21 August 2022
Year c (Proper 16)
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Episcopal / Anglican Province of Alexandria
Church of the Nativity, Port St. Lucie
Holy Faith Church, Port St. Lucie
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jesus desires to restore us to wholeness and calls us to be willing.
A farmer driving down the road picked up an old man walking along and carrying a heavy backpack. Shortly after the man climbed into the wagon the farmer noticed the man was still carrying the heavy backpack, “Why don't you put that backpack down?" he said "It's got to be very heavy." “Thank you I don’t want to impose on you, you shouldn't have to carry me and my backpack."
My backpack, each of us since birth carry an invisible backpack, no matter what our backpack looks like on the outside we all carry varying amounts of the same contents; pearls and rocks. Pearls of wisdom, Holy Scripture Affirmations about whom God is and whom we are as God’s children. But we also carry Rocks, not pretty marble or granite or crystal, but ugly Rocks of resentment, anger, guilt, and shame from injuries or injustices or mistakes we or others have made which accumulate. These ugly rocks tend to be of one type, negative messages we have heard from others and then negative messages we give ourselves. Conclusions based upon our own or others’ critical words and/or actions; we are unworthy, unlovable, unforgiveable. Now over time when we are willing and with God’s help pearls of wisdom can be added and smaller rocks of the worlds’ negative messages can be pitched out. But inevitably we all carry rocks in our backpacks that leave feeling miserable, bending over in pain, limiting our lives of faith.
Our invisible backpack is our mind, our heart, our spirit and there are times, like with the old man in the story, when we can’t or we won’t or we are not yet ready to let go of those resentful rocks. And there are other times, like the brave woman in our Gospel story we can, with God’s help, overcome our resistance, be willing and say yes to God healing us, restoring us completely.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is teaching on the Sabbath at one of the synagogues and the Jewish authorities, like a group of hawks after their prey, circle around him to entrap him.
Suddenly out of the corner of his eye Jesus beholds a women stooped over, unable to stand upright on crowd’s fringe. To Behold means, Jesus sees both her physical bondage--her body bent over, her eyes cast downward at her feet, her inability to look upward and her spiritual bondage. She is captive to her own inner guilt and shame, the rocks others had thrown at her and she had thrown at herself blaming her for her infirmity, reminding her she was unwelcome, unclean and she is bound to Satan himself whose voice kept reminding her to hold onto those untruths, that she was unworthy, unforgiveable in God’s eyes.
But Jesus beheld her and saw the pearls of great wisdom and hope in her heart. These pearls brought her to the synagogue, week after week, instilled hope beyond hope she would be healed and resonated in her spirit when she heard a new voice this morning. A new rabbi explaining the scriptures in simple yet profound words, expressing with his eyes and warm tone a profound sense of peace, encouraging living into God’s love and forgiveness.
It’s Jesus of Nazareth some women in front of her whispered. Jesus of Nazareth she recalled he taught at the Nazareth synagogue, nearly created a riot and preached God’s love included and forgave even those who were not sons and daughters of Abraham. And now here he was
Could she too be forgiven even on the Sabbath and be set free?
Before she knew it a hush settled over the synagogue and Jesus was walking toward her, past the men, past the women and bent down to look her straight in the eye, “Woman you are set free from your ailment.” Instantly the pain in her back lifted, her muscles warmed and loosened up and as he put his hands on her shoulders it was if a bolt of lightning reverberated throughout her body releasing her to stand up straight and tall, to look him straight in his warm, compassionate eyes.
Overcome with joy and gratitude she shouted “Hallelujah, Praise God. The power of Almighty God through Jesus of Nazareth has restored me to wholeness, he has forgiven me, I am free from 18 years of bondage… “
What a miraculous story! While this story seems so long ago and far away, these two stories, the old man with the heavy backpack and the woman with the infirmity are OUR stories, yours and mine, today… 2000 years later. In all reality, you and I, at different times in our lives make choices just like the old man and the woman with the infirmity. As human beings we have an innate desire to be healed, fully restored. To empty our backpacks of those negative messages which pull us away from knowing ourselves or others as God’s children, created in God’s image, to fill our backpacks with pearls of God’s wisdom and love for us.
And yet while we may want to be healed, we have to be willing to be healed, to be willing is to be prepared to let go of our hurts, habits, and hang ups. We have to be willing, even when we don’t really want to, to face and tell our stories at least to ourselves and to God, to name and claim our feelings and where our hearts are broken, weighed down with rocks of resentment.
To wade through the pain and agony, all along the journey of healing, to invite God to throw those rocks of resentment of our invisible backpacks.
Sometimes like the old man with the heavy backpack, we resist Jesus’ invitation to restore us to to wholeness, we get hooked into believing we have to be independent, take care of ourselves, not impose on anyone else, let alone God. Do we really think God can’t take it??? OR we get too comfortable living in what we know, when the anger or sorrow or nostalgia of “The Way we Were” feels too much like a comfortable pair of old tattered shoes to even consider a new pair, a change. Or we sink into believing that it isn’t just the guilt of what we have done or left undone
but our very being is the problem and we sink into a pit of shame believing we cannot even be forgiven. Forgiveness means to “to give or grant completely” as if to release a prisoner from their bonds.
Forgiveness is based upon two Biblical assumptions, there is nothing…nothing …. that cannot be forgiven and there is no one…no one…. undeserving of forgiveness…
And Forgiveness is a central theme from the beginning to the end of Jesus’s ministry
Father Forgive them for they know not what they do…
He called out to all humanity on the cross.
At other times in our lives we may be like the woman with the infirmity wondering if we can ever be healed because we have suffered so long, struggling to forgive ourselves and others and yet showing up in church, holding on with hope to God’s pearls of wisdom in our hearts.
I believe this woman was willing to be healed for several reasons. First of all, she lived into her deepest identity as a daughter of Abraham, she no doubt remembered the stories of Jeremiah and Psalm 139
Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you
And before you were born I consecrated you…
And she recalled the words of the Psalmist her parents had taught her as a child, God wants to provide, sustain and eventually deliver her even if her complete healing would be on the other side of the grave. She held onto those pearls of wisdom that God has created her and called her
and promised to accompany her every step of her way, and we can too.
And secondly, she became willing when she saw and trusted Jesus’s care and compassion. She opened her eyes to see him in the midst of the crowd… SEE him see and make her HIS priority
and communicating his love. He WALKED to her, bravely crossing boundaries, male and female, clean and unclean, on the Sabbath day, no less. He TOUCHED her as no one had for over 18 years and He LOVED her. Recognizing her pearls of wisdom and throwing those ugly frocks she had wanted to pitch for years far over the synagogue gates.
In Jesus she saw a deep desire and bold courage to heal her, to restore her physically, to empty her spiritual backpack of the ugly rocks and to reunite her with her community. Seeing his love and care for her and his courage to stand up for her, her hesitation and shyness melted away so she became willing to be healed and stand up for Him
This week I invite you to remember Jesus desires to restore us to complete wholeness and to have a world free of people carrying backpacks of ugly rocks which distract and overwhelm God’s pearls of wisdom in our hearts. And our challenge is to recognize the old man and the woman with the infirmity in our hearts.
Will you be willing??
 Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving, pg. 3