Have you found yourself feeling bent over lately? Perhaps you feel bent over because you knew and loved Will or Judy or John, three of our active members who died in the past two weeks. Or because you're grieving someone else who has died, whether recently or a long time ago. Maybe you feel bent over because of being unemployed or underemployed; bent over from taking care of a sick loved one or because you are that sick loved one. Maybe your feeling bent over from watching the news on TV and seeing all of the pictures of refugees caught in battles that aren't their own; children getting torn apart because adults are acting foolishly. There are so many reasons for us to be bent over these days.
In the Gospel of Luke we hear of a Sabbath day when Jesus is in the synagogue. And there is a woman who is bent over. Luke tells us that she has been bent over for eighteen years-- a generation-- long enough for people to not remember what she was like before. She hasn't been able to stand up straight for eighteen years. She's the kind of person that is usually overlooked-- isn't really seen at all. And yet somehow, Jesus sees her. Even though the synagogue was most likely separated with the women on one side and the men on the other side, Jesus still sees her. Even though she doesn't ask for help or healing, Jesus still sees her. Even though she's so far away that Jesus calls to her to come to him-- Jesus still sees her. He sees her condition, he sees that she can be healed; he sees her.
What the crowd must've been thinking as she shuffled over to him, we will never know. The barriers he broke just by calling out to her-- he, a man, and she, a woman, are quite amazing. And then, for everyone to watch as she slowly shuffled over to him, and then as she got near him, he said to her, "Woman, you are set free." And he laid his hands upon her and she stood up and looked him in the eye and began to praise God.
"You are set free" he says. What powerful words. And it is at this moment that Luke chooses to introduce us to the other person in the story who is bent over. He's not physically bent over, he is the synagogue leader-- he is supposedly physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fit enough to lead the people of the synagogue. And yet it is here, when she has been set free, that we see his wounds exposed. For he immediately begins telling the crowd, "There are six days to be healed. Come on those days. It is not right to be healed on the Sabbath day."
This is a man who is supposed to be sharing God's Word with the people. This is a man who has the power to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God. And yet when everyone else is rejoicing over their sister who is now free, all he can say is that they've done it wrong. He doesn't address Jesus, the one who did the healing; the one who called out the woman. Instead, he blames the woman for being healed and makes sure everyone else knows that they shouldn't expect the same. This man is bent over; he is captured in a box of his own making-- a box that is so small with the rigidity of the law, that he is not able to rejoice in a miracle of God.
My friends, we are all in need of healing in a lot of different ways. We are all in need of being freed by the living Christ, so that we can live lives of wholeness. And it's not about who needs it more.
I remember in college I went to an open house for a Christian group on campus. We played a couple of games and had a short Bible study and then closed by praying together. The leader invited people to share anything they wanted prayer for in their lives and when it went around the circle, one of the men said he didn't like to pray for himself because he saw it as selfish. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until years later, but what I felt for that man in that moment, was pity. When we are unable to name the hurt that we have with others, we not only often are unable to have compassion for others' pain, but we block off any connection that others can have with us.
Just two weeks ago I was at a leadership training in Mankato and one thing we were examining was how the pain we have experienced in our lives fuels what we are passionate about today. A young white man got up and shared his pain of being unemployed when he graduated even though he was at the top of his class. How difficult it was for him to not be able to add income to his household with his wife. How ashamed he was when he had to ask his parents for money. As he spoke, he began to shake, reliving the shame of that time in his life. He said he had been afraid to share his pain because it seemed so small compared to what others in the world face. Then a young black woman stood up. She said, "There is no reason to compare people's pain. The levels of injustice may not be the same, but the feeling of pain is the same. And now that you have shared that, I can see that you are my brother. And I can share my struggle and my freedom with you."
How often do we keep ourselves bent over because we do not feel worthy of even having pain, let alone being healed from it. How often do we go through this life with our heads down, looking at our feet because the shame we feel keeps us from standing up. But it is exactly for these reasons that we need to come to Jesus and ask for healing. It is precisely because we are told by this world that we don't have a right to our pain, that we need to name it out loud and come to Jesus and be healed. Christ doesn't want us to bear this load on our own. God does not ask that we bury our pain or make excuses for it or see it as something that we have to carry as penance. Instead, Christ welcomes us with open arms-- even when we, like the bent over woman, do not ask for healing. Christ welcomes us with open arms-- even when we, like the synagogue leader are trapped in our own excuses as to why God can't heal us. Christ welcomes us with open arms and says to us, "Come to me all who are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "You are set free."
So I want to invite you, this morning, to come forward during our prayer time. You may have something specific you want healing for-- something physical or a relationship that needs healing or some shame that you have been holding on to for too long. You also may not even know why you are coming forward, and that's okay. Sometimes we don't even know what we need until we dare to encounter Jesus and let Jesus tell us that we are free from it. Sometimes, we need to come and place ourselves in God's care, let someone else pray over us, and be healed from something we thought we'd already been healed from a long time ago. Whatever the case may be, you are invited to come.
You don't have to be bent over forever. Jesus longs to set you free.