The Last Sunday after the Epiphany Luke 13:10-13
Everybody's free to feel good. A little oversimplified, yet true. It could even be a summary of Jesus message. If I was to suggest to you that the Christian message is all about feeling good, you might suggest that I was a hedonist. Yet stop a moment and consider the question- What is it that feels good? It feels good to be authentic to who you are, to be yourself, true to the person God made you. Feeling good may be Jesus message, yet it is often not a summary of the mainstream church's message.
A new Anglican Archbishop of Sydney was recently elected. Among his opening press statements was the equation of homosexuality with alcoholism. He said, "Homosexuality is not very different to something like alcoholism. Someone may be genetically disposed towards alcoholism but that doesn't mean they should get drunk."
The only question is whether its his lack of compassion towards alcoholics or the out of date notion that homosexuality is a sickness which offers greater offence. It seems that the policy of his church is that everybody is not free and that if it feels good and right, its probably immoral.
Of course his is an extreme view on sexuality. A more moderate voice is Sy Rogers, who I would describe as being compassionately intolerant. Listen to this statement of Sy Rogers who has since 'going straight' made a career out of helping others 'go straight'.
"Homosexual orientation is one of many weaknesses affecting humanity. (Judgment) Those with this orientation are NOT excluded from God's love, nor are they less of a person in His sight. (compassionate) Those wanting to enter religious service should be allowed to do so, provided they are not homosexually active, and they control, not cultivate their homosexual orientation.(intolerant) It is clear from Scripture that all who claim allegiance to Christ are required to obey God's general sexual standard: No sex outside of the covenant of heterosexual marriage. Why? For protection of self and others, as sex has the power of life and death."
I have any number of arguments with these words. My biggest beef with Rogers however comes out in the next sentence…
"Additionally, those who follow the way of Christ have been purchased by God, and are not free to live in any manner they wish. They are to honour God and the creative / destructive power of sex by keeping themselves sexually pure."
If I might take a phrase out of context here, yet I believe retain its meaning, those who follow Christ he says
'Are not free to live………'
There could be no message less life affirming, and more enslaved to legalistic religion- which are the two points Jesus makes in today's gospel reading. Gospel truths- free to live, and also free to live outside other people's boundaries of faith and sexuality.
Jesus in the gospel passage for today encounters a woman who has been bent for 18 years. I'm sorry, but the punning potential was too tantalising for me. I couldn't help thinking of Sy Rogers going straight, as I read of the bent woman.
Here Jesus sets free a woman who has been suffering physically and chronically for many years. He heals her, and he does this with his presence and with his touch; in a world where a woman and particularly a bent woman was not worthy of the presence or the touch of a male religious leader. After all she was most likely bent because of her sin, her shame and her demon possession. Jesus sets her free from physical torment, but so much more as well.
He called her forward the text says. Remember that they are in a synagogue. Coming forward was a bold act of walking to the centre of the holy space and standing amidst the religious elite. This woman was restored to community, to religious acceptance, to social status and above all to her own sense of dignity. And all of this on the Sabbath.
In the face of this wonderful moment, the religious elite could only grumble that their religious expectations were offended. The bent woman may now be straight, but this is all wrong.
What a beautiful story. A woman is restored to life; freed from physical pain; and she is restored to being her true self- and to hell with other people's expectations.
Come back then to Sy Rogers and hear the wonderful news of Jesus our healer. In his presence and with the touch of his grace, we are set free to live. Physically healed? Maybe for some of us. Others will continue to live with both chronic and sudden painful torment. All of us set free to be the people God has made us to be, even in the face of other's expectations.
Healed from sexuality? There's nothing to be healed from. Free to stand in the centre of the holy space and in the midst of the religious elite and to celebrate boldly who you are. That's the gospel message.
I have one final point. As a community of Christ, we are the face of Jesus to each other and the touch of grace for each other. So the exciting news is that we can set each other free, as we ourselves are freed.
I finish with the words of Nelson Mandela:
"As we let our own light shine
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear
Our presence automatically liberates others."
Everybody is free! Free to live, free to be, free to feel good, free to celebrate the person God has made you to be.