Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Great Lent Week 5, Women in Jesus' Ministry
Volume 6 No. 335 March 4, 2016
 
II. Lectionary Reflections on
5th Sunday of Great Lent

God Has a Dream

by Bishop Michael Curry

Gospel: Luke 13:10-17

When I was a little boy in Sunday School, I learned a poem by Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams
For life without dreams
Is like a bird with a broken wing
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams.

God has a dream. God has a dream, a vision, plan, a sublime divine purpose for this world. God has a dream for his creation, a dream for every man, woman, and child whoever walked upon the face of the earth, and God will not rest until our nightmare is ended and God's dream is realized. That's what Jesus is all about. That's what he came to show us. He came to show us the way to live God's dream instead of our nightmare. He came to show us the way to be truly and authentically and genuinely human as God intended and created us. He came to show us how to become more than simply an individual collection of self-interests. He came to show us how to become the human family of God.

And when the world is lived like that, when our lives are lived like that, then children don't go to bed hungry. When the world is lived more in accord with God's dream, God's vision for life, then we will find ways to lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.

Oh, God has a dream. And God will not rest until God's dream is accomplished, and miraculously God will not do it without us.

I believe it was St. Augustine of Hippo--but I've heard Desmond Tutu say it--that with respect to God's work:

By himself, God won't.
By ourselves, we can't.
But together with God, we can.

We can.

God has a dream! And he has called us to help him realize that dream for every man, woman, and child who walks upon the face of the earth.

Back to that Gospel story.

For 18 years this sister had suffered, been crippled, barely able to walk. And on that one faithful day, in desperation, she did the unthinkable. It was the Sabbath, the day of rest when unnecessary work and labor was not to be done. But this sister was desperate. She got up and walked her way to where she heard this itinerant rabbi was going to be. She went, hurting, laboring, but she went--on the Sabbath when she probably shouldn't have gone--she went. She was desperate. She just wanted to hear him, to see him, to touch him, and maybe even to be touched by him. And when she got there, he saw her and he healed her!

Woman, you are set free.

Free from that which bedevils you, free from that which is crippling you, free from that which is preventing you from being all that God dreams and intends for you to be. Like that old song that says:

I sing because I'm happy.
I sing because I'm free.
His eye is on the sparrow.
And I know he watches me.

God has a dream for this world and a dream for every man, woman, and child who walks upon the face of this earth. That's what Jesus is all about. That's what he's trying to get us to see. God has a dream!

If you look at our text, from the context of Luke's Gospel, you'll discover that it is so clear that this woman was experiencing the fulfillment of God's dream in her life for her.

A few chapters back in the Gospel, near the beginning in the 4th chapter when Jesus first begins his ministry, his witness, he identifies himself in that ministry with the words of the prophet Isaiah. He stands up in the synagogue and reads the words of the prophet:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty all those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18,19)

Notice the sequence in Luke's Gospel. Just before Jesus says these words from the prophet Isaiah, he has been baptized by John in the Jordan River; and when he is baptized, he has a vision. The heavens are opened and he has a vision. And a dove descends. He has a vision! It is a vision of God's dream for this creation and for this world, and it is that vision that inspires him and sends him out into the world; but before he can go and proclaim God's dream and vision, he must go out and fast and pray in the wilderness. And there in the desert wilderness, fasting and praying, the devil comes to test him, to see if he will really live the dream, to tempt him to subtly accept the nightmare, to tempt him to subtly buy into the nightmare, to tempt him to not trust the dream. But he resists! And in his resistance, he then leaves the desert and then goes to the synagogue and publicly declares in the synagogue of Nazareth that he will stand with the dream of God, and it is then that he preaches and proclaims the prophecies from Isaiah:

Oh, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has anointed me, he says, to preach good news to the poor. The dream! He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives. The dream! Recovery of sight to the blind. The dream! To set at liberty all who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year, the year of the Lord's favor, the year of jubilee.

