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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Physician, heal thyself: the story of Super-Christian Patrick

My sermon this week was based on Luke 13:10-17.

Do download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

Many of us can probably relate to feeling like we have a weight on our shoulders.  Whether it is the weight of worry, depression, hatred, sorrow, anger or illness, most of us can probably relate to feeling like there is something in our lives weighing us down, and we can also likely relate to feeling light and free when that situation is resolved.

Today's Gospel passage has to do with Jesus healing a woman who is bent over double, and the image I get in my head is of someone who is literally and figuratively bent over by her problems, and of someone who can finally stand up straight again and enjoy life when that weight is lifted off her shoulders.

Now this woman was physically ill, so despite the ancient belief that physical illness was the result of sin, I don't think any reasonable person can indict her or anyone who has a physical illness.

But it seems to me like there is someone else in this Gospel who is carrying a weight that is quite literally of his own making, and he fails utterly to shrug it off, and that is the Synagogue leader.

When I was a teen, I worked at a Christian summer camp.  I would not have called myself a Christian then: I did not go to church, I was not asking the big questions, I was not interested in God, and in fact I considered myself an atheist.  But I had no objection to the religion of others, I needed a summer job, and several of my friends worked at the camp.

Part of what we did every day was Chapel.  This happened right after breakfast, and it consisted of a little morality story and some energetic songs to get the kids pumped for morning activities.  I played guitar, so I was one of several people who led the music for chapel.

Super-Christian Patrick was another music leader.  He was about my age and was as faithful a person as I have ever met, hence the reason I called him Super-Christian Patrick.

Although I liked Patrick as a person, there was something that bugged me about him.  At chapel, I would glance over at him as we were playing guitar, and although I was having fun, Patrick was LOVING it.  His eyes were closed and he was smiling and blissed out as we sang these songs about God.  He was loving God and God was loving him.

The thought in my head was, "You idiot".  I thought he was thoroughly naive and brainwashed, and at first I thought I pitied him for this.

As the summer went on, I came to realize that I was actually jealous and angry at him.  I was jealous and angry because he was happy.  He knew that God existed and loved him, and he loved him back.  I didn't have those things, and I have to admit, I wanted them.

My self-absorption robbed me of the ability to rejoice with Patrick.  My own feelings of anger and jealousy prevented me from being happy for Patrick that he was so easily able to bask in God's light.

What a weight I was carrying!  And what weight must the Synagogue leader have been carrying!  Rather than stand in awe of God's power, rather than sit down and learn at the feet of the man who had performed a miracle, rather than rejoice along with the woman who had been freed from her ailment, he instead rains on everyone's parade, accusing Jesus of breaking the law by healing on the Sabbath.

Maybe the leader was jealous because Jesus was able to do something he couldn't.  Maybe he was angry because God seemed to be working through someone other than him.  Maybe he just didn't like sharing the limelight.

Either way, one of the truths about human nature is that sometimes we resent the successes and joys of others.  We feel somehow that their success or joy takes away from our own.  We feel like if we are not happy, no one else has a right to be either.  We feel like there is a limited amount of joy and recognition to go around, that God has only a finite amount of love to divide up between all of humanity.

Nothing could actually be further from the truth.  Love, joy, success and recognition are not finite quantities, and I think we would actually find that we can derive great joy from celebrating with others in their own joys and successes.

The weights we carry prevent us from enjoying our own lives and from celebrating the joys of those we love.  Much of the time, these weights are of our own making, and can just as easily be unmade.

I hope and pray that whatever weight we are carrying around on our shoulder, whether it is sadness, depression, fear, anxiety, jealousy, a fractured relationship, that we can make a decision and take steps to come out from under that weight.

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