Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Holy Troublemakers

Sermon 8-21- 16
Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Two weeks ago I got almost nothing done. It wasn’t just that the Olympics had started – there was another event that same time that kept me glued to my computer screen the entire week. Every three years, almost a thousand delegates from across the country attend the biggest Lutheran church meeting, the Church Wide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran church in America, or just Churchwide assembly for short.  

Well, it’s not exactly as well known, or as exciting as the Olympics. They don’t give out medals for the most coffee consumed or the most amendments to amendments. But things happened during both events that contributed to world unity. And thanks to the miracle of technology, church nerds like me got watch live as it all unfolded.

Just for starters, that week during Churchwide, we elected an African American man, William B. Horn, to be the vice president of the ELCA. We voted to commit to protecting unaccompanied children fleeing Latin American countries. We supported the continuing dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans in focusing on what unites us, in honor of the next year’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We pledged our support in areas of justice, such as peace in the Holy Land, the importance of African descent Lutherans and relationships with historic Black churches. We committed to a responsible energy future, welcoming refugees, and caring for our military veterans and their families. And this is not even half of what the ELCA accomplished that week.

We as ELCA Lutherans have inherited a legacy of always reforming ourselves and our church, of always being made new by God’s grace, while at the same time being firmly rooted in the message of God’s love through Jesus.

And so, just as Martin Luther used both new and old technologies of his day – the printing press, a church door, some nails and a hammer – we do this too. I mentioned a few weeks ago about the new Small Catechism smartphone app from Augsburg Fortress, the ELCA publishing house. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, in her report to the churchwide assembly last week, mentioned this app and gave us a challenge: to review the small catechism to reconnect with our Lutheran roots. 

If you haven’t downloaded it yet, please do – but not right now of course, wait until after worship! And if you get a moment, look up the third commandment. How many of you remember what the third commandment is? “Remember the …. Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” What does THAT mean? Martin Luther explains, “We are to fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly learn from it.

Just as God rested on the 7th day of creation, we as God’s people need a day of rest and a day to intentionally stop and hear what God has to say to us. Men, women, children, slaves, labor animals… all in God’s creation were commanded to embrace our limitation and be reminded that God created us for life, not for exhaustion. The Sabbath day is a gift, freely and lovingly given for our benefit.

But, what do we humans too often do with things that are free gifts from God? We try to control them, regulate them, create a lot of rules around how to properly exercise this gift. The Sabbath day was no expectation. Enter Jesus, teacher, preacher, and general trouble maker.

You may remember Jesus’s controversial first sermon, where he proclaimed that today, through him, God would release the captives, give sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free. That one was not exactly well received, but here Jesus is again, teaching in the synagogue. We will never know what Jesus was preaching on this day, because he stops, mid sermon, for someone in immediate need of that freedom and release.

That woman was literally invisible. Bent over double for as many years as it takes a kindergartner to graduate from high school. She was unable to stand up straight, unable to see and participate in the world around her, in a world where she was already mostly invisible for being a woman.

Perhaps you too have walked into worship feeling much like this woman – feeling physically or emotionally bound and bent over by things in your lives that are heavy and hard to bear. Perhaps you too, have felt unseen and invisible to those around you
When Jesus sees this woman, he stops everything. Her healing cannot even wait until the end of day, or even till the end of his sermon! She should not have to wait for her freedom for ONE MORE MINUTE. He has to heal her RIGHT NOW.

And in doing so, Jesus broke the rules.

The leader of the synagogue was understandably upset that the worship service was being disrupted. The Jewish people were living under the thumb of an oppressive government, who ALLOWED them to continue to practice their faith… but could change their mind on a whim. These religious leaders were doing their very best to keep it together, to preserve these expressions of their faith in a world that worked against them at every turn, to be faithful to the ways that their ancestors worshiped God in the past.

So when the bent over woman became UN-bent, this synagogue leader became BENT out of SHAPE. He forgot the whole point of the Sabbath: that people trump rules, that love trumps fear, that justice trumps tradition.

He could not see that when one of us is bent over, we ALL are.

Sometimes it takes a little interrupting, a little disruption on the part of Jesus to remind us, both then and now, that God’s kingdom is CONSTANTLY interrupting our rules, our schedules, and our lives.

If you recall, Jesus interrupts and disrupts from birth…. Actually from BEFORE birth, when an angel interrupted Mary to tell her she would bear a son. And again, AT his birth, when the heavenly host interrupted some shepherds on the night shift. And all during his life, Jesus interrupts and disrupts, again and again, shaking up our rules and assumptions about God. Until the rule-makers decided they had had enough with this rule breaker troublemaker, that he needed to be silenced, his body broken, to be taught a lesson – don’t rock the boat, don’t break the rules, don’t mess with the ones who hold all the cards. Or else you too will be nailed to a cross for it.

But Jesus wasn’t through breaking the rules and making trouble. He was not done interrupting and disrupting. Jesus interrupted death. He disrupted the funeral preparations of the women at the tomb. He appeared incognito and joined the two travelers walking to Emmaus, and interrupted their dinner as he revealed himself in the breaking of the bread.

And his followers have continued to interrupt and disrupt on Jesus’ behalf, because we are called follow Jesus’ example, to raise up the bent over, see the unseen. To break the rules that need to be broken, and then to rejoice, like the bent over woman, when together we have been set free.

The moment this woman was healed, she started praising God, and presumably she never stopped. Her worlds could be Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.…” She keeps praising, and so we can add her to the list of the cloud of witnesses from last week. She took her cue from Jesus, and continued the interruption to worship that day, despite the flack she received from the leader of the synagogue.

Another woman who refused to be bowed down is Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, who was a keynote speaker at the ECLA churchwide gathering two weeks ago. I’ve mention her story before, which is amazing.  Her home country Liberia had suffered from war and violence for years. So she gathered Christian and Muslim women to protest for peace. When peace talks had stalled as the men enjoyed their stay in a fancy hotel, Gbowee and the women held them hostage until peace talks resumed. Within weeks, the war was over.

During her talk last week, Gbowee said, “I don’t feel bad being called a trouble maker..“ because “Injustice one place is injustice everywhere,” She reminds us that interrupting the status quo causes us to be labeled trouble makers. But after all, Gbowee’s causing trouble earned her the Nobel Peace Prize. And she was only following in the footsteps of her lord Jesus.

When you see the rules winning over the needs of people, cause some trouble. When you see injustice, fear, or hate getting the upper hand, rock the boat. As Gbowee says, we are supposed to “speak truth to power…” in Jesus’ name.

If you are called a “trouble maker,” do what Leymah Gbowee suggests… say “thank you!” Wear name of “trouble maker” gladly - because it means that we are becoming more like Jesus - and give thanks for it. Thanks be to God… for trouble makers. Amen.

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