As my old slave ancestors would say, that great gettin' up morning, the day of the kingdom of God, the reign of God, the fulfillment and realization of the dream of God. God has a dream and a life that is meant to be lived in the direction of God's dream in harmony with God's dream. And when life is lived in the direction and in harmony with God's dream for our lives, we have power for living that we might not have otherwise had.

A few years ago I was in Botswana in Southern Africa to lead a mission as part of our diocese's companion relationship with Bishop Trevor Mwamba and the good people of the Anglican Diocese of Botswana. Some years before, we had begun that relationship and continue it to this present time. I traveled there and we visited a number of congregations and ministries. But the ministry that stood out for me was the ministry of The Mother's Union and the Diocese daycare centers for young children. Because of the spread of HIV/AIDS, many children are orphans being raised by extended family members and also sometimes by parents who are HIV-positive themselves.

The last daycare center that we visited on our trip was at St. Peter's Church in Gaborone, the capital city. It's located in an impoverished section of the capital. We pulled into the courtyard in a van. We were greeted by Fr. Andrew, the priest, and his wife. I've gotten to know them over the years, and they are two remarkable people of God, saints if saints have ever walked upon the face of the earth. Anyway, Father greeted us and took us to the far side of the courtyard where the children were sitting. And they were sitting in the shade listening to Bible stories and singing songs. Now these are kids three, four, and maybe five years old. So as we walked up, they all stood up and began to sing, "Good morning to you, good morning to you, with smiles on our faces and bright, shiny faces, good morning to you." Fr. Andrew went on and introduced us, and we said good morning to the kids, and he invited me to tell them a story. I told them a Bible story and led them in a song--"If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands." And then we did that one where you "Praise ye the Lord, Hallelujah," where the kids are sitting down but they stand up on the "Hallelujah." And we sang "Praise you the Lord, Hallelujah," and it really was quite wonderful. I noticed, though, when we were singing the "Praise you the Lord, Hallelujah," where the kids stand up, that one little girl didn't actually stand up; and then I realized she was sitting and next to her were two crutches. We began to sing "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." And as we sang that song, I looked at some of the children, knowing the homes from where they came, knowing the lives that they were struggling to live, and I never heard that song that way and that powerful before.

Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

And with that, Father dismissed the children to go play. Off they went, running as children do on a playground on the other side of the courtyard, except this one little girl. She got up from her chair, took her crutches, and started to walk painfully, almost like the old woman in the Gospel story. And as she walked, I asked Father who she was and what her story was. And he said the director of the daycare, who was a college student at the time, goes into the neighborhoods looking for children who may not be being cared for, who may need the daycare center. She heard about this child in one home where her grandparents were caring for her. The child was actually bedridden. And the grandparents allowed the church and the daycare center to intervene, and so they came in, and eventually medical folk and physical therapists worked with her and medicine helped, and they brought her to the daycare center every day. Slowly, but surely, she was able to walk with the crutches.

While Father was telling that story, she was walking with the crutches toward the other children, and she fell down. You know how you want to get up and help, but you also learn the best way to help is to let her get up herself. And she did. She took one of the crutches, kind of staked it in the ground and pulled herself up, continued to walk painfully, haltingly, but determinedly, toward the other children. And as she approached the other children, Father said something I have never forgotten. He said, "We believe that God has something better in store for every child. And it's our job to help each child find out what that is, and then rise up and live."

My brothers and sisters, we who would follow Jesus of Nazareth believe that God has something better in store for the world. God has something better in store for every man, woman, and child who has ever walked upon the face of this earth. God has something better in store for God's creation and God's world, so Christian, go forth into that world and proclaim God's dream for us all. Go forth into that world and witness to God's love for us all. Go forth into that world and set this world free from its nightmare and free it by the dream of God for us all.

Oh, I sing because I'm happy.

I sing because I'm free.
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me.

Hold fast the dream. Amen.

About The Author:

The Right Rev. Michael B. Curry is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, based in Raleigh, NC.

