“Expectations and Crippling Spirits” Luke 13:10-17

Expectation can be a crippling load to bear. 

            I remember this bible story from my Sunday School days and the little hand-out pages we were given, some to color, some colored in for us.

The “bent over” woman as she was sometimes called.

 She would be stereotypically portrayed as hunched back, old, crippled, and arthritic.  An unmistakable message conveyed in those worksheets, either intentionally or unintentionally was that this woman was a “burden” in and of herself.

She was portrayed as someone who could not work or contribute. 

She was portrayed as being helpless to change her position, and her position meant that she could not fulfill the expectations of her community.

She could not cook, or clean, or perform any of the duties of the household, all those “expectations” of what it meant to be a person of value as a woman in that society.

 But thinking about it now, maybe it was how women were portrayed in my society of the 1960’s & 70’s, the world of Sunday School Publishing houses and how they portrayed the role of women in the post WWII era.

In any event, the signature feature of the depiction, and of the Gospel writer’s description here is that of a woman whom you could not look in the eye, for “she was quite unable to stand up straight.”

It is a spirit that cripples her, we are told. 

Jesus identifies this as the “Spirit of Satan.”  

For 18 long years this Spirit of Satan, (as Jesus identifies it,) has bound her, crippled her, made it impossible for her to make eye contact with anyone, and has made her unable to stand up straight and praise God.

Now in the Synagogue, in this moment, Jesus takes notice of her, calls her over, acknowledges her and sets her free.

At last able at last to stand up straight, the first thing she does is to begin to praise God.
            You would think this would be a moment of ecstatic joy throughout the Synagogue!   That everyone would be thrilled with what Jesus was doing in their midst.

You would be wrong.

The next thing that happens (we are told) is that a Synagogue leader (unidentified) becomes indignant and begins criticizing Jesus for breaking Sabbath protocols.

Expectation can be a crippling load to bear for all it seems. 

Expectations of how things ought to work can make you miss the power of God being displayed in your very midst, as you focus on what you perceive as being wrong instead of beholding what is so very right about this.

It is right of course to release people from bondage, to release people from the power of Satan.  But Jesus, you know, there are protocols for these things.  There are ways it should be done, six days on which to heal, why break the rules and upset the order?

Why indeed?

As it turns out, what Jesus is engaging here is a long debated point about where the Sabbath laws are properly located and how they are to be understood.

There are those who locate the Sabbath Laws in the matter of the orders of creation.  God creates, takes 6 days, and then takes a day off and commands that to be Sabbath.   Remember it, keep it holy.   Which is interpreted as you must not do ANY work on the Sabbath, it is an afront to God, who rested himself, and who now commands that it be “kept.”

There are others in the community though who locate the Sabbath Laws instead in the context of liberation from the bondage to Egypt. 

The problem back in Egypt, (they reason) was that Pharaoh demanded work from people seven days a week.  You had no leisure for worship.  You had no time to give praise.  No time that was set aside to do things on behalf of your neighbor to release them from their burdens.  

The command to keep the Sabbath is a command to act, not to inhibit action.  God moved to free God’s people!   As you can do the minimum for your own animals, (Jesus reasons here, lead them to water and care for them), should you not also be able to heal, forgive, reconcile, and act on behalf of those in bondage on the Sabbath?

Jesus is clearly here in the camp of acting, keeping Sabbath rightly is liberating those who are oppressed and in bondage, allowing them to worship and give God praise.

In the scriptures this is not a “settled matter.”   The matter of what one does with expectations will come up time and again, and while it may feel like a far-removed matter to us, it is really not, and to drive that home, let me just tickle your imagination with a slight change in how you see the story.

Remember my Sunday School hand-outs? 

What if instead of the hunched back, useless old woman that we have been conditioned to expect, we were to imagine here that Jesus’ words are extended to a young woman, toward an 18 year old?   A young person in the Synagogue who has not been able to express herself or look the leaders in the eye?

            It’s a curious detail of the story, you know, that number of years she has been bound.  How did Jesus know that?   Was there a conversation before the healing?  Or is this “Spirit of Satan” that has been crippling her simply the expectations placed upon her, the expectations of what a woman should or should not be able to do in the Synagogue?

