We stand corrected – Sermon on Luke 13:10-17

A trope you’ll hear about Lutheran theology is “justification by grace through faith.” These four words are thrown about as the compacted, condensed Lutheran understanding of atonement, or theology surrounding the forgiveness of sins. In other words, it’s the shorthand for how people, many a Lutheran included, will speak of how God does the work of salvation through Jesus. “Justification,” in this context, comes to us from St. Paul, primarily in his letter to the Romans, where he explains that creation is good but corrupted, and so God in Jesus is righting what is wrong. This is justification—to make things right again, to straighten them out, to correct them. When you justify a document you’re typing, you set the edges, left and right, to be straight. When you attempt to justify yourself, you’re trying to explain why you’re right, or at least why you’re not wrong.

And so, basically speaking, justification is about God putting us back into right relationship with him through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. We can therefore rightly think of justification as salvation, particularly when we think of salvation broadly—as we should—as more than simply new physical life from physical death, but as healing, restoration, peace, and wholeness in creation, not only for us, but for everyone and all that God has made. And this justification is done for us—that’s the grace—and understood by us through this relationship made possible by Jesus. We remember that faith is the name we give the special relationship we have with God. So keep that in mind as you listen today. You’re right with God because of Jesus.

Let us pray. May only God’s be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.

We call Grandma, lovingly, the Bionic Woman. In the late fall of 1996, Grandma went for her first titanium hip replacement. I still vividly remember leading up to fateful surgery. She struggled, oh, did she struggle to get around. She pushed herself too. You see, osteoarthritis had eaten out all the cartilage in her hip joint. The surgeon told her it was bone against bone when she moved her hip. For a person with a normal healthy hip, cartilage acts as a lubricant so joints pivot, flex, swivel, and slide with ease and without pain. In Grandma’s case, the ball of her femur rotated inside the socket of her hip like a brick sliding against another brick. By the time she finally was able to go surgery, Grandma often would double over with pain from simply walking. She had to use a walker even before the surgery.

She had her hip replacement. It went well—very well in fact. Soon she had another joint replacement. This time her knee. Then another hip. Then the other knee. And then she had to have that knee replaced again right after she was given the go-ahead to walk around without her cane because our dog knocked her over in the backyard, and the fall knocked it loose. Each of these replacements is titanium. Hence why we call her the Bionic Woman. For each of those replacements, Grandma went to see Dr. Bailey, her orthopedist, a surgeon whose specialty is correcting physical deformities caused by issues in your bones. Grandma loves Dr. Bailey. Because of him, she can stand without pain again. Because of him, she can walk again. He fixed her problems. You might say, because of Dr. Bailey, Grandma stands corrected.

In today’s gospel account from St. Luke, we have another healing story in the life of Jesus. We’re told he’s teaching in the synagogue and while he’s teaching, “there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was doubled over and was quite unable to stand up straight.” Some biblical scholars, looking for a medical cause for her situation, have in fact suggested this woman suffered from arthritis. For eighteen years. Anyone who’s had any kind of joint pain knows just how painful it can be…and to think, living with that for eighteen years, such that you’re so twisted and bent over that you can’t even look up, constantly staring down. And so, she comes into the synagogue while Jesus is teaching, and he takes notice. He speaks to her and tells her she’s healed. He lays hands on her—the imposition of hands has always been an important part of healing ministry. He lays hands on her, and “immediately she stood up straight,” and of course, “began praising God.” Who wouldn’t?!

This is an interesting situation. And there’s more going on here than we might first think. First of all, Jesus sets the woman free. That is the healing. What’s more, he sets her free by speaking. We know that God does his work through the Word, as in the beginning when he first spoke. Likewise, we know that Jesus’ work among us is God’s creative and redeeming work, and so when he speaks here, he is speaking new life into this woman. By the very speaking of a word, the Word heals her, sets her free from her ailment.

The second thing we notice is what happens when Jesus lays his hands on her. We’re told that “immediately she stood up straight.” Now—this isn’t quite what Luke wrote. What he wrote is more like, “immediately she was righted,” “immediately she was restored,” “immediately she was straightened out.” The root of the word that Luke uses is “orthos,” the same root in the word for “orthopedist,” a surgeon whose specialty is correcting physical deformities caused by issues in your bones. Orthos, in Greek, means straight, right, or correct. Orthodontist—a dentist who corrects tooth and jaw problems. Orthodoxy—right teaching. Orthography—correct spelling! Here, the woman is “immediately straightened out again.” She’s made right. She stands corrected—because Jesus freed her. And of course, as we stated, her response to all this is to praise God. Which is remarkable given what happens next in the encounter.

