I wanted to give you all a mustard seed today. So you can see how small and insignificant they are. They are so small in our hands that I would suspect they are easy to drop and impossible to find again, you’d simply have to leave them to be vacuumed up later without even being noticed. When we think of regime and government changes in the world we don’t think about small things like a mustard seed, we don’t think about everyday things like yeast being added to flour to make a whole batch of baking rise. It’s normally big dramatic things involving important people and significant events. Weeks of campaigning where policies are pitched, promises made, personas projected, votes garnered… in our democratic process. Or the crown and gown, the grandeur of ceremony and solemnity of occasion, and that long awaited balcony wave oat the conclusion of the coronation of a new monarch. More recently we’ve seen people movements where the crowds spill out into the street, the public spaces fill with protest and a cry for change and governments bend and break before the overwhelming demands of the populous. Sadly also we hear the ominous crank and squeak of tank tracks on city streets, the distant rumble of artillery thunder and the sharp crack of automatic weapons, as change comes via long protracted war, military coupe or bloody revolution. But Jesus explains his kingdom is different, it comes in seeming small things, the healing of a woman bent over and crippled for eighteen years. It comes in the reality of the compassion of God breaking into religious rules and rituals. It comes here today and now in our midst with the presence of Christ and grows as we allow that experience of God’s grace to permeate through us to a world caught in darkness.
We are working our way through Luke’s account of Jesus journey to Jerusalem, his walking the road that will lead him directly to the cross. It’s a narrative that takes up the central third of the gospel and focuses mainly on Jesus teaching on what it means for us to follow him on the crossroad.
Like a lot of Luke’s gospel the passage we had read today is designed for us to see again how people will respond to Jesus. It is a departure from the rest of the narrative because it is a miracle story, Jesus heals a women who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. Some people have called it a mirror narrative. It’s here to point us back to Jesus in the synagogue in Luke chapter four where he stands and proclaims from the scroll of Isaiah ‘the spirit of the Lord is upon me he has sent me to preach good news to the poor, recovery of sight for the blind, release for the captives, freedom for the prisoner to declare the acceptable year of the Lord’. It’s here to show us the truth of Jesus conclusion… today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ in this case its fulfilled in a woman who has been held captive by Satan for eighteen years being set free. The kingdom of God has come in that compassionate act.
Now like many of the miracle stories in the gospels we find ourselves uneasy thinking of illness as a spiritual thing. Scholars have talked of the fact that it may have been that the people of Jesus day didn’t know what the disease was so they claimed it was a spirit of infirmity, others say it was partly psychosomatic, symptomatic of being bent over and burdened by guilt of shame from within, or abuse and trauma imposed from outside. I found this image of a statue called bent over man which sums it up well. And in the narrative we have it both acknowledged as a spirit and an infirmity. But more importantly Jesus sees it as part of the oppressive regime of sin and death, that he had come to overturn, it was the destructive work that could only be attributed to Satan. It kept the women in pain, in poverty, it marginalised here from her people robbed her of life and dignity so could only be seen as evil: Evil to be overcome by God’s compassion, grace, and power.
The focus is how will people respond, Jesus had just finished a long discourse calling for people to see who he is, the unique son of God, and to respond through repenting and here we see they have that chance and here again we see that not much has changed. The crowd are amazed at what he does and the religious leaders are indignant that Jesus would heal someone on the Sabbath… it’s against their understanding of God and his law. It’s against the rules.
The synagogue leader who was charged with ensuring things were done in order and that the law was faithful taught, challenges Jesus by saying that as it wasn’t a life threatening illness so the women could have waited for any of the other six days of the week. I wonder how many of those eighteen years the women had waited and hoped to be noticed and helped.
Jesus responds in two ways he challenges the synagogue leader understanding that he has broken the Sabbath law against work. Jesus does it by pointing to the animal welfare clauses in the Mosaic Law. That it was lawful and just to untie an ox or a donkey on the Sabbath so they wouldn’t be left for hours suffering from thirst. How much more was this daughter of Abraham, here Jesus is restoring this women to a place of honour within the community, she is a daughter of Abraham not just a poor women with spiritual problems. She had suffered for eighteen years, not a matter of hours, she was not simply tied up in a barn but bound by Satan so wasn’t it right for her to be set free. The religious leaders indignant at Jesus were hypocrites they had a mask of religious knowledge but didn’t understand the spirit of the law, and the compassionate nature of God.
