In giving thanks to God by seeking the welfare of even those who attempt to hold us in captivity, we are promised that in that radical act we will find our own welfare. Something happens here when we give thanks by living free even in the face of oppression. Something happens when we look inward and thank God for what new facets of our identity we find. Something happens when we respond to our own healing by running back to God at this table and giving thanks for all that God has done.
Jesus shows up at the borders. Where we build walls or draw lines of division, God dwells and erases anything that divides us and them. The Holy One breaks down barriers that divide and embraces everyone. Jesus hears the cries of all who call out for mercy and heals those who recognize and thank the healer and those who do not.
Being known. It’s almost scary to think about, almost like it feels like being found out, but the truth is that God knows every part of you that you try to hide from the world. Those parts of yourself that you think are unlovable, unredeemable, unmanageable, God knows those parts and blesses them. Self-consciousness may be a weight around each of our necks, but having places to lay that weight down is necessary. So whether its with your pet at home after a long day, or here at church, trust that your real self is who God created you to be, and whenever you allow your real self to be known it’s an act of praise and thanksgiving to God who fearfully and wonderfully made you. It may be the curse of self-consciousness that sets us apart from other animals, but it’s these other animals that set us back to our real selves and reveal who God is to us.
All the faith you need is all the faith you already got. And as we gather around this table where there is enough for everyone, and when we affirm that in the bread and wine, is the body and blood of Jesus, we affirm that all we need is here. There is no striving, straining, or work that needs to be done to earn this meal. All it takes is for you to take your place and God’s table is prepared, and with open empty hands outstretched, receive the gift of God’s presence.
We know that the devil’s time is short, and while it isn’t easy to persist in the face of the devil’s wrath we know that St. Michael and all the angels are on our side in the battle. Moreover, God has prevailed through Christ over the forces at work against the purposes God, those demonic, satanic, dragons that are raging everywhere from gun violence, to environmental destruction, to racism, to that voice in your head that tries to convince you that you are not enough. Those forces and the voice of the accuser are coming from a desperate, defeated place, and we through the power of God in Christ can and will overcome those forces and ignore those voices trusting in the victory of Christ.
So who or what is the enemy, then? What would you say? Sin inhibits us from realizing our full human potential. And one prime example is when we dehumanize others. We talk about dismantling the structures of racism. Think of Michael’s spear as a dismantling sword. Power systems need to be dismantled as we seek the common good, not only for the human family, but for our very planetary home. Yet, in Revelation, Jesus is the nonviolent Lamb whose victory is marked by suffering love. The Satanic power of violence is cast out of heaven in the cosmic war. It may be angel day at church, but everything points to the cross of Christ and the victory of Easter.
Let us imagine Jesus talking to us today about the systems (or empires) that oppress us and those around us. How can we middle-managers act shrewdly today to give honor to the earth? To challenge a system that works against our black and brown siblings? To welcome the stranger standing at our border, people who have risked everything out of their own desperation for a better life?
A snake on a wooden stick. Christ lifted on a tree. Matthew Shepard dead on a Wyoming fence. Yet, the human heart is resilient. Lift high the cross. Trust the promise of baptism: that out of death, God births life. Reverence the holy cross. As Luther urged, trace it on your body at day’s dawn and days’ end. Bow as it passes. Eat and drink its mystery each Lord’s Day. Let this sign of beauty be for you, the very heart of God.
Yes, you are free from the bondage of sin. You are no longer enslaved to the false gods of materialism and accumulation. And that has everything to do with the future of the earth and the growing list of endangered species. Because of divine forgiveness and mercy, you are set free. Set free to take risks for the sake of the gospel. Set free to take risks for the sake of our beloved earth. Set free to take risks for the sake of the most vulnerable among us. Like the Israelites, in baptism you walk through water, from bondage to freedom! Your call is to bring others with you.
