With this sermon I'm going to use the style of a role play. I will begin walking towards the front right-hand corner where most of the congregation sit, speaking like the agitated leader of the synagogue as he addresses Jesus.
And then as Jesus speaks, I'll pull at a chair and sit down. I will not be speaking at some imaginary spot that has the leader the synagogue sitting in it; I'll be speaking to the congregation. I might shift just a fraction in the chair when I morph into the leader of the congregation, and back to Jesus, but I be in the same chair.
The thing about this role play is that I won't pretend to be Jesus or the leader of the synagogue in some kind of character mode; not like we would see them in a movie; not what we used to do in Sunday school with a towel round the head, or something.
Instead, Jesus will be me. Jesus will speak in my vernacular, the way I would speak about God when I'm at my best. And the leader of the synagogue will be me, channelling my concerns the decency in order rather than compassion or, before compassion, just the way I do it sometimes when I'm definitely not at my best.
And sitting down on the chair and chatting—that's the way I do it with someone. It lowers the temperature calms things down and lets them be intimate. And if you're preaching you might do this role play being the way you are. You might be the kind of pastor who comes down off the front steps at the church door after worship and leans against the church wall and talks to somebody. All you might say to that worried person at the door, "Come over and grab a coffee, and we'll talk about it. And you would use different language to me. You might have the vernacular of Texas, or the quiet Afrikaans overtones of South Africa; be that! Channel the word that you have through the person you are.
We will begin the service with this prayer:
That woman has been crippled by a spirit for 18 years.
Look at her—
bent over, shrivelled, miserable…
What on earth did she do to deserve that?
Look at her—
It's an affront to God, her being here.
Every week we read the scripture scrolls
and say the sacred prayers
seeking to reflect the goodness of God,
but she is here
like a blemish on creation,
a sign of disobedience and sin,
a tarnish on the glory of God.
Who will take this away from us?
Really… it would be better if she did not come.
She is not like us.
And you, Teacher, magnify the insult to God
and bring this woman
down the front in the middle of your sermon.
And you heal on the Sabbath
the day of rest
the great day of honour to God,
and you place her on display
blemish, disobedience and sin.
You drag our disease
out of the corners where we banish it
and thrust it in God's face.
Really… it would be better if you did not come.
You are not like us.
God forgive us—
for we have seen the great blessings
of your love.
We have seen people unbound…
able to stand tall…
You let us be part of this!
You call us… to be the healers—
to be Christs!
And we thrust it back in your face
complaining because your love
did not fit our notions of what is
Really… we have said… it would be better if you did not come.
You are not like us.
And you did not listen to us
You came in the Christ Jesus.
You still come
constantly standing up front
in the middle of our worship.
You show us love that will not wait.
A love that is spendthrift
A love that does not bow to ceremony
but loves first and always.
Love which is for us
which is impatient for us
which heals first and asks questions second.
It is good that you are here
for you are not like us!
And we thank you. Amen
You don't get it, do you Teacher!
You think I'm heartless and I don't care for that woman, bent over like that! You think I don't know what she went through.
Let me tell you.
That's my sister's mother. She brought me up from a little kid when my Mum died. I know what it was like. I was there. She had to look sideways to see anything, and she can't—she couldn't—see much then. I know the pain she lived in simply trying to look up and kiss my face.
And you spoiled it all. My God! How could you do it? You've got the power. You could heal her—you did! But on the Sabbath!!
You've taken this great gift God has given you and cheapened it and stained it with sin. You've insulted God. Jesus… you don't get it do you?
We are enough of a blot on the earth, already. We disappoint God from the moment of our birth. At least here on Sabbath Day, at least on this one day of the week we can try and do things properly. We do it well here. We've got a good synagogue. Auntie Marge sat up the back, out of sight. And just for an hour… just for one hour in a week, we could live life as it is meant to be lived, people before the majesty of God, saying the prayers, reading the words, reflecting just the tiniest bit of God's glory…
and you spoiled it. You dragged all the imperfection and sin and mess into the middle! God will have no glory, you said. Look at this woman, instead.
Jesus… she was like it for 18 years… 18 years! What would it hurt to wait one more day… just 'til sundown… (cf Mark 1:32)
but no, you jump in and spoil it all. And you… you… you foul the great gift God gave you because you can't do things decently and in order! Just how holy are you, man? And Auntie Marge… what now. Yes—standing up straight—always a reminder—a sign against us of how we could not honour God in this place. What have you done to us! You make me weep. Six days in the week you had… and you still break the Sabbath!
And the Lord said:
Mate, sit down.
Don't you see what God is saying!
Marge is more important than the rules! Marge is more important than the commandments.
If I didn't heal her then, right when I saw her, what would God have said to me? Maybe:
Jesus… what are you doing? There's a woman there hurting. She loves me. She's given the leader of this synagogue her life… and you're not healing her yet because it’s the Sabbath!? Jesus… the Sabbath was created for Marge and her nephew! It's there for their healing and restoration!
That synagogue isn't there to make me look pretty, you know-- that's what God would say-- I don't need them to tell me how good I am, or to pretend how good they are. I already know how much they want to love me, and how hard they find it to be something like the people they want to be. It's there for them! I'm here for them!
I love them, not liturgy and hymns and a tidy church. Bugger the rules…get back in there and heal her now— on the Sabbath.
That's what God would say to me, because God loves us before anything else. If I don't heal on the Sabbath it's like I'm giving God the finger!
And the leader of the synagogue can hardly stay in his chair:
You can't talk like that! We can't break the commandments! Have you any idea what you are saying!?
It says love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength. How can we know how to do that if we don't keep the rules and do what is right? If we just follow our emotions, we'll be all over the place! We'll end up calling black white just to be comfortable, and just so we can feel good. I love Auntie Marge—she's everything I've got since Mary and the kids died—but you broke the rules. You didn't do what is right.
Yes, says Jesus. You are correct. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength. But there is another commandment like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
You can't have one without the other. You're right about us calling black white just to be comfortable. We do it all the time. We justify our prejudices by saying we are doing the right thing and honouring God. We say we are loving God with all heart and mind and soul and strength…but we're not.
We can only love God if we love our neighbour before ourselves. If we do something to someone that we wouldn't want done to us then we are not loving God with all heart and mind and soul and strength. It's that simple. God loves us like that. God breaks the rules for us, and we should break the rules for God—for our neighbours.
And the leader of the synagogue walked home. The old man next door, a reprobate old drunk who was always too hung over to get to Synagogue, was trying to grub out a fig tree that just hadn't come to anything in his front yard... on the Sabbath! Just like him, thought the leader of the synagogue—and stopped...
and thought, "It's a while before lunch. I'll give him a hand."
And Jesus smiled.
And God was glad.
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