August 21, 2022 – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
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Call to worship
(from Psalm 103)
Bless the Lord, my soul,
All my being, praise God’s holy name.
Bless the Lord, my soul,
And do not forget how kind God is.
He forgives our sins and heals us from our diseases.
He blesses us with love and fills our lives with good things.
Bless the Lord, my soul,
All my being, praise God’s holy name.
“Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts” (Book of Praise 1997 Hymn 366). Words: original Latin text Jesu dulcis memoria by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153); English translation (1858) by American pastor Ray Palmer (1808–1887). Music (1874; tune “Maryton”) by English Anglican priest Henry Percy Smith (1825–1898). Harmony (1965) by English composer and organist Eric Harding Thiman (1900–1975). No copyright information provided as the hymn was not recorded or streamed.
You can enjoy this version of the hymn on YouTube:
Prayers of Adoration, Confession; Lord’s Prayer
Great and loving God, it is a joy to be here, together in this place of worship. We feel around us the anticipation that has brought us all here, that in this place you will be in our midst, you will make your presence known, you will speak to us, lift us up, and fill us with the nourishment that your word brings to our lives. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, we praise you for all your goodness to us.
Holy and Merciful God, we confess to you our forgetfulness, our waywardness, our selfishness, and our readiness to judge. To cast our minds over the last week is to recall both your great acts of love and kindness, as well as many moments and situations where we know we failed you. And yet, even still, we know your love remains.
And so in humility and brokenness we pray. We ask you to forgive, and heal. Bring us back, we pray, redeem us from our bondage to ourselves and our own way. Crown us again with your acceptance and care, and satisfy the real thirst of our souls. Renew us with the strength that only you can give. Reveal yourself to us again as a God of grace, rich in mercy, and patient with our wandering. In name of Jesus we offer these prayers, and join our voices now in one in the prayer that he taught us:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
now and forever.
Declaration of Pardon
Friends in Christ, hear the good news. To those who came to him in faith Jesus’ response was invariably, “You are forgiven. You are healed.” Receive now the renewal and restoration promised you in Christ. Thanks be to God.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
The Life and Work of the Church (Announcements)
I read a book recently on the mystics, an introduction to those early men and women of the faith whose wisdom and spiritual depth was in its own day — and, surprising, is still today — a guiding light for any who would listen and were seeking an authentic experience of God. One of these religious figures was Hildegard of Bingen who lived in 12th century Germany. She grew up in a Benedictine monastery and received many visions of God which she was later persuaded to record. It is for that record, and for her many personal letters, that she is remembered today.
It seems her health wasn’t so good, and in one of her visions, she heard God speaking to her in these words: “O poor little figure of a woman; you, who are the daughter of many troubles plagued by a grave multitude of bodily infirmities, yet, you are steeped, nonetheless, in the vastness of God’s mysteries.” Isn’t that great?
When I read that, I thought of the bent over woman in our Gospel reading, the daughter of many troubles, and plagued by a multitude of infirmities. And yet, Jesus steps into her life, and we can see how she is steeped in the vastness of God’s mysteries. We never learn this woman’s name. Luke tells us nothing more about her than that she has had a spirit which for eighteen years has crippled her — bent her over, made her unable to stand straight.
I wonder what kind of view of the world you have if for eighteen years you have been bent over? For all that time she has seen only her own sandaled feet, the dusty ground, and maybe the next few steps ahead of her. Or maybe the feet of others, but never their faces, not their eyes not really in a way where you can connect.
She cannot straighten up without pain, in fact probably lives with a permanent kink in her neck, just from straining to see enough to navigate her way safely around town. So she lives her life without looking at the sky, or a sunset, without being able to find the source of the bird’s song she hears, without watching the movement of a tree’s branches in the wind.
We can hardly imagine how she copes, how she makes her way around the village market to do her shopping, how the basic household chores get done, whether she has a husband or children to look out for her, whether she even has a friend.
