Sheepscott Community Church August 22, 2010
Isaiah 58: 9b-14
Luke 13: 10-17
Repair and Restore, Breach and Foundation
I know of two paid professional counselors in our congregation, and it may be there are more. In fact all of us, paid or not, are de facto counselors when we listen attentively to another human being and give the best solicited advice or counsel we can in any given situation. It may not be the best informed , and we may not be able to offer multiple options or strategies, but if it comes from a concerned, disinterested heart––that’s dis-interested, not uninterested––it will be of value. Sometimes all of us just need to be heard.
And because needing to be heard doesn’t always limit itself to office hours, sometimes we have to reach out in the middle of a workday for a word from someone else, an indication that we are not alone in our trouble. Or we ourselves are called on to respond to someone else who reaches out. I recently saw a member of this congregation, who was at her workplace, standing outside the building and talking intently on her cellphone. A friend had called her to share her anxiousness about a member of her family who was threatening to harm himself. The friend was on her way to the site where the family member was, when she called to share her fear and receive even a word of understanding from someone else in the human community whom she trusted. And she got it.
The woman in today’s gospel had been under it for so long––18 years–– that she no longer realized there was a way out. As the years succeeded each other, she was just more and more bent over. Extreme case of osteoporosis, maybe? When Jesus saw her in the synagogue on the Sabbath, he called her forward and said simply, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” And she was. Almost needless to say, the ruler of the synagogue rebuked Jesus’s healing on the Sabbath indirectly by saying to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” The healing constituted a “work.”
Jesus’s retort was, “You hypocrites!” You may recall that in last week’s gospel he used that epithet a number of times to chastise his listeners for not being able to interpret the signs of the times, the principle one being himself, the embodied kingdom of God among them. And he goes on to detail the situation whereby they would take their donkey out of the stall to give it a drink on the Sabbath, but they would not be willing to heal this daughter of Abraham on the Sabbath? I like the last line: “When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.” I can easily imagine the buzz in the synagogue that morning. When the Spirit of God is at work, there’s absolutely nothing like it because there is no doubt who is the originator of the work going on. People who aren’t invested in opposing the good, know the work of God when they see it because they can feel it. It’s a response of the spirit, our spirit, to the work of the Spirit of God. The people in the synagogue recognized that kinship with Jesus and rejoiced in it.
We too recognize a family member sometimes by what he or she does. For instance, Jan Kilburn’s art work. Her style is unmistakable, and it’s a little thrill to see her work out in the community, whether in a public area used as an exhibition space, or in a private home. She’s a member of our church family; we recognize her work when we see it.
Another example, I may have already told you this, but it fits here, and besides, Mary and Tom wouldn’t have heard this before. When we “do” the Wednesday night community supper in Newcastle once a month, one of our regular visitors, Lisa, always brings some treat for those who are working the supper. Treats may range from specialty jelly beans at Easter time, to chocolate-covered espresso coffee beans a few weeks back. A few months ago, she brought in a pie, a raspberry pie, and when I saw it, I thought, Hey! That’s an Eliza pie. Eliza is my daughter-in-law, who is a baker and whose mother Robin sells her pies at farmers’ markets in the area. Her pies have a certain look, and I knew it had to be one of hers, and so I asked Lisa, and sure enough, she had bought it at the Farmers’ Market in Damariscotta.
I know Eliza’s pies when I see them. She’s family; I know her work. We all know Jan’s work when we see it, because it’s church family. Reproductions of her paintings made every Sheepscott Community Church cookbook a collector’s item, as Sonnie, Lily and Sylvia were fond of saying as part of their sales pitch for the cookbooks; and believe me, those women can pitch. Everybody in that synagogue who did not oppose Jesus, recognized the work he was doing and was delighted. The Spirit of God who motivated Jesus, also lived and moved in these delighted people, who rejoiced that God was among men. They recognized the sign of the time in their spirit, whether or not they could name it.
What does God among men and stooped over women do? Sets aside protocol and heals, frees, reminiscent of our congregation’s counselors who in their lives have seen the importance of setting people free and decided to give their lives over to this important work. Not just within the church family, but making themselves available to the larger family of God, as did and does the woman who listened to her fearful and frantic friend outside her workplace.
