THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AT WOODBURY
August 21, 2022
ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
God alone is our refuge and hope, our shelter and protection. From our very first breath to our last, God’s love and compassion never fails. So come, lift your voices in praise to God. Bear witness to God’s acts of mercy and love. Proclaim God’s glory to all who will listen. Let’s worship God together.
CALL TO WORSHIP
We may be thirsty and parched, like an un-watered garden, so we come into God’s presence:
The Divine One is a spring of water!
We may be weary from worry and work, so we come into God’s presence:
The Holy One offers us Sabbath rest!
We may be lost or confused so we come into God’s presence:
The Wise One offers us welcome and guidance!
We may be bent over with struggle or pain. So, we come into God’s presence:
The Healing One empowers us to stand strong!
*HYMN No. 157 “I Danced In the Morning”
1 I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
and I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth.
At Bethlehem I had my birth.
Dance, then, wherever you may be;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
and I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
and I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
2 I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee,
but they would not dance and they would not follow me.
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John.
They came with me and the dance went on. (Refrain)
3 I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame.
The holy people said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped and they hung me high,
and left me there on a cross to die. (Refrain)
4 I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black.
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
but I am the dance and I still go on. (Refrain)
5 They cut me down and I leapt up high.
I am the life that will never, never die.
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. (Refrain)
*CALL TO RECONCILIATION
When we were children, we learned not to touch hot things so we would not be burned. If only avoiding sin was that easy! But sin seems so comfortable, so easy, and so harmless that we cannot stop ourselves from reaching out to touch it over and over again. Let us confess our sins to the One who chooses to forgive us and love us unconditionally, as we pray together, saying,
*PRAYER FOR CONFESSION
Yet once more, we come to you with our prayers, Holy God. Our crippling spirits keep us from following you. Our grudges weigh us down until we cannot walk straight in your way. Our anger becomes a fire which scorches our friends and loved ones. Our fears blind us to the goodness in those we believe to be different. Forgive us, God our Rock, and set us free from our wrong-doings and failures. From the day of our birth, we have known your love, grace, and hope. So may we offer you our joyful thanks, as Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, reaches out to touch us with your healing forgiveness, yet once more.
Silence is observed
*ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God chooses not to turn a deaf ear to us, but to listen to our prayers. God chooses not to shame us, but to save us.
This is, indeed, good news for us! We are set free to drink deeply from the waters of life. Thanks be to God! Amen.
*RESPONSE No. 581 “Glory Be To the Father”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.
*PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
Since God has forgiven us in Christ, let us forgive one another. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
THE CHILDREN’S MESSAGE
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Loving God, you are more ready to hold out your hand to us than we are ready to grasp it. By the encouragement of your Spirit, help us to overcome reticence or fear, and step forward to receive blessings appropriate to our true need. Then, made whole by your grace, may we become a blessing to those who lives impinge on ours. Through Christ Jesus our healer and liberator. Amen!
SCRIPTURE LUKE 13:10-17
10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”
15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
SERMON: “There are Rule and There Are RULES”
Listen again to the beginning of our gospel: Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over.
So let me get this straight, Jesus, you know…the Lord, sees a woman who has been bent over for 18 years. A woman who knows people by their feet and not their faces. She slowly shuffles her creaking body into the synagogue, she has just found her seat, and she has just bent her knees past that point of no return, and he calls out, “Hey, hey you… come here.” So, she cranks herself back up and continues up the aisle toward Jesus.
I mean, how rude is that? You’re the Son of God, you go to her for God’s sake. It’s a healing story. You’d think Jesus could have met her half-way or something.
At first, I didn’t think commenting on this little piece text found in our gospel would have anything to do with the actual sermon I was going to preach. The reason I didn’t think it was important, the reason I thought it was so ridiculous is because in my mind, Jesus was breaking a sort of unspoken rule in our society. A rule that says we care for our weak and sick by helping them. We open the door for someone on crutches, we bring a plate of all the covered dish food to the person in the wheelchair. It’s just what we do. It’s called being nice.
But in the text, it says that Jesus saw her. And I can’t help but wonder, maybe what he saw was something we couldn’t see. Maybe he saw that what this woman didn’t need was his pity, but instead needed to be empowered. That she needed to be given something to do rather than have something done for her.
You see, so often when tragedy strikes or when someone gets sick, our temptation is to swoop in and take care of them. To do everything for them that they would normally need to do for themselves. Like meals and laundry and dishes. And while these are often great ways of reaching out, sometimes it can do more harm. Sometimes it can take more power away from someone who has already had enough taken away from them. So rather than be helped, they need to be empowered. To do what they can do.
