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Sermon and Liturgy for Ordinary 21 - Proper 16 - Year C
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71; Luke 13:10-17
"Set Free"

READING:  Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71; Luke 13:10-17 
SERMON :  "Set Free"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or21sn 795000

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
   Sources: I worked the sermon out with an old e-mail file of quotes
   and thoughts - but unfortunately there were no attributions in the
   file.  So thanks go to someone... but to who is another matter.
   Part of the Prayers of the People are taken from Nathan Nettleton,
   "Eucharistic Preface for Ordinary 21 Year C" 1998.  The children's
   story is based on an offering by King Duncan in "Dynamic Preaching
   - Children's Sermons" 1995

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  How lovely is the dwelling place of our God.  
   My soul longs to enter into the holy place of our Lord.
P  My heart and my flesh cries for joy to the living God.  
   Happy are those whose rely upon him for strength.  
L  Truly, a day in the courts of our God is better than a thousand
   elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than
   dwell in the tents of wickedness.
P  God is our sun and our shield.  He bestows grace and honour.  
   No good thing does he withhold from those who put their trust in him.

- Welcome and Announcements  
- Birthdays and Anniversaries  
- Special Matters  
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


Lord of all:  Your glory is a gift to all peoples, and the door to Your
Kingdom is open to the last and the least of all.  We thank you for this
time of worship.   By Your Spirit be present in us.  Speak to us and touch
us and set us free.  Lead us in the way you would have us go and save us
at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord, he who brings the light of a
new day to us, now and forevermore.  AMEN.

* HYMN:    "Morning Has Broken"                                    - VU 409

CHILDREN'S TIME:  "The Most Important Thing"
Theme     God's Choices More Rewarding Than Ours 
Object    Zippers
Source:   based on an offering by King Duncan in "Dynamic Preaching - 
          Children's Sermons" 1995

Good morning, boys and girls:  How many of you have clothes with zippers
in them?  A lot of us do.  Have you  ever wondered who invented the

The zipper was invented in 1891 by a man named  Whitcomb L. Judson. 
Whitcomb L. Judson was an important man.  He was working on a big project
for the city of Chicago, helping to create a transportation system for the
city.   One of Whitcomb's friends, though,  had a father with severe
arthritis.  Arthritis can make your fingers curl up and hurt badly.  Now
back before there were zippers, clothes and shoes  had lots of little tiny
hooks for holding them on.  This man with arthritis could not work  with
all the little tiny hooks on his shoes, because his fingers hurt too
badly.  So this man's  son asked Whitcomb to invent a shoe fastener that
was easier to use than the little tiny  hooks. 

Even though Whitcomb was really busy with his great, big transportation
project,  he wanted to help his friend's father. So Whitcomb looked for a
way to make shoes easier  to keep on. And that's how Whitcomb invented the
zipper.  At the time, nobody cared  much about the zipper, and it didn't
sell well.  When Whitcomb L. Judson died, he never  knew that someday the
zipper would be very important and many people all over the world  would
use it.  Whitcomb didn't invent the zipper to get famous or to make a lot
of money;  he invented the zipper because an old man with hurting fingers
needed some better way to keep his shoes on. 

I wonder which of Whitcomb L. Judson's inventions is more impressive to
God: the  great big system of transportation in the city of Chicago, or
the little zipper?  I would guess  that God likes the zipper more, because
it was made out of love and caring.  Jesus once said  that the first shall
be last and the last first.  We don't know exactly what Jesus meant, but
we  know Jesus likes it when one of  his followers shares even a cup of
water with someone  who is thirsty.  Let's remember that sometimes little
things we do for others can be very big  things in God's eyes - the most
important thing of all.

   Dear Lord God - help us to do the little things - the things that
   make a difference in our homes - our schools and our neighbourhood.
   - we ask it in Jesus' name -- Amen

   And in the words Jesus taught us....  Our Father who art in heaven,
   hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth
   as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive
   us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and
   lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine
   is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen

* HYMN:  "Walk With Me"                                            - VU 649

   (NRSV)   Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, {5} "Before I
   formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I
   consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." {6} Then I
   said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a
   boy." {7} But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for
   you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I
   command you, {8} Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to
   deliver you, says the LORD." {9} Then the LORD put out his hand and
   touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in
   your mouth. {10} See, today I appoint you over nations and over
   kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow,
   to build and to plant."

