To see another person is to love the face of God
August 25, 2019
Luke 13: 10-17
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 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. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 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.’ 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? 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?’ 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 doing.
This the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Our opening hymn on this Sunny Sabbath Sunday was a song about the actual day:
O day of rest and gladness sings of why we have a Sabbath day:
it’s rooted in the rhythm of creation and in Christ’s resurrection
And the song sings of what we do on this day of rest and freedom,
we gather here face to face – around this book, bread, and bath – in worship.
I’m still learning how we do Sabbath here at UPC.
There are expectations, of course.
I’ve already messed up, as you know.
Didn’t know our usual response of praise after the peace
was the last verse of the first hymn,
and instead picked a jazzy version of the Gloria Patri that no one knew.
On week two, I stood up too early after the Offertory,
before Tom played the first notes of the doxology.
My sweet girls are figuring out the ways here, too.
At the church we served in Virginia, there were no chairs in the chancel,
so they were able to sit with mommy and daddy on the front row.
So, this week we had some talks about conduct.
It’s always been this way. This Day of Rest and Gladness is
wrapped up in customs and commandments. Jesus knew about it too.
Our story starts by dropping us right into his sabbath rhythm.
He was in the synagogue teaching. Of course, he was. That was the norm.
(And I bet he knew the other norms of when to sit and stand and what to sing and how to keep the children engaged).
So much of this passage is about the synagogue’s reaction to Jesus’ faux pas:
his act of healing on the Sabbath. And we could stay there too.
It wouldn’t be a waste to think about which of our expectations are healthy and which ones miss the point.
But here’s the thing: Jesus heals a woman.
I don’t want to gloss over that on this Sabbath day—
for if I understand it, it’s the point.
Jesus makes what was wrong, right. He makes what was broken, well.
No matter what day it is, he makes the dead end, a new beginning.
We don’t know the woman’s name.
We do know she didn’t ask Jesus for help.
After 18 years of suffering, perhaps she was resigned to her existence.
Sometimes we live with how it is for so long, we forget about how it should be.
But Jesus never does.
He sees her, Luke says. He sees her, and sets her free,
unties her from what has long bound her.
The woman bent becomes the woman bold in her praise of God.
During my second year at Carolina my brother and I drove home for Christmas break and my aunt Lucy was in our driveway to greet us. We love Lucy, but this was really odd. She said my dad was in surgery for a detached retina.
While surprising news, we weren’t strangers to issues with sight. For as long as I can remember, my dad’s mom was legally blind. For her to “see” us, she would come so close that I could smell her Irish Spring Soap and she’d cusp my face as if she were reading it.
Dad came home from his surgery and was only allowed to look at the ground. He had some kind of bubble inserted to keep the retina in place, which is why for 10 days, he had to keep his neck bent at all times.
In order to not bump into walls and in order to see anything other than the hardwoods, tile, and carpet, he had a little mirror contraption. He could look down into it and it would reflect back to whoever he was trying to talk too.
He even had a pillow that allowed him to breathe while sleeping face down. He had the mirror and the pillow and the ophthalmologist’s hope that he would be okay, and still, for 10 days it was awful. Now think about doing that for 18 years.
We don’t know what was keeping this woman in the synagogue on the Sabbath
perhaps it was an orthopedic issue or deep shame,
arthritis or chromosome disorder from her birth,
that kept this woman’s eyes fixed to the patch of ground beneath her.
What we know is Jesus lifts this woman’s eyes.
What we know is that the healing, the freedom initiated and freely given by Jesus
brings this woman back up, face to face with those around her.
And if I’m honest with you,
I know I need that kind of healing,
that kind of freedom.
I need a savior.
I need saving from only seeing the patch of ground that is under my own two feet.
How often am I stuck bent over my phone or full agenda, not able to look up?
How tightly am I tied to my own perspective and privilege?
How bent am I to my expectations for others and myself
that I don’t even realize the big picture?