We don’t know this bent woman’s name — I wonder if anyone else at the synagogue knows her name. Or maybe she is just, “That old woman that keeps over to the side there… you know, the bent woman.”
“Oh yeah, I know who you mean.”
And she comes to be known only by what she lacks, named for her condition, her disability. She is below their field of vision so I guess doesn’t count.
I wonder if, over all those years, even she has come to see herself that way, to believe that she really is less than everyone else who can stand tall, that she is inferior somehow diminished, maybe even worthless. Has she come to the point that in her own mind she has shrunk in importance to fit her limited horizons? I wonder if her condition has bent her own spirit as well, to the point that she too believes that she is no good, useless, not whole. We can only imagine.
We picture her perhaps tolerated, but hardly valued, vaguely noticed, but not seen for whatever gifts she may have, or the fact that beneath her bent frame she is steeped in the vastness of God’s mysteries. You see, this woman may well have had a spirit that has crippled her for eighteen years. But she also has a spirit that has drawn her to the synagogue, at the very least on this particular Sabbath day, or maybe every Sabbath day of her life. She does not come seeking healing — I suppose after all that time, she has come to live with, if not exactly accept, her disability. I suspect she comes to the synagogue in the same spirit as the best of the worshippers there, to hear God’s word and the rabbi’s teaching, to be close to God and God’s people, to hear a word of hope.
Regardless, the bent woman that day does not approach Jesus, the healer — he notices her, calls her, and declares, “Woman, you are set free of what ails you.” He lays his hands on her, and she slowly stands straight and tall looks up to the dawning of hope and a new day, and begins praising God. Presumably he has seen her need, and out of compassion wants to respond in a way that frees her. What a wonderful moment, for her, and we would imagine, for all around her in that place of worship.
But not so fast. I don’t want to give it any more time than it is worth. But let’s just note the mean-spirited reaction of the leader of the synagogue here. Let’s not dump on Jewish ways or leadership here — think of this as the religious “system” — for us, the General Assembly, the presbytery, the Session, the religious professionals; and all of us liking to do things the way we’ve always done things and according to the rules.
They — we — can we more interested in whether things are done by the book and according to protocol than we are in recognizing that good things are happening — that a formerly bent woman in our midst now stands tall and praises God, that the kingdom of God is being built wherever we see hope shared the oppressed lifted up the captives released and the good news proclaimed.
There is no recognition of any of that in the synagogue this day, no compassion for the bent woman, no consideration for all that she has been through, no rejoicing in the new freedom she has been given. She is nothing more than a foil for a discussion of the rules Sabbath observance — “You healed on the wrong day! It says right here in the Book of Forms.”
As she praises God, the leader sees only the fault of her healer and the transgression of one of their rules. What must be going through her mind the first moment that she is able to hold her head high, only to become the object of this legal debate?
No wonder Jesus is furious. “You hypocrites! Do you not untie your animals to give them water on the Sabbath? Why can this woman not be unbound and set free on this day? You would treat your animals better than her.”
And did you notice how he refers to her? — not as that bent woman whose name we can’t remember, or disabled, or a victim of just how unfair life can be. He has no interest in letting her life be defined any longer by her infirmity. He calls her a “daughter of Abraham.” I wonder if this isn’t even a bigger gift than having her bent back restored.
Not only does he give her a new back, he gives her a new name, a new identity a new hope.
Daughter of Abraham, child of the covenant, as much as anyone else here at the synagogue, heir to all the blessings and promises of God one who has God’s law written in her heart and whose life and being are held safe in God’s hands. Daughter of Abraham.
Jesus places this socially invisible, physically broken woman right in the centre of the Jewish tradition that the synagogue leader is so bent on protecting. This woman, whose faith community has come to refer to her as the bent women with no name, as a non-entity with a crippled spirit — this woman is given a place of honour in their circle.
