Set Free After Eighteen Years

When the manager of a chain store was moved to a new city, he looked around for a church to attend. He tried one after another for several years without much success, until he attended one service in which the congregation prayed a prayer of confession that included the sentence: "We have left undone the things we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done." With a sigh of relief, like a burden lifted from his shoulders, the man muttered: "Thank the Lord, at last I've found my crowd."

Today's sermon title is "Set Free After Eighteen Years." There are many ways to be set free. Sometimes we can set ourselves free, and other times we need to be set free by someone else.

Often we feel like we are a prisoner but can't identify what it is that makes us feel that way, or what is needed to set us free. Like when we're in a rut and can't seem to get out of it; or when we're caught in a habit that isn't good for us, but can't seem to break free of it; or when we know we shouldn't have particular feelings of anger, or revengeful feelings, or feelings where we hold a grudge or can't seem to forgive someone but we can't get them out of our head or thinking.

If you have had some long standing problem in your life, whether physical or emotional, or psychological or even spiritual, you can identify with the joy the woman in our Gospel lesson must have felt when she was set free of her ailment after 18 years!!

But, of course, there is always a kill-joy lurking nearby who wants to take away the joy, as with the leader of the synagogue. He was indignant that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. But Jesus makes the leader's argument seem foolish.

In the lesson Jesus says, "…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?"

At first glance that might seem to be saying that Satan caused her ailment. But what Jesus was saying was that the woman was held prisoner by Satan because she couldn't see any way to free herself. Until Jesus came along she believed that there was no way she'd ever be set free.

Now, there are lots of ways to be set free, and the way this woman was set free of her crippling disease that kept her bent over, is one of the ways one could be set free. But there are others. For instance, take Helen Keller. For those too young to know, Helen was blind and deaf from birth, yet God didn't set her free by curing her blindness or deafness. God set her free as she found the key to understanding and communication and it opened the door for her. She went on to be one of the most influential and inspirational women of the 20th century, helping countless sight and hearing impaired folks, and helping a world to better understand them as persons and recognize how much they have as persons to contribute.

So, in that case, not only was Helen Keller set free from her prison, she helped many others free themselves, and she gave the world a way to break free from a prejudice toward those who are sight and hearing impaired. Of course, not everyone chooses to be set free. Some imprison themselves, letting their limitations become their focus, like focusing on the prison bars rather than the free world beyond.

Other folks remain in the prison of their own prejudices toward, not only sight and hearing impaired people, but many folks with handicaps of various sorts.

Prejudices are a prison. Why? Because they never let you see the world for what it really is, and never let you see the fullness of life that you are missing out on. Prejudices focus on the bars of the prison and not on the freedom of the world beyond. Perhaps you're familiar with the fact that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. Well, it takes more of your mental and physical energy to hold on to prejudice than to live free of it, living a full and complete life. That means by holding prejudices you are expending energy to make yourself sick rather than healthy.

So, we are faced each day with many opportunities to set ourselves free from anything that might be holding us back, might be making us sick. But even being sick can be freeing. It doesn't have to become a prison. St. Paul was in prison many times, but that was only physical. He was never a prisoner in his spirit or his mind.

There is more to life than the physical body. And whether healthy or facing some debilitating disease, one can be free and not a prisoner.

But back to the woman in our story. The woman was bent over for 18 years. Probably severe osteoporosis. She didn't get to stand up straight in those 18 years, didn't get to look ahead when she walked but was faced with looking at the ground all the time. She had probably lost hope. But Jesus was present in the synagogue when she was. We are not to assume that she is the only one there who had any physical ailment. Nor should we assume that everyone there was healthy emotionally or spiritually.

But Jesus' attention is drawn to HER. He calls her to him-we can easily overlook that fact in the midst of this story. "When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, 'Woman, you are set fee from our ailment.' When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God."

We focus on the laying on of hands, and the healing that took place. But it is a much more powerful thing that is happening that is of immediate importance to us right here and now. "Jesus called her over." She didn't come seeking him out. He sought her out. Now Jesus isn't with us physically in this day and age, but he said he would not leave us alone. And he said we would do much greater things than he did. By the power of the Holy Spirit we call upon Jesus' name for many things, especially with regard to physical healing.

The point here is that Jesus, through his present day followers, us, seeks out those who are in need of some kind of healing. It might look to be physical, but it might be something much deeper that needs to be set free. It could be that that it is what needs to be healed FIRST before any physical healing can take place. But more importantly, it might mean that a physical healing is not what will take place, but a deeper more significant healing is what is needed to set a person free. Again, remember, Helen Keller. Her physical limitations did not prevent her from being a positive influence on others. She lived her life free, and set others free, even as she lived her life, and a long life it was, as a totally sight and hearing impaired person.

Each one of us who is a believer in Jesus can be the person Jesus uses to call out to someone to set them free. Each of us also should be aware that Jesus is calling out to US through someone to set us free from our own self imposed prisons. When we exhibit narrow and limited vision for the future, there is someone calling out to us to set us free from that.

When we are imprisoned by our lack of knowledge of Scripture, Jesus is calling out to us through someone to be set free. When we are imprisoned by our own lack of prayer communication with God, Jesus calls to us through someone to be set free. When we are in a rut about how we see ourselves-our limitations, our age, our illness, our habits-Jesus calls out to us through someone who is empowered by the Holy Spirit to free you from that rut.

And we should also realize that it might be one of us through whom the Holy Spirit wants to work, to bring the teachings and healings of Jesus for someone else. Many times we are called, but we reject the call because we are in a rut about how we feel about ourselves, limiting God's gifts to us by thinking we aren't capable, and thus we don't become the channel that the Holy Spirit wants us to be. Many times it is through our very weakness, our very limitations that God uses us to free someone. Helen Keller, or Bill W. who founded Alcoholics Anonymous are examples.

Jesus called the woman to him to set her free. And today Jesus still calls to us to set us free. Jesus calls to us to help set others free. Jesus calls to us down through the ages.

So, today, won't you listen carefully to the voice of Jesus calling to you through the power of the Holy Spirit? And if you respond, as the woman did, a person will lay their hands on you and you will be set free. And if you listen to Jesus calling you to be that person through whom he wants to work to set someone free, please, heed the call. That person might be me, and I would hope that if Jesus sent you into my life to help me, to set me free, that you would be willing to heed the call.

If Jesus sets you free, you are free indeed. Experience the joy of being set free from whatever it is in your life that keeps you from experiencing the fullness of the love and joy of being free in Christ.

May you recognize Jesus calling to you to be set free or to be the channel for Jesus to set someone free. The power of the Holy Spirit is working today and every day through anyone who is willing to listen. Experience the joy and share it.


Read more sermons by Pastor Brie