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Luke #51 The Hidden Kingdom

The Hidden Kingdom

Reading: Luke 13:10-21

Introduction: As I begin this morning, I would like for you to think back with me to the year 1977. Jimmy Carter was President. The Oakland Raiders were Super Bowl champs that year. Gasoline cost about 50 cents a gallon. The most celebrated TV mini-series in history, Roots, aired in January of 1977. Seattle Slew won the triple crown of horse racing that year. Remember where you were living then. For those of you not yet alive in 1977, that wonít work very well--your parents can tell you about 1977 when youíre driving home from church this morning. Parts of that year I remember quite well. Anne and I were living in a little duplex on Church Street in Abilene, Texas. I had just been offered a job teaching Bible back at Columbia Christian College, and I was busy trying to figure out how to get my Masterís thesis done before we moved, and trying to figure out how to fit Anneís student teaching in so that she could finish her degree as well.

Much has happened since then. Life has changed in so many ways for us, for the world in which we live, for each one of you. On the one hand, 18 years goes by quickly when we are talking about the span of time one has children at home. On the other hand, 18 years can be a long time if we are talking about individual suffering. To battle cancer or rheumatoid arthritis for 18 years would be a long time. Whatever the lady had who is the center of attention in our story from Luke this morning, she had been crippled--bent over, unable to straighten herself--for 18 years. Imagine trying to clean house or wash yourself or doing any kind of cooking. In our age of attention on beauty and self-worth, what would become of this woman?

The occasion for her appearance in the story is Jesus teaching once more in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Remember that the Sabbath service always had a time in which Scripture was read and then explained, either by a learned member of the synagogue or in this case by a respected guest. The audience has come together and we donít know for sure how they are seated. In later synagogues that have been excavated, it appears that men and women were segregated. Women either sat on one side with men on the other, or women were consigned to gallery areas in the back or perhaps in a balcony. Synagogues were formed around 10 male heads of households. This was a male participation service. There is some question as to whether the women ever participated vocally in any part of the service, either in song or in the memorized oral prayers that were recited.

On this day, the speaker is the teacher from Nazareth, Jesus. The Scripture has been read, the teaching has begun. Jesus is standing in front of these people when he notices this woman, all hunched over. Suddenly he stops talking about the text and addresses this woman--a woman, mind you. He leaves the speaker stand and the scroll of scripture behind and marches out into the audience where this woman is--at the back of the room, over on the side. Wherever she is, you can imagine the shock and discomfort that comes over these people as he comes to this lady and lays his hands on her and they then watch as this hunchback woman suddenly has a straightened spine and back for the first time in most peoplesí memory. To make matters worse, she starts praising God right out loud in front of the men and everybody.

I know I have done something totally out of character to make a point this morning. We read this text and we canít understand why the synagogue ruler is so upset by this act. Why is he so much more concerned with the rules of synagogue ritual than he is this person? But when we think about our own expectations and comfort zones, perhaps it is a little easier to understand how unsettling this event must have been. People arenít healed miraculously in our services either. Women donít suddenly start praising God and talking out loud in the middle of my sermons. Itís a bit unsettling for a preacher who never moves from behind the podium to suddenly stroll out into the middle of the audience and embarrass a lady who wasnít expecting it.

What I did was just an illustration. Can you imagine now what it must have been like to be there? The elder of the month (ruler of the synagogue) gets up and apologizes for this behavior and says, ďWeíll have none of that in our worship services. That kind of thing needs to take place some other time, some other place.Ē And Jesus replies, ďWait a minute, you hypocrites!Ē This is the third time he has accused people of hypocrisy in the last two chapters. The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy, pretending to be that which they were not. Later he accused people of hypocrisy when they could predict the weather by reading the sky and the wind direction, but they couldnít interpret the present time of Messiahís presence. Now he argues that the ruler of the synagogue and all who agree with him are hypocrites because they are more concerned with Sabbath rules and even farm animals than they are people. They would loose the bonds that tie an animal and lead it to drink, but they would refuse to loose the bonds of Satan that bound this woman for 18 years. Can you imagine ritual expectations and farm animals being more important than people? Than hurting people?

When Jesus said this, his adversaries were shamed and the rest of the people glorified God, joining with this now healed woman in praising God for the things done by Jesus. But Jesus wasnít through talking yet. He went on to talk about the kingdom of God as seen through the eyes of this one little incident in the synagogue. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed--the tiniest of seeds in their gardens--that a man plants in the ground. From hiding that little seed, of such insignificant size and such an insignificant act, a tree matures and the birds of the air rest in its branches. Thatís the third mention of birds in the last three chapters also. Each time, the focus has been on the loving, care-giving God to takes care of his creation. Just as the kingdom is like a man planting seed, so it is like a women hiding leaven in three measures of flour, and the whole is leavened.

One unexpected act of kindness shown to this hunchback woman is the stuff of which the reign of God is spread in the world. Satanís hold over the world will sustain its biggest loss at the cross, but the kingdom of God is spread one person at a time, one small act of kindness at a time; sometimes with great disruption to our expectations, sometimes so much within our expectations that we fail to notice.

How does the reign of God come to your life and mine today? Somehow we get this notion that it comes in big events, in happenings. Part of that comes from the 19th century revivals and tent meetings and the holdover gospel meetings in our time, or the camp experiences that we still have and that are in fact such a highlight for our families here each summer. Sometimes we look for the spectacular and the spectacle in worship, or at a Lectureship somewhere or at Jubilee or some other big event. Certainly this womanís healing was a spectacle that caught everyone off guard. But more than that, it separated out those more concerned with the rules than with the reign of God in their lives. The Sabbath was never intended to be about rules-keeping but about relationship with Creator, sharing in a day of relationship with him. Sabbath was intended to be about sharing in relationship with each other because of him. But for those people, and perhaps for us sometimes, keeping the rules became more important than seeking relationship--relationship with God and relationship with people.

More importantly, we miss the significance of the small acts by which the kingdom breaks into our lives and our world. Godís reign grows out of the single acts of kindness--cups of cold water, Jesus would say on another occasion. Granted, the small act of freeing this woman from her spirit of infirmity seems miraculous and large to us. But she was just one person there in the synagogue that day, overlooked by everyone else so used to seeing her that way for the last 18 years. She didnít come expecting to be healed. There is no statement here about her great faith or expectation that Jesus could heal her. Rather there is the heart of Jesus that sees a hurting woman in the midst of his sermon and stops everything else to touch her with the power of the kingdom.

Thatís what God wishes to do with each one of us this morning: plant the seed of the kingdom within us, open our eyes so that we can hide a little leaven in the flour and let God do his kingdom business in our hearts. How has Satan bound you this morning? Maybe we should remember that text on materialism and understand that the power of Satan, the enticement of this world, is not broken by going cold turkey and selling out, but by just planting seeds, by being more concerned for just one person, by acting with the love of Jesus in just one moment.

Thatís the gracious invitation to you this morning. Experience release from captivity this morning. Share that release with someone else today. Use this time and this moment to become a residence for the Kingdom of God.

Delivered at Brentwood Hills, April 2, 1995 a.m.

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