By the Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
August 26, 2007
Read: Luke 13:10-17
Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and all of a sudden there appeared a woman who was bent over, unable to stand up…for 18 long years she suffered. She didn’t ask Jesus for healing…Jesus invited the woman over and freed her from her suffering. Recognizing from where the healing came, she immediately began praising God. She was free. Free at last.
But then, the leaders of the synagogue became caught up the rules. Caught up in rules, regulations and rituals. Rules, regulations and rituals that were initially created in order to help with community living. But sometimes, we go to the extreme with rules.
This morning, I’d like to share a fable. This is a very famous fable from childhood and it is being slightly altered to meet the needs of our day.
This fable happened long ago, some one hundred and fifty years ago when there was a ship sailing from England to the United States. When you sailed from England to the United States some one hundred and fifty years ago, it was usually a safe journey but also had the potential of being a frightening trip on one of those old large windjammers. It could be unnerving crisscrossing the ocean on a windjammer.
As this old man sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, his vessel was hit by a violent storm that started to shatter all the sails. The masts toppled over and slowly the ship was disintegrating. The old man threw his body into a life raft and before anyone could get into that life raft with him, that raft burst away from the main vessel. The raft set out to sea with only this little old man. He was alone in the life raft.
For two nights and days, the storm beat against this small raft and finally one day, the raft washed up onto an island shore. The man was alone on that island. As he washed up onto that island, the man did not know what to expect. He didn’t know whether or not there were renegade pirates on that island. He didn’t know if there were going to be savages there. He didn’t know if this was an English penal colony where they had gotten rid of the undesirables from old England. There were none of these.
Instead there were millions upon millions of Lilliputians, little people, about one inch tall. There were millions upon millions of these Lilliputians, and Gulliver was dumbfounded. The Lilliputians thought that Gulliver was a giant, a huge giant, cruel and mean. So the Lilliputians began to wage war against Gulliver and they pulled out their canons and they began to shoot at him. Their little wads of mud bounced off of Gulliver’s body, as did the arrows from their bows. The arrows were merely toothpicks which bounced off of Gulliver’s gigantic body.
So one moonlit night, when Gulliver was asleep on the hill, the legions of Lilliputians crept up silently with string and thread, and very quietly tied strings around each of his fingers. Hundreds of strings to each of his fingers and also to his wrists, elbows and arms. They put strings and threads around his chest, around his knees, around his toes. Every hair on his head had a string. The Lilliputians tied Gulliver firmly down, and when Gulliver awoke the next morning, he couldn’t move. He had been tied down by thousands upon thousands of silver thin threads.
Gulliver was sure to die because he couldn’t feed himself. Gulliver was sure to die because he couldn’t give himself water. Thus ends this version of Gulliver’s Travels. Did Gulliver live? Did Gulliver die? You complete the last epoch of the story.
One thing was sure: Gulliver needed to be set free from the thousands upon thousands of little ties and knots, strings and threads, that were holding him down and killing him and his freedom.
The meaning of this fable is obvious. It is the nature of human institutions, whether they be government, schools, churches, social conventions; it is the nature of human institutions to put thousands upon thousands upon thousands of little regulations on people in order to hold them down, tie them down and control them.
It is that attitude of Gulliver being strapped down with thousands upon thousands of little regulations that the Gospel lesson speaks about today. In the Judaism of that time in history, their religion had become a religion of a thousand rules and regulations. The original purpose of the Old Testament religion was to help people meet their spiritual and emotional needs. The purpose is to help people praise God and compassionately serve one another. But instead, there were thousands of little traditions that people could or could not do, and those regulations became the preoccupation of the Old Testament synagogue.
There was a regulation that said a person could not be healed on the Sabbath day. But, Jesus is the liberator. Jesus is the liberator who sets people free. Keeping Sabbath is not simply about time off. Keeping Sabbath is a means of participating in the freedom of the children of God, freedom from want, freedom from commercial gain, freedom from self-interest, freedom from the need to accumulate more stuff. In today’s story of the bent over woman, Jesus means freedom from rules and regulations that tie people down, because the rules and regulations become more important than compassion.
Jesus is saying that compassion is more important than following the letter of the law. Jesus means freedom, not only from sin and guilt. Jesus is forever freeing us to worship and compassionately serve our fellow human beings, in this time, this place and this culture. Amen.
(Based on a sermon by Pastor Edward F. Markquart)
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