August 25, 2019

Pentecost 11C

To Free from Bondage

GOSPEL

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.  Luke 13:10-17

 

SERMON

In this morning’s gospel story Jesus moves unbidden but with a sense of urgency to free a woman from physical bondage. The body of this daughter of Abraham had been bent over for nearly twenty years.  She could only see the ground beneath her feet and she was unable to look anyone in the eye. Can you imagine the awfulness of your own having to walk this way for a few days much less for half your life?

Stories of freeing people from bondage of all forms make regular appearances in the scriptures, as well they should, because this is, after all, the meta-story of the whole of salvation history as recorded in the bible.  

The Exodus liberation event and the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which are presented in the New Testament, as that Old Testament act of liberation on steroids, define the essence of the story of redemption and specify this as being God’s primary agenda for His people.  What’s it all about? God’s involvement and loving relationship with us is all about being set free from anything and everything that would constrain life both now and forever. God wills and acts to set us free. 

The scriptures again and again invite us to consider the many ways we bind ourselves and bind others, to reflect upon our capacity to become slaves and to enslave others and to repent of our doing so. Not that we might thereby overwhelm ourselves with an appreciation of our sorry state but that we might submit ourselves to the God who is always both ready, willing, and able to set us free and also eager to release the other from our inappropriate domination and control. 

Yes, if we are going to completely honest, we are not only inclined but also able to make ourselves slaves of our appetites and desires and to shackle others to serve those very same appetites and desires.  We do so with greater regularity than we may care to acknowledge and own.  

Is not the whole of our personal, interpersonal, social, economic and political culture structured in terms of power and control?   Our relationships, on all fronts, are more often than not transactional as opposed to loving. We surrender the best in ourselves to satisfy the worst in ourselves.  We take to have and we give to get.    

It was announced on Friday that a powerful billionaire had died.  He died, as the Amazonian rain forest, the ecological lungs of planet earth is engulfed in flames.  This billionaire, was a climate change denier, and made his fortune from an industry that has prime responsibility for global warming – the fossil fuel industry.   He was an icon of libertarian self interest. He cared about no one but himself and his own. He lived in bondage to greed. And he used his wealth to further insure the control that the super rich have over every aspect of human life and well-being, to the undoing of both of these for the majority of God’s children.     

Again this past week, the animus to deny people their freedom and place them in bondage struck a darker note as the administration announced its intentions to undo the Flores agreement of 1997 which set a twenty day limit on the amount of time the government could detain migrant children.    

In the name of maintaining the integrity of the immigration system, officials dispassionately announced new rules that would allow federal officials to detain minors past the 20-day detention limit.  Removing the time essentially amounts to allowing unlimited incarceration of children and families.

Detaining children is never in their best interest and ignores the fact that medical experts all agree that short and long term detention damages a child’s physical and mental health. This careless new ruling places children’s lives at risk.  It is child abuse.

It is like putting the wolf in charge of the sheep, and child deaths while under U.S. custody show the danger of allowing this change in policy to take place.

While this move is expected to be challenged in court and various faith groups have where quick to condemn it, given the reality of a morally bankrupt Senate and a ethically compromised Supreme Court, we can not allow ourselves to be certain that the requirements of basic humanity will be secured by the present system and its players.  

People of conscience must strongly condemn this latest attack in the unceasing war on immigrants and bring pressure on the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services to work with, rather than against, compassion-based agencies and organizations to develop a sane, sound and safe plan that respects the rights and dignity of all of God’s children.

A group of nuns working at the border said that the administration had effectively announced that they’d like to be able to keep children in cages forever. Whatever grandiose notions we might have about our own goodness and greatness must come face to face with depth of the evil that we are apparently prepared to meet out and allow to be perpetrated upon the most vulnerable among us.  

The prophet Isaiah cried out, “Remove the yoke of oppression, offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.  Then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”

In response to the blowback He received from the powers that be, because He broke the law in order to free a woman from bondage, Jesus effectively said, “To hell with your laws.  They are of no interest to God, if they do not grow you into being more deeply human.  As important as it is, you cannot keep even the most important law of Sabbath observance with any integrity if you do not attend to the work of undoing yokes of bondage and setting people free.”

The voice of the prophets and the voice and actions of the Maker and Inspiration of Prophets, from the beginning and into the present moment, are clear.  The Torah, the Hebrew Scriptures, the Christian scriptures and the Quran, all require that we must welcome, protect and offer hospitality to those in need.  To do otherwise is to be, as Jesus pronounces, hypocrites. It is to say that we believe, but to act as if we have no faith at all.  

There are not good people on both sides of such actions. To place innocent people into bondage is evil.  To set innocent people free is the work of God and God’s work for us to do and to do with as much energy and passion as we can muster.  

The Rev. Frank G. Alagna

August 25, 2018