Copyright by The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry

The Power of Love

By Paul Lutter, Litchfield, MN

Gospel: Luke 13:10-17

We know neither her name nor the location from which she comes. All we know is that she was "a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years," and that, "[s]he was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight." (Lk. 13:11) We don't know from the text exactly what causes this spirit to lash out at this woman. We do know, though, the power of this spirit is to slowly and deliberately destroy this woman's life. Whether this spirit manifesting its wicked power in this way is a result of the woman's sinfulness or was it simply the way she was born we do not know. So weighted down by its power is she that she can't "stand up straight."

All we know is that bent over, exhausted, worn, and arid from the despair that comes from the power of this spirit, pushed to the margins of society, and dead inside, this woman comes in from the heat of the day to seek shelter in the synagogue.

They are nameless when they arrive at Magdalene. Seeking shelter - relief - from the power of the spirit whose work it had been to destroy them through drugs and prostitution, they come completely exhausted and desperate. Like the woman in the text, these women of Magdalene live on the edge between death and life. Living in the shadows, under the oppressive weight of the spirit whose power it had been to press the life right out of them, these women, like the woman in this text from Luke, "can't stand up straight."

While there may be interesting, and coincidental, similarities between the woman in Luke 13 and the women of Magdalene up to this point, where their stories converge is that none of them were looking for Jesus. Jesus found them anyway. And a new power, the power of God's love, emerges in their lives. When Jesus finds them, they are no longer in the cold shadows of sin and despair they are brought into the light and warmth of the new day that dawns. No longer "bent over" by a spirit who intimidates, Jesus forgives, heals, and even sets them free.

These women - both in this text from Luke and those in Magdalene - need not "look for love." When he shows up, they are overcome by the power of a love that pours itself out for them in Jesus Christ. And, by God's grace, they are never the same again. Maybe for the first time in their lives, they are given a name they can speak out loud without fear of being hurt, ostracized, shamed, or pushed back into the shadows of a power that destroys. Their new names are this: Child of God.

And in this new God given name, as my students would say, these women become legit. And so, when Jesus does his new thing among them, these women "[stand] up straight and [begin, without ceasing] praising God." (Lk. 13:13) What else are they to do, really, once they who were dead are now raised?

It would be easy, even preferable, perhaps, to stop reading Luke's account here, where the woman - and the women of Magdalene, and we, all of us, by extension - are "set free from [our] ailment." Yet, this is the gospel of Luke, and so whenever and wherever Jesus shows up and makes all things new, there's sociopolitical ramifications.

Thus we are reintroduced in Luke's gospel to those who understand their job to keep and further uphold the old order. In this case, the problem appears to be that Jesus is working on the Sabbath. Yet, as Jesus is quick to point out, the work he's doing is no more problematic than the work they, who would prevent Jesus from being Jesus, were doing.

So we come to the real problem for which Jesus was yet again in trouble with those who would hold tightly to the old order. In a world where women were not persons, Jesus identifies, heals, makes room for and restores this woman - and this woman - to the community. With this unfathomable act, Jesus tosses out the power of the spirit that would oppress, subdue, and enslave, in order to make room for and further establish the power of love. The power of this love that Jesus demonstrates turns everything on its head so that the weak are strong, sinners are forgiven, those deemed untouchable were embraced, those at the margins were given central place at the table, and those who didn't deserve to be healed were not only healed but actually restored to the entire community.

Sociologists are quick to point out that in situations where the oppressed are set free, it is often the case that those who were oppressed turn into oppressors. Yet this is not the kind of love that Jesus, or his community, exercises. The power of love that Jesus lives out sets the table so that everyone has a place at the table, where everyone tells their stories of pain, sin, separation, and death. And by the power of God's love, their stories are made new.

This love, God's love made known to us in Jesus Christ, is what's at work in the story of the woman in Luke 13. And it's the operating force that animates the ministry to women who would enter Magdalene. In light of this, the old order is exposed and put to shame. Yet, because the power of love is God's and not something we conjure up in ourselves, Jesus shows up for those, too, who would so cling to the old that they can't see daylight. When he shows up, their eyes, too, are opened and they - we - too are set free and stand up straight for the very first time. Where once we stood apart, now by the power of God's love poured out for us in Jesus Christ, we stand together praising God. In this, we all have hope.

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