            What if this is the first woman Preacher, this woman who in the midst of the Synagogue at Jesus’ urging stands up straight and begins to look the men around her in the eye and begins to publicly proclaim and to praise God?

            Now you begin to understand anew why the Synagogue leader would be indignant.

            Now you begin to understand why he appeals to protocol. 

Is this not the standard means of afflicting of women?  Telling them what they can or cannot do, delaying, “there are six days in which to heal…”  It’s not the right time now.  We should do things properly. Let’s debate this, etc. etc.

            Oh, expectation can be a crippling spirit indeed, and this is not a settled matter!

            If you want to complicate this idea a bit more, then include the Old Testament lesson today from Isaiah 58. 

            Here the situation is the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the time of the Babylonian Exile, and the story is as fresh now as when it was written.

            After the Exile, the people of Israel left Babylon and moved back home to a shattered economy and a ruin of a city.  

Now Cyrus the Persian had acted in their release to provide funding for rebuilding the city, but much of that funding had been swallowed up by corruption, and old hierarchies, and the expectations of who should lead and who should calling the shots.  The whole of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah outline these struggles.

            The walls of the city need to be rebuilt, and the Samaritans who live right there are ready to help, but there are those in the returning community who do not want to mix and mingle with the “impure.”

            They do not want to give up their status, their position, or their privilege.

            The economy of Israel needs to be reconstructed, but the privileged hoard the wealth instead of allowing it to circulate, maintaining lavish households themselves and extravagant lifestyles while others who are less “connected” live in depravation, and are disparaged.

            The “Yoke” of Isaiah 58 is the burden of expectations, of who should be in, who should not have a share, who should be listened to and who should be blamed.  

There is finger pointing all around, instead of action taking.

There is “speaking of evil” instead of speaking well of the neighbor and their actions.

There is settling for the way things are, instead of entertaining options of how things could be.

There is “trampling of the sabbath” (by which is meant people are kept in bondage), there is “going your own way, serving your own interests, pursuing your own affairs” on the holy day instead of offering food to the hungry and satisfying the needs of the afflicted.”

Isaiah 58 invites the community to “remove the yoke.”  

Change the expectations that you have of the way things have to be, have to be done, have to be pursued just long enough to see how God might re-shape this community, and in doing so the prophet says, God will make you ride upon the heights, repair the breeches, and restore the streets.

But to do that, you do have to let go of the expectations. 

You have to be exorcised of the spirit the keeps you bound to the past and to yourself.

You have to raise your head long enough to see what “new thing” God might be doing in your very midst, instead of defaulting to the protocols of the past.

Expectations you see, can be crippling loads to bear. 

They can keep up from looking up into the eyes of one another, and into a place where you can meet God’s gaze long enough to be transformed!

These are days when we feel the weight of expectation upon us in many ways, do we not? 

We are tempted often to flee to the old ways as a source of comfort.

We postpone and delay action for financial reasons, or fear of loss.

We are ever tempted to hoard what little we have as a hedge against an uncertain future that we cannot yet make out, but holding it fast simply means we are all the more bound and stooped with the burden of trying to keeping it, make it last, as if God could not of God’s bounty and abundance multiply things if we released what we have to God’s use.

We are people who are too well accustomed to the yoke of expectation placed upon us, and too often moving through life with our own down turned faces.

Dare we hear this day the invitation of Jesus.

Dare we hear ourselves that Jesus sees us and calls us to himself.

Dare we listen to him speak the words, “You are set free..”

Set free from those expectations that burden us, whatever they may be.

Set free from the spirit that cripples us, keeps us looking down, moping, unable to look into the eyes of those who are around us.

Dare we entertain new options, try new approaches, not fear the critique of those long in power who are themselves bound up in things and afraid of what might be?

People of God, the gospel this day bids us be set free from those things that weigh us down and bend us out of shape.

Dare we hear the voice of Jesus, and in the face of whatever it is that threatens to tie us up in knots and weigh us down, choose instead to stand straight and praise God with a clear, loud voice? 

            “You are set free…”  Jesus says.  

            Dare we believe that, and live into that truth?

