“What Do You See?”
What Do You See?
A Sermon by Rev. Amy Pitton, delivered at Bethany Church, UCC Montpelier, VT on Sunday, August 25, 2019
Based on: Luke 13:10-17
“Words of a Modern Day Prophet,” by Mary Oliver
“There are things you can’t reach. But
You can reach out to them, and all day long
The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of god.
And it can keep you busy as anything else, and happier.
I look; morning to night I am never done with looking
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
As though with your arms open.”
Read: Luke 13:10-17
- Reader 1: Anna
- Reader 2: Joshua
- Reader 3: Jesus
Will you pray with me please? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be truly acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Pastor: When I approach a Bible passage, I often try to place myself in the story. As I have said before, people are people, whether they lived in the first century of this era, or now. We have more in common with the people of the Bible than we often think. I can almost always find common ground, and when I can see that, I then have insight into how God wants me to act as a follower of Jesus.
In this morning’s passage, there are several characters that we can take a look at. And I thought it would be interesting to imagine a fuller story than what we are given here and tell that story. I invite you to listen to the stories, and see where you fit in.
Reader 1: My name is Anna and I live in a small village. I have lived here my whole life, and still live in the house where I was born. When I was a young woman, I worked hard in the house and the garden, helping my family have a comfortable home. I took particular pleasure in being outside, and enjoying the wide views from our farmyard and loving the beauty of God’s world. One day, after a particularly hard day’s work in the garden carrying water to water my lovely tall fruit trees, I felt a twinge in my back. I thought nothing of it, after all, with hard work comes lots of little twinges and pains. I went to bed that night, and slept poorly – I was just not able to get comfortable. In the morning, when I woke up, I found that I could not straighten my back. I tried stretching, but that only brought pain. I stayed in bed for the day, thinking that rest would help relax my muscles, but it didn’t help. We called in the local doctor, and he recommended more rest and perhaps some hot stones on my back, but nothing helped. Eventually, I just learned to live life bent over. I could still contribute to the household, but I found that I was limited. My movements were restricted. I could sew, and cook, and clean, and even still carry things, but not as easily as I had before, and pain was always with me. Even more restricted was my sight. I could only see what was right in front of me – I could not stand up straight to see my beloved trees, I could only see what was on my lap, or on the ground in front of me.
With this limiting of sight, my world became smaller. I couldn’t take the long walks in the fields and see the distant hills. It was harder to navigate the marketplace, and I stuck to shopping with the few merchants I knew, as it took a lot of effort to see the wider possibilities. I wasn’t able to tend to our sheep, because I could no longer scan the horizon for dangerous predators.
Yet, with the limiting of my physical abilities over these last eighteen years, I had one blessing, the gift of time to sit and think. I’ve thought about life, and what makes a good life. I’ve thought about vision and what we are able to see, and what happens when our sight is narrowed. Because I had time to observe other folks, I saw that while some folks had healthy backs and plenty of long distance vision, they restricted themselves in what they could see, consumed with worry about what was right in front of them and forgetting to look up and see all the possibilities around them. I told myself that if I was ever able to stand straight again, I would make sure that I always kept my head up, looking at and appreciating all the wonders that surround us.
Reader 2: My name is Joshua. I have been the rabbi of our little synagogue in our village for a number of years now. I like to run a tight ship here at the synagogue – we do things by the book. After all, isn’t that why God gave us the law, so we would know the correct way to live and follow it faithfully? Of course. But keeping things in good order is hard work. I often wonder why people can’t be as disciplined as I am. Instead, they are always trying to bend the rules. And my fellow rabbis are always talking, talking, talking about the scriptures and what the stories, and even the law, actually means. As if it isn’t clear. Sometimes I get so frustrated with them – they take a statement that I see so clearly and muddle it all up. Is nothing set in stone? I mean, the commandments from God were literally written on stone, and you’d think their meaning would be clear-cut. For example, “You shall not kill” is pretty clear in my book. But no – not for them. I get so frustrated with the discussions that devolve into arguments. Does the commandment to not kill mean that we simply cannot kill other humans? What about killing as punishment – you know, putting a murderer to death for their crime, an eye for an eye and all that. Does it mean we cannot kill another living thing? What about a pesky mosquito? The discussions go on and on. Why can’t we just know what is right and wrong? I just want to see clearly what is I am supposed to do.
Reader 1: Hi. Anna here again. Something amazing happened this morning. As you know, it is the Sabbath, I was going to worship at the synagogue as I usually do. My back was sorer than usual, and I was moving slowly. Suddenly, I heard a voice calling out for someone. At first I ignored it, because I couldn’t see the person and who would be calling for me anyway? But, then, someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me that the visiting rabbi wanted to speak with me. So I made my way over to where he was teaching. As I came to him, he reached out his arms, enveloped me in a hug, placing his hands on my back. Then he said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” I was so surprised that I instinctively went to straighten up and look into his face. And – my back straightened out – no pain, no stiffness, nothing! I cried out in surprise! What had happened? I don’t know how he did it, but that holy man cured me! I couldn’t believe it! I looked into his eyes, and there I saw complete and total love shining out at me! I laughed out loud with joy and immediately, I gave thanks and praise to God for this man and for the healing I had received. I still cannot believe it!
