August 21, 2022

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, by Pastor Lois Pallmeyer, 8/21/2022

Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen.

Now, I want to remind you all that we agreed we wouldn’t need to let Pastor Bradley in on any of the little challenges we faced throughout the last few months as he traveled. We’ll keep some of that under wraps. But you may remember that mid-summer, there was a week or two that we were —  How can I put this? – short-staffed and overwhelmed and running-on-empty and just about at the end of our ropes – and managing Very Well, when we tried to figure out how to make things work when Karen, our office coordinator, would be on vacation.

Karen prepares our bulletins and sends out our weekly emails. So in preparation for her time away, she was showing us files, and sharing URLs, and passwords, and sign-in codes, and we were all tracking all of this information very well, when Kyrstin, our children’s ministry coordinator, calmly suggested, “What if we just didn’t send an email next week?  What if Karen sends an email this week to cover both of the next two weeks and includes all the necessary information there?”

I’ll admit that my heart froze a bit as she said the words, because “WE’VE NEVER DONE IT THAT WAY BEFORE!!” but the more we discussed it, the better it seemed like a grace-filled, easy solution. It was just one of those times that the rule didn’t really serve the situation, and was weighing us down in ways it didn’t need to. As Pastor John Manz used to frequently remind us: Sometimes it’s better to be good, than right.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt; Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy[i].

The commandments are prefaced with a reminder that they are given to people who are no longer enslaved. The people of God receive directions for how to live in their new freedom. As a liberated community, they have the luxury, the privilege to take a day to rest. Sabbath is a gift of freedom, of grace. But we’re remarkably adept at turning gifts into responsibilities; taking that which is meant to be good and forcing it to always be right.

Jesus meets a woman who is bent over by a crippling spirit[ii]. For 18 years, she has been unable to look people in the face, to fully experience the joy of sabbath, to delight in the chance to be seen and to see others. Jesus touches her, setting her free. She is able to stand up and praise God. Others become indignant about the timing of this healing, but Jesus doesn’t allow their disapproval to stop the celebration.

The others are technically right, you know. Jesus could have healed this woman the day before or after, and not attracted criticism. But Jesus sees her on the sabbath, and rather than waiting, shows mercy in the moment. Jesus releases her from pain and restores her to wholeness.

Though it has been 2 ½ years, not 18, since the world entered this new era of isolating, canceling, distancing, pivoting, masking, postponing, many of us have felt burdened by the restrictions. Even though there was much we haven’t been able to do throughout this time, we have had chances to be merciful, to be good. We didn’t need to wait until our masks were off to offer care and connection to those we knew were hurting. We didn’t wait until vaccines were available to offer virtual, online opportunities to share stories. We aren’t waiting for the virus to disappear to worship, to praise, to pray, to gather, as best we can. It hasn’t always felt natural or right. I know that receiving communion at home continues to feel awkward or unmeaningful for some of us.

So I’ve continued to take comfort in the eucharistic prayer that includes the phrase, “We give thanks to you, O Lord God Almighty, not as we ought, but as we are able….[iii]

Perhaps what we’ve done hasn’t always been completely proper, but it has been good to do what we were able to do. And I trust that God has worked even within our stumbling, half-baked attempts, and that Christ has been truly present.

Can we trust that God continues to see us, bent over and stumbling, and comes to touch us with healing, grace, and the freedom to live? Can we trust that God continues to work with us, not waiting until we’ve got things just right, have found the most appropriate time, and are perfectly ready for God’s power in our lives? Can we trust that God comes, simply because God is merciful?

I wonder how many of us are feeling weighed down, quite unable to stand up straight? Society teaches all kinds of strange rules about what God demands or expects of us, and we don’t feel we measure up. Maybe we feel unprepared or unworthy of God’s blessings, carrying shame that others have convinced us is God’s judgment. Maybe you’ve been told that God’s love can’t extend to you because you are somehow different or unique, because you fit outside the norm. But that’s the world’s descriptions you’re carrying on your back, not God’s condemnation. God sees you, dear ones. God claims you as whole and worthy and beautiful and loves you just as you are.

On the other hand, how many of us are weighed down by feelings of superiority and entitlement? We’ve always done the right thing, followed the right rules, come to worship on the correct days and observed the correct seasons. Have we learned to trust our own self-righteousness and abilities in a way that condemns or dismisses others? I wonder whether God could be touching us with gentleness too. I wonder how often Jesus invites me to lift my eyes to see others face-to-face; to let go of my presumptions and prejudice based on the ways they dress, the color of their skin, the shape or ability of their bodies, or the pronouns they prefer, and to recognize them as my siblings.

I wonder whether Jesus is here now, encouraging us into relationship with the people around us, calling us to recognize each one as capable and beloved, teeming with gifts and talents and stories to share with the world.

And what about those who carry the weight of grief or illness in their lives? Maybe they feel unseen, unable to enjoy the gift of Sabbath rest. Could this community be a place of healing and restoration for them? Could we find ways to see those who are hurting, and touch them in acts of kindness or compassion? Could we show mercy to them in their pain, by sitting with the grief, or listening to their story? Could we ease their yoke by making a meal, or running an errand for them? Are there ways we could be restorers of the breach in their lives?

Can we hear that message for ourselves? Sometimes I allow the burdens I feel obligated to carry to weigh me down so heavily, I miss the chances God gives me to rejoice.

The last few Wednesday nights have been chances for absolute joy. After not having had opportunities to gather for Vacation Bible School at Gloria Dei for three summers, our youth and children’s ministry staff have put together weekly all-generation gatherings for fun and learning in the park. It’s been so good to be with others, some who haven’t felt safe being back at Gloria Dei at all since the pandemic began. It’s been delightful to sing, connect, and laugh with each other.

It would have been easy to convince myself that I didn’t need to go. I could have told myself there were more important tasks to address which couldn’t be ignored, and that my presence at the park wasn’t exactly essential. After all, Kyrstin and Katie have had a fabulous plan set up, and they’ve carried out all of the work completely on their own. I’ve had plenty of other things to do with my time.

But what a gift I would have missed if I had sat it out. I’ve been so cheered by seeing children and their families playing together, and by having time to sit and visit with people I normally haven’t taken the time to talk with.

Jesus frees those of us bent over. Whether we are weighed down with the burdens of obligation or expectation, judgementalism, worry, illness, grief or anxiety, Jesus touches us and makes us whole.

Daughters of Abraham, lift up your hearts. Sons of Sarah, Children of God’s promise, raise your heads high, and see that God has set you free. When we lift that heavy yoke, the ancient prophet sings[iv], when we refrain from pointing the finger and speaking of evil, we discover that we can live in places of rest and refreshment.

Maybe we’ve never done it this way before, but when God’s grace flows through us to serve the needs of people around us, to feed the hungry, to care for those who are afflicted, the fullness of life God has in store for all creation becomes real to us. When we sense God’s freeing grace in our lives, we restore that which is broken, we experience healing in our bones, and repair the community around us. When we remember that sometimes it’s better to be good than to be right, we share the love of God for all people.

After all, as Pastor John reminded us, Jesus didn’t teach about the Right Samaritan, but the Good Samaritan, the Good Shepherd, the Good Soil, the Good Wine, the Good News. Good friends, go and do likewise.  Thanks be to God. Amen

[i] Exodus 20:8

[ii] Luke 13:10-17

[iii] “Great Thanksgiving II,” Setting One, Evangelical Lutheran Worship Pew Edition, Holy Communion Setting One, © 2006 Augsburg Fortress. p. 109.

[iv] Isaiah 58:9b-14