Sermon, August 21, 2022

A Sermon


The Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton

Bradford Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ

August 21, 2022

“A Word, a Touch — Freedom”

When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

Luke 13:12[i]

It happened to me again.  I am in the presence of bright, maybe even brilliant, young people, and invariably they tell about suffering from anxiety.  The people I am talking about have a great deal going for them.  They are from loving and supportive families, employed, often in a stable relationship, have shelter and food.  Still, they speak of an anxiety that can be crippling at times and often robs life of its joy.

            Below is a table from the National Institute of Health.[1]  It is small and hard to read.  For our purposes, however, it is offered as a visual aid.  Simply look at the upper most line. By its steep incline, it shows those suffering with anxiety rising over a ten-year period.  Let me point out that the upper solid line represents those 18 to 25 years of age.  The raw percentages for this young age group are troubling.  From a low of 7.9% in 2008 to 14.68% in 2018.  In ten years, those suffering from anxiety doubled for this age group. 

            This steep rise may have some underlying causes that would surprise no one.  This is the age group that has been inundated with the cold facts of the world’s condition.  They may rightly wonder if there is a future for them.  They see those of us who have held the reigns of power as either being impotent or incompetent when it comes to creating a sustainable future.  And if they are attuned to the discord and hostility that exists within our nation, they may rightly fear the violence which seems all too prevalent.  I mention this because part of the solution to the social phenomena of anxietie’s rise rests with us.  To speak about the problems that are before us is not enough.  We must take personal and collective action to change the picture our young people are seeing.

On a sabbath long ago, Jesus encountered a woman who we are told had been suffering for 18 years.  She was bent over.  She could not stand up straight.  According to one commentator, she was most likely suffering from ankylosing spondylitis.  We can only guess at her level of physical pain and at the social isolation such a condition would create.  I can suggest that in the holiness codes found in Leviticus, many who suffered from disease would have been ostracized, shut out, isolated.  One can only hope that she had a loving and compassionate family because the culture as a whole was probable not too inviting.  And if all that is true, then note that despite her disease, she sought out Jesus.  How many times had she come to synagogue?  How many prayers had she lifted to God?  18 years is a long time to wait.  But this day, her wait was over.  Jesus called her over and with a word and a touch freed her from her ailment.   

            It isn’t the same as anxiety, of course.  Jesus cured a physical and visible disease with a word and a touch, and while anxiety may not be the same as a physical ailment, cannot the One who cured a woman unable to stand up straight, offer a curing word to those that are anxious this day?  Indeed, if one thing is clear in the gospels, it is the healing power of Jesus — the woman with the issue of blood, the demoniac, the boy with epilepsy, the man born blind, and many others.  I would challenge you today that if you believe in the risen Christ you must also believe in the Christ who healed.  So, our first question is what does our Christian faith have to offer those who live in an anxious state?  And our second question is what is required of those seeking release?

            The first question is what does our Christian faith have to offer to those who live in an anxious state?  Here is what I came up with:

  • A historical perspective.  I believe anxiety is, in part, created by failing to look at the long ark of history.  This is not the first age to face monumental challenges.  In my own lifetime, I contended with the Dooms Day Clock that marked how near we were to nuclear annihilation.  I have seen American cities on fire as the pain of red-lining and racial disparities fuled a raging anger.  I have seen the rise and fall of tyrants.  But beyond my own life or nation has passed through a Civil War, has fought against satanic forces in Europe who unleased a holocaust against the Jews, we have passed through the shame of imperialism, the shame of the Spanish Inquisition, the suppression of scientific truth by a Church that felt threatened.  We could go on, but my point is this.  We are not the first to pass through existential crises.  We will not be the last.  Gain some historical perspective and note that in each case we may not have come through the crises perfectly, but we came through.
  • Trust in a loving God.  This may be a hard sell because many young people question God’s existence.  Still, we are asking what the Christian faith has to offer and this is chief among them.  God has not abandoned us.  God sustains us.  God nurtures us.  God guides us.  Yes, all of that, but God commands us.  Where there are abominable conditions, God expects us to act — whether it be in the realm of human culture or environmental issues.  The love of God is not some fluffy sentiment devoid of a demand.  It is the guiding principle for our life together as Christians.  Rest in that love and trust in its promise but know this: it is not passive resignation to the status quo.  It is a call to effective action.
  • God is not done yet.  On the darkest day in human history, on Good Friday, Satan thought the victory was sealed.  Jesus, silenced and dead, was no longer a threat to evil.  Goodness had been vanquished.  But it was not so.  Sunday was coming and Jesus ripped away the stone that had sealed Him in.  He stood triumphant while Satan quivered.  God has never been done and God is not done yet.

There is undoubtedly more that could be said but let us now turn to our second question — namely, what must be done by those seeking release from their anxiety?

  • Jesus healed with a word.  In the example of the woman bent over by disease, part of her healing came by way of a word spoken by Jesus.  Did she need to actually hear the words or would the healing have come even she never heard Jesus speak?  I don’t know.  I do know there are examples of Jesus healing others who were not present to hear Him speak, but in her case, she heard.  I would suggest that those who live in an anxious state, listen for the healing voice of Jesus.  Pray for it.  I am sure that this woman prayed for 18 years.  No, it did not come immediately and “no” I don’t know why.  But through the prayers she was made ready to hear it when it came.  Faith is not an end point but the beginning of a journey and through prayer we make ourselves open to the possibility that an answer awaits.  Jesus may have healed her with a word, but she was ready to hear it.
  • Jesus healed with a touch.  In the section that we read this morning, Jesus not only speaks, Jesus touched her.  She not only had to hear the word, she had to be in Christ’s presence.  Now I know that this is not physically possible for us today.  But the truth remains.  Being in the presence of Christ requires a quickening of one’s senses and an ability to see beyond one’s self.  Can I not marvel at those whose lives are changed by an encounter with the living Lord?  It may not have been my experience, but it is sheer arrogance to deny that it was not someone else’s.  All of us would do well to seek the touch of Jesus.

Long ago a woman suffered from a crippling ailment.  Trust that Jesus will heal again.  Let us pray…

[1] National Institute of Health  Notable differences in trends in anxiety were found by age (see Fig. 2 and Supplementary Table 1). Among 18 to 25-year-old respondents, 7.97% in 2008 versus 14.66% in 2018 reported anxiety (p < 0.001). Significant increases were also noted among 26 to 34 and 35 to 49-year-old respondents (ps < 0.001). The increase was significantly more rapid among those ages 18–25 years than any other age group (differential time trend p < 0.001). In contrast to the younger age groups, anxiety remained stable among those ages 50 and older (3.60% in 2008 to 3.76% in 2018, p = 0.128).

[i] Luke 13:10-17

10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And 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. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But 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.” 15But 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? 16And 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?” 17When 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.