Getting Into Shape
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
“She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight.” (Luke 13:11b) I wonder, what causes us to be bent over and in need of healing?
Comedian Bill Maher made a mildly offensive movie a while back (2008) and coined a new phrase: religulous. When religious beliefs and practices become rigid, inflexible and more important than the faith and love they teach, it’s religulous. The unbending religious practices of the synagogue leader made rules more important than people.
Remember, back then people were taught the worship practices of the synagogue were established by God, woven into the very fabric of creation starting with Genesis, and commanded directly by God to Moses in the Ten Commandments. All work was strictly prohibited on the Sabbath. No wonder the synagogue leader got all bet out of shape. Yet, when push comes to shove Jesus says, religious norms must bend to a higher priority, which is the love and care of people. ‘The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
Unfortunately, this religulous synagogue leader is an all too familiar example for us today. How many times in life have we been unbending about the wrong thing and unwilling to play it straight while handing out judgment and condemnation? Notice this angry synagogue leader doesn’t question Jesus directly. Instead he announces his complaint to the crowd. He is triangling. We all do it.
Triangling is when we are upset with someone, a change or a decision but rather than talk directly to the person involved to reach a better understanding, or to find constructive ways of responding to the problem, we tell all of our friends instead hoping our alliance with them will indirectly put sufficient pressure on the problem person to get back in line. Confusion, frustration, and pent up hostility are often the results. For a faith community that purports to be built on the love and grace of God, it’s religulous. It undermines our integrity. Our walk doesn’t match our talk. Our faith community Jesus gets all bent out of shape from what God intends. The same could be said about our families, our workplaces, and our neighborhood. Getting into the right shape, begins with God’s grace, to put right in us what we can’t do for ourselves.
Saint Augustine, echoed centuries later by Martin Luther defined human sin as being incurvatus in se. That’s Latin for saying somehow or other we always manage to become turned and bent inward on ourselves, rather than live outward toward neighbor and God as we were created to be. The story of the unnamed woman her synagogue mirrors our own redemption story. It’s what we do by coming here to worship each week to receive chiropractic treatment of the mind, body and soul. We come to the fountain to experience the word of grace that causes us to stand erect and celebrate our dignity as children of God –again and again and again.
The grace of God through by we are redeemed, returned into shape has made us righteous before God and restored a clean heart within us. Grace has removed the log in my eye so I can see clearly enough to remove the speck in my neighbor’s eye. By grace alone now I can better see what is important to God –not religulous rules about the Sabbath, but God’s people hurting and suffering. Now Jesus encounter with an anonymous woman in some unnamed synagogue makes more sense. We know nothing about her life except that for 18 years an illness bent her body out of shape so that she was unable to look anyone in the eye. She identified people by looking at their feet. “She lived in a posture of forced humility” all the days of her life (CH Spurgeon).
We don’t even know why she was there. Presumably, she had come to the synagogue that day to talk to God, but not to Jesus. Jesus took the initiative. He opened a relationship with this woman whom everyone else in the synagogue would likely have avoided. Is it possible she just didn’t know about Jesus? That seems unlikely. Had she had grown accustomed to her condition? Was it because it was the Sabbath day that she didn’t approach Jesus? Or perhaps, was it that she felt unworthy, too unimportant to command Jesus’ attention? When Jesus called her over to him, he surprised everyone. He said to her, ‘woman, be loosed from your sickness’. He puts his hands upon her. Immediately she stood up, praising God.
Grace is essential to keep our religious life from becoming religulous, our values and morals from becoming self-righteous, our work and striving from the useless pursuit of false idols, and our households and families from being places of pain and abuse. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the institution of marriage should also rest on the gift of God’s abundant and transforming grace.
Today as we pray for God to restore our hearts and minds to their proper shape, we have the honor and pleasure of renewing the marriage vows of Tim and Liesbet Van Gysegem. Tim is a Madam Curie fellow at Northwestern University. Liesbet is enrolled at the Lutheran School of Theology. They are proud parents of their sparkly two-year-old daughter Alex. Nine years ago, when they were college students in their hometown of Brussells Belgium, Liesbet invited Tim over for dinner and suddenly realized she must hurry out to buy some cookware. That night, Liesbet began preparing the meal, but Tim happily took over and finished it. Afterwards, they went for ice cream on a rainy night to meet friends. They began the walk with two umbrellas, but somewhere on the way, they found themselves together under one. Beneath that little hand-held shelter they began to recognize the opportunity for a new partnership upon which they could build their whole life together.
In marriage, two become not one, but not two either. When we make a vow to love one particular person with the same unconditional depth that God loves all creation, it is a daunting project that at it’s best, is a wonderful way to learn the full meaning of love and grace. In loving each other we can be helped to become fully and wholly ourselves. We pledge ourselves to becoming a mirror for each other in which to see everyday the very best in ourselves that God loves, and so be encouraged and inspired by each other to live as our very best selves.
St. John of the Cross described this relationship to grace in his “Spiritual Canticle,” which can be paraphrased:
When you regarded me
Your eyes imprinted your grace in me,
In this, you loved me again,
And thus my eyes merited
To also love what you see in me. . . .
Let us go forth together to see ourselves in your beauty. (by Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation 8/19/16)
From our Lord and savior Christ Jesus we have most certainly learned the right time for grace is never yesterday. It’s not tomorrow, but always today. Ready or not, God is coming to restore our hearts and minds to their proper shape. The transforming power of Christ is at work in our lives and that changes everything.