Trinity 10 2022
There are three things I want to talk to you about briefly this morning.
Firstly – there’s a message for the Israel of Jesus’ time – a message just as much for us.
Secondly – something about being normal
And lastly – keeping Sabbath.
So we begin with the message for those who already consider themselves God’s people as Jesus speaks. What am I talking about?
It’s a story about a woman whose body is broken and restricted – suffering from some kind of condition for 18 years that means that she is bent double. Some translations read that she had a ‘spirit of weakness’ which probably means they just didn’t know why she was as she was.
Imagine for a moment if you will what it would be like to live your everyday life bent double. Most of us have something going on with our bodies that we didn’t have going on when we were younger – something that hurts, or doesn’t work right anymore – and we adapt and work round. But this lady is bent double. It would be something that affected every waking moment – that changed the way you performed every simple task.
Most of you came here today in a car. You would be unable to get into a standard car seat or drive a car.
You would be unable to rest your head on a pillow next to the head of another person.
As you moved through the world, you would be unable to look another human being in the eye, unable to avoid some obstacles – what you could see, of your own body, your own self and of the world as you moved throughout it would be restricted.
Perhaps after years of this persistently changed point of view you would come to think of the things you can see as more important than the things you can’t – find it hard to picture the world, your own self and your place in the wider world as they really are.
Why do people think this is a message for the whole nation, to all those who surround Jesus and not just something about this one lady?
Because she is a daughter of Abraham. On this sabbath day she is not to be found anywhere else, but in the synagogue. Despite her experience she has come to the synagogue – the place of learning – the place where the scriptures can be heard on this sabbath day.
Those who consider themselves God’s people at this point – the children of Abraham – are still listening to the scriptures all right – but the suggestion is that the entire culture has something in common with the individual whose condition we have just imagined for ourselves. It is tied up and bound, unable to see where it is going, restricted to peripheral glances of what is really going on.
And worse than that, the suggestion is that they have twisted the law so badly that it is actually preventing them hearing the kingdom message – of a grace that is deeper than rules blindly followed. They look for the same message they have always heard, and stop themselves from experiencing the new covenant which has always been part of God’s promise to them and all God’s children.
This leads us to our second idea – the idea of being religious – and being normal – being normally religious – religiously normal – something like that anyway – and this works on many levels.
Every church I have ever been part of, as a congregant or as a clergy person, has thought that it was a perfectly normal C of E church. That the way they do things is the normal way – what everyone does. But maybe just a smidgen better – because our church is so beautiful and our community are so lovely. Literally every single church – the place I grew up, the churches I attended in other parts of the country as I got older, placement churches. Every single one – totally normal with a tiny stardust sprinkling of “the way we do it is the best way of course”.
The furious leader in the Synagogue, getting on with his normal, has a particular view on what normal on the sabbath looks like. But just like my experiences of every normal church that did things a bit differently – we know from the Qumran documents that the contemporary Jewish communities around Jesus all had slightly different normals. Jesus talks about untying and Ox and leading it to water – some folks would have thought this was OK on a sabbath – others wouldn’t even have thought that was OK.
I think we are all zealous defenders of our claim to normality – we do not want to be odd, different or weird.
We – and by we I mean humans in general – justify our decisions and our opinions by what seems to be acceptable to those around us too – what seems normal. And in our contemporary world – as in Jesus time – this can be surprisingly malignant. How many people are supporting the rising again of Donald Trump because it’s what seems normal where they are? How many of us have absolutely zero expectation of integrity, morality and work for the common good in the political life of our nation because the opposite seems to have become normal? How many of our children think that the decisions we make in life are meant to be guided and governed by financial self-interest above all else because that seems normal?
There are many many competing normals out there, just as there were as Jesus spoke in the synagogue – and they are not by any means all benign.
As Christians we discern our normal via an extraordinary yard stick – one which has nothing to do with seeing which way the wind is blowing, popularity, political populism or legalistic quibbling. As Anglicans we understand our normal to be rooted in our scripture, our traditions, our reason and experience. But all this is touched not by stardust, but by Jesus. As the simplest touch from Jesus transformed a woman’s life and she was driven to praise God – so we are touched and transformed.
If we must, as seems to be our human nature, seek to create a normal, an ordinary, a standard way of doing things – then it is Jesus and nothing else that is our standard. Jesus is our living rule.
Then lastly – Sabbath. Let it not be heard today that true sabbath rest is not important – it really is.
Some of us here are old enough to remember when there were no shops open on a Sunday – when the pubs closed on Sunday afternoons. There was nothing to do but family stuff and God stuff because it was the Sabbath. And if you needed a pint of milk for the Yorkshire puddings you thanked God for our Muslim brothers and sisters whose shops were open.
Things have changed – I could rant that being able to shop on any day of the week hasn’t really done any of us any favours. But I think if I did, I’d be a bit too much like that synagogue leader in the Gospel, having lost sight of the deeper Sabbath that Jesus has just offered this woman. After 18 years of constant suffering he has given her Sabbath rest. A rest that isn’t on a human timetable – dependent on our calendar – it’s on God’s time.
We could wander round Huddersfield telling everyone to stop work and to get to church because it’s Sunday – but would that be keeping sabbath – gifting rest to the shift workers, the shop workers, the folks who share custody of the kids and have limited weekend options, the grandparents who go to see their families at the other end of the country? Or would it be using the outward appearance of faith to beat those people up with? Would it speak of our faith in God’s grace, of God’s love, of God’s desire to meet people were they are as he met that woman?
Sabbath isn’t a day of the week – or an hour of the week when we come to church. Sabbath is a state of mind. It is a time and a space that we find to be with God and if we can to be with other people who want to be with God too. We find our faith, our meaning and our purpose as human beings loved by God in community. A little more of what a Jesus kind of normal looks like.
Let us pray:
Jesus Christ – word and saviour –
transform and heal with your loving touch all that is broken and distorted in our lives –
guide us in our word and action to live a normality formed and shaped by your words and actions –
help us to connect with your true sabbath rest and to share that sabbath with others.
In the power of the Spirit and the love of our creator we pray to you,
saviour and word – Christ Jesus. Amen.