She is meant for more than cruel and limiting labels. She has been renamed, and her life has been caught up in the vastness of God’s mysteries into the blessing of those countless promises lavished on those to whom God says, “You are my people.”
Today, by the bent woman’s story, Jesus renames us as well. He will not let any of us be broken or diminished by the names that others may call us. He will not leave us feeling worthless by someone else’s — or even our own — perception of who we are or what we have to offer.
To anyone and everyone who suffers, or is bent over, or carries the burden of discrimination for their gender or some disability, for their race or language, for their age or intellect, for their lifestyle or beliefs, for their economic status or religion — Jesus releases us from it all. He names us as daughters or sons of Abraham as children of the covenant, heirs — all of us — of the blessings of God.
And, for those of us in the organized church, wherever we see that happen, whenever see someone stand straight and tall in the grace of that moment of realization that they are named a child of God — whether or not that is the way we have always done it, or follows the procedure we have prescribed — we need to have the grace to lay our rules aside and join them in praising God.
When John the Baptist wrote to Jesus from prison trying to sort out the disconnect that he saw between who he thought Jesus was and the sort of ministry Jesus actually conducted, he asked, “Are you really the One, or should we look for another.”(Matt. 11:3)
And Jesus responded, “Pay attention to what you see happening around you: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the poor have good news preached to them, a bent woman stands tall, and broken people everywhere are renamed as children of God.”
And so is the kingdom of God among us.
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of being present at Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Dedication of our Gifts
Prayer of dedication
Gracious, giving God, accept our offerings of time, of talent and treasure. Use these gifts for the furtherance of your work. AMEN.
Prayers of the People
Loving God, you care for all your children and for the whole creation. You know each one and hear each prayer; you know each heart and see each need; you know each struggle and are with us in our fears. Give peace and love to each of us who call on your name, and on all peoples and nations.
Gracious God, we pray that you would bless with your comfort all who are bent over with the weight of their trouble or pain, or crippled by the rejection and judgement of the world around them. We remember all who suffer a loss in their lives, those for whom the journey is difficult, those who bear burdens that weigh them down, those who have been rejected or ignored. Bless them, we pray. Surround them with your presence, supply them from your generosity, and fill them with your grace. Bring your healing and assume that you hold and love them as your children, and that nothing can separate them from that love.
Bless your church everywhere, O God, in this place and in every congregation where people gather to praise your name. Confirm your people in the faith of the Gospel, and inspire them with a love for you and a desire to live in your ways and build up your kingdom. Bless us in this congregation to keep before us in all things a desire to follow in your ways.
Loving God, you have always stood with the most vulnerable people and befriended those whom most others rejected. Help us to reach out in your name offering to all the acceptance you have offered to us, and to remember that all people, including us, come to you only as sinners made whole by your forgiving love. Help us to receive your grace, and live in the power of your love. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
“Lord, speak to me” (Book of Praise 1997 Hymn 767). Words by English poet and hymnwriter Frances Ridley Havergal (1836–1879). Music adapted as a hymn tune (first published 1872; tune “Canonbury”) from Nachtstücke, Opus 23 (1839) by German composer Robert Schumann. The music information here matches the YouTube video below, rather than the tune “Winscott” in the hymnbook. No copyright information provided as the hymn was not recorded or streamed.
You can enjoy this version of the hymn on YouTube:
- Recorded by Trinity Orthodox Reformed Church, St. Catharines, Ontario; 2012.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go now in peace, to love and serve God.
And the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
The love of God
And the communion of the Holy Spirit
Be with you now and forever. Amen.
- Go Now in Peace”. Words by American educator, lyricist and composer Don Besig (1936–) and American lyricist Nancy Price (1958–). Music by Don Besig. Words and music copyright © 1988 Harold Flammer Music, a division of Shawnee Press; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Performed by Rachelle Risling (keyboard) and the GCPC Senior Choir. Audio and video production by Rachelle Risling.
- Audio and video recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Copyright © 2022 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated 2022-08-20– First version.