.

People have asked me if that gave me a ‘knowing’ that I had a special calling. I answered No the week I got out of the hospital…the first time I was asked that…I have always said No…and I still say No.

That was where my understanding was deep inside me. I could not understand it because I knew other people I admired who got a sense of purpose and a clarity of focus from such events.

John Wesley believed he had a special purpose in life because when he was five years old he was saved at the last minute from a fire in the parsonage.

Winston Churchill, the night he was chosen to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom… after he had spent twenty years in the Wilderness of political life…saw that all that had happened to him… and had frustrated him…and had held him back…had prepared him for that crucial hour as England entered the war…virtually alone… against overwhelming military forces.

I think this is a perilous choice and one that should be made only if there is a spiritual resonance in the call. Many different things point to the same course. I think the reluctance of the Saints to accept their calling was an important step in their call process. Only the reluctant are called.

They were being humble without trying to be humble. They understood how important God’s work in the world was…and they didn’t think they were that important…worthy of the task.

It was humility, but it wasn’t false humility. My experience has been that I make my worst decisions when everything is going right and nothing could possibly go wrong… or when everything is going wrong and nothing I can do will change it.

It is when I am trying to pick the least bad alternative that I become powerful. It is not about me. It is about the situation confronting me, and what I might do to nudge things in a way that isn’t bad.

That situation confronted Moses. They were in bondage in Egypt and something had to be done…even though any resistance to Pharaoh was futile.

That was the situation confronting Jeremiah. The nation’s frontiers had failed and the siege and fall of Jerusalem was a horrible, fresh memory in the minds of the people.

King Josiah had kept asking him for advice and he spoke truth to power.

But those who disagreed with Jeremiah…who preferred power to truth…resented his influence, which only grew as Jeremiah proved right… and they proved wrong…again and again.

He didn’t play the game with ease, but he played it truly, and he suffered shunning and physical threats and imprisonment because of it. He did it simply because it was the right thing to do.

And because we read of him and from him 2500 years later, we know he was giving good advice…advice that was better than the king was getting from the political giants of the day.

It is important for leaders and nations and ordinary people to have voices they can trust. It is good for us to keep in contact with reality…in good times and bad …and being able to laugh at our problems is an important part of facing them fearlessly.

Prophets and pundits shape our lives, but we can shape our lives, too, if we center ourselves and respond to our circumstances with humility…fearlessly…out of love.

We need to be present and we need to pause and look at the situation deeply…like when you have no good options and you are trying to pick the very best one.

Again and again in the scriptures, Jesus is able to be present…to see deeply into the situation…and to respond effectively. He does it twice this morning.

First, he sees what the woman’s problem is and can see a way to bring healing to her. Everyone else has probably assumed that’s the story for the rest of her life and she is just going to have to learn to live with it.

He was not just having a transaction with her. He wanted a relationship because he brought God’s love for the world…full force …into wherever he found himself…and he needed human help to pass it on.

He is criticized for healing the woman because he happened to run into her on the Sabbath and he did not tell her to take two aspirin and call him in the morning.

He showed the healing power of God right there…in the synagogue …on the Sabbath.

That seems to me to be as appropriate a time to do what he did as any…no? It was a holy moment at a sacred place in a sacred time…So unexpected and so meaningful.

And what is his defense to the criticism he receives? Don’t you feed and water your livestock on the Sabbath? Why should I deny this person God’s grace because of who she is or where we are or what time of day I find her? Could I say no and hold my head up?

So here is your homework for this week. Be awake to an opportunity to be a healing presence. If you see a way you can minister to…be a good neighbor to…a friend or a stranger…do what you can…be what you can be…not to show your power…but to show that someone cares about a person who is lonely … in pain…exhausted…upset.

Do it to be a human…being a helping presence to another human being. Do it without any expectation of repayment or credit upon you. It’s the things we do in secret that we get the credit for in heaven. If you get credit in this life, then that is all the reward you will get. It is our quest.

Be present. Be awake. Be good. Do no harm. Show a friend or stranger that there is still goodness in the world.

There are many people out there who would be transformed… stand up straight…see again hope…that they, too, can live constructive lives of genuine meaning…one more day and one more day.

Should not this person…every person…be set free…from their hopelessness?

O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us …through me…this day? Amen.