“Every Moment in Fear is Wasted.” Luke 12:42-40

“Every moment you choose to live in fear is a wasted moment.”  

If you take nothing else away from this sermon today, that would be enough.

            “Every moment you choose to live in fear is a wasted moment.”

            As I wrestled with this scripture passage this week, and the events of the week, I was struck by how much fear dominates and drives our world right now.

            We have a President who stokes fear at every opportunity. 

            We have a Republican Party who is intent on using fear by pointing to the economy, or simply not taking up legislation. 

            We have a Democratic Party that stokes the fear of Democracy teetering on the edge. 

            We have a nightly news cycle that picks the “tragedy du jour” story and then stokes the furnace of fear by asking, “What can be done about this?” without pursuing concrete solutions, because to do so would be editorializing.

            We have wealthy members of society sounding the panic alarm of economic downturn if certain pursuits are even entertained.  A whole slew of “ism’s” get bandied about not as a means of examining their virtues or shortfalls, but rather as labels to be warned against. “That’s socialism!”  “That’s unbridled capitalism!”  “That’s McCarthyism!” “That’s Racism!”  Insert the “ism” of the moment and do so with urgent emphasis enough to instill the fear of it.

            We have the poor and middle class raising the alarm of loss of opportunity, fear of not being able to advance, to afford to live, just a paycheck away from financial disaster. 

            Every nature show on National Geographic or PBS ends with another cautionary trope of “how all of this is threatened by….”

            Climate change activists and scientists clamor that we are edging or perhaps past the tipping point of Carbon Emissions, that the world as we know it will cease to exist as temperatures rise, glaciers disappear, crops fail and growing zones shift.

            Climate deniers talk about how the earth goes through cycles and how you can’t make decisions about people’s lives and livelihood based on what “might be.”   They point to the what they call “fear mongers” and dismiss concerns.  What will be, will be, enjoy the ride while you can.  Be afraid of people who try to tell you how to live, or what car you can or cannot drive, or who make you feel guilty for investing in oil companies.

            Parents fear for what kind of future their children, grandchildren will have.

            Grandparents fear for what kind of world we have left for our children and grandchildren.

            Children fear the inaction of adults on every side, as if they do not care.

            With all this swirling fear a part of our everyday lives and experiences, how strange to our ears to hear Jesus say, “Have no fear, little flock…”

            Such a phrase might be met by some as a Savior who is out of touch with reality.

            Such a phrase might be heard by others as a denial of reality.

            Such a phrase might be interpreted as Jesus only really concerned about “heavenly things” or “things not of this earth” and find solace in final judgment that absolves one of everyday decisions.

            So, in world swirling with fear, where fear is used to motivate, to control, and to shut down action, how are we to hear Jesus aright?

            “Every moment you choose to live in fear is a wasted moment.”

            The first thing that Jesus is saying here is a word of pure Gospel.   When it comes to ultimate matters, salvation, the promised Kingdom of God… don’t sweat it little ones.  That comes to you as a pure gift.

            It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.

            The Kingdom or Reign of God is a gift that will be given and God will not be denied.  This Kingdom “comes of its own accord,” as Luther reminds us in the small catechism.   We cannot bring it about on our own, or force it to come, or contribute to its coming one whit.

            It is a gift promised by Jesus.

            So then, don’t sweat it’s coming, little flock — but, by all means look for it!

            We can pray that it will also come among us, that we will catch glimpses of God’s work in our lives and in our midst, things that might allay some of our fears, but whether we see them or not, the Kingdom of God is coming. 

            And more than that, it is God’s good pleasure to give it as a gift to us.

            And, it is the matter of that “good pleasure” that the rest of the passage focuses on, if you have eyes to see that, (which is admittedly hard when fear is bandied about so widely as a motivator of things!)

            We read this passage and hear the “warning” parts.

            “Be dressed for action…”

            “have your lamps lit…”

            “Know this, if the houseowner had known at what time the thief was coming…”

            All of these comments strike us as fear inducing.  We hear them as if God’s intent is to “catch us off guard” or as if the times will lull us into complacency, sleep, or inattentiveness.   And so, like a driver trying to running on adrenaline, we punch at our leg or sit up straight, or crank up the radio, or open up the windows and determine, (out of fear of falling asleep) to hunker down and power through this life somehow and not be found wanting.

