It had been eighteen years. Eighteen long years of people not looking her in the face. It was hard for the woman to remember a time when she wasn’t bent over, like a tremendous burden weighed on her body or perhaps her soul. She wished people would crouch down to look her in the eyes, to see her longings, her frustrations, her joys, her concerns.
“Does anyone actually see me?” She wondered.
When people in the congregation passed her by, it seemed like they too were weighed down by burdens, maybe not bent double literally, but bent double figuratively. You could see it in their faces. Carved into their furrowing brows, you could see that they were anxious about their finances, their relationships, the unstable political system and oppression of the Roman empire. You could see that they had situations that kept that up at that night, that played in their minds on repeat as they tried to figure out what to do.
Like her, they showed up at the synagogue hungry to hear the stories of a God of liberation, a God who led them out of Egypt, a God who promised to Sarah and Abraham that their descendants would outnumber the stars, the one who had led them through the wilderness to the land of promise.
They hungered for these stories because they knew what it was to work for Pharaoh.
Pharaoh, who demanded barn after barn be built to hoard his grain, because in his world, success and greed and quantity told the story about his own self-worth
Pharaoh, who demanded the work each day, all day, without rest.
Pharaoh, who punished the people saying, “I will no longer give you straw, but you will have to make the same number of bricks.”
Pharaoh, who worked the people until they bent over from exhaustion and fear, because no matter how hard or how long they worked they could not satiate Pharoah’s demands.
Yet, God heard their cries, God crouched down and looked them in their face and saw their longings, their frustrations, their joys and their concerns and said, “I will rescue you from the hand of Egypt, out of your place of suffering, and bring you to a place this wide and fertile, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
So God sent Moses.
Moses, who had fled the land of Egypt because he had committed an act of violence against an Egyptian.
Moses, who had a speech impediment and likely stuttered.
Moses, who said, God do you really want to send me? I don’t know if I can do this. I’m bend down and sometimes it’s hard to see straight. Maybe you should send someone else, someone who has their stuff together, someone who has a little less baggage with the Egyptian people, someone who already know what they are going to say and how they are going to say it.
God reminded Moses: I am not Pharaoh. I don’t measure you by your production or wealth or success. I see with clarity your sacred worth – you are my child – and your weaknesses, I will use those too. I have always used imperfect people to bring about grace and joy, healing and redemption.
For our weakness points to God’s work … it points to the truth that God has the power to speak into our bend double lives and raise us up, deliver us from our burdens, lead us to the land of promise. God uses people who stutter, who are unsure of themselves, who run the other direction with God calls them. God calls people who laugh in the face of Good News because they don’t believe it, or those about whom others say, “Oh that person, that person’s beyond hope”. God uses the people that society casts out, those who are sick and those who morn and those who say, “I’m too young” or “I’m too old” or “Surely God, you want someone whose life is a little more together.”
God uses the ordinary people of the Bible to accomplish extraordinary things.
Moses at last stands up straight and sees clearly that is value is not based on production schemes or perfection but on identity: the truth that he is God’s beloved. So Moses says: Yes, I will go. I will say to the Pharaoh: Let my people go! Set my people free!
And Moses leads the people to freedom, to Mount Sinai, to a place where they too can stand up straight and start to remember who they are and to see too that their lives are not defined by how many bricks they made or how could the bricks were that they created.
There, they rest in their be-lovedness and the blessings of love that God has for them.
There, the people make a covenant, promising to have a day of rest, so that we can remember that it is not greed or anxiety that lays claim on us but life and love, which always lead us home, so that we can remember is that what God most wants for us is a soul-deep joy that always allows us to manage, to cope, to always find a way out through.
Homecoming. Joy. Freedom.
This is what the people in the synagogue hungered for most deeply. This is what the woman hungers for who has been bent over double for eighteen years of her life.
When Jesus walks to the synagogue in today’s passage, Jesus sees that.
With a sense of spontaneity and joy, Jesus walks over to the woman and says: “You are set free.” The woman stands up, the weight and fear sliding off her back, and with a lightness to her step, she begins walking around, thanking God.
God you are awesome! God you rock! God thank you for seeing me clearly!
The religious leaders are appalled … How could Jesus just go around and heal someone like that? Didn’t Jesus know there was rules to be followed and standards to live up to? Didn’t Jesus take these things seriously, hold these requirements as tightly as they did? This was not a time to be playful, joyful or glib, this was a time to get things done!
Yet Jesus invites us to ponder: Why do we have Sabbath, a day of rest in the first place?
Homecoming. Joy. Freedom.
I wonder if sometimes we lose sight of the joy that God intends for us because we become so focused on trying to do things right, and be the right people and say the right thing.
We cling so tightly to our desire for rightness, we hold tightly to our mistakes and our disappointments and we lose sight of God’s joy.
We lose sight like the Israelites, like Pharaoh, like the religious leaders.
And so we gather each week on the Sabbath to remember,
to remember to delight,
to remember to give thanks,
to remember to sing,
and to soak in the joy.
Jesus speaks to all of us saying: You are set free.
God’s joy doesn’t negate our suffering but allows us to cope, to manage, to find a way out though. It declares that we are not in bondage, chained to the situation that weighs down our soul. It shakes us up, shifts our perspective and allows the light to flow in.
You are set free.
From the bondage of Pharaoh. God crouches down and sees the toll of Pharaoh on you, Pharaoh who is never satisfied, Pharaoh who is driven by anxiety and fear and endless stores of grain and God declares: You are set free.
Homecoming. Joy. Freedom.
God’s joy comes and finds us even when we flee to far off lands like Moses or become bent double from life like the woman in today’s story. It finds us when we wander like the Israelites or wastefully spend every last dime we have like the prodigal daughter. God delights so much in us that if even one of us is lost God will spend all day and all week and all of a life time looking for us, because God sees our preciousness and beauty and worth, even when we can see it ourselves.
Homecoming. Joy. Freedom.
Come lie down in green pastures, come journey to still waters and restore your soul.
Come and delight in blessings of love, in the beauty of the creation, in the awe of a sunset. Take joy in standing up with dignity, delight in looking at your human kin face to face, and the knowledge that Pharaoh has no claim on you and that life and love are always more powerful forces.
Rest your weary feet and your weary souls knowing that who you are and what you have is enough.
Come rest. For you are free.