There’s no softening it or explaining it away, discipleship, carrying our cross, will ask of us, a lot of us, and as earthen vessels filled with the breath of God it will bend us, crack us, spoil us, but God our potter is ever creating us anew until we fully live into the kinship we share as members of the family of God. It’s a kinship that extends beyond our homes to the farthest corners of our cosmos. Relationally reshaped, reformed, resurrected we are made one in Christ.
We come, because after Jesus’ death, as before it, there is this meal. A bargaining table for a contract negotiation can be a holy place when justice is served. What we Christians know about justice, about community, about how to value work and workers, we learned from the prophets of ancient Israel and the Rabbi from Nazareth. At the table, from the beginning, and now for folk like us – who did not know Jesus, who never heard him preach or see him heal, folk who still know of fear and hate and hurt – still are filled with a vision of the Kingdom of God, and with a power that changes lives and heals a world.
The healing of the woman in our gospel story today is certainly good, but Jesus does not heal this woman in order to restore her posture and realign her with a broken world that bent her in half in the first place, but rather, Jesus heals this woman to reveal the ways in which the inflexible, oppressive rules of this world must be bent so that all people can be set free. The healing and freedom that Jesus offers the crippled woman, even though he must bend the rules to do so, is an invitation for the rest of us as well to assume a flexible, open, graceful, Christ-like posture towards creation, our fellow siblings, and towards ourselves, all of which are being bent over by the demonic forces of this world.
This is our call story. That we have been freed from what burdens us, we are turned outward from our selves and our own failings and phobias and doubts to proclaim this healing, this transformation that we have experienced to the world. And in the face of whatever doubts or fears or disqualifications we or the world might throw out, God’s promise stands strong. God reaches out to us whenever, wherever we stand in those dark times, touches us, and promises to be with us. To give us the words. To never leave us.
Mary is the Mother of all the living. Yet through baptism God calls us to be mothers as well. Everybody gets to be Mary. We are all full of grace. All highly favored. All called to be God-bearers, bringing to birth justice and joy in the world. Whether we have been mothers or not, whatever our gender, whatever complicated relationship we have or had with our mother. And like Mary—at our falling asleep, at our death—God promises to bring us to the glory of our eternal home.
Mary, often called Theotokos – God-bearer, or Mother of God – birthed Jesus, yes, yet even more so, her yes to God was but the beginning of the birth pangs of God’s new creation. In Mary’s womb was, as the old Latin hymn puts it, “heaven and earth in little space. “ What wondrous births might be waiting to come to be through us if we, like Mary, are both humble and courageous enough to say yes to what God wants to do in our lives?
Here’s the ironic thing. Christianity is a materialistic religion. We value the stuff of creation, the stuff of bodies, the stuff of earth. And many of our possessions hold deep memories and connections. Yet, in our day and time, it can seemly nearly impossible to go against the grain and not define ourselves by what we have, what we make, what we do. Jesus warns about being rich in possessions but not rich toward God. Sounds spiritual, but what does “rich toward God” even mean? Maybe simply asking the question is a good start.
We all struggle with shame wrongfully imposed on us by others...for who we are, what we look
like, who we love, our work, our lifestyle. We pick at the specks in each others eyes while the
logs of racism, wealth inequality, environmental degradation, and xenophobia remain firmly
lodged in place. Yet...our infinitely compassionate God hears our cries, receives our
brokenness, and provides us with something greater than we ever could have imagined.
The never ending to-do list, the ever depressing headlines, the countless real and imaginary things we spend our time worrying about or in fear of, it is all distraction from God’s eternal grace that cuts through, and returns us to who we are and whose we are, God’s own beloved child. With that grace as our vision and our wisdom, we will experience true liberation from all of the things distracting us and we prophets will become prophets of grace, inviting others to experience freedom from distraction by our words and deeds that prophesy to God’s radically free grace poured out for all people and creation. Sometimes it means stopping what we’re distracted with for long enough to sit at our prophet’s feet and be reminded and returned to that grace that frees us and stirs us to action. Amen.