How many faces do I miss because I refuse to actually see them?
Do I refuse to see them because they don’t vote the way I do
and I can’t for the life of me understand why? Do I refuse to see them because they pray with language that is foreign to my ears or grates on my theology?
Or do I fear that seeing another
will just be too vulnerable for me–for it risks me having to reconsider my perspective?
When Jarrett and I were doing premarital counseling
I remember our therapist had us do this exercise that I pretty much hated.
She asked me to validate where he was coming from.
And I’ll tell you I was petrified that seeing where he was coming from
would mean that I had to agree with him.
Yea, I’m a slow learner.
It took me a while to realize that to see him,
and to see what ground he might be standing on,
didn’t mean that I had to relinquish myself or my values,
it simply meant I had to stand up straight and see him face to face.
And in that alone, was healing and freedom. Everyone desires to be seen.
Jesus wants us to see each other…really see each other.
Jesus wants to pry our eyes off the patch of ground beneath us.
He wants this so much he’ll even risk a major faux pas at Church.
Our second week here, I ran into a church member, Jonathan Leggette on Franklin Street, and I don’t even know how we got to it, but within our very brief exchange, we somehow worked in our love for Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. And I felt great connection and comfort that this fella also sobbed in the theatre.
At the conclusion of the show, Jean Valjean sings “to love another person is to see the face of God.” Yes, sir. Amen.
And if I understand the text, the inverse is also true,
to see another person is to love the face of God.
This week I saw a photograph in the NY Times ,
I wish I could’ve included it in the bulletin,
but imagine two people standing up straight,
facing each other, extending their arm to hold each other’s hands.
They are looking each other in the eyes, but their eyes are kind of squinty.
They are young, so it’s not the wrinkles that come with age,
but rather the crinkles that come with joy.
When I saw it, I thought to myself, the kingdom of God is like. . . .
It was a photograph taken in Edinburg, a town just north of the border city of McAllen, TX. The person on the left was a camp counselor, the one on the right was a camper,
at a Presbyterian day camp run by Mo-Ranch, which is kind of a Texas version of Montreat.
The camper is growing up in the shadow of migrant shelters and amid a roiling national conversation about immigration, and thus knows what it is like to have assumptions made about him before he has actually been seen:
he must be poor, his parents must not be in the United States legally.
Perhaps that is true about this young man, I don’t know,
but what I know is in that picture, that camp counselor is seeing him for who he is. And such an act of seeing brings joy.
Several years ago, the head of Mo-Ranch asked pastors from the Rio Grande Valley why children from that region never attended its summer camp and learned it was because of fear. US Border Patrol operates traffic checkpoints on major highways in the Rio Grande Valley, asking drivers whether they are American citizens. Undocumented residents have missed college graduations and skipped hospital visits to more northern cities in the state because they did not want to risk passing a checkpoint. So for the past four summers, Mo-Ranch has said: “These youth may not be able to come North, but we can go south.” The first year, 36 campers registered. This summer, 62 attended, the majority of them Hispanic, and many of them the children of migrants .
This year’s camp started in late July, one week after our administration began a series of coordinated raids, thus 20 campers canceled at the last minute.
But they had camp anyway. And at the closing worship service, campers and counselors together formed two lines and faced one another. One by one, while holding hands, they said something they appreciated about the other person.
No one was bent over in fear or shame or stereotype. Each person was seen.
Seeing that photo and reading that article made me so glad to be Presbyterian.
I felt pride that my stewardship giving that I throw in the plate here
goes to support ministry like that for the larger denomination.
I felt gratitude for the similar experiences I’ve had at camps and conferences…for those moments when I have been seen as I truly am.
And then I got to wondering about this world so bent in on itself.
I wondered what depths of healing might be possible,
what new freedoms might be found,
if we, the church, could change our own posture…
if we could lift our gaze and see one another face to face.
on this day of rest and gladness,
on this sunny Sabbath morning,
may we stand up straight,