God’s kingdom has no time limits, by Pastor Noel

August 24 & 25, 2019     Proper 16, C   


      Jesus is teaching in the synagogue when he sees a woman who has been crippled for 18 years.

      We don’t know anything more about this woman, but we do know how some folks reacted to her healing.

      Luke tells us that the leader of the synagogue was angry that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. We read in Genesis that God rested from the work of creation on the seventh day.

      The Sabbath was not so much a day to sit around and snooze, it was/is a day to be more closely in touch with God’s presence.

      The leader argues that there are six other days when she could be healed. She should come back when it’s the right time.

      Jesus reminds the leader that even on the Sabbath animals are cared for. Why not this woman? Any time is the right time for healing, says Jesus.

      She goes away, glorifying God (who wouldn’t!) but the leader stays grumpy and negative.

      I wonder how much of his attitude was guilt?

      This woman had lived with her ailment for 18 years—probably as an outcast. Perhaps shunned.        

      Perhaps the leader had walked by her every day and not paid attention—we don’t know. But if he had shunned her, he’d be feeling embarrassed and guilty now that she was healed.

      The healings Jesus did were not just to make a person well. The healing Jesus did was to restore the wholeness of God’s kingdom to that person and to their community.

      This healing story, and pretty much everything that Jesus did, can be seen as acted out parables.

      Parables are comparisons.

      They tell us that “the kingdom of God is like…..” And even when it doesn’t say, “The kingdom of God is like…..”  we can see it in what happens.

      The kingdom of God, or, as I prefer, the presence of God, is like a woman who has been so bent over for 18 years that she could see only her feet. Suddenly she is healed and restored to her family and community and has dignity once more.

      For Luke, though, there is something else going on here. Luke tells us that the woman had been “crippled by a spirit” and says that she has been bound by Satan all this time.

      Luke believed, according to what he wrote, that Satan had found ways into God’s creation. The presence of evil is what caused illness. Jesus came to show God’s kingdom, God’s presence, and restore creation to that reality.

      That evil is still with us today, isn’t it! We may not call it a spirit, but I’m sure we could name many ways in which evil is manifest. Evil brings discord, violence…keeps us from God’s presence.

      Some folks think that God causes evil. We can even read this in the Bible. From earliest times blaming God was easier than taking responsibility.

      To blame Satan was to acknowledge Satan—and that could be scary. To take responsibility for our misfortunes can be scary, too.

      So, let’s blame God instead….

      There’s a better way.

      Please stand if you are able. Now, lean over so you are bent over, like the woman in the gospel. You may have to turn sideways in the pew.

      Can you see how your world changes? Can you feel how your breathing changes? How all the organs in your body are being put out of place?

      Can you imagine living like this for 18 years? And yes, there are folks who live like this today.

      OK, stand up now. Feel better? And you can be seated.

      Think of all the ways this story tells us about our world. How many people are walking around and not seeing the world as it really is? They aren’t bent over physically, but they might as well be. They see only their own lives and don’t see the misery and injustices that so many live with.

      Jesus gives us these healings and stories to remind us of all the ways we can be following him to bring healing and justice to folks who are bent over from illness or bent over from being blind to what’s going on in the world.

      Today is the 400th anniversary of the landing of the first slave ship in Virginia. If you think being bent over for 18 years was bad, think of crossing the ocean, packed like sardines inside a sailing ship, and then spending your life as a slave. And all the slaves who spent their lives that way.

      (From TEC) “As recorded by English colonist John Rolfe, the arrival of “20 and odd” African men and women at Point Comfort in late August 1619, was a pivotal moment in the nation’s history. Stolen by English privateers from a Spanish slave ship and brought to Point Comfort on a ship called the White Lion, these natives of west central Africa are believed to have been traded for food and supplies. They were the first Africans to be brought to English North America.”

      At 3 this afternoon our bells, and others, will ring for a minute to remember that horrible anniversary. As you hear the bells ring, please pray that we will find ways to bring justice, peace, mercy, love and hope to all people who are enslaved or caught in any kind of evil. 

      If we think that God causes evil, we probably won’t bother to find ways to combat the evil all around us.

      Today we read part of a wonderful Psalm.  There is more to it that is even better. “(God) will not always accuse us, nor will he keep his anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.”

      This is why I ask us to say a loud and heartfelt “Amen” after the Absolution. What an amazing God we have.   

      This is the God who showed us his true nature in Jesus. God incarnate, God in the flesh. God’s nature is to be merciful, compassionate, kind, completely forgiving.

      Those are the qualities of God’s presence, God’s kingdom, that Jesus lived and shared.

      We can be part of God’s kingdom, aware and rejoicing in God’s presence – giving glory to God like the woman Jesus healed. We fear God not by being afraid, but by with holy awe and wonder, admiration, and by following Jesus.

      We do this by living the qualities of God that Jesus lived. We are merciful, compassionate, kind, and always forgiving. I’d add a few things to that list. I think God’s presence is also being joyful, peace filled and loving to everyone.

      It’s so simple—but it’s not easy!

      What Jesus was doing was restoring folks to their communities. Giving them dignity and worth and a place in their families and the world.            We can do that, too.

      We start with ourselves and our own families and try to make sure that everyone is included. Then we reach out into our communities and do the same thing. And then into the world.

      We can to that. We must. Everyday is the right time for this. And, if we don’t, who will?

            In Ashville, NC, there’s a church called “holy chaos.” It opens its doors on Wednesdays for the homeless and others Jesus would have invited in. There are free meals and a short term shelter and lots of other good, practical, stuff that you won’t find at many “regular” churches.

      It’s certainly not church the way we’ve always done it, but it certainly is God’s kingdom.

      In Providence we have Church Beyond the Walls. It happens Sat. afternoons in a city park in all kinds of weather. People who wouldn’t go into a church building ARE church in the park. People who wouldn’t be allowed in some church buildings gather and celebrate and rejoice in God’s love.

      God’s kingdom, God’s presence, goes to the docks in Galilee with hot soup twice a week. That is a huge ministry for St. John’s. God’s kingdom, God’s presence, is here each Sunday for our free meal. That also is a huge undertaking.

      Those ministries may be more important than the ministry that happens here on Saturday or Sunday, or whenever we gather.

      William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, said that the church is the only institution that exists for people outside itself.

      The synagogue leader in Luke’s story would not agree— he thought that ministry should happen only during business hours.

      I hope that you can see beyond that restriction. I hope, and pray, that together we can find ways to do ministry differently. I hope that we can be God’s kingdom, God’s presence, here, and there, and all around God’s creation.          







The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details