L  This is the word of the Lord
P  Thanks be to God.

RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 71 parts I & II (Voices United 789)

   (NRSV)  Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
   {11} And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had
   crippled her for eighteen years.  She was bent over and was quite
   unable to stand up straight. {12} When Jesus saw her, he called her
   over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." {13} When
   he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began
   praising God. {14} But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because
   Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are
   six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be
   cured, and not on the Sabbath day." {15} But the Lord answered him and
   said, "You hypocrites!  Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his
   ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?
   {16} And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound
   for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath
   day?" {17} When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and
   the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was

L  This is the gospel of our risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

* HYMN:  "I Danced In The Morning"                                 - VU 352

SERMON:  "Set Free"

   O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
   and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in
   the thoughts that we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants
   listen.  Amen.

The story of the bent over women  - the woman afflicted by a spirit which
crippled her for eighteen years  - is a favourite text in many churches.

It is often enacted in workshops,
discussed at gatherings
and mediated upon in prayer circles.

It is a very powerful story featuring as it does the unbidden grace of God
coming upon a person - a woman - and setting her free to walk upright and
to praise God.  A story about an awesome miracle - bestowed freely upon
one in need in the midst of the worship of the living God -- in a place
not unlike this place.

 "Woman, you are set free from your ailment."

I think that this story is so popular because ultimately this woman, 
   this daughter of Abraham, afflicted for 18 years with a spirit that
   left her crippled and bent over, 
is us.

She is no-one important, 
   just another person worshipping on the Sabbath day in the synagogue of
   her ancestors,
       just another person carrying a heavy burden, and not doing well
       with it at all.

She is oppressed,
   perhaps, as so many say, oppressed by a social system that devalues
   her, by a world order that sees her as more or less of no account,
   much as today's world order sees us as more or less of no account - as
   consumers, as numbers to be valued only by our power to purchase
   commodities and to be ignored when it seems that we will return less
   to the bottom line than we take from it, if it seems we will be a
   drain on the health system - a drain on the economy - a drain on the

Eighteen years she was afflicted by spirit that crippled her,
that bent her over, that wore her down.   Eighteen years.

She is oppressed - 
   perhaps not so much by a social system that sees her as not being
   important, but by a system of expectations and demands that she simply
   can't live up.
Perhaps she feels forced to carry the burden of a another person's
   desperate need, or the burden of a child gone wrong, a husband who
   abuses her, a mother who expects her to look after her, a father who
   criticizes her every deed... 
Perhaps she is afflicted by friends who love her only if she does those
   things that they want her to do and a society that expects her to keep
   silent about her own woes.

Bent over, crippled, unable to stand upright, in need, this woman comes to
the synagogue to worship God - and perhaps to silently pray for help while
others read the lesson and others teach - and still others pray aloud, 
   to the God who delivered Israel from bondage
       to the God who led Israel with a cloud by day and fire by night,
       and brought them into a promised land -- a land once again under
       the rule of strangers -
she comes to a synagogue full of people, people like her in need,
   some not knowing just how much in need they are - because their
   outward circumstances are good,
and others, like the bent over woman - knowing their pain - but resigned 
      - after a year, or 18 years, or a lifetime, to their condition.

She is us, and we are her,
   bent over, 
          oppressed by a spirit,
perhaps a spirit of self-doubt,
   a spirit that convinces her that she has no strength,
       no ability,
          no purpose,
even though she is a child of Abraham,
even though she is one of God's chosen ones.

And Jesus as he is teaching in the synagogue, sees this woman and discerns
that a spirit has oppressed her and bent her over for these many years
and in the midst of his teaching he calls her to come to him...

How easy is she to overlook.  
How easy are all those like her to miss.

Looking at the crowd in the synagogue that day, Jesus, like the rest,
could have seen this bent over woman as simply someone needing a good
Or, like some today, he could have seen her as victim of an unjust
society, as one more casualty whose presence informs us of the need for
change in our social order, as simply one more person who needs to be set
free from the disease and disorder that is present in our world.

How surprised she must have been to have been beckoned forward by Jesus,
to have been called to his side.

She is easy to overlook.
She is the poorest of the poor children of Abraham, 
a woman -- with a crippling condition,
she knows she has little worth,
that she not only is bent over,
but that to most others she is but a pain and bother,
someone who needs more than they give,
more than they want to give.

