Sermon from Sunday 21 August

The church should stand up for the poor and oppressed every day of the week


Reading(s): Luke 13.10-17 and Isaiah 58.9b-14. This sermon was given by Sally Kerson at St Mark and All Saints.

Whilst growing up many of us were very conscious that Sunday was a special day, whether we attended church or not, for at that time there wasn’t much open on a Sunday and not a lot to do either, it was a day to relax. The Sunday observance act was repealed a couple of times in the 1970s which meant that sporting fixtures were allowed and soon after theatre entertainment. Then in 1994 Sunday trading laws were relaxed and many more shops were open and since then we have never looked back and a Sunday can seem like any day of the week, unless of course you attend church! There are still some countries that haven’t completely relaxed their laws with regard to Sundays, whilst living in Germany (and this still applies in most parts of the country), we were not allowed to hang our washing out on a Sunday and mowing the lawn was prohibited. I wish that was the case in the UK as there is nothing more annoying than sitting down for lunch hearing not just the sound of one lawn mower but a whole orchestra of them accompanied by strimmers! Fortunately, this year’s long dry Summer has mainly put a stop to that. Most shops in Germany also remain closed on a Sunday accept of course the ones that sell pastries, including their wonderful gateau, the people of Germany certainly know where their priorities lie!

In both this morning’s Old Testament reading from the book of Isaiah and the Gospel reading the sabbath is mentioned. The sabbath was of course Saturday in Jewish law and we equate Sunday as a day when we as Christians gather to meet for our main worship of the week and keep it holy.

The opening words of the prophet Isaiah remind us that if we call on the Lord for help, he will hear us but there are conditions. We must be rid of any form of oppression, false accusation or malicious speech. We need to share our bread with the hungry and console the afflicted. Then the light will shine in our lives “the gloom shall become for you like midday” we will become “like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails”. Poetic words to describe how we will feel if we take the path of goodness every day of the week, not just on a Sunday. Also, in the passage there is a call to spend the Lord’s Day in a more reverent way, it is a time to refrain as far as possible from our daily concerns and make it more a day for quiet reflection and a time to remember God’s gifts to us.

Whilst in Luke’s Gospel we hear of Jesus doing something that the leader of the synagogue thought was breaking God’s holy law, he healed a woman on the Sabbath. To understand the gospels when they were written 2000 years ago, we need to put ourselves back into a different world. The attitudes of the people then were very different from today. Because women in the Patriarchal society of Jesus’s time were not treated or respected or esteemed in the ways they are today. Luke whose writings have been our focus this year and will be until Advent puts women very much in the forefront of his writings more than any of the other gospel writers. In this morning’s reading we hear that Jesus is teaching in the Synagogue where men are in one section and women in another. Jesus notices a woman who is bent over, she can’t stand up straight there is something wrong with her back she has a disability that no one could explain.

As we now know disability happens as a result of genetics, illness, or accident. It is not uncleanliness or evil or sin. It does not prevent us from the love of God or of fulfilling God’s purpose for our life. We may be frightened by disability because it reminds us of our own individual and communal vulnerabilities. But our task is to embrace disability as the prophetic voice that reminds us of the full inclusion of all God’s children in the body of Christ. And a good example of this is Ian a disabled person sailing solo around the UK and Ireland. Although we sometimes forget those who have disabilities – so here is a little story from over 30 years ago. It was planned by a small group of young mothers, of which I was one, to have a disabled ramp built outside All Saints church. Not many people embraced the idea and at least one person said, “but we don’t have any disabled people in the congregation”. The ramp is still there, it is not the whole answer to disability access, but it was (and still is), helpful and was built well before the disability act came into force. Since then, we have in all the churches in our benefice tried to be welcoming to those who are disabled, but obviously not fully succeeded in the respect of suitable access yet.

In the middle of teaching in the synagogue Jesus stops and calls this disabled woman over to him. Now, we have no idea how she felt when he did this, but we can be sure she would have been very nervous as she wanted to be invisible. She was a woman with no name. When the people in her town saw her coming down the street, all bent over, neck craned upwards trying to see, it was clear her identity was wrapped up in her condition, she has no other name except “bent-over woman.” But you know it doesn’t always have to be a physical condition that bends us over, it can be relationships, loneliness or worry about the future especially now with the economic crisis this country is facing. Currently life has so many ways of bending us over and those around us and we should be aware of this in the coming months as the economic situation in this country bites even harder.

Jesus sees the bent-over woman and calls her to him. He says to her, “Woman you are set free from your ailment.” He places his hands on her, and she stands up straight and begins praising God. Imagine her sheer delight after 18 years of being disabled to stand up straight and look at the world differently, so her praise of God was from the heart. But of course, the leader of the synagogue gets all bent out of shape about how inappropriate it is that this healing should take place on the Sabbath. Perhaps this was his pious attempt to discredit Jesus so he could retain control over this congregation. He considered healing a type of work forbidden on the Sabbath Jesus retorted that the Law permitted properly feeding and watering one’s animals on the Sabbath so why shouldn’t this woman who he refers as the daughter of Abraham be set free and be healed, what’s the difference? She is the only person in the whole of the Bible to be called by that name. Abraham, of course, was the great father of faith. He was the one, who many years before, received God’s promise that a great nation would be created out of his descendants, a people through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed, this woman is not a nobody she is part of God’s plan of salvation and blessing for the world.

Jesus knew that his action would not be welcomed by the religious leaders of the day, they were always trying to catch him out and run him down with their accusations. Yet he risked his life to heal this woman. Today truth-tellers and whistle-blowers still risk their lives to expose corruption, we should so admire them because they make this world a better place whilst putting themselves in so much danger.

To walk the way of Christ we must all do what we can do to make this world a better place especially for the downtrodden and mis-understood. Or in Isaiah’s words “offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted” - wise words that still apply to the 21st century and as a church and people we have responsibility to do just that every day of the week.