H ERE WE HAVE A STORY with four main characters. We are about to take a look at each of them — Jesus, the woman who was healed, the religious leader, and Jesus’ followers.
Who are we in this story? Think about that for a moment. And let’s think through what we learn from the Scripture and the cast of characters.
Who are you in this story? Most people will not say they are Jesus. That might be thinking too highly of yourself. Or you may want to “play” the part of Jesus, because as Jesus you get to speak the words of healing and lay your hands on the woman as a sign of blessing and healing.
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AND LATER in our story, you as Jesus are going to answer the religious leader and tell that person they are wrong and here’s what they should be doing. All in all, not a bad part to play in today’s story.
Now, who doesn’t want to be the woman who is healed? You have been ailing for 18 years unable to stand up straight. By now you have adjusted to this. You don’t ask to be healed because you probably just try to blend in with the crowd, so no one teases you. And yet, Jesus sees you. That is one of my favorite things about Jesus — he sees people. He sees this woman who most people probably ignored both because she was a woman and because she was a person with a physical disability. So you are simply going about your day, and you are seen. With some simple words and a touch of his hands, Jesus heals you. You stand up for the first time in years and begin praising God. Although you don’t appear anymore in today’s story, your life is forever changed because Jesus saw you.
You may choose to play the part of the person who represents the religious establishment of the day. It is easy to see this person as the bad guy of the story. You are described as being indignant. “Anyone can be healed any other day of the week except the Sabbath because we cannot work on the Sabbath.”
You are a faithful person who lives by the Torah. You have studied and worked hard to live in the correct way. And then Jesus answers you in a way you wouldn’t expect and tells you that you are wrong. And you feel shame or humiliation at being corrected.
You may choose to be a person in the crowd following Jesus. Don’t think of the crowd. Focus in on being just one person. Your role is to play the part of someone “rejoicing at all the wonderful things that Jesus was doing.” A pretty good part in our story. You are following Jesus and cheering him on.
There’s the cast of characters. Jesus, the woman who is healed, a religious leader, a follower of Jesus.
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SO WHEN ASKING who are you in this story, let’s ask: “Whom do you identify with?”
Probably not Jesus, as most of us want to be like him and yet don’t feel like we can say we identify as him.
Maybe you can identify with the woman who needs to be healed. Most of us would love to be healed from something. Maybe a relationship that has left you feeling broken. Maybe your life isn’t what you hoped it would be. Maybe you are grieving the death of someone and that emptiness inside you is too much. Maybe you are angry at things beyond your control, and you can’t let go of your anger. Maybe your body is no longer allowing you do things you used to enjoy.
If we think about it for a bit, everyone would like healing. Everyone would like to have their need acknowledged and their brokenness restored. And my hope is that if we are healed, we will react as the woman did in our story. She praised God. She knew that God is the only one who can heal our wounded souls and so she offered up her praise.
Who doesn’t want to identify as part of the crowd following Jesus? What a gift it would be to follow Jesus, learning from him, watching him heal, hearing him teach and preach, and seeing him see people and things that the rest of us overlook.
You might have noticed that I skipped over the third person in the story — the synagogue leader, or the person in the religious establishment of the day. If we call this person the synagogue leader, it is easier to think that we have a little less in common. We could easily call this person pastor, elder, Sunday school teacher, deacon, or, person who sits in the third pew at church every Sunday. That’s because this person is us. Please notice that I said us. This person is me and you. I am a rule follower. I love rules. I love knowing what I am expected to do so I can do it. I pride myself on doing what I am supposed to do when it is expected to be done. And I am very hard on myself when I cannot meet those expectations.
And maybe that is why I love the church. We are a place and a people full of rules, and often falling short in following them. Some rules are written down in our confessions and our Book or Order and our Book of Common Worship. Presbyterians are known for doing things “decently and in order.” These are the ways we govern ourselves in some orderly fashion, while allowing the work of the Holy Spirit to be present.
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AND THEN THERE ARE the unwritten rules of the church. At Swift, these include things like do not go over one hour in the worship service (many church services last for three to four hours! Not Swift!), and do not sit in the seat I have been sitting in since I’ve been coming to Swift. We really need to reconsider that one!
Here’s an example of an unwritten rule having been broken. I was preaching at Grace Presbyterian Church one Sunday, when a visitor arrived late, came to sit in the first row of the church, and while I was preaching, he blurted out “That’s not right,” referring to something I said. Presbyterians don’t speak to the pastor during the service. It’s an unwritten rule! The visitor was a member or a worshiping community that encouraged interaction between the congregation and the preacher. I rather enjoyed his comment, and quickly responded that he was absolutely right. “Keep listening,” I said. “I’m about to explain why I said what I did.” After worship, the elders were terribly apologetic, and also grateful for the way I responded.
That was an unwritten rule, and one that could be broken without consequence.
In today’s story, Jesus isn’t instructing us to throw out all the rules. Jesus is encouraging us to think about the rules that govern our lives. A day of Sabbath makes good sense as our bodies need rest and time to worship and renew. And we are called to love each other. Would Jesus have been loving this woman as he loves himself if he had not healed her? Jesus could have asked her to come back tomorrow when it isn’t the Sabbath and then I will heal you. He didn’t. He acted out of love.
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SO WHO ARE WE? We are a cast of characters. Each of us, and all of us play all four characters to some extent, some of the time.
■ We are followers of Christ. Showing up here Sunday mornings, sitting in in the chapel or sanctuary on the grounds where people have gathered for more than 100 years to worship and fellowship, grow in their faith, and comfort one another.
■ We are the people in need of healing. Healing as individuals, healing as part of the body of Christ, healing as a church in transition. Ready and eager for Jesus to see us, and to be told that we are set free from our ailments. Ready to stand up and to praise God.
■ We are the religious leaders, striving to do what we understand to be right, struggling to know what God wants us to do. Wearing bracelets that say, “What would Jesus do?”. Questioning what we believe, challenging what others believe, broken and made whole by our savior.
■ We are Jesus, not because of what we do but because of what he did for us more than 2,000 years ago on a cross at Calvary. We can heal others, we can “see” others, we can teach each other, and we can love one another.
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ACT 1, SCENE 1 begins when we walk from this sanctuary this morning. May we act in ways that glorify God.