The Gospel: Luke 13:10-17
Now Jesus 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. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Our Gospel reading this morning is full of possibilities for preaching several different great messages. But I am going to leave those possibilities for a few minutes and we are going to look at our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah.
Here we have Jeremiah's call, his anointing by the Lord and his being appointed a prophet. Woven into this is the record is Jeremiah's doubts and his struggle to see how or why the Lord would want to call him. Jeremiah's response to his call is similar to several other calls to ministry that are recorded throughout the Old Testament. In fact, there is a clear pattern from those who are called by the Lord to serve him.
You might call it the "who me?" "why me?" "Can't you see how imperfect I am for what you are calling me to do?" response. Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, and several others of "the great leaders and prophets" in the Old Testament responded in basically the same way.
They couldn't understand why God was choosing them and they had all kinds of reasons why someone else would be better at the job than them. I preached a sermon once on Moses' call to ministry which I titled: "Here I am Lord, send my brother." Moses spent so much of his time in that initial conversation with the Lord trying to convince God to send his brother Aaron.
In the story of Jeremiah, which we read this morning, we see that God speaks to the inadequacy that Jeremiah feels and assures him that the Lord can and will work with him and through him to accomplish the task God is calling him to.
One of the things I believe we need to consider as we hear these stories is that we usually understand the people we read about as the complete person we know at the end of their story. We tend to skip over the initial call dialogue. We brush aside their protestations and their lack of confidence and assurance. We want to get to the part where we can see all that they accomplished. It is true that in the end most of them have accomplished something of what God was hoping for. They seem more assured and confident of who they are and what they have achieved.
We need to remind ourselves that they got to be that complete person after many experiences. They have been through a series of successes, but also through failures and struggles. All of this has taken time. They have had to wait and allow time for the Lord's work in their lives. They have been shaped and their character has been developed by the situations and the people that they have had to deal with.
We need to recognize how the Lord has influenced and recreated these people. Who they have become is sometimes radically different from who they are when we first meet them. We have to allow for the time that has passed in these people's lives.
In the contemplative branch of spirituality in the church, this is known as "the slow work of God."
We all know folks who find their faith best expressed in a contemplative approach to faith right? They enjoy silence, they don't mind being alone, and they are willing to set aside time to just sit with an idea or a thought and allow the Holy Spirit to lead them in plumbing the depths of a concept.
I have to admit I admire people like that, but I also have to acknowledge that I am not one of them. I would think that after me being a part of this community for almost seven years most of you would recognize that about me as well. If you want to know more about it you could have a chat with Steve Terry or Sue Cameron, or the ladies who work in the front office here at Christ Church.
Now there are times when I can reign myself in and I can discipline myself to take time and engage in prayer about decisions and directions. But, usually, I tend to move a little more quickly than that. I think a better Scriptural example of my type of spirituality is the Centurian in Luke 7. The one who sends people to ask Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus sets out to visit his house the Centurian sends messengers to say that Jesus doesn't need to come he just has to give the word. You all know that section of Scripture right: "I am a man under authority, I tell some to go and he goes, I tell someone to come and comes."
But I digress. The "slow work of God" is something that I believe we could all benefit from spending more time getting to know about and understanding better. We live in a world where we are very caught up in getting what we want when we want it! And more often than not we want it now!
How often are we willing, even when it comes to spiritual things, to invest time in prayer? How often do we recognize a need, shoot up a quick prayer to God to meet the need, and then when nothing seems to be happening step up and work out our own solution?
I have to say that I am challenged by this thought today. Today we read in Luke's Gospel the story of the woman who Jesus finds in a synagogue. She has carried this ailment for 18 years. 18 years! It appears that Jesus provides an immediate solution to her problem. He simply declares that she has been made well and he lays his hands on her. She immediately stands up straight and begins praising God.
Let's think about this for a moment, Jesus encounters this woman - who has been waiting for 18 years - and he doesn't ask her anything, he just heals her.
What does that tell us about this woman's character? Why hasn't she given up expecting to be healed? What does it tell us about her faith? Why has she kept coming back to the synagogue day after day, year after year? For 18 years she has come and then suddenly, miraculously, immediately she is healed.
There are a number of other stories in the Gospels about healings that take place and I was struck as I prepared for this message this morning that many of them contain references to how long the person has suffered from their aliment. It seems like an instantaneous healing, but actually, they have waited years for the Lord to provide their healing.
What can we learn from these stories and how can we apply what we have discovered in our own spiritual lives?
What do we really understand about "the slow work of God" in our own lives as we live right here and right now in Huron?
Sometimes I believe we want to look more closely into questions like the one I just raised and we don't know where to start. I want to assure you you don't need to start from scratch, you don't have to reinvent the wheel.
I would like to offer a suggestion this morning, if you want to learn more about "the slow work of God" perhaps you could research and look into Ignatian Spirituality. Ignatian spirituality, also known as Jesuit spirituality, is a spirituality founded on the experiences of the 16th-century Spanish saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order.
A short description of this approach is outlined in "Finding God in All Things"
Ignatian spirituality challenges us to encounter God in all things, witnessing to the joy of the Gospel. We go forth into the world as contemplatives in action, discerning God’s desire for our lives here, now, and acting on God’s invitation. We are women and men for and with others, hearing both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor—and responding. And we do all for the greater glory of God.
One of the most well-known Jesuits is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He wrote this poem about "the slow work of God."
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
excerpted from Hearts on Fire
Bishops & Father Mike