In a sermon I heard a couple of months ago, Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber offered a good example of this. She said that there were a few months of her life she came down with a “touch” of hypochondria. She was a stay-at-home mom with a baby and a toddler. She was exhausted all the time and got sick a lot one Winter. After a while she started to think that something was seriously wrong with her. And secretly, without being totally conscious of it, she really hoped something was wrong with her. Nothing fatal, she says. Maybe like, a totally treatable form of cancer or something like that. You know, so that she could kind of get a hall pass. A break from everything. She said that a hospital stay started to look awesome. Someone else to bring her food and she could lay around all day watching tv and taking narcotics. What’s not to love? But then after ending up in her doctor’s office for the 3rd time in 6 weeks demanding that he run tests on her since she was sure she was sick…her doctor looked her in the eyes and said, “Nadia, nothing’s wrong with you. You just have to deal with your life.”
Sometimes, rather than being helped, people need to be empowered. And so maybe that is what Jesus saw. That rather than needing help, this bend-over woman needed empowerment. She needed to be shown the things that she could do in her life rather than the things that she couldn’t. And when she sees that, it’s like her pride and her self-worth and her sense of being a valuable human being instead of a burden on society comes rushing in with such force that her whole body just straightens out and she stands taller than she ever has before in her life.
Jesus didn’t follow the rules I expected when it comes to helping this woman. And that’s what we learn about Jesus today. That Jesus is always willing to break our rules for the sake of life. He didn’t go to that crippled and bent over woman, highlighting what she couldn’t do. Instead, he asked her to come to him, highlighting what she could do. Because he knew that would give her more life.
And now get this… that isn’t the only rule Jesus broke that day. Jesus actually broke a bigger rule. A rule we carve into stone. A rule we memorize in confirmation. Jesus broke the third commandment too. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Or at least according to the leader of the synagogue, he did. After Jesus heals this woman, the leader of the synagogue gets angry because Jesus’ healing was considered “work” on a day of rest. “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day,” he cries out to the crowd gathered there. And the leader of the synagogue is right. And he even has the Bible on his side. He reads right from the bible that the Sabbath is a day of rest, and no work ought to be done on it.
So according to a couple of lines in Scripture, this guy is right. But what the leader of the synagogue has forgotten is that laws, even the laws of God, were made for humanity. Humanity was not made for laws. Stops signs and speed limits are a good thing. We need them. We rely on them. And if we don’t follow the law then we deserve a ticket. But if there is an emergency and we are rushing to the hospital to get someone medical attention, does anyone care if you are following those laws or not? No! We would think it ridiculous if a man rushing his pregnant wife to the hospital were pulled over for rolling through a stop sign.
But this man, this leader of the synagogue wanted Jesus to follow the rules to the T. To follow the 10 Commandments. To not heal this woman. To make her wait another day before she could look people in the face again. Another day before she can breathe deeply again into her crowded chest. He wanted to make her wait because that was law. But you know what…sometimes you can follow the law and the rules so well and still be wrong.
I was told a story while on vacation of a track and field team. A couple of years back, two colleges in California came together for a track meet. And one of the teams had never won a track meet in their history. Never. But for the first time, it was looking like they might win. It came down to the last event, the pole vault. And all this team needed was for their vaulter to get over the bar. That’s all they need, and they would win a track meet for the first time in their history. And guess what? She does it. She gets over the bar no problem and the crowd goes wild. They had just won for the very first time! But then the coach of the other team makes an objection. You see, the pole vaulter was wearing a friendship bracelet. And according to the rules, those competing cannot wear jewelry. The pole vaulter was ruled disqualified, and her team lost the track meet. Sometimes you can follow the rules so well, to the T, and still be wrong.
Jesus didn’t care about the rule. He cared about this woman and the fact that for 18 years she’s been bent over. And he didn’t want her to wake up one more day like that. So, for Jesus, the grace and love of God always bends towards that which is life-giving, rather than that which is lawful. That which gives life always surpasses the law. Just as a farmer is allowed to untie their ox or donkey and give it water on the Sabbath, because it gives life, literally, to the animal, so also is healing okay on the Sabbath.
For God, the absolute law is that of love and grace. Any other law must always bend to the grace and love of God.
So, I can’t help but wonder, what are the laws and rules we have set up here as a church that too often seem more important than God’s love and grace and forgiveness.
Who do we not want to receive the grace and love of God because they haven’t followed the rules and laws well enough?