Yet Jesus sees her 
   and calls her.
Without being bidden.
   Without being asked.
He sees her and calls to her, 
   and then he touches her and speaks to her saying,
"Woman, you are set free from your ailment"

That is for us!
That is what so many of us need.
The word of Jesus addressed to us.
The touch of Jesus healing us.
And praise be to God when it happens to us,
and praise be to God when it happens to others.

Think of the joy that flooded her soul,
think of the joy that would flood your soul - even as a witness to this.

But what happens?

We end up with a concrete illustration of last week's lesson on how the
coming of Jesus causes division - how it separates day from night - good
from evil.  An illustration of how love can expose  emptiness and reveal
things that are not right.

The synagogue leader criticizes Jesus for desecrating the Sabbath day,
as indeed he had according to some of the rules of the faith he was borne
to, the faith he taught.

He worked by performing a healing 
- a healing that could have been put off till another time,
after all eighteen years had gone by, what difference a day?  
Except the difference that God commanded...

   Six days shall you labour and do all your work, but the seventh day
   is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work - you,
   your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your
   livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days
   the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them,
   but rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the
   Sabbath day and made it holy.

Some folk can't see the forest for the trees,
others can't see the trees for the forest.
And they too are bent over - like so many of us -
some more visibly than others, some less so.

There are many rules,
many expectations,
to be found in our faith,
to serve as guides for our conduct.

Even this church has a constitution and a set of rules
which, while not thousands upon thousands of years old,
is meant to help us in our conduct with one another and to guide our

But to miss what the synagogue ruler missed when he criticized Jesus,
is to miss what all the rules and regulations are really all about.

To forget the glory of God and the wonder of a love that can heal with a
touch and a word is an illness too - an affliction of the spirit - an
affliction that bends one over and leads one to afflict others even as
they do seek to reveal the glory of what God is doing and to increase the
praise of his name.

I started off by saying that this story of the bent over woman is a
favourite story of many people, a favourite perhaps because many of us see
ourselves in the story, many of us see ourselves as being bent over 
as one who needs to be set free, and who longs for it to happen..

I believe that is so -
but many there are who have heard Jesus speak,
and have witnessed his healing touch,
and yet do not accept that which he is offering - that which he does.
because he does not do it in the way that they expect he should,
the way the rules by which they organize their lives say he should.

What they see in Jesus - is not the God that they worship,
but rather what they see in him is a disregard for holy things,
a disruption of order,
a change in what was planned long ago 
an alteration of the usual and proper way of doing things,
those things that they have always done in a particular way,
because experience has taught them that is the way they should be done.

This is not surprising.  Even though it is very sad.  

There are many people who cling to their illnesses because they are
familiar to them, or because they have been taught that this is what they
should expect in life - so why should their not be those who cling to
their spiritual blindness - because they know how, within it, to feed and
clothe themselves and do that which sustains them..

There are many kinds of oppression that can bend us over, 
there are many kinds of spirits that can cripple us.

We need to be set free.

And that is why this story of the bent over woman is a favourite story.

And why Jesus is portrayed as speaking so strongly in it,so strongly to
the crowd to whom the synagogue ruler had spoken to, when he repeatedly
criticized Jesus for breaking the clear rules about the Sabbath:

   "You hypocrites!  Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox
   or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?
   And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan
   bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the
   Sabbath day?"

Sometimes we need verbal heart surgery to set us free, just as sometimes
we need the firm voice of faith and the power of the healing touch.

Of course, we are not to be the judge of that for others - our task is not
to decide who should be chastised and who should be coddled   who should
be condemned and who should be shown mercy, as the synagogue ruler decided
   rather our task is to listen to the master - even when it may be
   uncomfortable to hear his words because they convict us in our hearts of
things that we know are wrong.  

Our task is to listen, and to respond as he wants us to respond.  
Our task is to come to him that he may set us free 
and to bring others to him that they may be set free as well.

Part of the freedom we need is the freedom to accept the passion and the
power of love.

So many of us are afraid of the expansive power of love,
of how it sweeps aside rules and regulations 
- and yet fulfills them a hundred times over.
We are afraid of how love takes things out of our control 
- of its unpredictability,
- of how it seems to sweep away caution and good sense,
and overturn those things that we normally count upon to be fixed and

And in truth there are things to fear once love gets hold of you,
once God comes by a visit.