Then he goes on to talk of the kingdom of God being like a mustard seed and like a pinch of yeast that in these acts of kindness and compassion God was bringing his rule and his reign his justice and mercy into the world. On a big scale you could see this refereeing to Jesus own life and death, later he will talk of his death like a seed falling to the ground and dying to produce a crop. We see the way in which Jesus comes and lives and dies as a criminal on one level being small and insignificant and yet on another being the most life changing event in world history. So much so that in the space of three centuries it would be the religion of the Roman Empire, two millennia later it still would be the largest religion in the world that despite a decline in the west is still growing today…Still providing shelter and rest for people, like a tree does for the birds of the air; Still breaking into the realm of humanity in God’s compassionate acts; Still able to change and transform the whole batch.
Ok how does this apply to us here today?
Firstly, People will often ask me ‘why bother coming to worship? It’s not that important, you don’t need to be a Christian right?’ Part of my answer is that it was Jesus practise to gather with God’s people to worship and hear the word read and preached. Just like in Jesus day it is part of our public testimony, it is identifying with God’s people and it is taking the time in our week to set aside time for corporate worship.
Secondly, it is as easy for us today to think of that worship time as much in terms of rituals and regulations as the religious leaders in Jesus day. Worship can become a set of must do’s and must no do’s, the familiarity of patterns and treasured traditions or the being surprised and challenged by the new and creative. A battle simply between likes and dislikes. It is always in danger of becoming what Social theorist Jean Baudrillard calls simulacra: A social construct for which the reality behind it no longer exists. Jesus calls the religious leaders hypocrite… they have a surface understanding of the letter of law but do not know the compassionate nature of God. It is like a film set, you know those wonderful old western towns, where the facades are works of art but there is nothing behind them.
But as we acknowledge God and hear the word read and preached, by God’s spirit Christ is with us today. Jesus comes to teach us, Jesus comes to bring his kingdom into our midst. Jesus still sees and knows where we are bent over and unable to straighten up, Jesus knows where we have been crippled by a spirit, where we are infirmed, bound up and wants to bring freedom and release. I know that in some circles it has been hard to see God moving and ministering outside the church building and worship services in everyday life. I know that. But I also think part of that is because we don’t expect the kingdom of God to break into our worship services either. But he is here and does want to bring his healing his freeing his release into our lives.
Thirdly, those encounters with Jesus grace are like the mustard seeds we have this morning. They are to grow; God’s kingdom grows out of those to impact the world around us. Because it as a woman bent over for eighteen years I couldn’t help but think of Delores Winder. Delores spent 19 1/2years in pain and agony fifteen years a back brace, she underwent four fusion surgeries and two where bone was transplanted from her thigh into her back to try and stem the decay of her vertebrae. At one point she thought she was going to die. Reluctantly she went to a Katheryn Kuhlman meeting against her better judgement, she’d always been told in church that God does not heal, and God healed her. Since then Delores has had a profound and amazing ministry telling people about Jesus and praying for them to be healed. She is a normal Presbyterian Elder, and God has used her in amazing ways. She made several trips to New Zealand and our prayer and healing ministry in the Presbytery is a result of those trips. She prayed for Kris to be healed of Asthma when she was at Bible College and thinking of giving up because the cold and amp out at Henderson was too much, and Kris was healed. The mustard seed grows.
Last Friday night we had a fundraiser here for a mission trip to East Timor and Cambodia, raising funds for medical supplies that Doctors and Dentists from the Chinese community in New Zealand can take and go and help the poorest of people. Annie Chen-green is a GP in Christchurch who started this compassionate ministry, convicted by her Christian faith about the needs of others she has gone and been involved in medical mission and caring for orphans in an increasing number of countries, where God’s Kingdom brings hope and new life for people. She shared on Friday that one village she arrived at told her… we prayed to our Gods, we asked the government to pray to their God but it was your God that answered. She has governments coming to her now for help for their people: God’s kingdom coming in small ways in acts of grace and compassion.
The challenge for us is how we allow the seed of God grace and compassion shown to us dig in and sprout in our lives and grow to be a tree which is able to shelter others. How is that pinch of God’s grace impacting our whole life and the world we live in.
I don’t really have a conclusion this morning rather I want to invite you to be still for a moment…You see Jesus is here with us by the Holy Spirit, Jesus sees where we are bent over and bound up. Physically, spiritually. Jesus is here, he sees and he invites us to stand up again and be free. As we encounter God’s grace to see the kingdom of God grow form that.