"I used to be a sad and sorrowful woman. But I remember that day easily. It was a Sabbath and I was praying in the synagogue. I thought the people there felt I looked awkward and not a part of them. You see for eighteen long years I was bent over.
You have absolutely no idea what it's like to grovel around never being able to lift your head and neck, let alone straighten your back, never being able to look up to the sky or see the tops of green trees swaying in the fresh breeze. It was just horrible. Complete agony really, to be shunned by so many, it hurt me deeply. But what could I do? Hope kept me going; it was all I had to cling to.
I remember this man Jesus. He called to me. He touched me. He enabled me to stand; really stand up free and tall, to breathe easily, filled with the Spirit. Oh, what a breath that was. He gave me the sense of dignity I had yearned for, for ages. And do you know what? He actually called me a daughter of Abraham. Can you believe that? He didn't refer to me as a son. I felt I belonged.
I remember the synagogue leader didn't like it at all because he didn't know how to deal with women who were standing up. You'd think he would have rejoiced with me- but no, no.
Then someone asked Jesus what the kingdom of God is like, and he said 'It's like more and more bent-over women standing up and when one woman stands up, that's like the leaven in the loaf and causes another and another and still another bent-over woman to stand up - until all the bent-over women are standing up tall.'
So I reckon that if you ever see a bent-over woman beginning to un-bend and straighten herself you'd better give her a little standing room because that woman's your sister and that's God's kingdom cranking up."
This quotation is from Women's Words pp 96 Northcote Women's Christian Book Project, Victoria and is reprinted by permission of Andrea McGinlay for this sermon.
Down the centuries there have been women, and men, who have been bent over. Have you ever felt on some mornings when you must go out... perhaps to take a child to school, how hard it is to stand up straight? How hard it is to look people in the eye? The spirits of depression, or fatigue, or sadness crushing us down, make it easier to walk stooped over.
We are so strong in our sickness. We resist the spirits oppressing us. For most of us there is only a slight internal stoop, un-noticed by most people. But for many of us abuse and suffering is piled upon our backs, and heaped up in our souls. For some of us, it is years, even decades, of abuse and suffering.
"You're no good," shrieks a mother's voice in the ear of our memory in a thousand different ways.
'What a disappointment you have always been,' comes the heavy voice of a father, again and again.
'You stupid child,' echoes through us and beats down upon us, from teachers and parents, and even strangers in the street.
And it goes beyond the verbal: 'You slut. You bitch. You Carrier of Sin.' It is poured out upon woman after woman, and physically pummelled into her very being.
'Sissy. Weakling. Failure.' Gentleness and feeling is literally beaten out of little boys, and a burden of emotional crippledness is loaded over their shoulders.
Of course some women are never touched. For every woman like the one beaten up because the minister visited, there are others who will not be touched physically. But crockery will be smashed, or the house keeping money cut off- mind you, she will still be expected to provide the meals from somewhere.
And it's not just poor, un-educated families we are talking about. It's everywhere. Highly educated women have their executive husbands rip up their university assignments, or stuff brought home from work.
Good Christian women are threatened with damnation by God if they complain. God and the Bible are used to justify violence. Children grow up knowing that God is Father, and that Father is cruel.
Jesus came to take the burdens from our shoulders. "Woman, you are set free from your ailment. Stand up and breathe freedom, daughter of Abraham."
And so the woman, and many people like her down the long years have heard his invitation to freedom. They have stood up and breathed deeply-- And how it has hurt them!!! From that very first leader of the synagogue, through an endless procession of priests and ministers, and mothers and fathers and wives and husbands and children, there has been protest when Jesus heals.
Don't be mistaken. The leader of the synagogue was not only worried about the holiness of the Sabbath, if at all. He was threatened by the freedom of a woman. Freedom is threatening. It is safer to have a person oppressed rather than whole. Whole people breathing in the freedom of God make the rest of us afraid. If God will change them so radically, what might God do to us? Perhaps God will even bring us to account for our violence. It is better to deny any need for healing.
And, families and friends often react with fear and anger when we tell what has been happening. They don't want to know. they'd often rather be comfortable. For a while, to respond to Jesus offer of freedom brings more pain! Women at last escaping to freedom, from physically or spiritually abusive relationships, are sometimes told to go back, and given the cold shoulder by their church, or their pastor, or family, if they will not. But Jesus' freedom is better in the end:
There was another person who had long been bent over. They had spent long hours out in the garden of life, pulling out weeds. So long had she been bent over that life had become drudgery.... but a drudgery she had become used to. She had not seen the beauty of the sky for many years. So low down and bent over was she, that even the roses in her own garden were unseen. She was able only to see the nettles and soursobs. The plain little flower of the soursob had for her become the beauty of life. She had forgotten the other splendour around her, and her early visions of life, and was even almost content.
Jesus came into the garden and invited her to stand straight and tall. -- Do you remember the sensation of standing up in the garden when you back has begun to ache. Suddenly it is so much worse as we stand; all our muscles have set in the position of being bent over. Often we need to crouch back down again, it hurts so much when we stand up. -- So it was with this person. She stood for a moment. And it hurt so much. Muscles set in the safety of the pattern of old habits screamed out. Neighbours, friends, parents, children, priests.... all frightened by a person standing tall and free shouted her down again.
"It hurts so much to stand," she cried to Jesus as he stood beside her. "It's easier to stay down here!"
"Daughter of Abraham, Sister.... did you not see the beauty of the sky and the trees? Did you see the roses?"
"Yes, and so much more beautiful than the nettles," she answered, "But so much pain, too."
"If you will risk standing up again, and grit your teeth to the pain, it will pass. And you will see and taste the freedom of God more and more. Lean on me. Stand up straight and lean on me."
Jesus is calling out to each one of us to stand up. Simply because we have sought to follow him, he is already lifting off the burdens that are set heavy upon the back of our spirit. We are free to stand. If we will tell him of our pain, honestly telling of our fear and hurt and shame, then that pain in our back, which feels even worse when we try to stand will pass away, and we will be able to stand up free and straight and tall.
Jesus healing is there for all of us:
Whether we have been abused long in the past, at school or at home, by strangers, or so-called 'friends of the family', or even our family members.
It's there for us if the violence was occasional and ignorant, even unintended, or if it was long term, calculated, evil oppression.
Jesus healing is there for even we those carry the burden of being the oppressors. So often those of us who oppress are handing on a violence and abuse we ourselves suffered. Jesus comes here, too. To heal, and to forgive. For all of us, being healed of the burdens that bend us over, will bring a new and different way to live. And we will walk straight and tall. Perhaps bearing scars, but being healed of suffocation and fear and shame.
Come to Jesus. Cling to him, and let him place his hands upon you. We too, are Daughters and Sons of Abraham and Sarah. Healing is for us too. We too are meant to walk straight and tall, and free. Life is meant to be good for us, too. Amen
© Jan Thomas September 2000
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