Sunday Sermon – August 25, 2019

August 25, 2019 – 11 Pentecost C, Proper 16
Isaiah 58:9-14; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.


“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

One of my favorite books this year has been The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. The novel starts off in Australia with the lead character, Don Tillman, searching for a wife. One of the little twists of the novel is that Don is on the Autism spectrum and one of the ways he manages that is to adopt an obsessive-compulsive lifestyle so as to remove as much unpredictability as possible. The more he can make his daily routine controllable, the better he can cope with life. For instance he has a schedule where on Mondays he always eats exactly the same thing, on Tuesdays the same thing, and on through the week. That way he knows each day what is coming and how he needs to shop. It’s very predictable. He is highly functioning as a geneticist and college professor but something is missing in life so he decides to find a wife. 

Spoiler alert: he falls in love with Rosie but Rosie is very unpredictable and very much an illogical person for Don to fall for. Rosie refuses to eat the same thing every Monday night. Rosie colors outside the lines and she turns Don’s world upside down. The Rosie Project is followed by The Rosie Effect which has Don and Rosie married and living in New York, and The Rosie Result where Don and Rosie have a child. Don wants everything controllable and predictable but falling in love is anything but that. It’s so much better but he resists it at every turn.

A couple of weekends ago Mary Ward and I spent some time with our granddaughter, Mary Durham. Our daughter and her husband and his parents were there too but the whole focus of the weekend was Mary Durham. She’s 16 months old, walking and learning to talk, and we just sat around and watched her go. One thing young parents are doing these days is teaching children some sign language early on. It helps them express themselves before they have words and it also helps them learn words faster. When Mary Durham is eating and wants more of something, she will put her fingers together like this and everyone in the room will say, “More.” When she’s had enough, she’ll wave her hands like this, and everyone will say, “All finished.” On Sunday morning, we decided to have our own communion service. Her other grandfather baked some bread and I presided at the Eucharist. As I gave the communion bread to Mary Durham, she popped it in her mouth and immediately gave us the sign for more. Delightful. I’ll also add that her lineage on both sides of her family is Episcopalian and, later in the day, someone gave her a little taste of bourbon on their finger. She immediately gave us the more sign for that too.

Jesus is teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. He sees a woman who is crippled by a spirit that has her completely bent over. Without her even asking, Jesus calls her over and says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” He lays his hands on her, the spirit is lifted, she stands up straight and begins praising God. She is delighted. “More, more”, she might have said.

The sad twist in the story is the reaction of the leaders of the synagogue. “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath.” Really? “More, more”, the woman says. “All finished”, the leaders reply. “This isn’t the time or place for healing, or joy, or praising, or being transformed and given a whole new life. That’s too unpredictable. It’s the Sabbath. We don’t do that on this day. You’re turning the whole world upside down. Get out of here.”

“Hypocrites”, Jesus says. In Luke’s gospel every time Jesus uses the word “hypocrites” it is to indicate that the very kingdom of God has been revealed and people don’t care to see it. 

Isaiah speaks of the Sabbath today too. He charges the listener to “refrain from trampling the Sabbath, to refrain from pursuing their own interests on the holy day. He invites the listener to call the Sabbath a delight. 

Sabbath isn’t escaping from the pressures of the outside world, it’s not about keeping a list of what should not be done, it’s not about keeping a ritual we’ve always kept, it’s not about making things controllable and predictable. It’s not about just resting or hiding. It’s about  falling in love. It’s not about pursing our own interests, having things on our terms. It’s about taking delight. It’s about being surprised by what God can do.

The leaders of the synagogue had fallen into approaching worship  as an obsessive compulsive means of controlling their environment. The emphasis was all on the routine of doing the same thing at the same time, thinking somehow this would produce fulfillment. At one time they had fallen in love with God and related to him as a delightful gift-giver but gradually they forgot and fell into a rigid and superstitious lifestyle. They built up  resistance to the joyful love of God. Jesus is their Rosie and those who shut him out lead us to imagine how good it might have been for those who let him in. The grimness of those who say “all finished” lead us to imagine the joy of those who may have said “more, more.”

Sometimes we forget that we have fallen in love with God and that God has fallen in love with us. When that happens we are invited to remember the great gift of Jesus Christ. If you’ve come to use the Sabbath simply as a means of pursuing your own interests, remember that God comes to us in a fresh new way every time we hear the word proclaimed and receive the Eucharist. If you’ve come here just to control, remember that our God is a consuming fire. If you’re all finished, remember that there is much, much more.