When the manager of a chain store was moved to a new city, he
looked around for a church to attend. He tried one after another
for several years without much success, until he attended one
service in which the congregation prayed a prayer of confession
that included the sentence: "We have left undone the things we
ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought
not to have done." With a sigh of relief, like a burden lifted
from his shoulders, the man muttered: "Thank the Lord, at last
I've found my crowd."
Today's sermon title is "Set Free After Eighteen Years." There
are many ways to be set free. Sometimes we can set ourselves free,
and other times we need to be set free by someone else.
Often we feel like we are a prisoner but can't identify what it
is that makes us feel that way, or what is needed to set us free.
Like when we're in a rut and can't seem to get out of it; or when
we're caught in a habit that isn't good for us, but can't seem to
break free of it; or when we know we shouldn't have particular
feelings of anger, or revengeful feelings, or feelings where we
hold a grudge or can't seem to forgive someone but we can't get
them out of our head or thinking.
If you have had some long standing problem in your life,
whether physical or emotional, or psychological or even spiritual,
you can identify with the joy the woman in our Gospel lesson must
have felt when she was set free of her ailment after 18 years!!
But, of course, there is always a kill-joy lurking nearby who
wants to take away the joy, as with the leader of the synagogue.
He was indignant that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. But Jesus makes
the leader's argument seem foolish.
In the lesson Jesus says, "…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?"
At first glance that might seem to be saying that Satan caused
her ailment. But what Jesus was saying was that the woman was held
prisoner by Satan because she couldn't see any way to free
herself. Until Jesus came along she believed that there was no way
she'd ever be set free.
Now, there are lots of ways to be set free, and the way this
woman was set free of her crippling disease that kept her bent
over, is one of the ways one could be set free. But there are
others. For instance, take Helen Keller. For those too young to
know, Helen was blind and deaf from birth, yet God didn't set her
free by curing her blindness or deafness. God set her free as she
found the key to understanding and communication and it opened the
door for her. She went on to be one of the most influential and
inspirational women of the 20th century, helping countless sight
and hearing impaired folks, and helping a world to better
understand them as persons and recognize how much they have as
persons to contribute.
So, in that case, not only was Helen Keller set free from her
prison, she helped many others free themselves, and she gave the
world a way to break free from a prejudice toward those who are
sight and hearing impaired. Of course, not everyone chooses to be
set free. Some imprison themselves, letting their limitations
become their focus, like focusing on the prison bars rather than
the free world beyond.
Other folks remain in the prison of their own prejudices
toward, not only sight and hearing impaired people, but many folks
with handicaps of various sorts.
Prejudices are a prison. Why? Because they never let you see
the world for what it really is, and never let you see the
fullness of life that you are missing out on. Prejudices focus on
the bars of the prison and not on the freedom of the world beyond.
Perhaps you're familiar with the fact that it takes more muscles
to frown than to smile. Well, it takes more of your mental and
physical energy to hold on to prejudice than to live free of it,
living a full and complete life. That means by holding prejudices
you are expending energy to make yourself sick rather than
So, we are faced each day with many opportunities to set
ourselves free from anything that might be holding us back, might
be making us sick. But even being sick can be freeing. It doesn't
have to become a prison. St. Paul was in prison many times, but
that was only physical. He was never a prisoner in his spirit or
There is more to life than the physical body. And whether
healthy or facing some debilitating disease, one can be free and
not a prisoner.
But back to the woman in our story. The woman was bent over for
18 years. Probably severe osteoporosis. She didn't get to stand up
straight in those 18 years, didn't get to look ahead when she
walked but was faced with looking at the ground all the time. She
had probably lost hope. But Jesus was present in the synagogue
when she was. We are not to assume that she is the only one there
who had any physical ailment. Nor should we assume that everyone
there was healthy emotionally or spiritually.
But Jesus' attention is drawn to HER. He calls her to him-we
can easily overlook that fact in the midst of this story. "When
Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, 'Woman, you are set
fee from our ailment.' When he laid his hands on her, immediately
she stood up straight and began praising God."
We focus on the laying on of hands, and the healing that took
place. But it is a much more powerful thing that is happening that
is of immediate importance to us right here and now. "Jesus called
her over." She didn't come seeking him out. He sought her out. Now
Jesus isn't with us physically in this day and age, but he said he
would not leave us alone. And he said we would do much greater
things than he did. By the power of the Holy Spirit we call upon
Jesus' name for many things, especially with regard to physical
The point here is that Jesus, through his present day
followers, us, seeks out those who are in need of some kind of
healing. It might look to be physical, but it might be something
much deeper that needs to be set free. It could be that that it is
what needs to be healed FIRST before any physical healing can take
place. But more importantly, it might mean that a physical healing
is not what will take place, but a deeper more significant healing
is what is needed to set a person free. Again, remember, Helen
Keller. Her physical limitations did not prevent her from being a
positive influence on others. She lived her life free, and set
others free, even as she lived her life, and a long life it was,
as a totally sight and hearing impaired person.
Each one of us who is a believer in Jesus can be the person
Jesus uses to call out to someone to set them free. Each of us
also should be aware that Jesus is calling out to US through
someone to set us free from our own self imposed prisons. When we
exhibit narrow and limited vision for the future, there is someone
calling out to us to set us free from that.
When we are imprisoned by our lack of knowledge of Scripture,
Jesus is calling out to us through someone to be set free. When we
are imprisoned by our own lack of prayer communication with God,
Jesus calls to us through someone to be set free. When we are in a
rut about how we see ourselves-our limitations, our age, our
illness, our habits-Jesus calls out to us through someone who is
empowered by the Holy Spirit to free you from that rut.
And we should also realize that it might be one of us through
whom the Holy Spirit wants to work, to bring the teachings and
healings of Jesus for someone else. Many times we are called, but
we reject the call because we are in a rut about how we feel about
ourselves, limiting God's gifts to us by thinking we aren't
capable, and thus we don't become the channel that the Holy Spirit
wants us to be. Many times it is through our very weakness, our
very limitations that God uses us to free someone. Helen Keller,
or Bill W. who founded Alcoholics Anonymous are examples.
Jesus called the woman to him to set her free. And today Jesus
still calls to us to set us free. Jesus calls to us to help set
others free. Jesus calls to us down through the ages.
So, today, won't you listen carefully to the voice of Jesus
calling to you through the power of the Holy Spirit? And if you
respond, as the woman did, a person will lay their hands on you
and you will be set free. And if you listen to Jesus calling you
to be that person through whom he wants to work to set someone
free, please, heed the call. That person might be me, and I would
hope that if Jesus sent you into my life to help me, to set me
free, that you would be willing to heed the call.
If Jesus sets you free, you are free indeed. Experience the joy
of being set free from whatever it is in your life that keeps you
from experiencing the fullness of the love and joy of being free
May you recognize Jesus calling to you to be set free or to be
the channel for Jesus to set someone free. The power of the Holy
Spirit is working today and every day through anyone who is
willing to listen. Experience the joy and share it.