Some of us here this morning are young enough that we are building those “back in the day” stories. Some of us are, well, perhaps a little more like a fine wine or a wheel of cheese: we have lived — or perhaps survived — those “back in the day” stories. Now, instead of calling ourselves “old,” we might say “I’m a rare vintage blend.” Well, for me back in the day, in another life and living in Seattle, I was standing in line to see a concert. In the typical Seattle way, it was raining. Not the downpour we’ve had here the last several days. Seattle rain is between a drizzle and a pour. Seattle-ites can tell a tourist a mile away because tourists are the only ones who carry an umbrella. So on this night, wearing my hoodie just like everyone else, I was wet but not soaked.
On the ticket were Godsmack, Lamb of God, and Metallica. I’d been standing in line for almost two hours before the show because I knew this venue, and I knew where I wanted to stand. So, I wanted in as early as I could get. Those of us in line were laughing and talking together, talking of other groups we’d seen and where, sharing our stories. Which groups gave a good show and which ones were horrible when we saw them live. Essentially, we were all having a great time anticipating the next several hours of the night.
Well, up ahead about ten people in line, a group of about seven or eight people were joining some friends who’d been standing in line. They greeted each other and started talking about what was going on and about the coming show. But, the new group who entered the line didn’t leave. They continued to stand there. And when the gates were opened, they started walking in with those of us in line. Here I was, having bought my tickets as soon as Ticketmaster posted them, standing in line for two hours and not being the first in line, and a group of fresh, dry people walk up and get immediately into the show. I was furious! Who did they think they were? How were they able to get in with all the rest of us? Why didn’t anyone behind the group say anything? Ugh! If they took “my” area on the floor where I’d planned to stand, there was going to be a fight! (Not really. I’m a Rottweiler in a Spaniel’s body.)
Last week I spoke of fire being not necessarily a force that scorches and burns but also a living presence, the living presence of our God. The presence that heals us and leads us and offers us comfort in the darkness and warmth in the cold. It is this presence that the writer of Hebrews desires to reveal to the people. They are accustomed to the fire that scorches and burns. But, this new fire is one that loves with the passion of sacrifice and endures to the end of time. This new fire is a consuming one, not of pain and anguish, but one that desires all that they are. Every part of our past, every story we hide, those incidents we have witnessed or experienced that we neither want to look at nor would we share with our grandchildren are consumed by this new fire. All those failures and flaws are consumed in this new fire. The new fire, this presence of the living God, desires to have all, to bring to light all that we are, all that we want, every part of us. And, this fire wants to know us and to change us and to make us new.
And in what ways are we to be made new? How might this fire change us? Well, let us look to the Gospel passage for today. Jesus is teaching in one of the temples on the Sabbath. This is a behavior that He has participated in since He was twelve years old, and the people are not surprised with His actions. As a matter of fact, Jesus is known as rabbi — teacher — and all of the areas He travel to know that He will lead them in His teachings. So, on this particular Sabbath, He is engaging with the crowds and teaching. And, on the fringe of the crowd is a woman who is bent over and cannot stand up straight. The Gospel writer Luke is a doctor and so would know about her physical ailment. However, he says that her physical situation is one of spirit. We read often in Scripture about illnesses that have been with individuals since birth or have come as a type of plague. But here Luke states that this woman is tormented by an illness of spirit. Jesus heals her and the leaders of the temple — the Pharisees — are enraged. As a result, Jesus engages with them regarding the customs and what He has done.
It is at this point I want to pause for a moment. I realize that this is only my second Sunday with you, but I’m going to go out on a limb and try something with you. I would like each of you to close your eyes. I would like to lead you through an exercise. Imagine if you will you are a member of the crowd. You have waited and waited to see this Jesus that you’ve heard so much about come to your village. You’ve gotten up early to travel into the city on the day He’s there and you’re trying to push your way to the front of the crowd so you can really get a good look at him. Much like any person would do at a concert. Perhaps you have your children or grandchildren with you and you want so badly for them to see this Rabbi who claims to be the Messiah. You see a woman right across from you, and Jesus glances in her direction, and then He actually looks at her and addresses her. He says something to her that you cannot quite understand, but all of a sudden she stands up straight. She stretches herself and the most beautiful smile breaks on her face. Her lips, her cheeks, her eyes smile and tears stream down her face as the years of pain and physical fracture are suddenly removed. How do you feel as you witness this event? What do you notice about this Jesus now?
