Old Testament: Jeremiah (1:4-10)
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
The Response: Psalm (71:1-6)
1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you..
The Epistle: Hebrews (12:18-29)
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
The Gospel: Luke (13:10-17)
Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “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?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
The past two Sundays, our first readings have been taken from the first part of the book of Isaiah. We would certainly say that Isaiah was called or maybe “drafted” by God; but we could also call Isaiah a “volunteer prophet.” In a familiar passage from the book’s sixth chapter, Isaiah is serving as a priest in the temple when he has a powerful vision of God. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” cry the mysterious beings that surround God’s throne. As the scene reaches its climax, the voice of God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah responds, “Here am I; send me!”
Jeremiah, about whose life and words we will now be hearing over the next two months, would never have said such a thing. From the very beginning, he tried to get out of being God’s prophet, God’s spokesperson. It was a job that he hated, one that seems to have caused him a lot of grief through most of his life. As he himself protests (20:7-8): “I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me… For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” Jeremiah had been given the unpleasant and extremely difficult task of speaking God’s word and doing God’s work in a terribly tumultuous time, in the last days of Judah and Jerusalem.
Serving as God’s representative and clearly speaking God’s word is always a daunting task, even though none of us is likely to find ourselves nearly so much at center-stage as Jeremiah was. But that certainly does not mean that our job is going to be easy either. As N.T. Wright warns (Twelve Months of Sundays, Year C, page 98), “Unless one has been overwhelmed by the size of this task, one hasn’t been paying attention.”
The story of Jeremiah’s call includes what is probably the most frequent word of command in the entire Bible: “Do not be afraid.” And that command is followed by what is probably the most frequent word of promise in the entire Bible: “for I am with you.”
There are many things that make our job of being God’s representatives in the world difficult. As I said last week, we are bound to face misunderstanding, and ridicule, and opposition, and maybe even rejection. But the job is complicated even more by the fact that we are never going to get a clear list of instructions: a specific set of directions on exactly what we are supposed to do. Among other things, that means that we have to pay attention – don’t you just hate that! We have to pay attention to the people and situations around us, and then take the initiative, the first step, in figuring out what needs to be done and then doing it. Jesus shows us how to fulfill that role.
In many of the healing stories in the gospels, people come up to Jesus and ask to be cured. A leper begs (Luke 5:12), “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” A desperate father pleads (Luke 9:38), “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.” Ten lepers cry out (Luke 17:13), “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They come to Jesus, asking for healing; and, in the name of God, he heals them.
But there are also instances in the gospels where Jesus takes the initiative even though the person in need never asks him for anything. One of those situations occurs in today’s gospel reading.
Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, when he sees a woman walk in. She is severely crippled, and Luke tells us that she has been bent over for 18 years. She never approaches Jesus, much less asks him to do anything. But Jesus is paying attention. He sees her suffering, he sees what needs to be done, and he takes the initiative. Despite the fact that he is likely to catch some flak for doing it, he brings God’s healing to her. Or, to use Luke’s phrasing, which is actually a much better way of putting it, she has been bound by her affliction, and now she is set free.
That is one valid way of characterizing Jesus’ entire life and ministry: going out to people who are bound in some way and setting them free. In Luke’s very first chapter (1:68), Zechariah exclaims:
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he come to his people and set them free.”
And all through his ministry he continued to set people free from whatever had bound them: physical illnesses, mental illnesses, a crippling sense of guilt, exclusion from the community in which they lived, an overall blindness to the kingdom of God which had now broken into the world. Jesus set people free from all of them, and from much more.
Like Jesus and the prophets before him, our role in the world is one of speaking God’s word and doing God’s work in order to set people free from whatever holds them captive. And, in order to do that, we can’t just sit back and wait for people to come to us. Like Jesus and the prophets before him, we need to pay attention to the people and situations and events that surround us and then take the initiative in addressing the world’s needs.
That’s one of the many things that the people of St. Mark’s have done and continue to do so faithfully. This past Monday, for example, members of this church participated in and led the 14th annual Open House cookout at Kemp Elementary School. This was something that we originated because we were paying attention. We realized that there were many parents who never met or talked with their children’s teachers during the year, and we knew how vitally important that was. Feeding them and their families proved to be a very effective way of getting them to the school and of meeting that need.
Other people at St. Mark’s have taken similar proactive approaches to serve the needs of those around us. Some, for example, recognized the value that the residents of Canterbury Court would find in learning to use social media to keep in touch with family and friends, and so they enabled that to happen. Others recognized the need that the senior members of this parish have for casual, social time together, and so they created the Lunch Bunch. Still others saw that the people who run the Food Pantry at St. Paul United Methodist Church needed help with their web site and newsletter, and so they volunteered to meet those needs. Over and over again throughout the 78 years of this church’s life, members have followed Jesus’ example, paying attention to the needs of the people and community of their time and responding to them in creative and generous ways.
What further needs are there in our community today? In what ways is God still waiting and wanting to come to people and set them free? Those are the questions with which we need to struggle together and which each of needs to ask. For God still calls men, women, and children to do that work of setting people free in every age. And God still waits for us to answer that call: “Here I am. Send me.”