Reader 2: Such a ruckus in the synagogue this morning! That traveling rabbi Jesus was teaching this morning – that man just makes me nervous. He is so calm, so confident in his teaching and people just drool all over him. And the way he interprets scripture – just like all those other rabbis who are always bending the clearest of teachings to make them say something else! Pah! Anyway, I was sitting near the front of the gathering, listening to him with half an ear, when suddenly he stopped, and called out to a person who had just come in. I turned to see who it was, and at first I couldn’t see who he was calling to. Then I realized it was that crippled woman Anna – what would he want with her, anyhow? She slowly came over, and when she reached Jesus, he went to give her a hug, and then said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” And she stood up straight!
I have known Anna her whole life, and I know that she has been crippled for at least fifteen years. How was it possible that she was standing up straight? Anna was laughing and the people around us started to go crazy. Such unseemly behavior for a Sabbath morning service! And, seriously, there isn’t a clearer commandment than the one that tells us to keep the Sabbath holy. I jumped to my feet and over the noise of the crowd, said to the congregation, “There are six days on which work should be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” Suddenly it was quiet and a few of my friends were nodding their heads. The rabbi Jesus turned to me, his gaze piercing. He said in a low voice, “You hypocrites. Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” My mouth dropped open and I could feel the blood rushing to my face. The crowd broke out in cheers, clapping each other on the back and celebrating what had happened. I snuck out of the synagogue and made my way home. I try so hard to be faithful, to follow God’s law to the letter. How can I be called a hypocrite? (looking up) God, why is it so hard to follow you?
Reader 3: Hi. My name is Jesus. This morning I had the opportunity to teach in a local synagogue. As we discussing the scripture of the day, I saw a woman come in the door. She was nearly bent in half, and her steps were so slow and painful. My heart went out to her – what must it be like to live one’s life bent over like that? I called out to her, and it took a moment for her to realize that I was talking to her. I think she is used to being invisible in the crowd – people don’t want to see her pain. But when she realized that I meant her, she came over to me, and I was so overcome with compassion that I reached out immediately to give her a hug. I said in a gentle voice, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” She was so surprised that she stood straight up and looked me in the face. Then, realizing that she was standing straight up, her eyes widened. I looked at her with my heart in my eyes, and then, we both laughed! And she began to praise God. It was a beautiful, holy sight.
Sadly, not everyone saw it the same way. The synagogue leader, bless his heart, started nattering on about it being the Sabbath and the commandment to keep in holy. He literally told folks to come back tomorrow if they needed healing. There were others in the crowd that were nodding as he spoke. Sometimes I get so tired of folks who see the law as something to keep people in their place, rather than a gift from God that will help us to be in good relationship with each other. Sadly, I was a bit snippy with them– I even called them hypocrites. That is probably going to get me into trouble someday soon. I asked them if they untied their animals on the Sabbath to lead them to water for a drink. Because of course they do. So then I asked them if this woman, who is one of our sisters who had been bound for eighteen long years, shouldn’t also be set free from her bondage on the Sabbath day. They had no answer for that, of course. I turned back to the woman, who I discovered was called Anna, just like my grandmother. She was radiating joy, and so grateful to be upright, to be able to see and to move. It was a beautiful sight to behold.
I often wonder why people choose to see the things they see. Some folks see only what concerns them. They get caught up in the cares and concerns of their own lives and are unable, or maybe unwilling to look beyond the small circle of their lives and see how other’s lives might be different from their own. Some folks, instead of seeing, choose to look away. They see someone like Anna, who was bent over because of her illness, or someone who is poor, or has made mistakes, or is from away, and they pretend they just don’t see them. Those folks are literally made invisible because people do not look at them. Then there are the folks whose vision is so narrow that there is no room for compromise or adjustment. That fellow in the synagogue this morning was so concerned about seeing that the law was followed that he didn’t see what was really important – that a child of God who was bound up needed to be freed, no matter what day it was.
I believe I came into this world to help people see – to see what makes life meaningful, and beautiful, and loving. I teach them to look at what is really important – each other. I try to open their eyes to see the ways that we can all have the lives that my Abba intended for us to have – lives that are rich in love and affirmation and peace. I remind them that God cares so much about them that they do not need to be blinded by their worries or myopic in their worldview. Sometimes their eyes are opened and they see the wisdom of my Abba’s way. I rejoice when that happens. I wish it happened more often. Yet, I keep at it, because even if they can’t see it now, I know that it is in seeing the world through the eyes of love that the world will be saved.
Reader 1: I am so grateful to be healed, to be able to stand straight and tall. I am so thankful to be able to walk the fields and see the distant hill and to be able to look with pleasure at the very tops of my fruit trees. I have not forgotten the things that I came to understand about what it means to see, and I am so thankful that Master Jesus saw me, really saw me, in the synagogue, for it was through his love that I was healed. May God bless my eyes and your eyes as well, that we might continue to see what is really important in this life.
© Rev. Amy Pitton, 2019