The leader of the synagogue is indignant. He comes out. I can just see it—eyes wide, angry, arms waving accusatorially, perhaps even pointing, condemning the woman, maybe saying something like, “Six days have been set aside as workdays. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh. Today is the sabbath! How lawless can you be?!”

This happens immediately on the heels of the woman, who’d be healed, praising God. The contrast can’t be starker. This woman, who for eighteen years had suffered, finally righted, is filled with thankfulness and pours out her heart in praise, while the leader of synagogue can only see what’s wrong—or at least, what he sees as wrong. The sabbath isn’t a day for working, after all!

This does leave us with the question though. If the woman had been crippled for eighteen years, why didn’t the leader of the synagogue do something about it before now? Maybe he ignored her. Or was it perhaps because someone like this woman must’ve done something to deserve to suffer? He’s condemning her, after all. Such thinking was quite common then, and even now, for that matter. How many times do the poor get blamed for being poor? The abused for being abused? How often do we point out reasons why someone’s lot in life is their own doing, not something we should rightly do anything about? This woman, on top of her physical pain, would’ve been shut out of life with the rest of the community because of similar ways of thinking. Not only did she suffer in body, but she also suffered in her relationships—and we can figure from that in mind and spirit. Her ailment kept her from right relationship with her community and with herself…and some would blame her.

But the synagogue leader is right. The sabbath is a day for resting and restoration. The sabbath isn’t a day for working.

But is it?

For us and for our salvation, for us and for our healing, God came down from heaven and righted our relationship with God, each other, and the whole creation. For us and for our freedom, God came down from heaven. We all know the story. Jesus was betrayed on Thursday night, and on Friday was crucified and died on the cross. As the sun was setting, his body was taken down since it was the Day of Preparation. Jews didn’t want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. And so Jesus’ body was taken down entombed. And he was dead inside the tomb all of Saturday, the sabbath, to rise again on Sunday morning.

We might be tempted to think that Jesus in the tomb on Saturday means nothing is happening, but we’d be wrong. On the sabbath, in the midst of death, God is still at work. In fact, God is at work bringing life from death—and it happens on the sabbath. After the sabbath rest, Jesus is raised to life again. We celebrate his resurrection by praising God because his resurrection is our resurrection. His death is our death. Just as Jesus righted this woman on the sabbath, so too did God right us and all creation with himself on the sabbath. The work of the sabbath is to right what is wrong, set free from anything and everything that would bring death, physical or otherwise, where God demands life.

Because of Jesus and the work he did for us on the sabbath, we stand corrected. We stand corrected before God. And we don’t have to do anything for it. It’s given to us. God gives us this great gift, righted relationship with him and everything, not because we need to please him, but because he loves us. And it’s this love that frees us.

And it’s this love, the love of God made real for us in Jesus, that we’re called to free others. It’s in sharing this love that we, like the woman Jesus heals, praise God. Too often the church, too often we, God’s people, the insiders who come to worship each week and do “what’s right”—too often we’re too caught up in what’s right that we miss the point. We can easily become unloving. What’s right, at the end of the day, isn’t keeping the rules or doing this or not doing that. It’s about freeing God’s love, embodied in real life—embodied in us. When that love is freed, the sabbath happens. Restoration happens. Renewal happens. Resurrection happens.

Just as Jesus set this woman right, just as he has set us right, so are we are charged as his disciples to do the same. We are called to speak out, like Jesus spoke out in the synagogue on that day, and let our words set free. Where are people doubled over in your life in need of God’s healing? What isn’t right that needs God’s love? Are there relationships in your life that are so twisted that only God’s wisdom could straighten them out?

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus and discern God’s will by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, poured into you at your baptism—the Holy Spirit. She will guide you, impel you, fill you. The Holy Spirit, just as she filled Jesus, will open our eyes to what is wrong and shut our mouths when it’s wrong. She will fill our mouths with what is right, what is truly right, so that we, like Jesus who did the same for us, might unleash God’s freedom. And so by our working, by our living, empowered by God’s gracious love, let us strengthen others, help them, and cause them to stand with freedom and value before us and the rest of the world because God has so strengthened us, helped us, and caused us to stand with such freedom and value—or, perhaps, because God has caused us to stand corrected.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s