August 25, 2019

2019 August25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Way of Love

Proper 16 – Year C
A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Karen Siegfried

 

Last week while walking on the beach, I came across a young sea lion who was injured, probably from a shark attack or a mishap with a motorboat. Two women were standing nearby, talking on the phone to the Marine Mammal Rescue Center, asking for advice. They had drawn a circle around the sea lion to protect him from people walking by. Filled with compassion, they were hesitant to leave this sea creature alone until the rescue team could arrive. It was quite difficult for me to witness the suffering of this sea lion. Immediately, I wanted to do something to relieve his pain. Perhaps this is how Jesus felt when he noticed a woman who had been crippled for over for 18 years. Let’s take a closer look at today’s gospel story.

 

The year is around 30 A. D. and Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. In this particular story, he is teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath day when he notices a woman who is unable to stand up straight. She has been in this debilitating condition for almost two decades.

 

Now I want you to imagine for a moment being in her shoes: bent over, incapable of standing up straight, unable to look up at the sky, glancing only side to side in order to navigate your path, and spending the majority of your waking hours looking down at the ground. How diminished would your life be? Would you even be able to perform activities of daily living, like cooking, cleaning, and raising a family? How popular do you think you would be at a community gathering? Would people make eye contact with you or would they simply glance over you as if you did not exist? Over time, you might find yourself fading into the background like many other disabled people, never being asked for your opinion or treated with respect. It is into this context of limitation and bondage that Jesus lays his hands on the woman and sets her free from her ailment. What a gift! What an act of compassion! Imagine the joy that must have been experienced by all those who witnessed this incredible act of healing!

 

Well actually, not everyone was overjoyed. Instead of thanking Jesus for healing this unfortunate woman, the leader of the synagogue criticizes him: “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” Imagine being censured for healing someone on the sabbath. Imagine being so legalistic that adherence to the law takes precedence over compassion. How is it that some so-called religious people can ignore the suffering of others under the guise of following the law? How is it that they often punish, discriminate, and exclude those on the margins using scriptural citations as their justification? Why is it that some people have become so hardhearted in the face of human suffering?

 

I think there are a lot of reasons why people close down their hearts when they come face to face with suffering. Some of us are so overwhelmed with all the problems in the world that we become paralyzed, hoping that someone else can fix the mess that we are in. Others are so focused on their own lives and those of their immediate family that they have no time or energy left for the outsider. Some folks are fearful and prejudiced, refusing to help those who are different from themselves. Others are unwilling to address their own wounds and so they tend to keep things ‘light’ by eating, drinking, and making merry, thus shielding themselves from the suffering of others as well as their own. Finally, there are those who have lost their moral compass and have joined the ranks of people who corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. And so, in this seemingly hostile world, daunted by chaos and pain, it is easier to turn away, forgetting that our primary mission as Christians is to walk the way of love.

 

Today’s gospel story is a call to
restore compassion to the center
of morality and religion.

 

It summons us to reject any interpretation of scripture that hinders healing or breeds indifference to human need and suffering. “The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.” [Charter for Compassion]

 

If we are perfectly honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are all bent over, in desperate need of healing. Some of us are held in bondage by physical ailments while others struggle with emotional wounds, financial insecurity, or spiritual emptiness. And while our medical system has made tremendous advances in treating injuries and illnesses, the healing of the human race requires all of us to participate if we are to move forward towards wholeness and peace. This is the ministry of healing to which we are all called. The Episcopal Church has named this ministry of healing, “The Way of Love.”

 

The Way of Love is a way of life. It is more than a program or curriculum. It is an intentional commitment to follow Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus called his disciples to give, to forgive, to teach, and to heal in his name. Being empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are to follow in his footsteps by blessing everyone we meet through the practice of generosity and compassion. We are called to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ with hopeful words and selfless actions. This is the way of love. This is the vocation of a true Christian.

 

Last month, a friend of mine received a letter from someone she worked with over 40 years ago. It seems that her fellow worker “Annie” is having significant health problems which include a lack of mobility, cataracts, and depression. This is what Annie wrote in her letter: “Life for me is not good. I am depressed most of the time. The loss of my daughter [who was murdered] and the loss of my grandson [who was killed in a car wreck] has just about killed me. I fell four years ago and injured 4 discs in my back. The pain is bad and I can’t walk without a walker. I am stuck in my house because it is hard to go down the steps. I need a ramp but we don’t qualify for outside help. Our trailer is rotting around us. So pray for us and I pray for you always.” [Wow…talk about being bent over!]

 

Unlike Jesus, my friend does not have those gifts of healing that would restore Annie’s mobility or eyesight. However, like Jesus, she is full of compassion and offered what she could to help this woman who is bent over and living in the rural Midwest some 2000 miles away. Immediately, she got on the internet and found resources that could help Annie address some of her problems. She offered concrete suggestions, encouraged her not to give up, and advised her to become more assertive in getting the medical help needed. With words of encouragement in a carefully written letter, she included a check for $1000. And while these offerings of kindness will not directly cure Annie of all her ailments, it gave her hope and motivated her to take action. For without hope, the human heart would break. Annie’s doctor is now trying to find a way to get her depression medication paid for. A ramp was recently installed on her trailer. And Annie decided to use the $1000 to help pay for her cataract surgery.

 

  • “Every act of kindness grows the spirit and strengthens the soul.”
  • “Kindness is having the ability to speak with love, listen with patience, and act with compassion.”
  • “Kindness is giving hope to those who think they are all alone in this world.”
  • “Kindness means building bridges instead of walls.” “Kindness has a beautiful way of reaching down into a weary heart and making it shine like the rising sun.”
  • “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”


Every act of kindness, every deed of love, every gesture of compassion, no matter how big or small, can send ripples through the universe. There are many different kinds of offerings that pave the way of love: a smile, an authentic greeting, spending an extra moment to listen to someone’s problems, sending a card of affirmation, having a cup of coffee with a bereaved person, driving someone to the doctor’s office, finding resources to solve a problem, and sharing your own gifts of healing and generosity. And because we cannot accomplish the way of love with our ego strength alone, we need to rely on God’s grace to soften our hearts and transform our minds. This is the purpose of prayer.

So in a humble posture of openness to God’s grace, I will close with this Franciscan Blessing:

 

“May God bless you with
discomfort at easy answers,
half-truths, and superficial
relationships so that you may
live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at
injustice, oppression, and
exploitation of people, so that
you may work for justice,
freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears, to
shed for those who suffer pain,
rejection, hunger and war, so
that you may reach out your
hand to comfort them and to
turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with
enough foolishness to believe that
you can make a difference in the
world, so that you can do what
others claim cannot be done: to
bring justice and kindness to all
our children and the poor.”

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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