And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long
years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus heals sick people throughout the New Testament -- it’s one of his most recorded
acts of ministry. Today, it’s a woman who has suffered from a crippled back for
eighteen years, but wherever Jesus goes, he is often to be found healing the sick, making
the lame to walk, restoring sight to the blind, and casting out demons. It is a central part
of his mission on earth, and the fact that Jesus spends so much of his time and effort
healing the sick reveals to us the kind of problem that sickness represents. And as
Christians, it is therefore our task to understand sickness as Scripture understands it, as
Jesus understood it; to identify it as the right kind of problem. Only then will we
understand the kind of solution that Jesus’ power of healing is.
There are several places in the Gospels, the four books of the Bible that recount the life and ministry of Jesus, where Jesus tells us in his own words why he came. Every Sunday in the Creed, we stand up and confess that the eternal Son of God took flesh in one human being, Jesus Christ, “for us and for our salvation,” and say that “he came down from heaven.” We bow at those words, in reverence before this central mystery of the Christian faith: God himself came to us as one of us.
So why did he come? If you had to answer that question, what would you say? Two of Jesus’ answers are in today’s Gospel reading, but I thought it might be interesting to look them all up. And it did turn out to be interesting, but for a reason very different than what I expected. So let’s hear from him. (As I read this list, by the way, it’ll have some examples of Jesus’ habit of talking about himself in the third person as the Son of Man, which is both an ordinary Hebrew way of calling himself a human being, and a quotation from the Old Testament that cleverly functions as a claim that he is the predicted Savior of the world.) Here is a list of the most direct statements Jesus makes in Scripture addressing specifically why he came.
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32)
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. (Matt 5:17)
The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind. (John 9:39)
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matt 20:28)
For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. (John 18:37)
I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)
I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
And finally from today’s Gospel reading: I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!... Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
It has been quite a week, hasn’t it? Acts of violence, multiple acts of violence in multiple places. We know from the news that even in Champaign-Urbana we are not without such evil. It is easy to see that there is much to fear in the world around us: terrorism threats, the economy, changing weather patterns, unemployment, hunger, poverty, homelessness, drug and other addictions, disease and death and on and on. It has seemed impossible to escape the knowledge of evil acts all week. And with our awareness of that evil often the effect is fear. We may question, where are we safe? Where are we able to get away from the chance of violence touching us or our loved ones. If we have not been afraid before, we fear now. This week, if you are like many, you may feel that the world has tipped a bit; things aren’t quite right. Even if we are not outright afraid, there is a sense of heightened uneasiness.
So, what is a Christian to do in the middle of this uneasiness? How do we, who are believers in Jesus Christ, deal with this fear?
In a 2011 essay in the New York Times, young mother Emily Rapp described some of the pressures she felt to be the best parent she could possibly be.
During my pregnancy, I devoured every parenting guide I could find. My husband and I thought about a lot of questions they raised: will breast-feeding enhance his brain function? Will music class improve his cognitive skills? Will the right preschool help him get into the right college? I made lists. I planned and plotted and hoped. Future, future, future. …All parents want their children to prosper, to matter. We enroll our children in music [lessons] or take them to Mommy and Me swim class because we hope they will manifest some fabulous talent that will set them — and therefore us, the proud parents — apart.
I discovered Emily Rapp’s essay in a new book called Seculosity. It’s by Episcopal layman David Zahl, and reviews and interviews about it have showed up a lot of places: the LA Review of Books, The Guardian, the Associated Press and seemingly every podcast in the world. The title, Seculosity, is a word that Zahl coined: secular plus religiosity. The book is based on the empirical observation –which to me seems inarguably true, though of course you are free to argue with it – that now that very few Americans shape their lives around any historic religion, the human instincts and needs to which the historic religions respond have not disappeared – far from it. They’ve just attached themselves to other things.