Faith United Methodist Church
August 21, 2016
14th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Humor Sunday
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: Luke 13:10-17
Prayer of Illumination: (Unison)
O God, lighten our solemnity with laughter, our boredom with dancing and turn our work into joyful play; for you are the God of humor and the source of all playful creativity. Amen
Sermon: It’s All in the Timing
In comedy, it’s all about the timing, right? You can have the best joke, but if the delivery is off it can fall flat. Comic timing is described as the use of rhythm, tempo and pausing to enhance comedy and humor. Good timing can emphasize a point and, sometimes, even alter its meaning. The best comedians ~ and some of the best preachers ~ have a gift of timing
In our Gospel lesson today we see an example of perfect timing. We find Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Now, that might not sound like a big deal, but healing was considered work. And everyone knew it wasn’t right to work on the Sabbath. So there he was… with his bad ~ or maybe good ~ timing.
In the synagogue on this particular day Jesus caught sight of a woman with a terrible aliment. She was bent over and, for eighteen years, had not been able to stand up straight. Not able to see the world in front of her. Not able to look her friends in the eye. Jesus summoned her over, laid hands on her and healed her. And the woman couldn’t believe what had happened. Standing up straight, she began to praise God.
But the synagogue leader felt that Jesus’ timing was off. He may as well have put up a sign that said, “Only Scheduled Miracles Allowed.” He wasn’t about to let this free-spirit Jesus-guy get in the way of his observance of Sabbath. So he kept reminding 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.” That is what it says in the commandments, after all.
But Jesus understood something different about the Sabbath. For Jesus, Sabbath was not so much about right or wrong, rules or regulations, but about freedom and wholeness and thanksgiving. The Spirit moves as the Spirit moves. Jesus understood why we keep the Sabbath. As Moses taught, “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there … therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.” Jesus understood that it isn’t only overzealous pharaohs that can enslave us. God’s hand is stretched out to all God’s children who find themselves enslaved in some way or another.
And ‘enslaved’ would be one way to describe the experience of the bent over woman. She was trapped. The Greek word for bent actually means bent in. She was bent in on herself. As Sharon Ringe put it in her commentary, she was “…captive to restricted movement, to the inability to meet another person face to face, and to a world defined by the piece of ground around her toes…” Yet this bent over women did not come to Jesus asking to be healed. She knew better than that. She knew what day it was and that healing wasn’t for the Sabbath. She had waited eighteen years; she could’ve waited one more day. So it wasn’t the woman, it was Jesus who took the initiative ~ who set her free.
And it is not just the bent over woman who needs to be set free, is it? We we all know what it is to bend under a heavy load, whether it be anxiety, guilt, fear or whatever else is weighing us down. And when we find ourselves in such a place, we are not unlike the bent over women. Isolated, turned inward, seeing only what is right before us. Even the synagogue leader was enslaved, in a sense, to tradition, to a set of unbending rules that he felt obligated to enforce. Interestingly, C.S. Lewis understood our experience of sin as being bent. In Lewis’ Space Trilogy his character Dr. Ransom, a Christian, describes humankind saying, “We are all a bent race.”
Yet in his bold timing, Jesus tells us that it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to be bent over. Jesus saw a woman in need. And, for Jesus, Sabbath was a healing time. By the end of the story it is not just the woman who is standing up straight praising God, but the whole crowd. If there’s a better way to spend the Sabbath, I can’t think of it.
Sabbath is an opportunity to restore our brokenness and to honestly look at how we are bent. Just as with the bent over woman, Jesus takes the initiative with us and bids us to stand up straight, to come and be set free.
As Luke Bouman put it, through the practice of Sabbath, “…we are set loose on the world, were the liberation we have experienced becomes the liberation we practice.” So maybe Jesus was a little bit of a comedian, with his surprising twists and good-bad timing. And maybe the joke is on us. Because we never know where Jesus will turn up or what Jesus will do to set us free, rules be damned. The Spirit moves as the Spirit moves. To me, this qualifies as good news. Good news indeed! Amen.