Proper 16C, 2013, scripture can be found here (note, we are using Track 1)
This icon before you (see example below) depicts the Gospel we heard today. It is an image of the bent over woman receiving the healing grace of Jesus. From Russia, it was a gift from members of this congregation, one of whom told me how this image in particular resonated with him because of his own back problems and his own abiding trust in God’s grace in his life.
This icon offers us an invitation to connect with the divine in our own lives. It’s intended to center us, draw us in, and move us beyond the here and now and into a glimpse of the divine that transcends. Icons don’t exist for themselves, and they are more than an image, because they serve as a means by which we are invited to see beyond ourselves and glimpse God.
Icons are intended as a pathway by which we can remember who God is and who we are called to be.
In this image conscious culture, where images are a commodity, there are still opportunities in which an image can move us beyond ourselves and into an awareness of God’s call to us.
The image that has drawn people in this week is that of a very clearly traumatized child in the city of Aleppo. Already described as “iconic”, this image compels because it demands that we see this child as a child of God. This image compels us to see the need of a child not unlike the needs of our own children. This image cuts across cultures, traditions, religions and political ideologies. This image shakes us and what I hope and pray remains beyond the shaking is our recognition that this is a child who is known by God, just as we are known. That this is a child who, while only a boy, is a boy who will transform the world if we allow our care for him to transcend those walls that would divide us.
The details of the conflict become meaningless when the real time, real world, consequences of that conflict are laid out so starkly and the world becomes centered on a single life, a single child in the midst of it all.
Does this sound familiar, that a single child would draw our attention?
It should…because in this year of focus on the Gospel of Luke, we have seen repeatedly situations in which our attention is diverted away from our own needs and desires and centered instead on our calling to care for the weak and the vulnerable. When the disciples argue about who is the greatest amongst them, Jesus calls a child to him and tells them that the least of these is the greatest. When Herod sends forth soldiers to destroy the first born sons, God sends a baby boy into the world. And, in today’s Gospel, when the religious authority’s adherence to the law keeps them from responding with compassion, they are confronted with a truth that they cannot deny… “you hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman…be set free from bondage on this Sabbath day?”
Jesus’ action reminds them that the law was written for liberation.
When I served as a chaplain at Rainbow Babies’ and Children hospital, I served alongside many members of the large Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community. One observant resident, who I had come to know well, shared with me that yes, it was true that Sabbath observant Jewish residents were required to take call during the Sabbath—just like all of the other residents. But, that he reconciled this because the laws of compassion supercede the laws of the Sabbath. Life saving activities, and the alleviation of suffering always took priority. And, that Jewish law, as it has developed over the centuries is adamant “we violate Shabbat to save any human life; that's the Halacha, that's the practice, that's what we do.”
The law is written for liberation.
And, when the laws we create and the faith we proclaim bind rather than liberate, that is when we ourselves are confronted by the accusation of hypocrisy.
The Gospel is clear, adherence to the law without adherence to love is counter to God’s call to us.
And, that is the power of this Gospel and the power of the image set before us. It re-centers us on what really matters, and begs the question of our own call to the ministry of liberation and challenges our own adherence to policies and procedures that limit our ability to do in the world what God would have us do. At this time, I invite you to sit for a time with the icon at it appears before you
The prayer with which I wish to close today’s sermon offering is drawn from the Book of Common Prayer, an excerpt from the prayer for the human family, “O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.