August 21, 2022: Sermon by the Rev. Diana Peters

Bent out of shape!

Proper 16C, 8/21/22

Luke 13:10-27

Well, I’ve gotta’ say, these readings offer us some of the goodest Good News I’ve heard in a

long time. You know, you should save these readings on your refrigerator and if you’re feeling

down sometime, take them down and read them over again. God promises us some pretty great

things in these readings.

And how ‘bout that gospel reading? Have you ever heard the expression, “Bent out of shape”?

It’s funny, I just heard a story of a man who was bent out of shape:

 

Frank and Mabel had been married for 40 years. Frank turned 60 a few months earlier and now

they were celebrating Mabel’s 60th birthday. During the birthday party, Frank walked into

another room and was surprised to see his fairy godmother appear before him. She said, “Frank,

this is your lucky day. I’m here to grant you one wish–what would you like?” He thought for a

moment, and said, “Well, I would really like to have a wife who was thirty years younger than

me.” The fairy godmother said, “No problem.” She waved her magic wand, and “poof” suddenly

Frank was 90 years old.

 

Yeah, I bet he was pretty bent out of shape then! Today’s gospel is about two people who were

bent out of shape.

 

The first was a woman who was physically bent out of shape. While this might be a great lesson

for us women who are over 50 to take our calcium supplements, I think this was more than a case

of osteoporosis. One Bible Commentator I read said that her deformity was due to “having the

bones of her spine fused in a rigid mass.” Her disability was obvious. She was bent over at a

right angle.

 

Can you imagine what that must have been like? This poor woman had been this way for 18

years. I can just picture her so bent over that she couldn’t even look up and see the faces of her

loved ones. She had spent the last 18 years looking down into the dirt at her feet and everyone

else’s feet. No doubt, eating and drinking were difficult, and she could only rest curled up in a

fetal position. And after 18years, it must have seemed pretty impossible that she would ever

have a better life.

 

But then she met Jesus. And Jesus freed her from her bent-out-of-shape condition. "Woman,

you are set free from your ailment," he tells her. And then he touches her, and she’s healed.

 

It’s a great story, unique to Luke, who probably included it, based on the fact that he was a

physician and recognized the miraculous nature of this cure. But I’m glad he did. Because I

think it has some wonderful implications for us in our modern, but often bent-out-of-shape lives.

 

Think about it. What’s got you bent-out-of-shape?

• A physical ailment that’s changed your life, or that’s taking too long to resolve itself?

• Frustration over something you’re waiting for: relationship, a home, a change in your life, a

call from your kids?

• Anger at someone who’s wronged you, someone who’s got very different beliefs from yours,

someone with whom you’ve harbored a long-standing grievance?

 

We can take a lesson from the woman, who just showed up at synagogue, not really expecting a

miraculous cure, but who, bent over before the Lord, was touched, and healed. A woman, who

after 18 years of long-suffering, was set free from her ailment and went away praising God. We

too can be set free, maybe in the way we’ve been praying for, or maybe in an even more

profound way.

 

But what of the other bent-out-of-shape person? He was religious man who was spiritually bent

out of shape. And while the woman was crippled by a spirit of weakness, this man was crippled

by a spirit of legalism and bitterness.

 

The poor woman was shouting, “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!” But the leader of the synagogue

couldn’t stand it. He became indignant, all bent out of shape. In the midst of the rejoicing, he

jumped to his feet and ordered everyone to be quiet and stop rejoicing. Things are NOT going to

get out of hand in HIS synagogue! He quotes Exodus 20:9 to justify his action. There wasn’t

going to be any healing in HIS synagogue on the Sabbath. No sir.

 

But Jesus doesn’t let him get away with it. I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’

words in The Message: He says, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you unties your cow or

donkey from its stall, leads it out for water and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for

me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied

these eighteen years?”

 

The Jews had made a lot of convenience loopholes in the Sabbath laws. They had figured out a

way to untie their livestock and lead them to water, even if the water was more than a Sabbath’s

walk away. But there was no loophole that allowed a woman to be healed on the Sabbath. So,

effectively, Jesus pointed out that they treated their animals better than they treated people!

 

There are a few names for this kind of rule-centered faith: legalism, literalism, fundamentalism.

But it all gets down to one faulty logic, favoring the adherence to the letter of the law, while

ignoring the spirit of the law.

 

Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” But legalism decries

that statement. Max Lucado, an American Christian author and preacher, wrote in his monthly

publication, Up Words: “Legalism has no pity on people. Legalism makes my opinion your

burden, makes my opinion your boundary, makes my opinion your obligation. Nothing will keep

a Christian more immature than trying to keep a long list of rules.” (Up Words, May 1993)

 

But it’s from that crippling attitude that Jesus came to set us free! And let me tell you, I don’t

care how enlightened we feel we are, there’s some legalism lurking in us somewhere. And it

rears its ugly head when we spout such declarations as:

• But we’ve never done it that way before! or its twin statement

• But we’ve always done it this way!

• That isn’t the way my family, or my church, or my country does it! or in its worst form:

• It’s my way or the highway!

 

These attitudes cripple us, you see, because when we assume them, we’re like that woman whose

spine was fused in a rigid mass. Only it’s our mind that’s fused in a rigid mass, and such fusion

allows no growth. In fact, it keeps us in an attitude of looking down at the dirt, at our own feet and

the feet of others. It keeps us from seeing the sky.

 

But Jesus sought to free the leader of that synagogue from his crippling stance. And we’re left to

wonder if he was healed, like the woman. And if, eventually, he was able to praise God for his

healing, as the woman did. I pray so – for in his healing is the hope for my own healing, for our

own healings.

 

Isn’t it ironic? To Jesus came two people:

• one who was bent at a rigid angle, and

• one who was considered by all to be upright.

But after an encounter with Jesus Christ, one was made straight, while the other one was bent

low in shame.

 

Which one was saved that day? Well, if you think about it, they both received a gift that day.

Both were given the potential of a true healing. One by being lifted up, and one by being

brought down low. Leave it to Jesus: Healing the afflicted, and at the same time afflicting the

healthy. And all for his love’s sake.

 

So, I guess the moral of the story is, “Don’t be bent out of shape!” Jesus loves you, no matter

what. And, like no one else can, Jesus can straighten you up: straighten your mind, your body,

your heart, and your spirit. And that too is the Good News for today!

Amen.