What laws and rules have we set up in our society that help us police who is a benefit and who is a burden to us, who is good and who is bad, rather than letting Jesus’ proclamation of God’s unconditional love for ALL people be our guide?
Before I went on vacation, I had the joy of baptizing Andy, JoJo and JJ, all who are God’s beloved child. That God has loved them longer than any of us have and that God will love them longer than any of us can. That there is an unconditional promise hidden within that water that will never dry off. And you know, when each of these children were baptized, that is an easy promise to proclaim. Because these kids were so cute. And little. And innocent. – in sweet little baptismal outfit, too.
But the question is, will we proclaim that same promise to them years from now when they are not so cute and little and innocent. Will we proclaim it when they are rambunctious and misbehaving?
Will we proclaim it when they break the law?
Will we proclaim it when their faults and failures disappoint us?
Will we let the unconditional love and grace of God that is for Andy, JoJo, JJ and for us, be lifted up over any other rule or law we might build around them?
Because Jesus will. Jesus will always let the unconditional love and grace of God that is for these children and for us, be lifted up over any other rule or law we might build around them…or us. And we, my friends, are followers of Jesus called and sent to go and do likewise. So may we do just that this week…go and do likewise. AMEN
Commentary and Liturgy provided by Shannon J. Kershner, Keith Grogg, Betsy Ray, Cathy Hill, Emerson Powery, Mark Davis, Janet H. Hunter, David Lose and Jeannie M. Brown.
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
*HYMN No. 643 “Now Thank We All Our God”
1 Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things hath done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who, from our mothers’ arms,
hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
2 O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in God’s grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
in this world and the next.
3 All praise and thanks to God,
who reigns in highest heaven,
to Father and to Son
and Spirit now be given:
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore,
the God who was, and is,
and shall be evermore.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER AND THE LORD’S PRAYER
Loving God, you are the great giver of gifts. You have set before us the way of life and given us breath and health to live it. You have granted to this earth resources for sustaining our bodies and our families and our communities and given us a call and a blessing to learn to wisely use them for the good of all. You have given us salvation, a path to life eternal with you in the form of the man Jesus, who healed the sick, and freed the captives, raised the dead, and ate and drank with sinners. In him, we have the path toward living out your desire for this world in the community of your church, our loving family gathered here.
Thank you, God, for placing such varied gifts in our midst in the flesh and blood and spirits of our brothers and sisters here who have said “yes” to living as Christ’s disciples. That is what we seek, O God. We offer our lives and the gifts you have implanted within us to you – to be blessed and to be made useful, so that all of our world’s tomorrows will be a little better, and your church more effective in meeting them with hope for those who are hurting, freedom for those in chains, joy for the sorrowful, light for those in darkness, and healing for those who are ill.
We pray for those people every time we gather, God. Now, we offer up ourselves to follow the leadership of your Spirit in offering our gifts to be the hands and feet and heart and words of Christ to those we pray for. Use us, O God, by teaching us to better use the gifts you’ve given us long ago, when you knew us most intimately, within our mother’s wombs, and in the cradles of our infancy…filled with wonder, gifted, and blessed. For we offer our prayers in Christ’s name…
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Today’s flowers Are given in the glory and honor of God by are given in the glory and honor of God by ________________________
OFFERING OF TITHES
Through our offerings, we are invited to put God first in our lives, to show our gratitude and our commitment. We owe everything to God: our lives, our health, people who love us, meaningful work and activities. Let us respond in proportion to our gratitude.
Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below. Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully known; Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
O God, we thank you for your great generosity. All that we are and all that we have is a gift from you. Help us to serve one another and so reflect your spirit and goodness. Accept these offerings and grant that the cause to which they are devoted may prosper under your guidance. Amen.
*HYMN No. 307 “God of Grace and God of Glory”
1 God of grace and God of glory,
on thy people pour thy power;
crown thine ancient church’s story;
bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour,
for the facing of this hour.
2 Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn thy Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.
3 Cure thy children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to thy control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.
4 Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore.
Let the gift of thy salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving thee whom we adore,
serving thee whom we adore.
Having been welcomed with grace,
let us go out this day.
We will go to serve all of God’s children,
deciding to meet them where they are.
Having listened to God’s Word,
Let us go to share what we have learned.
We will go to stand with those who are uncertain about life,
to walk with those who have stumbled on their journey.
Having been set free by the Spirit
let us go to be sisters and brothers with all,
We will go to release those bound by cruelty and injustice,
to bring healing to those crippled by fears.