31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 31, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Video of the Message “Courage to Risk” can be found here: https://youtu.be/Z_Us9Zm54Fo
For eighteen years, her view had mostly been of the floor. For eighteen years, she had been bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. For eighteen years, people had literally looked down on her. Today, though, today was different. Today, when she went to the synagogue to praise God as she had done for eighteen years, today, there was a man there who saw her. A man who saw her pain, a man who saw her hopes, a man who saw her for her whole self.
And Jesus called her over to him, and in front of the whole community, he said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” (Luke 13:12) and then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus healed her. And immediately she stood up and just as she had done for eighteen years, she praised God – however now set free from all that bound her.
For anyone who was there that day, this healing miracle must have been surprising, and yet, if they had heard about Jesus, if they knew about Jesus, they should not have been surprised that he would heal the woman.
They should not have been surprised because at another synagogue on another Sabbath day, in his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus had read from the prophet Isaiah and then boldly and courageously proclaimed that this scripture was fulfilled in their hearing, that it was Jesus’ mission and purpose to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive and to let the oppressed go free.
Jesus fulfilled his calling by physically healing people, and Jesus fulfilled his calling by seeing them. Jesus healed this woman by placing her in the center of the community and naming her as a “daughter of Abraham”, a part of the covenant community, a person of value and great worth. And it is in seeing the woman and in valuing her as a child of God, that Jesus truly releases her from all that has bound her for eighteen years.
It is such a small thing – to look at someone and truly see them, see their hopes and fears, see their joys and sorrows, and value them as children of God, as part of God’s community. Truly, it is such a small thing – and yet, as Jesus goes on to teach, the kingdom, the community of God is built on small things, small things like a mustard seed that someone sows in the garden and it grows so large and all encompassing that there is room for all the birds of the air to be at home.
This calling is not without risk though. In fulfilling his purpose, in releasing this woman from all that had kept her captive for 18 years, Jesus encounters criticism. Over and over again, the leader says to the crowd, ‘He didn’t do it the right way. He didn’t respect our beliefs and process. There are six days on which he could have healed her. Why did he have to choose the Sabbath day?!’
In his book Courage: Jesus and the Call to Brave Faith, Tom Berlin writes about how resistance is pretty common when a person or a community is clear about their purpose, mission and calling. He writes that often when people share their vision for how God is calling them to make the world a better place, others will respond with all of the reasons why that vision is not possible. He writes:
The fearful will soon begin to say, “You don’t have that ability. You’ve never been that smart. People will never support it. The budget could never be reallocated. People don’t want this change. Some people simply cannot change. That is against our policy handbook. You are unrealistic. You are uninformed. You have lost your mind.”
One by one the fear giants are released until you are tempted to lose your courage, your clarity, and your calling. (Courage, Berlin, pg 27)
Essentially, the synagogue leader is saying ‘this is against our policy handbook. You don’t have that ability. You don’t have that authority. You have lost your mind.’ And the synagogue leader is saying it for all of the same reasons that we also offer resistance in the face of someone’s purpose and mission – because releasing the captive and letting the oppressed go free – it changes things. It upsets the status quo. And that makes us anxious.
Jesus does not lose his courage, his clarity, or his calling though in the face of opposition and anxiety. Instead, Jesus reminds the leader that compassion is always the way of God, that healing is a legitimate exception from the restrictions against work on the Sabbath, especially because this woman, because every person, is precious to God.
Building God’s kingdom, building God’s community, a place where people are seen, a place where people are welcomed and included, a place where people are set free from all that binds them, building God’s community is also our purpose and mission, and yet, it is not without risk. We might fail as we try new ministries. We might be (and frankly in the past have been) called out for welcoming and nurturing all. We might be embarrassed or rejected as we try to share the good news of God’s love.
It takes courage to be true to our mission and purpose. It takes courage to welcome people, nurture them, name them as God’s beloved and set them free. It takes courage, especially in the face of resistance and even outright opposition. Building God’s community, a place where people are seen, a place where people are welcomed and included, a place where people are set free from all that binds them, requires risk.
And yet, consider the reward. Imagine how many people in our world are just like the woman? In need of being seen? In need of having their fears and anxieties and pain seen? In need of having their hopes and dreams valued?
Can you imagine how many people need to be seen for the beloved, cherished children of God they are so they can be set free?
It’s all of us. We all need to be seen. We all need to be valued and affirmed. We all need to be set free from that which binds us, and that is why we, as the Church, we, as the body of Christ, give our money, our energy, our hearts, give ourselves to Christ’s mission, so that here in this community and in our world, there might be a place where people are seen, where people are welcomed, where people are included and set free.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us. The Spirit of the Lord is with us, calling us, with acts that might feel risky and bold, with acts that might seem small and insignificant, The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, calling us to see people, to include people, to love them and set them free.