The Rev. Deacon Sherm Everett’s sermon from August 21, 2016
“ … He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight”
The woman does not call attention to herself, crying out, “Christ, have mercy on me.”
Jesus notices her, and calls out to her,
Our gospel passage tells us a story of a woman who is burdened.
This woman is weighed down under the circumstances of her life.
As we explore this passage, some of you might want to call to mind your burdens.
What weighs you down?
What makes you feel defeated?
What are those things in your life that sap your strength and vitality, and your energy?
Some of us look to our future and see nothing but a question mark.
Some of us may have a dysfunctional friend or relative who completely drains us.
In Matthew, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
What hope does he offer to us?
The woman in the story is freed from her physical affliction, but we live every day with the painful fact that life is difficult.
Must we live the rest of our lives with these burdens of having an dysfunctional family?
Of living with attention deficit disorder?
Of being the social outcast?
Where is our peace?
The peace that Christ brings works for us right here and now.
Jesus frees us to be more than our burdens.
So many people let their burdens define them, and they are bound to these definitions.
In effect, their lives become centered around the nucleus of their burden, and they shape their whole identity around that burden.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In the presence of Christ we always have a new hope.
We’re not just some poor player strutting on the stage of life until the curtain comes down. We’re children of God.
Can we be “burdened” if we consider ourselves as “the body of Christ”.
What about those who believe?
And what about the lay and ordained bringing the word ,as they understand it?
I think it quite significant that Jesus, in refuting the leader of the synagogue, calls the woman a “daughter of Abraham.”
She has an identity that is greater than her burdens – it’s the identity that gave her hope during those 18 years of suffering, and that was the identity of being a child of her Abraham,
the identity of being special to God.
Our burdens don’t define the limits of who we are.
This “Aha” came clear to me when I was getting to know some of the patients I spent time with as a clinical chaplain. It was even more profound when I asked a patient addicted to heroin, what it was like being a heroin addict? She corrected me, “I’m not a addict. I’m a woman with a drug disease.”
“I’m not a addict. I’m a woman with a drug disease.”
We must love ourselves and recognize ourselves as children of God.
“I’m not a paraplegic. I’m a child of God in a wheelchair.”
“I’m not an alcoholic. I’m a child of God who struggles with an alcohol disease.”
“I’m not a social outcast. I’m a child of God who exists on the fringes.”
We may feel weighed down by our burdens, but Christ sees us as so much more. Christ sees us as a work in process, and he calls out to us, “Come rest in me and be free.”
The whole point behind this issue of identity is that Christ offers us freedom to be children of God. Children of God, blessed with God’s purpose.
The world can burden us. The world can weigh us down and abuse us. The world can even take away our life. But it can’t take away our freedom – the freedom to live in the body of Christ.
The word that has come to Rowan Hans Sommer, a candidate for baptism this morning, has, as its source, the same word that came to Jeremiah, and that same word that has come to all of us.
That Word of the Lord that comes to us states pretty clearly that God’s knowledge of us precedes conception.
God’s plans for us are taking shape even as we are, and before we ever see the light of day.
Jeremiah is told that he has been consecrated for his task from the womb. God has set him aside for a particular purpose. In this case that purpose is tied to the need for a prophetic voice midst growing unrest that would threaten and ultimately lead to the destruction of the temple, and the exile of his people to Babylon.
It is also evident that we need to think about how God knows us before we even know ourselves. God’s call is why we baptize, because we are told that God’s purposes, God’s call on our lives, exists from the very beginning.
It turns out we don’t have to wait until we’re older, until we’re grown up, to know that in God our lives are given their meaning and their purpose.
As a child I can remember thinking how great things would be once I was a grown up, all the things I’d finally be able to do. It’s one of the great ironies of life that we spend most of our youth this way, playing dress-up and imagining what it will be like when our lives are our own to do with as we like. When we reach adulthood more often than not we spend the rest of our lives trying to reclaim our lost youth.
One of the reasons I think we resist adulthood is tied to that question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Because if we concede that we are in fact grown up, then that means it is time to come up with an answer to the question. We insist, “I can’t be a grown up, I still haven’t figured out what I want to be.”
We can’t really do anything about the steady march of time that pulls us into adulthood.
So the main problem with that age-old question “what” is that it assumes that we have lost contact with our spiritual compass and moral guide.
To ask someone what they want to be assumes first that what we want is of primary importance and second that we have it within us to be whatever we want.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that a person should be in any way denied the opportunity to pursue their interests or a dream. Every four years the Olympic coverage is chock full of fantastic stories about athletes and their families who have pursued such dreams all the way to the games. I grew up with the self-imposed message that I could accomplish whatever I put my mind to. I’m grateful for the encouragement and support from people along the way, and their words certainly instilled in me a confidence that has served me well. But the fact is that they weren’t entirely right. There are limits to what any of us is capable of. That is what it means to be human, to be finite.
We are, truth be told, capable of many things that we don’t often give ourselves credit for, or give credit to the grace and blessings of God.
There are, after all, limits to what we can will for ourselves. And maybe the genuine curiosity that drives us to ask, “What do you want to be,” would be better served by asking instead, “What does God have in mind? What are God’s plans? What and where, in this point in time, is God calling us be?”
And that is why we place such importance on remembering our baptism, remembering that God has claimed our lives. It is a claim that often calls us beyond those aspirations we may or may not have for ourselves. While the particular life that God is calling us to may not be anywhere near as dramatic as Jeremiah’s, it is no less terrifying to consider that the creator of a universe of such vast history and sheer size has us in mind; has called you and me into this world to fulfill God’s own purpose.
Considering the size of such a universe we might be tempted to downplay the worth of whatever small contribution we can make, limited as we are. Jeremiah himself wasn’t so sure. “I don’t know how to preach like a prophet, I’m still wet behind the ears.” But God will have none of it. God will have none of our excuses. It turns out that none of those human limits, those real and/or maybe perceived burdens that we so often run up against are beyond the power of God to overcome.
In fact, it is those very same limits that create the opportunity for God’s glory to be seen through us.
God has called us to guide and nurture these children in their baptism so that they might discover how they have been called.
Jeremiah’s call is over nations and kingdoms. He is sent out into the world, because while the church may be the place we come to discover the purpose God has for us, that purpose is ultimately out there in the world.
And each of us has our part to play. As the author Eugene Peterson puts it, “There are no spectator seats for the drama of salvation. There is no “bench” for incompetent players.” The purposes of God touch every single aspect of our lives not just the so-called “spiritual” parts.
In order to hear and follow God’s purpose for us we too must be fearless in pulling down, destroying and overthrowing all the excuses that keep us from building, planting and being who it is God has called us to be.
As our poet Rumi exclaims: “There is No end to the journey — No end, no end to the journey
in every moment, you will die into me, to be reborn.”