Nothing for sure will be the same.  Our ability to hold on to our sense of
who we are and what we want to be about almost surely will be swept away
by what God has to say about us and what God wants us to do.

God has a plan and purpose for us -
love has its special demands and its special logic,
and it will lead us in ways we have never thought of.

We need to be set free for this.  All of us.  
Some more than others.  Some less.  
Each of us has a spirit in us that wars against the spirit of God 
- a spirit that oppresses us.

But praise be to God - the Spirit of God is stronger than all the spirits
that might oppress us.

Jesus sees us, he discerns who we are and the spirits that are is in us, 
and unbidden he calls to us, just as he called to the bent over woman
and unbidden, he reaches out to touch us 
unbidden, he seeks to set us free.

Jesus is calling to us - 
he is stretching out his hand - 
he waits to speak a word to us.

The question is will we recognize him in our midst,
and accept what he has to offer us?

Lame Deer, a Sioux Medicine Man wrote, some years ago now  

   The trouble with white religion in America is this: If I tell a
   preacher that I met Jesus standing near me in the supermarket, he
   will say that this could not happen.  He'll say, 'That's
   impossible; you're crazy.'  By this he is denying his own religion. 
   He has no place to go.  Christians who no longer believe that they
   could bump into Christ at the next street corner, what are they? 

Jesus sees us in our need.  
He knows what oppresses us.  
He is here to set us free.

He may be the next person whom you see on the street corner
or the man next to you in the supermarket,
or the person who comes next to speak at this lectern in this holy place.

Look and believe,
listen and be set free.
his word and his touch still drive out the spirits that oppress,
and allow those who respond to his call to stand straight once again,
to stand straight and to praise God's name - both now and forevermore
Praise be to God.  Amen

* HYMN:  "Let There Be Light"                                      - VU 679

We give you our thanks, O God, with reverence and awe, for before we were
formed in the womb, you knew us; before we were born, you consecrated us.

You are our rock and haven, to whom we can always turn.  In times past you
appointed prophets and put your words in their mouths, appointing them
over nations and kingdoms to destroy wickedness and overthrow the
ruthless, and to build justice and plant righteousness.

But in these last days you have sent your son, Jesus Christ, to whom every
day is a sacred new day of freedom.  You have appointed him as the
mediator of a new covenant, in which we are brought to the city of the
living God with the angels and saints and the faithful of every age to
rejoice together at the wonderful things you are doing.  Through him, your
living word, you reach out to us  unbidden, and touch us and set us free. 
We glorify your most holy name.  Lord, hear our prayer...

Father and Mother of us all - we pray for those who are part of our human
family and part of the community in which we live.  We pray for the little
ones - for those who are seen as unimportant - for those who are lost -
for those who grieve as ones with no hope - for those who hunger for the
Bread of Heaven  and thirst for the Wine of Forgiveness.  Grant, we pray, 
that they may receive the vision that they need from your hands and the
encouragement that they long for... Lord hear our prayer...

We pray, Father, for those who are afflicted and in various ways - for the
young woman who is ill with Leukemia - for the Father whose mind is
assaulted by depression,  and for all those whom we know who require a
blessing - be it physical, emotional, financial, or Spiritual....  Lord,
hear our prayer....

We commend to you as well, O Lord, those individuals and situations that
were shared in sharing time  and those who names rest now upon our
hearts...... BIDDING PRAYER... Lord hear our prayer....

Touch, O God all those who are bent over and oppressed by crippling
spirits - and set free all those who are afflicted by by attitudes and
opinions and viewpoints that cause them and others to become bowed down
and to suffer needlessly.  Create in them the joy that is meant to be part
of the Sabbath day - the day in which we have rest from our labours and
celebrate the wholeness that comes from you.  

* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of

   Gracious and loving God - we offer ourselves and our gifts to you
   so that the light you have shown upon us  may burn more brightly
   and so that your Word may be carried to others by the power of the
   Holy Spirit working through us.  Bless our offering and make it
   fruitful - we ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen.

* DEPARTING HYMN:  "To Show By Touch and Word"                     - VU 427

* COMMISSIONING (unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go
   forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the
   body of Christ.

Go in peace, care for one another in the name of Christ Jesus,   
and may the love of God surround you and protect,
the word of God dwell within you and guide you,
and the touch of God make you whole,
both now and forevermore.  Amen

CHORAL BLESSING: "Go Now In Peace"                                 - VU 964

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2001 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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