Now, I would like you to shift your focus. Instead of being a member of the crowd, you are the woman. You have traveled so far to see Jesus. You have heard so much about Him and you truly believe that He is the Messiah, the one spoken of by your ancestors. You are old — no, you are vintage — and wish to see Him before you pass. You simply want to hear His voice and see his eyes and hands as He teaches. You slowly move through the crowd. Some people are irritated by you because you look so strange while a few are kind and help you to move in front of them. You finally make it to the front and have to twist your face sideways because your back won’t allow you to stand normally. Out of the corner of your eye you see Him, and He is so beautiful. His voice is strong and comforting. And just there, He looks at you. He looks straight at you. And before you can breathe, you see that He is walking towards you. He stands before you, but you cannot see Him very well because you cannot bend your neck properly. He bends down to you and speaks to you, “You are set free from your ailment.” He takes your hands and lifts you up as you stand straight for the first time in many, many years. And His eyes, His face is all you see as you look up. You never wish to see another thing again in your life He is so beautiful. How do you feel? What are you thinking? What would you wish to say?
And now, I want to shift your focus for one last time. You are one of the church leaders. One who has learned and studied and trained and memorized all the texts and stories from the ancients. You know all the names. You know all the places. You know all the procedures. And you are in the temple on the Sabbath and see this man you have heard so much about. You have witnessed what He just did with that woman. And all the studying and training and practice has flooded to your mind and you know what has just happened shouldn’t have happened, at least not today of all days. Who does He think He is? You have to make this right. This man is here for only a couple of days, but you are here every day, doing your work, helping these people, leading them in the ways you have been taught. You approach this man in order to correct Him and to remind Him of the rules that have come from your forefather Moses. But, this man rebukes you. He basically tells you that you treat your pack animals better than you do the members of your community. What? You see the crowd turn and look at you. You see the looks in their eyes. How do you feel? What thoughts are going through your mind?
Now, I would like you all to open your eyes again. What we have done is actually one element of a form of prayer: Ignatian Prayer. We read a passage of Scripture and imagine we are one component of the story. The component can change depending on the story or where we are in our lives. But, a purpose of this practice is to look at the story from more than just one perspective. Ultimately, we are to see the event from all eyes, and I’ve only chosen three from this passage.
My questions to you are: from each perspective that you watch the event, how do you feel? How might Jesus feel towards the woman, the crowd, the Pharisees? How might the woman, who was likely marginalized and invisible in the city, feel when all eyes were on her as the Messiah talked to her and changed her body? How did the Pharisees feel when what they taught and believed was challenged by a man who had a following much larger than they’d ever experienced? Were any of these people changed? Do we have a different perspective of the story? And, ultimately, who am I or who can I be in this illustration? In my concert story at the beginning, I was most certainly a Pharisee sitting in judgment and condemnation of what I believed was a wrong being committed. But there could have been much more to the story than I was aware?
My challenge for all of us is not only to experience our lives but be present in them. Slow down and watch. Why is someone acting as they are? Do they need a grace that I cannot offer by myself but only Jesus can through me? Do my own beliefs need to be challenged, the methods I act and respond within? Ultimately, in what way is Jesus approaching me to be healed or rebuked, and how am I responding? In what way is Jesus coming to someone next to me to heal or rebuke, and how am I responding? Or, is Jesus moving within me to heal or rebuke someone, and how am I responding?
Only you can answer these questions. Seek guidance through prayer and reflection and allow Jesus to show you yourself. And, allow Jesus to come to and, in His consuming fire, allow Him to do His work within you so that you are drawn closer into His consuming presence.