By The Rev. Sherry Deets
14 Pentecost, Proper 16 – August 25, 2013
She didn’t have a name. She was simply known as “the cripple, the bent woman”. For eighteen long years, she had been getting worse and worse, so disabled by her bad back that she couldn’t stand up straight and could hardly walk. She had become her disability. When she shuffled by, people would whisper, “Look! There goes the bent woman!”
She was labeled. She no longer had a name—just a label. And we’re still good at labeling people, aren’t we. “Nerd, geek, jock, goth”—school is almost back in session, and those labels will be tossed around in hallways and cafeterias. “Drunk, bum, crook”—the labels keep piling up. “Man-hater, wife-beater, liberal, conservative.” On and on it goes. It’s so much easier to dismiss a person with a label than to remember that he or she has a name. (The theme and treatment of the nameless woman, named by Jesus, are inspired by William Willimon’s sermon, “What’s In a Name?”, in Pulpit Resource, Vol. 26, No. 3, July/August/September 1998).
A middle aged man sat with his pastor in a restaurant. The pastor ordered ice cream for dessert, and invited his lunch partner to join him. The man refused, insisting he could not tolerate the forbidden calories. “Why are you so concerned about your weight?” asked the pastor. “You’re not fat.”
“But I was,” the man replied.
“Really? That must have been a long time ago.”
“It was. When I was a kid, they called me ‘Chubby’. The name stuck with me all the way through college. I hated it! I smiled when they called me that, but deep down inside, I was dying. And I swore to God that, one day, nobody would ever call me that name again.”
The man’s pain was real. The label, even though no longer spoken, still lived in his heart. He still had a hard time saying it; he still believed it; he still couldn’t forget that he was once known to others as “Chubby”. To himself, that’s what he would always be.
He was a bent man, weighed down by the painful memory of his obesity, still carrying the biting label “Chubby” so close to the surface of his being. (The story of the preacher and “Chubby” is a personal story shared by William Willimon in his sermon: “What’s In a Name?”, in Pulpit Resource, Vol. 26, No. 3, July/August/September 1998).
And how are we bent? How are you incomplete, less than whole, dismissed by the labels you and others impose upon you? What sin, what imperfection, what shortcomings weigh you down? What leaves you bent and burdened? How are you and I among the “bent ones” of the world?
And how does Jesus respond to you, to me, to “Chubby,” and to all the “bent ones”? Isn’t that an important question, too, for those who want to follow Jesus?
The key is in his response to the “bent woman”.
What did Jesus do when she intruded into his life that day in the synagogue?
First, he saw her. Jesus noticed. He realized that there was an actual person there. He didn’t look right past her, didn’t just label her, as we might so easily do. He saw her!
As Jesus did so, he touched her. He touched the one who had been labeled and dismissed for so many years, and a woman at that, and in public, no less.
And Jesus named her. When the leader of the synagogue protested—it was the Sabbath, after all, and no good Jew would perform work on the Sabbath!—Jesus gave her a name. “She’s a daughter of Abraham!” Jesus retorted. “You’d rescue your livestock on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you? Then why not a daughter of Abraham who has suffered for so many years?”
No longer “the bent woman,” she was now a “daughter of Abraham”. She was no different from the synagogue leader, the other worshippers, the disciples, or you and me: she was, above all else, a child of God! SHE BELONGED TO GOD! This poor, crippled, ridiculed woman was granted the same dignity as all the rest of God’s people for all the centuries since Abraham and Sarah became partners in the covenant. And that name far outweighed the burden of her illness, the pain of being ignored and shoved aside for eighteen long years!
And what did the woman do? She stood up straight! For the first time in years, the woman was able to lift her head up with dignity and hope! Why? Because Jesus had seen her, spoken to her, touched her, healed her, and named her. JESUS REMINDED THE WOMAN OF THE TRUTH SHE—AND EVERYONE AROUND HER—HAD LONG FORGOTTEN: SHE WAS A PRECIOUS, BELOVED CHILD OF GOD!
The woman stood up straight, and responded to Jesus with grateful, joyful praise. She didn’t claim credit for her own well-being. She didn’t doubt, didn’t get skeptical, didn’t say “thanks” and walk away; no, she stood up straight and praised God for the wonderful things Jesus had done!
Because of Jesus, she was able to live as a new person, live in God’s new reality, live as a somebody when once she was a nobody. Because of Jesus, the woman was set free and now, finally, it was Satan who was bound. It was Jesus who empowered the woman to stand up straight, all because he recognized, recognized her need, and granted her wholeness and healing.
“Child of God.” Isn’t that our name, too? In Baptism, the word of promise was spoken over us when we received the water and the Word: “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever!”
So stand up straight! There is nothing that can completely bend you over or knock you down, because you are a child of God! Satan cannot bind you, sin cannot hold you, death cannot destroy you. You have a name! And you are free!
Today Jesus says to us and to all the “bent ones” of the world, “Stand up straight! You are a child of God! You are free from all that enslaves you! You are empowered to live abundantly, to live a life of praise and service to God!”
Today Jesus sees us, calls out to us, touches us, makes us whole, gives us a name. What a wonderful gift Amen.
(This sermon based on one by the Rev. Rick Thompson)
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.