Daughter of Abraham, Child of God, August 25

Daughter of Abraham, Child of God

Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church; August 25, 2019

 

I’ll start out today with a true confession: Rules are not my favorite things in the world. I admit, however, that they have their usefulness. At their best, rules are a tool that works toward equality. If everyone knows what’s going to work and how to proceed, then no one person needs to be shouting orders all the time and insisting on running the show. Of course, it matters who makes the rules. In ancient Israel, the rules were given by God so, in theory, there wasn’t much need of any one person lording it over others. Everyone knew what behavior was expected and so faced life on an equal basis with others, more or less. But if you add in human nature and the tendency of some people to claim power even when they needn’t; then include the Roman soldiers everywhere who wanted connections to the people whom they could trust to enforce their power, well, the hierarchy of power begins to infiltrate even the purest of systems. And rules begin to be used as tools of coercion instead of tools of adhesion.

 

Jesus grew up in the midst of this culture, of rules with good intent and less-than-perfect manifestation. He knew the scriptures well, the words on which the rules were based; he quotes scripture often in his conversations with the Pharisees and with the people and the disciples. But Jesus knows, too, that behind the rules, behind the words of the text, lies God, and God’s love is at the heart of the life which we are meant to live. It’s an obvious truth – that God’s love takes precedence over an attempt to put that love into limited language, but so often we forget. No, it’s not just ‘they’ who forget. We forget.

 

Yes, I know. I've read the gospels. I know that Jesus is the good guy and the leaders of the temple and the Pharisees who argue with Jesus are the bad guys, in general. But the man who objected to Jesus’ healing that day had a point, sort of. The law that asks people to observe the Sabbath as a day without work is a good law. It has encouraged people to live a balanced life for themselves and for their workers for thousands of years. Here, however, the enforcer of the law oversteps the law’s purpose. Jesus is unafraid to act as love demands, and he names his logic of love publicly and clearly and wins the public debate on the issue. How does he win the argument so quickly and decisively? By the use of a name, identifying the woman in pain as a daughter of Abraham, a child of God.

 

The leader addresses the crowd about the woman – who didn't do the healing, mind you, nor did she even ask for it. She simply came to the gathering of the people of God as she was wont to do. Jesus sees her and heals her. The leader of the congregation doesn't speak to the woman, nor to Jesus, but addresses the issue sideways, as it were. Jesus takes the issue on directly. He names the woman who was suffering, Daughter of Abraham, a sister of everyone there, a valuable, cherished child of God. This isn't a new appellation, but it is a pointed reminder. She isn't just a distant example or a statistic; she isn’t an example of what not to do; she is woman who is in constant pain, a real, loved and loving woman, a daughter of Abraham, and healing her is not work but freedom.

 

Rick and I went to see the Traveling Wall on Friday. It’s a re-creation of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. It’s set up at Catskill Point for this weekend, a model of the one in D.C., 3/5 the size.  And it’s powerful. It’s very long, naming the many people who died in and from that very long war in most of our lifetimes. Its size touches you first. But it’s the names that really matter. Our minds struggle to comprehend what so many deaths mean. Our hearts remember whom we knew, or whom we’ve heard stories about, and then we know. There’s a table inside the pavilion with volunteers to help you find someone in particular. Rick's childhood friend Jim Greene is on the wall; they were born the same night in Auburn hospital, on either side of midnight and they shared birthday parties growing up. They attended Sunday School together at the Auburn Methodist Church for years. Terry Rowcroft retired last year from running Head Start here at Catskill UMC; her husband Michael Rowcroft is on the wall at 44 East. If you know someone on the wall, it ceases being only a beautiful piece of art and it becomes something more. The power of the memorial itself is its insistence that the individuals we remember matter. That’s Jesus’ point in the gospel as well. This woman, this daughter of Abraham, is too important to be set aside because of the law, even an excellent law. God’s love is for each of us, for every name on that wall and for every struggling bent-over woman on the streets of New York or in the halls of The Pines.

 

Yesterday was the four-hundredth anniversary of the landing in Hampton, Virginia, of The White Lion, an English pirate ship with human beings captured from Africa. The captain of The White Lion traded his prisoners for food from the settlers, and slavery was established on what is now the land of the United States of America. People who claimed the name of Jesus -- who said he came to set the captives free -- decided they could own other people. It is a harsh and dreadful part of history that is commemorated this weekend, one that touches all of us, even if we’ve lived all our lives in New York State, far from the South. Slavery was practiced here in New York; Sojourner Truth was born as a slave just down the Hudson River, outside of New Paltz. Most Americans throughout our history didn’t own slaves. But our economy was built on the slave trade, and on the goods and commodities grown and manufactured by slaves. The universities we respect, the traditions we revere, the history we learn and honor here in New York and throughout the Northeast, even many of our churches owe their wealth and longevity to decisions and traditions tied to slavery. There is no washing our hands from the horror that slavery was and the wealth that it stole from the slaves and their descendants. Yet it is not only in sorrow and shame that we mark this anniversary; those who were brought here as slaves are part of our history and we celebrate their presence and gifts as part of who we are as Americans, just as we celebrate Americans who came from Poland and from Italy, from England and from Ireland, from Japan and from Sweden and from Brazil, from Germany, from India. We are a strong and proud nation of native peoples and of immigrants from all over the globe, learning together to live out our freedom and hope. Those who came as slaves, like those who died in Vietnam, were individuals, each of them. They had names from their own land, given to them by their loved ones and by their communities. They were Mamas and Daddies, friends and cousins, writers and philosophers, teachers and midwives. They were brought across the ocean in huge numbers, and their individuality and names were deliberately forgotten by those who called themselves Christian. They were in pain and seen only as tools for getting work done, when they were each daughters and sons of Adam and Eve, made in God’s image. Like Jesus, like the woman he healed, like each one of us: beloved and cherished, valued and named.

 

Slavery is not legal in this country anymore, for which we give thanks. Facing difficult parts of our shared history is not pleasant, just as facing our own sin and brokenness is not pleasant. But it is truthful, and Jesus said we should know the truth and the truth will set us free. The heart of the truth that Jesus declares is the love of God for each and every one of us.

 

What Jesus sees in today’s story is that this woman is in pain and he heals her. He names her as a sister in the faith, a daughter of Abraham, who deserves to be free from her pain. There is an onus is on us to offer the freedom we have to share – the freedom of love and caring and compassion, the freedom of life and liberty, the gift of food and money and a willingness to share friendship. It's up to us to let Jesus remind us, and often, that people we see who suffer are real, cherished brothers and sisters. We are called act as Jesus acted, to alleviate their pain. May we let our hearts be so moved. Amen.

 

Jeremiah 1:4-10

4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

 

Psalm 71:1-6 (UMH 794)

In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;

incline your ear to me and save me.

Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress,

to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,

from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.

Upon you I have leaned from my birth;

it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.

My praise is continually of you.

 

Hebrews 12:18-29

18You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20(For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.”21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;29for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

 

 

 

Luke 13:10-17

10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And 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. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But 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.” 15But 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? 16And 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?” 17When 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.