It's that time – back-to-school – when students and teachers are getting ready to return. In some places in the country, they're already back in school. Many of you know that for 12 years, I was a highschool teacher. And this time of year, I always kind of had some nervous excitement, getting my classroom all ready and awaiting the new students, and to see what the new school year would hold.
But you know, when I was teaching, I would always hear from people: ‘Teachers are so lucky, you get the whole summer off, you get winter breaks, you get spring breaks.’ Well, of course, if you've never been a teacher, or you never lived with a teacher, you have no idea how much teachers work and how much stress they are under. When you have 150 students under your care, you're not only their teacher, you're their counselor, their mentor, sometimes you're even their surrogate parents. And that responsibility is a heavy one, and can really weigh upon you. And that is why those breaks are so important.
Now, I'm not saying that teaching is the only stressful profession. I mean, even those of you who are retired, you are not immune from those day-to-day stresses that weigh you down.
You are burdened by health issues, financial issues, even the state of our nation and our world can weigh heavily upon you.
I wanted to share that with you today, because of the woman in today's Gospel reading from the lectionary for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost. The Bible doesn't give us her name. She's known simply as “The bent-over woman.” Because for 18 years she has been bent over, her perspective is a very lowly, worldly, earthly perspective. She cannot lift herself up to see things from a higher place.
Now as we heard, in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, those people who read the Bible simply at a literal level, will say, ‘Well, maybe she had some type of scoliosis.’ And of course, that's possible. But the story says that she was suffering from a spirit of infirmity, that she was suffering from a weakened spirit that was weighing her down physically and spiritually.
Now in preparation for writing Today's Homily, I spent each and every morning of this past week praying with the bent-over woman. In my meditation I was picturing her in my mind's eye. And I was moved to tears several times, because I realized that I know that woman. I've been that woman. I know that there are people in this church right now at this very moment, who are like the bent-over woman. Right now, in your life, you are so burdened, you are so weighed down. Some of you are grieving. Some of you are experiencing loss of a job. Others of you are being weighed down by health issues or financial issues.
Our friend, the Christian writer John Pavlov, who we were so fortunate to have come speak here at our church back in 2018, recently had an article that was entitled, “Everyone you know, is grieving right now.”
Everyone you know, is grieving right now.
And in that article, John Pavlovich wrote this:
Everyone around you – the people you share the grocery store line with, pass in traffic, sit next to at work, encounter on social media, and see across the kitchen table – they're all experiencing the collateral damage of living. They're all grieving someone, worried about someone. Their marriages are crumbling, or their mortgage payment is late, or they're waiting on their child's test results, or they're still pushing back tears five years after the death of a loved one, because the loss feels as real as it did that first day. Every single human being that you pass by today is fighting to find peace, and to push back fear, to get through their daily tasks without breaking down in the grocery store, or in the carpool line or at the post office. They're wounded, exhausted, pain-ravaged people. They're everywhere every day, stumbling all around us. And yet, most of the time, we're fairly oblivious to them.
The bentover woman is not given a name in the Bible, because I think most of us are oblivious to her. As John Pavlov has said, we go about our day oblivious to the pain, the suffering, the stress that is weighing people down.
And I also think that she's not given a name because I think she's supposed to represent all of us who are weighed down, who have weakened spirits.
But notice what happens in today's Gospel reading. The bentover woman is healed. She experiences the presence and the power of the Christ. It touches her in a very real way. And it says she's freed. It says she's loosed and lifted. She's lifted from her burdens. Now, if the bent-over woman is supposed to represent all of us, then that means that we, too, can be lifted from our burdens, from anything that's weighing us down through the power and the presence of the Christ.
When we touch that presence, that light, we, too can experience healing. Okay. So this story takes place on the Sabbath. And that's not by accident. The Sabbath is, as you know, the day of rest. Now, you see that the religious authorities here are angry with Jesus, for healing this woman on the Sabbath. Because on the Sabbath, you're not supposed to work. So instead of rejoicing that a woman has been healed in their presence, they're angry about it. Because it goes against the law. They're so concerned about the letter of the law.
But Jesus says to them, ‘You hypocrites, the Sabbath is made for healing.’ The Sabbath is made for healing. That's the purpose of the Sabbath, for us to rest in God and experience healing.