            We let the “fear of God” drive us to do things that are neither wise nor fruitful.

            The world is full of examples of that. 

People interpreting God as someone mostly found in displeasure.

“God wouldn’t like that!”

“God doesn’t want that!”

We begin to view the world as being filled with thieves and temptations and things to be avoided at all costs. 

We, (like the Pharisees before us) begin to make our lists of things to avoid, things to do, impose the rules designed to “keep us awake.”    

We need to work harder, live purer, not associate with those kind of people or engage in things we would deem to be unsavory to God, lest we get caught off guard!

In short, we let fear become the driver.

But Jesus tells us the Kingdom is not gained by our actions, but rather comes as a gift.

            So then, how is one to live?

            Here is what I see this time in the story Jesus tells, not a God who motivates out of fear, but one who acts out of sheer delight!

             “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.” 

            That’s a picture of a God who is genuinely delighted to find people just doing what they are supposed to do and nothing more, and then God going out of God’s own way to reward such actions.

            What is that like?

            I get the giddy image of Mr. Fezziwig from “A Christmas Carol” who on Christmas Eve has the work stop, the shop swept clean, the work desks pushed to the side and the music and food brought in, — a party set for the workers, not in measure of what they have done leading up to it, but simply in celebration of the moment.

            Can we have this moment?  This time to celebrate and revel in the goodness of life?

            I get the image of my old College banquet manager, who after we had served the President and Board of Regents and they had left the room, would then instruct us to take a break, enjoy the remaining Prime Rib and food while it was still succulent and warm, and celebrate a job well done of serving on behalf of the college.

            Can we have this moment?  This time of acknowledging that while we had term papers to write, and books to read, and a meal plan that served us standard cafeteria food, that out of thanksgiving for being part of this community we could share in the bounty provided?

            I get the image of Brett and Alicia Guggenmos’ non-wedding reception.  

The wedding did not happen because of the bride’s medical emergency, and there was much fear in the hearts of all that night of the rehearsal, when the decision had to be made to perform surgery on the brain. 

But the next night as the guests arrived expecting a wedding, they were instead sent to the reception hall where food was served and celebrations were had, not because of a wedding, but because life is resilient and we had something else to celebrate, her successful surgery and recovery!   Alicia making the rounds on an I-Pad from her hospital room to the guests to show that she was all right and that life, while it throws curves from time to time, is better lived without fear. 

The guests may have been expecting a wedding, but what they got instead was a chance to simply be caught doing what they were supposed to be doing all along, — which is to celebrate the life, the moment, whatever it happened to be!  

            Dare we flip the script on this Gospel which so often gets manipulated into being about fear?

            Dare we choose to see it instead as a story about good pleasure!  

            Good pleasure found in God finding God’s people doing simply what they were always meant to be doing, which is to live, to love, to care for one another, and to be found ready to serve, no matter what the hour?

            Dare we look at this promise of the Kingdom not as something to be guarding and on the look-out for, white knuckling until Jesus comes, but instead see life as an invitation to make the most of this moment, every moment, whatever the moment happens to be?

            Does it change the world if we begin to do things not out of fear, but rather out of love? Out of expectation that if God is going to catch us doing something, God would delight in catching us doing what we’re supposed to do?

            Would it change the world if instead of responding out of fear of something, we rather embraced life and said, “what would God want me to be doing here?”

            How much fear could we as the people of God remove from this world if we approached our time here not as always being on guard against not doing the “wrong” thing, but rather as wanting to found doing the right thing, caught in the act of being neighbor, or providing for the Master?

What if instead of hiding behind locked doors and grasping at things, and viewing the world as a place full of thieves and “others” against which we want to bolt the door, we became open to the knock on the door, assuming that it was the Master coming?

 Assuming that it is God providing an opportunity for us to receive God, or to learn, or to serve, or to enjoy the “good pleasure” of a God who knocks before entering instead of bursting on the scene unannounced.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of letting fear rule the day. I choose to live this moment as one of God knocking with opportunity, in everything that would otherwise be seen as fearful, because every moment I choose to live in fear, is a wasted moment.