Bent Over Lives, Sermon by Pastor Fred Kinsey,
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. A simple, and a basic creed.
Or we could say it this way: Lives are bent over. Lives are straightened up tall again. The powers of oppression and abuse that bend our lives over, will be conquered forever.
Or, in the words of Isaiah:
(1) “If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
(2) if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…
(3) The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
…and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.” (Is. 58:9-11)
Or, in the words of Martin Luther King, 50 years ago this week, when he said: “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ … and, quoting another OT prophet, “we will not be satisfied,” said King, “until ‘justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’” Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Two Saturdays ago, when I came home from my Zombie Apocalypse class, after being gone for a week, my poor tomato plants were droopy and bent over. Our neighbors promised to water them while we were gone, and maybe they did, but not enough. Their limbs were dry, arthritic and curling down. It made me realize not only the physical discomfort that the bent over woman must have felt, but also the position it put her in, in regards to the world. Her view was downcast, bound toward everyone’s feet, and so she would not have been in sync with other humans around her. And yet, her perception was not as crippled as those leaders of the faith who derided Jesus for lifting her up on the Sabbath Day, and freeing her from this bondage. Their view, was more arthritic, and more self-righteous, by far.
In Luke’s gospel story Jesus publically enacts the power of healing in the realm of God, when he encounters the woman bent over by a spirit that had crippled her for 18 years. The woman has not asked to be healed. She simply finds herself in Jesus’ presence—and that leads to healing and life for her. Jesus laid hands on her and said, Woman you are set free from your ailment. And she stood up straight and began praising God, as so often in Luke, the downcast are chosen to sing the praises of the realm of God among us.
Lives are bent over. Lives are straightened up. The powers of oppression and abuse that bend our lives over, will be conquered forever.
Or, we could also tell the story this way: Jesus came into our world, offering himself as the ultimate righteous scapegoat, whose innocent death opens our eyes to our own violence we do to one another, not just war and abuse, but oppression and duplicity of all kinds, the half-truths and lies we trap ourselves in, for both personal and institutional gain. But because God raised Jesus to new life – a tangible embodied symbol of victory over this old way of life arose for us, the same promise of the realm of God Jesus announced and enacted in his ministry of baptism, healing and celebratory meal of forgiveness. And, the coming again part, is Christ renewing the world and allowing us to see the change from one age to the next that has already been offered, and lives here now, if we chose to embody it ourselves, and have the courage to call-out the old world that continues to push it’s destructive agenda, even as we now know better.
This Wednesday, there is a big celebration planned for the 50th Anniversary – to the day – of the “March on Washington for Jobs, Justice and Freedom” where The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Earlier that year in April, King had already written his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” addressed to the largely sympathetic, middle-of-the-road, white clergy of Birmingham. It was a risky but necessary move, in which he alternately derided, cajoled and challenged them for their lip-service thus far, to the civil rights movement – how they gave their verbal assent, but caved on the movement’s direct action. Like the prophet Jesus, who addressed the religious leaders he encountered in our gospel today, those that thought they could separate the holy spaces of worship from our moral responsibilities in the world, King lit a fire under his white privileged colleagues.
“I must confess,” King wrote, “that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the ‘white moderate’. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; … who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." … Lukewarm acceptance,” said King, “is much more bewildering than outright rejection. … I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”
In other words, their position, King is saying, in regards to the world, was downcast, bound toward everyone’s feet, and was not in sync with other humans around them – especially the black community they purported to support.
This is largely the tact King took in his I Have a Dream speech from the Lincoln Memorial too, widening its challenge a few months later to the whole white community to join the movement. The speech is much more than the sound-bites we know through the couple of popular quotes we always hear repeated, like: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skins but the content of their character.” A beautiful dream in itself, of course, but often misinterpreted through the lens of “mythical time,” to use King’s words, that is, as a future we have no control over, a pie in the sky, that delays the responsibility, Christ calls us to.
Instead, the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King, lived and died by the creed: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Lives are bent over. Lives are straightened up. The powers of oppression and abuse that bend our lives over, will be conquered. And King knew, none of the three creedal statements can ever be divorced from the other.
Jesus, healing on the Sabbath, is not just happen stance. Just as the March on Washington for Jobs, Justice and Freedom was many years, even decades, in the making. Jesus knew his movement, standing up for justice, embodying God’s healing, was a threatening tactic that was likely to be challenged as un-faithful, and against the religious norms of Sabbath worship. Why then did he do it? What did he hope to gain?
Each of our interpretive lens’ may yield different and new insights. One thing I see, is that Jesus interjects himself into the bent-over-ness of our lives, not by happen stance, but by the power of the Holy Spirit breaking into the world to offer a continuous moment of universal redemption that brings healing to the suffering bent over seekers of justice, and calls-out the spirits of oppression. By this embodied presence, Christ the Good Shepherd, makes a safe place for us to stand, and enables us to live lives more fully, and more joyfully already.
And finally, this creates a holy space for us to take and eat from the bread that is his life, and to drink from the common cup that binds us together, as we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes, with one voice, a united community. Our response, of course, is that powerfully simple creed: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Or we could say, Lives are bent over. Lives are straightened up. The powers of oppression and abuse that bend our lives over, will be conquered.