Sunday, August 22, 2010

Timing and Troubling (Luke 13:10-17)

I'm a believer in planning and organizing. Of course, like a lot of things I believe in, I do better expressing my belief than I do living it out, but I do believe in them.

Sometimes, though, planning and organizing and system creating give us situations that may actually prevent us from doing what we were planning to do. This healing by Jesus offers an example. The prohibition against work on the Sabbath was longstanding in Jewish law, dating to the time of Moses and Mt. Sinai. God told the people to rest one day instead of working all seven, so that they could spend time giving thanks to God and reflecting on how he was their ultimate provider. Good idea, good plan, good system.

But over the next thousand or so years, the system was refined so much that the people who followed it most strictly actually wound up using it against the purpose God had in mind for it. Restrictions on work meant restrictions on healing, which meant that this woman would not spend the Sabbath reflecting on what God provided for her, if they had their way. She would spend it as crippled as she had been for the last 18 years. Their system fit together so seamlessly and perfectly that it had no place for anyone else to grab hold and get inside.

Jesus rejected that idea, pointing out that even those who questioned him would untie their animals on the Sabbath and allow them to drink. They knew that the rule against work was not designed to make it impossible to help those in need, but they were willing to make it harder for Jesus just so their system remained in place.

Again, I like peaceful, orderly things. I like things that work smoothly and I suspect most of us do. I prefer things to be at rest than all stirred up unnecessarily. And Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the one who told his disciples that he left them his peace. But remember, that peace is not always the peace of this world. His peace focuses on our connection to God, that we may be at rest knowing God loves us. When it comes to the world around us, though, that's a different matter.

I think a true follower of God cannot be at peace with this world the way it is, any more than Jesus could be at peace with the idea of letting that woman suffer for one more day just so some legalists could keep things in their proper categories. If we have eyes and ears, we can see that there are things wrong in this world -- God may have made it and called it good, but we human beings have made choices in how we treat the world, each other and ourselves that have brought anything but good into it. Though our lives may be in good shape, and our situations alright, we know of too many others whose lives and circumstances are not.

Any peace that comes from ignoring those people and their problems is not the peace of Christ. Any peace that comes from caring about something else -- a cause, a rule, a system, a plan, whatever -- more than about God's children is not the peace of Christ. Jesus came into this world to disrupt that kind of peace, to trouble it, to help people who wanted to follow God know that one important way they would do so was to care about people they usually may not have cared about. He knew that they might not enjoy that kind of troubling, but without it, they might miss their chances to be true followers of God obeying God's call.

Tom Jones sings a song called "Did Trouble Me" on his album Praise and Blame.  A woman named Susan Werner wrote it, talking about all of the ways and times in which God troubled her spirit when her complacency might have led her to ignore things that she should have paid attention to. But, she acknowledges, that same troubling not only helped those in need but also herself.* God's troubling also had the purpose, she said, "for to keep me human and to keep me whole."

When God asks us to extend ourselves outside our own peaceful lives, he asks us to do nothing other than what he did. Remember, God is without sin and is perfect in holiness. Our free choices to sin against him and against his children are our problem, not his. He isn't required to do anything about it. But because of his love for us, he troubled himself, coming in the form of Christ, so that we could be made whole again.

Troubling news? In a way, certainly, but good news all the same.

*Ms. Werner is very up front about her agnosticism, so to be fair to her, she would be more likely to say, "God, if there is one, troubled her spirit."

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