We don’t need to push down doors, to break into the private houses of people’s souls. They invite us in when they recognize that the work we do, the way we are in this life is of God. That may not be at the level of the intellect that people understand that, but again, at that same level where the people in the synagogue delighted in Jesus. They recognized someone who had the same parent of the spirit that they did, i.e., God.
I also think of teachers who raise up those stooped over, if not in the misery of physical, mental or emotional infirmity, then in ignorance, sharing knowledge with them and encouraging them in developing their own thought processes. And I know from watching Jon over the many years of his career that the teacher is never far from the classroom in his or her head, even during the summer. Always planning, always reading one more book of literary criticism, always mining for deeper, wider ties with other disciplines to make the path of knowledge more accessible and more rewarding for the students.
All of these people, the artist, the teacher, the counselor, the listener to another, the baker who feeds and the consumer who cares to share what the baker prepares, all of these are in their own way fulfilling what is translated in our New International Version of Isaiah as “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
I prefer the translation of this passage in The New American Bible, which reads, “The ancient ruins will be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; ‘Repairer of the breach,’ they shall call you, ‘Restorer of ruined homesteads.”
It is a fact that the reference the prophet Isaiah is making is to the post-exilic destruction and ruins the Israelites would encounter on their return home from the Babylonian captivity in the sixth century BCE. There would need to be a physical restoration, and that restoration is clearly in the writer’s mind, but spiritual regeneration significantly precedes it and empowers the people to undertake such a large-scale restoration, or even to imagine it after their long period of involuntary servitude.
Consider the Pakistanis, who survived the initial decimation of their villages inundated by the floodwaters of the Indus River. They need just the sort of encouraging words that Isaiah gave to the Israelites, individually and as a people. They too will need to repair the walls breached by water, and restore the ruined homesteads the best they can. Closer to home, this village of Sheepscot has a number of eighteenth-century houses and a history that goes much further back than that. Some of you may have restored one of these old houses, whether as a living or for your own family. Whatever may have been the cause of these houses’ breached walls or collapsed roofs, and crumbled foundations––weather, animals in residence, or abandonment to the elements by some who because of death or disease gave up the struggle to stay––whatever the cause that called for restoration, you and others repaired those breaches, restored those ruined homesteads. Resurrected them, one might say.
I remind you of the woman Jesus healed whom he characterized as bound by Satan for 18 years in this indeed involuntary servitude to infirmity. I am suggesting to you that our counselors, our artists, our teachers, parents, those who raise our food and make it available to us, our rebuilding carpenters, masons, plumbers, and electricians––indeed all of us who take seriously our responsibility to fulfill our place, our calling in the human community, which is ultimately about us all helping one another to live and make meaning of this life, all of us who do that are repairers of the breach, restorers of ruined homesteads. We repair and restore each other in whatever way we can.
The breach in the human soul between what we are called to and what happens to us along the way to interfere with fulfilling that calling, we hear God saying here through his prophet that that breach can be repaired, that the homesteads of lives that have been ruined for whatever reason, those homesteads can be rebuilt. And we, we are the repairers, we are the restorers. God will empower us with his Spirit, but it is we ourselves who are the workers. Let us say yes with the delight that the townsfolk in the synagogue that morning had in Jesus, who was restoring the ruined homestead of a woman bent over ––we have all seen such women, and occasionally a man, but more often women. I trust you know it would be the height of chutzpah to walk up to such a person, lay a hand on the person, and announce yourself as his or her healer and restorer. No. We wait on God, who opens doors gently and quietly. And we, who are watching and listening, like the people in the synagogue, we recognize the action of that One whom we are related to. Then we move. Then we act.
Jesus, our teacher, our healer, our way-shower. He was his own man and was not done or undone by the ruler of the synagogue, by the powerful scribes and pharisees, by the know-it-alls in the religious community. He knew who he was. He continued to discern that in his nights of prayer with his Abba, his Father, on mountain, in garden and in desert place, how he was to carry out what he understood to be the call on his life. Once he stepped over the line, crossed the Shannon, as they say in Ireland, once he had finished his time of preparation in the desert, he never looked back, and God accomplished in him and through him everything that was needed. Consistent as he was along the whole way of his life, he fulfilled the call on his life, just as we––you and I––are invited to do, indeed, we no less than he. The invitation is there. As I did last week, I dare you to R.S.V.P. in the positive. Amen.