Now, I've told you this before –it's confusing to a lot of people – but the commandment to honor the Sabbath doesn't mean to go to church on Sunday. That is not what it means. The Sabbath isn't Sunday. I mean, think about the other commandments, the other 10 commandments. Do you just do them on Sunday? Do you not steal just on Sunday? You don't commit adultery just on Sunday? Your honor your mother and father just on Sunday? No, of course not. We are supposed to be honoring the Sabbath regularly.
I would say each and every day.
We're supposed to be finding time to rest in God, to bring our worries, our fears, our burdens and stresses, to bring them to the Christ light and to rest.
In Matthew 11, Jesus says, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’
Now you know the word Sabbath comes from the same root word as the word sabbatical. Teachers get a sabbatical. So they get to rest and recharge and renew for the new school year. And many of you know that a few years ago, you all gave me the wonderful gift of a sabbatical. It's probably one of the best gifts I've ever received in my life.
If you remember I spent one month all alone, up in the mountains in Idyllwild, California. I was staying at a spiritual retreat center called Spirit Mountain. And I was the only one there because no one goes to Idyllwild in the winter. I had no phone, no internet, no computer, no television, no newspaper. I was totally unplugged. And I didn't even realize how burdened I was, until I closes the door to my room on that first day, sat on the edge of the bed and began to cry, uncontrollably.
And that month, was such a time of healing for me, and transformation, where I could just do nothing but rest in God and experience that healing. And that transformation. Now the little hermitage that I had at Spirit Mountain was called Hildegard’s, Hermitage, and it was named after the medieval Christian mystic, Hildegard of Bingen. And she said, ‘Holy Spirits, you are the light that warms our hearts. You are the balm that purifies our souls. And you are the ointment that heals our wounds.’ So beautiful.
That's what we're doing when we're resting in God, when we're resting in the Spirit. We are experiencing that warmth, that purification, that healing. And you may say, ‘Well, Pastor Sal, look, I'm not a teacher, and I'm not a pastor. No one's gonna give me a sabbatical.’ But what I'm here to tell you is you don't have to go away. You don't have to go to Spirit Mountain. You don't have to go to the Holy Land. You can have a sabbatical each and every day, because the Hermitage is within you.
Jesus said, God's dwelling place is within you. That's where the door to the Hermitage is. Just knock and the door shall be open to you. No matter what you're experiencing right now in life. You can sit and be still, enter into God's dwelling place within you. Bring your worries, your fears, your anger, whatever you're experiencing there, and experience that healing, light, love, power, and presence of the Christ. And so that's what I'd like to invite you to do this week, to intentionally make time each and every day to do that, to enter into the silence, to rest in the arms of God. For as scripture says in Psalm 62, “Only in God will our souls find rest.”
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration and Guidance
Rev. Suzelle Lynch
The Bent-Over Woman in today’s Gospel story is a fascinating character. She’s stuck, unable to stand up or straighten her back -- until one day when Jesus is teaching in a synagogue, he notices her and with a few words and the touch of his hands, she is healed. So who is that Bent-Over Woman? The Bible doesn’t give her a name. She’s simply known by her unusual appearance, and the fact that she’s been bent over for eighteen years. What burden weighs her down? The story doesn’t tell us that either, saying only that her spine was bent by “a spirit of infirmity.” Some (who believe that the stories in the Bible are literally true) have speculated that she may have had terrible scoliosis, but the Bible doesn’t say that the woman has a physical illness. The “spirit of infirmity” she has could just as easily be translated as something like clinical depression – the deep, gray feeling that our life has lost its meaning, and there’s nothing that can be done to change it. For many people, depression feels like carrying a terribly heavy weight with no way of putting it down. Or, what if the “spirit of infirmity” that was bending this woman over was the struggle to take care of herself and her family? What if she, like so many in today’s economy, had lost her livelihood – what if she was like someone who can only find a minimum-wage job and is bent over from struggling to pay her bills, or from the stress of having to decide whether she’d pay her rent or buy food? There are so many things that bend us over. What is the weight you carry? What is it that bends your back, burdens you, grinds you down? What are the questions or worries or self-doubts that keep you awake at night – that make you lose hope? Each Sunday, when we share Joys and Concerns, we light that final candle – the one for all of us – because we know that every human life carries its joys and its burdens. Remember, however, that the Bent-Over woman experiences healing, and so can we.
What did you think?