Sermon preached by The Reverend Neil Bramble-Chapman
Sermon 22/08/04 Rev’d Neil Bramble-Chapman
I want to start this morning by thinking about lines. For example, you’ve heard about following the yellow brick road in “The Wizard of Oz”, well this afternoon, Paula Radcliff, when she runs the Marathon at the Olympics, will follow a blue line which has been painted on the road. I also remember at school having to write lines as a punishment, on one or two occasions only, I hasten to add. Later when I was a Prefect I handed out lines as a punishment to other students who had broken school rules. Who watches The Simpsons? What is it that Bart does at the beginning of the programme? He writes lines on a blackboard. They are usually funny, cheeky or rude, or sometimes a combination of all three. I just want to share with you a few examples.
“I will only provide a urine sample when asked.”
“I will not expose the ignorance of the faculty.”
“Funny noises are not funny.”
“This punishment is not boring and pointless.”
“My name is not Dr. Death.”
“I will not bury the new kid.”
And two of my favourites,
“A burp is not an answer.”
“The Principal’s toupee is not a frisbee.”
So a line can be a punishment and can be many other different things: a line on a page, a set of lines to learn from a stage play, white lines in the middle of the road, (it is important to understand what they mean). I also remember watching the TV show “Whose line is it anyway?” Lines can be so important. In Tennis for instance, John McEnroe is infamous for his complaining about Line Judges calls. “You cannot be serious” was his catch phrase. Lines are also so important in other sports, including, Cricket, Football and Badminton. A line may only be pencil thin, but can also be so important when you think of a Teacher’s red ink lines through your work, either describing it as very good or very bad!
A line can also be useful in creating a boundary, or showing the boundary between two properties. This can prove to be particularly useful when there is a dispute over a boundary, concerning who owns which piece of land. Just think also of the boundary disputes which occur between nations, for example, between India and Pakistan over Kashmere. And we can also consider the almost arbitrary boundary lines which have been drawn across the continent of Africa. Lines are also used to divide peoples, the line of bricks which formed the Berlin Wall, built during the Cold War which divided Communist Berlin from Democratic Berlin. Or also the line of concrete being built around Jerusalem to keep the Palestinian people out of the city. In Durham Cathedral, laid into the floor in marble, there is a line which when the building was a Monastic Church, showed the extent to which women could enter. Thankfully, even though the line is still there, the rule no longer applies! So lines can divide between “them” and “us”, between those who are included and excluded, can differentiate between those who are “in” and “out”.
For some people it is as if a line of exclusion is permanently drawn around them, perhaps alcoholics, those disfigured by burns or the disabled. Here in today’s Gospel reading we find a woman who it seems has had a line of exclusion permanently drawn around her. She is bent over and could not straighten up at all. Today this woman would be diagnosed as suffering from Scoliosis, curvature of the spine, or Osteoporosis, where the bones crumble. But in Jesus day, the woman was regarded as being possessed by an evil spirit. This made her exclusion to be twice as bad, since to be ill and possessed implied that a person was cursed and outside of God’s love and favour.
The woman in the Gospel passage can also be seen as someone who is oppressed. She is oppressed by the religious authorities and by men and her physical deformity is the physical manifestation of this oppression. Each and every time she has tried to achieve something, she has been knocked down and told that she is not good enough, that she is not capable, not worthy. In terms of Feminist theology, this woman can be seen as a symbol of the religious and male oppression of women.
In this context, we can also see Jesus as the Liberator. Jesus responds to this nameless woman in need by removing the boundary line around her, he eliminates it, takes it away and rubs it out by touching her and healing her. But of course he does so much more than just healing her, because by touching her he breaks social conventions, he breaks the accepted boundaries in touching a woman he is not related to and he also breaks the accepted religious conventions, in healing on the Sabbath, which was considered a work. Jesus embarrasses the Religious Leaders by saying to them that even they work on the Sabbath by untethering their animals so that they might be fed and watered. He continues his argument by saying that if it is acceptable to do free an animal on the Sabbath to drink and eat, then surely it must be acceptable to free a woman from the illness she has suffered for so many years. On the Sabbath, God’s Day, it must be an appropriate action to bring liberation to a woman who has been oppressed and excluded for so long.
Jesus describes this woman as a Daughter of Abraham, stating that she too, as a woman and as a disabled person, is an inheritor of the promises of Salvation that were given by God to Abraham. Jesus includes the marginalised and disfigured, the outcast and forgotten in the Kingdom of God. Interestingly, in the Gospels there is another person whom Jesus describes as a Son of Abraham and that person, Zacchaeus, is another who was marginalised.
So we can see in this passage, from Jesus actions and words, that he has come to Liberate the oppressed, to do break the existing social and religious codes which have fostered this oppression and includes the marginalised in the Kingdom of God. Jesus redraws the boundaries of acceptance, shifts expectations and assumptions and in doing so he ruffles the feathers of the Religious Authorities of his day. We find that through Jesus words and actions that those people who were once excluded are now included. This comes as a message of liberation for us too, showing us that we are included, that we too are Daughters and Sons of Abraham, the inheritors of the Promises of Salvation.
But this also comes as a challenge to us, to think and reflect how we might currently be excluding others through our words and actions. What might there be about our ways of living, of acting of speaking, which perhaps unintentionally excludes people? We also need to think of ways to include the marginalised. It might be as simple as talking a bit more loudly or clearly to someone who is hard of hearing. There may be ways in which our churches are excluding people through issues of physical access for the disabled, or in issues of sexuality or race.
Finally, this Gospel reading helps us to understand that Jesus brings release from the effects of a fallen world and he brings freedom from oppression. Jesus removes the lines of exclusion which may have been drawn around our lives and the lives of people in our communities. Through his healing, which is not necessarily just a physical healing, but may also be social, psychological and in terms of our spiritual well-being too, Jesus draws people in from the margins of society and accepts and loves all people. Jesus literally offers each one of us a lifeline, a line which brings Salvation and Liberation, through His words and actions and above all through his self-giving death on the Cross and Resurrection from the dead. Jesus offers a lifeline which redraws the boundaries around our lives and sets us free to serve Him.