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Posts Tagged ‘sermon for the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost Year C’

Here is a repost of a sermon I preached years ago in my small congregation:

Just a Spirit of Weakness…

Painting by James Tissot

In God’s eyes there is no “just a” as in “we’re just a small church.”  When I hear people in small congregations use those two words “just a,” I suspect that a spirit of weakness has hold of them.  Like the bent over woman in the synagogue in Luke 13, small churches often have a hard time looking the world in the face.  Christ the healer is at work doing something about that.  Here’s a sermon I preached on Luke 13:10-21 some years ago.  Notice that the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast immediately follow the healing story. 

“Stand Up Straight!”

This story of Jesus is one of my all time favorites.  And now it is especially poignant because my father is in the same fix as the woman in the story.  He is bent over, and he feels too weak to stand up straight.

The Greek text says that a spirit of weakness had crippled this woman.  For eighteen years it had held her down, so that she couldn’t stand up straight.  Nowadays she would probably receive a diagnosis of scoliosis or osteoporosis. Think of what that means.  Pain.  Spontaneous fractures in her vertebrae.  Think of what being bent all the time did to this woman’s lungs and her other internal organs.  Think of what this woman had to do to her neck to be able to see.  She would have to bend it backwards, like this, or else turn sideways and look at the world from the side.  It took so much effort to look up and see that she spent most of the time looking at the ground.

Even worse, perhaps, than the physical suffering was the emotional suffering.  In Jesus’ day people believed that disability was caused by a demon, and that it was a punishment from God.  Just as they do now, people stared.  They avoided her.  They wondered what in the world this woman had done to deserve such an affliction.  It was a source of shame.

Shame is very much a spirit of weakness.  Shame makes it tough to stand tall and look the world in the face.  It has many sources.  Example: Appearance is so important in today’s world.  If you can’t fit the ideal or even the norm, you are subject to harsh judgment and even ridicule.  Heaven help you if you’re not thin!  Heaven help you if you have some kind of deformity, or a condition that makes it hard for you to control your muscles!  Heaven help you if you’re frail and require a lot of care!  You will be stared at and pitied.  And it hurts.  It really hurts.

There are many sources of shame.  Many folks are ashamed to let any weakness or hurt or inadequacy show.  Even a single incident of abuse can be enough to break people’s spirits, leaving them feeling terribly ashamed.  Shame has such a tight grip on some people that deep inside themselves they believe their whole life is a mistake.  How can you stand up and look the world in the face gripped by such a spirit?

Even churches can be gripped by a spirit of weakness.  This is a frequent problem among small churches and an issue at every small church gathering I’ve ever been a part of.  These dear congregations describe themselves this way:  “We’re just a small church.”  “Just a.”  What belittling words!  “Just a!” They might not say this out loud, but they’re thinking it:  “No pastor will ever stay with us long.  As soon as she can, she’ll move to greener pastures.”  Some churches are downright ashamed of being small.  Any church worth its salt is supposed to have certain programs and resources.  Even churches a lot bigger than we are ashamed of their struggles.  Some congregations are so worried about their inadequacies they can’t see their strengths.  It’s hard to see heaven when you’re looking down all the time.  Why set their sights on anything, only to be disappointed?  Besides, they figure their days are numbered. (more…)

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