Bent Out of Shape

Sermon preached on the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost, August 22, 2010

Jesus was teaching in a church one Sunday.  There was a woman there, so twisted and bent over with her burdens and brokenness that she couldn’t even look up.  She had been afflicted like this for eighteen years.  When Jesus saw her, he called her over. “Woman, you’re free!” He laid hands on her and suddenly she was unburdened, standing up and giving glory to God.

The pastor, furious because Jesus had healed on the Lord’s Day, said to the congregation, “Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.”

But Jesus, bent out of shape shot back, “You frauds! Each Sunday every one of you regularly puts aside your burdens, goes shopping, checks your e-mail and messages, catches up on some project, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to unburden this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the place of oppression that has broken her these eighteen years?”

When Jesus put it that way, the critical pastor and church leaders were left looking quite silly and embarrassed. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.

+          +          +

Bent, out of shape, off kilter, twisted, burdened, broken.  People and things get bent when they are over taxed; when too much weighs them down; when others expectations, or circumstances are oppressive     and reshape the physical and, or the emotional fiber of ones being away from how our Creator intended.

We too add to our own brokenness, changing ourselves from how our Creator intended, ignoring or taking advantage of others and creation.                                    

  • Through selfishness and greed, which alienate us from God and others, we get bent out of shape and curve in on ourselves.
  • Through exploitation of the environment and wasteful consumption, which alienate us from God and creation, we get bent out of shape and curve in on ourselves. 

We carry these burdens, we live broken lives so curved in on ourselves that over time, we may no longer see how we are sinful.  We may no longer see how we are alienated from other people and the goodness of creation God has so richly blessed us with.  We may live oblivious, unable to see the way that God intended us to live, imprisoned by ourselves, societal norms and expectations.

There are many who live as God intended…     but they may seem odd, out of the mainstream, out of touch, a bit bent from the norms of society… no matter how holy and faithful.  Saint Francis of Assisi fits this description.  He loved all of God’s creation, struggled to kill or shoo away even nuisance creatures like mice and mosquitoes.  While most often portrayed with animals, Francis loved God’s people as well.  In fact, he was one of those people…. You know the type, so full of God’s love that he couldn’t keep it all to himself.  Yes Frank was a hugger.

A few years ago there was a movement started by a viral video on You Tube where a person held a sign offering free hugs             in a variety of busy places in crowded places across the world.  What would you do if a modern day Francis offered you a hug, an extension of God’s love… would you break the physical space barrier norms of society and hug a complete stranger?

Hugging modern day saints and Francis of old, serve as God’s eyes and hands, offered and circled around others in need, extending God’s unconditional love.  St. Francis saw this action as God kneeling down through us, and wrote a poem about it:

I think God might be a little prejudiced. 

For once God asked me to join in on a walk through this world, and we gazed into every heart on this earth,

and I noticed God lingered a bit longer before any face that was weeping, and before any eyes that were laughing. 

And sometimes when we passed a soul in worship God too would kneel down.

I have come to learn God adores God’s creation.

Love Poems From God, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

+          +          +

In today’s healing on the Sabbath story, Jesus engages a woman who is bent under life’s burdens and unfairness.  We don’t know if her brokenness is…

  • Physical, causing her to be bent due to osteoporosis or arthritis;
  • Emotional, causing her to be bent due to mental illness or abuse;
  • or Spiritual, causing her to be bent due to oppression or being ignored by those who could welcome her into a faith community to strengthen her belief, sense of belonging, and bless her as God has blessed them.

We don’t know what has caused the person sitting next to, in front of, or behind you today, or ourselves to allow the weight of life to bend them out of shape.  But those circumstances are seen by God we are made holy and called by name.  Whether it has been 18 years, minutes, or seconds, whether we recognize our burdens or not, God does.  God sees the unnamed, faceless, ridiculed, out of step, off kilter, outcast and sinner, and calls us by name to unburden, forgive and sustain us.

Spiritual brokenness, the emptiness that even people of great faith  experience as being bent out of shape spiritually, disables our connection to God and one another.  It is a disability which keeps us from living life to the fullest, finds us lost on paths of self -destruction, wandering aimlessly down dead ends, takes away faith, hope and confidence, and leaves us empty as we try to fully rely on ourselves instead of on God.

As the church we are called to address the many ways that people are bent out of shape.  While we may not be gifted or able to address all physical or emotional issues, spiritual brokenness is the mission of the church.  Spiritual brokenness or disability takes many shapes:

  • Some people are unable to laugh at themselves or experience joy.
  • Some people are unable to admit that they are wrong or forgive.
  • Some people are unable to believe in themselves or God.
  • Some people are unable to trust others or belong.
  • Some people are unable to love or bless.

But God calls all the physically, emotionally, and spiritually -abled, dis-abled, or differently-abled to dwell together in community.  We are forgiven and fed together.  We are given belief, belonging and blessings together, as claimed and named Children of God.

In our baptism, we were called by name and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  We too are daughters and sons of Abraham, called named, loved, forgiven, and freed from whatever bends us over.  Just as Jesus called the woman to come to him, Jesus invites us to come to him claims and names each of us Child of God.  Just as Jesus helped her to stand tall in the face of life, Jesus takes those heavy burdened things we are aware of, and the things that we have grown used to living with each day and helps us, stands with us, as we stand up to it all.

So for all of us, even those of us so used to our bent-ness we don’t ever seek healing, and even if those around us assume that our being bent out of shape is just part of who we are…

  • God’s spiritual bent is becoming flesh in Jesus, and sending the Holy Spirit to be with us;
  • God knows and sees our deepest need, even when we don’t have the ability to do so;
  • God bends to us and helps shape us in God’s image through holy bread and wine;
  • God reshapes our bent out of shape lives each day and makes us holy.

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