I’ve called this sermon “Be comforted.” A possible longer title might have been “Be comforted whatever your illness or your problem,” because that is what I am trying to communicate today. In the Gospel from St. Luke, Chapter 13, Christ heals a woman who has been “bent double, and could not straighten up at all” for 18 years. She was really in bad shape.
There are two things that are quite unusual about this particular healing. First, this woman did not ask to be healed. Christ simply “called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your sickness.’ And He laid his hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.” I am sure all of us would like to be treated that way by Christ—to be called over to Him and to be told, “You are freed from your sickness”—whatever our illness or problem might be. However, if that is to happen it is the choice of Christ and not necessarily of us. We rightly ask for healing and hope for healing, but if and how and when healing happens to us in a particular situation depends on Christ and not on us.
The second unusual thing about this healing is that it occurs on the Sabbath day—the day when all religious Jews should be resting. Christ says firmly to these religious Jews and to us: you can be healed when you are resting. We do not need to observe every little law about how we should be living, because what is more important for each of us is our heart—our attitude towards God, our belief that somehow in some way God is relevant to our lives now. He can help us with any illness or problem that we are experiencing—even if we do not know precisely the help that we need and even if we, like this woman in the Gospel of St. Luke, to do not ask Christ to heal us.
The big question to which many of us want to know the answer is: Will I be healed now from this particular illness or problem? I think the reading today from the second chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians suggests simply “possibly,” because St. Paul writes to the Ephesians and to us that “you . . . are being built together into a dwelling of God in the [Holy] Spirit.” In other words, the unity in the first century between Jews who believed in Christ and Gentiles who believed in Christ was an on-going process, just as our own participation in the Church of Christ in the twenty-first century is an on-going process. We learn by doing. We grow in the face of challenges.
However, in the midst of any challenge or illness or problem, there is also a promise. St. Paul preached that the Messiah—Christ—“came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” Now St. Paul was quoting directly from the prophet Isaiah, who had written: “‘Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near, says the Lord, ‘and I will heal him.’” In that same 57th chapter in the Old Testament book of the Isaiah, the great Jewish prophet has written: “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstacle out of the way of My people.” Thus St. Paul and Isaiah are communicating the same message—be built up as a people of God, be built up in your acceptance of God and in your confidence that you can serve Him. Notice that those who are “far away” and those who are already “near” to God are both being built up. That applies within this church. Whatever our present commitment to Christ or our understanding of the Bible, we are each being built up in our love of Christ each Sunday as we come to Church.
How? Isaiah gives us the answer in Chapter 40, Verse 1: “‘Comfort, O comfort [ye] My people,’ says your God.” That verse is the foundation of a phrase that my wife Sylvia and I use at times to each other: “‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, My Person,’ says your God” in the midst of any problem we are facing. Now, every Christian here today is a member of the People of God. The Lord—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—comforts us whatever our affliction—whatever our illness, or problem or uncertainty. That same comfort is offered to each of us whether we are presently far away from the Lord or near to the Lord, because, to repeat, we all members of the People of God. Every person who is a member of the People of God is entitled to be comforted. Just as the woman who was “bent double” was “made erect” so we too can be lifted up—can be built up as persons—as children, teenagers and adults—who praise the Lord. That is what we now do in this liturgy. We praise God as His people who are being comforted by Him; and as we receive comfort from Him we also wish to comfort befriend others and to serve Him in prayer and song and action.
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.