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Standing Tall

What are we afraid of?

I would like to share with you some good news that we have had this summer. 

Many of you know that our daughter Grace has a curvature of the spine and has been wearing a back brace, strapped in tight with her spine held rigid, for 20/24 for the last three years.  Just before we left for our holiday we got the good news that her back had improved so much that she could come out of her brace for a three month trial period. 

What was interesting was my reaction to the news; I was very hesitant and anxious about freeing Grace from her brace – because I am afraid of what will happen without the brace; of the curve in her spine getting worse and I wanted the security, the protection, that the brace gives.

Grace is not so afraid.  Grace is over the moon.

Just like the woman whose back is healed in our gospel this morning (Luke 13:10-17): her back bent so badly that she is completely bent over and cannot stand straight. Her whole view of the world is restricted to the floor in front of her feet, she cannot look around she cannot see who is speaking to her. It is likely that her social and religious life was also restricted as her view: physical ailments were viewed as being somehow the result of sin and her deformity would have been seen as an affront to the perfection of God and she would probably have been excluded from the worshipping community.

When she is healed she is over the moon and immediately stands up straight and begins praising God.

What is interesting too is that Jesus describes her illness as bondage, as imprisonment:he does not say “you are healed” but  “woman you are set free”.    In fact the original Greek is more accurately translated as“You have been set free” – as if Jesus is telling her what has already happened – she IS free – she just doesn’t know it yet.  

The leader of the synagogue is NOT over the moon.

Healing should not be done on the Sabbath.  It breaks the Sabbath law.  He reacts a little bit like I did when I was told that Grace’s brace could come off:he knows that the Sabbath law was given to protect his people from what is bad and wrong in the world, it is familiar, it keeps him safe and he is afraid of what will happen if his people do not abide by its rules.

But for Jesus the Sabbath is all about freedom: remember that the Sabbath is given after creation but it is given again after the people of Israel are freed from slavery – a slave cannot decide when to rest and work – he does not have the freedom – only a free person can take time to stop and delight in themselves and God and God’s good creation.

Jesus calls this woman “Daughter of Abraham” - implying that, in some sense, all of her people are just like her:           God has freed them but they continue to live in bondage.They continue to live bent over, unable to see beyond their restricted view of the world.  So Jesus offers them a choice – a choice that we are offered too: to follow the rules the opinions the values of this world and so to feel safe and remain bound or to take a risk and stand up and look out into the freedom that Christ offers us …

We all know that our posture, what we do with our body, affects how we feel, so although we are Church of England, I am going to suggest a physical prayer – you can try it now with me – or save it for the privacy of your own home: but try standing completely bent over- stay there, feeling the strain begin to build in your back and as you do, try to sense what binds you, what are you bent down by?

What is that your view is focussed on down there? 
What is it that takes your time and attention and energy? 
What is it that you are looking at so hard that you cannot look up and see the world that God is inviting you into?

The theologian Karl Barth said: 'A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity’.  By his definition most of us

are enslaved to some extent.The values that we adhere to, the systems that we are a part of – the things that shaped us from childhood or mould us in the workplace, the pressure from our neighbours and friends, from the culture that surrounds us.

What is it that we feel we need protection from? What is it that we are afraid of? Financial insecurity, failing, not belonging, loneliness, sickness, not giving our kids the best opportunities? Fear of these things keeps us bound.To be free is frightening. o stand up straight and look the world in the eye can be a risky business.

This week is the 50th anniversary of The Rev Martin Luther King Junior’s ‘I have a dream’ speech: he was someone who took the risk and was prepared to suffer in order to protect his right, and the right of other black people, to stand up straight, as free men and women, and look the world in the eye.

The freedom Jesus invites us into IS risky, it can mean letting go of the safe and the familiar , it can lead to conflict and hardship – but it also opens our lives to God’s promises, to a different and better world, and, it give us the opportunity to start living that world here and now.

Not just to glimpse the promised land that Martin Luther King spoke of – but to live in it.

RBT 18-8-2013