• Isaiah 58:9b-14
  • Psalm 103:1-8
  • Hebrews 12:18-29 

Last week I departed from my usual preaching style to clarify some misrepresentations of a resolution from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee August 5-10. The resolution approved by the 900 member assembly and declared that the ELCA was a “Sanctuary Denomination.”

I particularly wanted to correct comments from Robert Jeffress, the pastor of a large Baptist church in Dallas and a Fox News contributor. He appeared incredulous that a denomination would encourage its members to break the law.

First of all, Pastor Jeffress is wrong. There is nothing in the resolution that encourages anyone to break the law. If you would like to know more about it, go to: https://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/8004. There is also a link on that page to some talking points to help clarify what the resolution is and is not.

Having said that however, the church has a long history of civil disobedience when governments enact and enforce laws that are unjust. My first awareness of faith-based civil disobedience was the civil rights movement in the early 1960’s. People of faith very intentionally violated legal segregation, often facing violence, arrest and incarceration. If you wonder where they got such an idea, just take a look at this week’s gospel.

Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and a woman appears who has been bent over and unable to stand up straight for 18 years. She does not approach Jesus asking for anything, it is possible that in her condition she did not eve see him. No, Jesus saw her, went to her and put his hands on her.

If you’re keeping score at home, there are two big violations of the law. In Jesus time, a man was not allowed to touch a non-relative woman. Given that the woman is not named it is safe to assume that she is not a relative. But the greater violation has to do with Sabbath observance. The faithful are not to do any work on the Sabbath. The laws regarding Sabbath are pretty complicated and elaborate, but an official from the synagogue is quick to observe that healing a woman on the Sabbath counts as work.

Jesus points out the hypocrisy of being allowed to untie a beast of burden to get water on the Sabbath (depending upon the type of knot in the rope) but not being able to relieve a woman from a physical burden.

What I like the most about the story is that it defines the mission of the church: helping people to stand up straight. I was drawn to the church by the efforts of the faithful to see that everyone, regardless of race or gender was allowed to stand up straight and live as sons and daughters of Abraham.

Nobel and Pulitzer Prize laureate Toni Morrison died earlier this month at the age of 88. She taught English at Howard and Princeton universities and authored 11 novels and five children’s books. Here is a quote from a woman who always stood up straight:

“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”