Sunday, August 21, 2022
WHAT BENDS YOU OVER?
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy Tx 77493
August 21, 2022
Today we have a relatively simple healing story. Most of the commentaries and sermons on this passage only give the bent over woman a quick pass and go on to talk about Jesus’ teaching and reprimanding the synagogue leaders for being more concerned about the law than love. Now this is a major theme of Jesus’ teaching especially in the gospel of Luke.
I suspect this is where many will go this week and I must admit I was tempted to go with the theme of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. I even saw a great little meme on Facebook that showed Jesus saying, “The difference is that you use the law to interpret how to love and I use love to interpret the law.” That tells us the difference between the two. Orthodoxy is focusing on right beliefs as the most important. Orthopraxy says right actions are more important. If you take nothing else away this morning spend some time thinking about that.
What really caught my attention this time is that Luke says that a spirit caused her to be bent over. I am not sure why I never caught this but the problem was not a physical condition but a spiritual condition. Now I’m very interested in how we carry stress and negative emotions in our bodies. This really can effect our health.
One morning of the storytellers festival I attended we had a workshop on embodying the story. This was focusing on how we can communicate information about the story we are telling with our bodies. I do not remember the exact statistic but only 25% of the information we get hearing a story is from our ears. The other 75% is all in posture and body language. This is of course what makes emails, text messages and tweets so dangerous.
This class taught us to convey those emotions without saying a word. We focused on how we carry emotion in our head, heart, gut and pelvis. For example I might show a person grieving by their carrying their grief in the heart. (demonstrate)
I was out for my morning walk Wednesday and there was group of high school kids standing at their bus stop. Spread uniformly about three feet apart each one staring at a phone, the body language was just screaming at me. Besides an almost universal don’t bother me message I sensed some frustration. Now it seemed late for the bus so maybe they were all tired of standing there waiting. Whatever this was not a happy group of kids heading back for their first day of school.
I use this in most of my telling and I used it this morning in the gospel. So you see the pain we carry shows up in a variety of places in our body, but in general it seems to bend us over, weigh us down. As I listened to the clinician talking about the various places we carry our pain, our joy, our emotions I noted that they align quite closely with four of the seven major chakra points in our body, head, throat, heart, and gut. I learned about these chakras from a Roman Catholic nun at Washington Medical Center when Wendy completed her Reike training. Chakras are universally known from Native American medicine men, through Buddhist teachings, Hindu tradition and most Asian cultures as well as in Christianity.
So the relevant question for me today is to ask is what bends you over, weighs you down, what blocks up or drains your energy?
Hearing the stories of so many people I am aware of the pain and the burdens that so many of us carry. I see many “bent over” women and men in the course of any given week. As a group most of us are at least figuratively bent by something that has power over us. As a group we also tend to cling to whatever bends us over.
A therapist I once worked with described life something like this. We all are born with a backpack, but it is empty. As we walk through life we fill the backpack with our experiences. Life giving experiences do not weigh the pack down but the painful ones are the rocks we toss in one at a time. The weight often accumulates slowly and we do not notice the ever increasing burden until that one last heavy rock goes in and we find ourselves bent over. Then it is time to take off the backpack and dump the weight that burdens us.
The problem is we have often become attached to those rocks. They are part of who we think we are. Maybe this is the case with the woman. I wonder if she knew the weight she carried that “bent” her over. I wonder if Jesus had asked her if she would have willingly given that up? I wonder if Jesus knew that he had to free her right then and there because he knew what she needed better than she did.
A Jesuit author William Barry wrote the following: There is in us some power that is inherently conservative; that wants the status quo to be preserved no matter how painful it is. I may be between a rock and a hard place, but it is my rock and my hard place, and I know how to cope with the situation. Leaving it is very difficult, no matter how painful it also is to stay.1
Now I know from my own experience both as a person and as a priest that this is true. So, what do we do with those rocks in our backpacks?
I am reminded of an experience when I was in Constance Germany and had stopped to visit a very famous cathedral in town. As the group explored the church I noticed a niche in the back that was an area about 6 ft across, 6 ft. high and a few feet deep. In this was the most incredible statue of Jesus that I had ever seen. Not a biblical scene, but a wooden statue of Jesus seated on a rock with the crown of thorns on his head. Looking beaten and broken, yet there was this feeling of invitation to me. The invitation was to place my burden my yoke on him. It was as if he was saying, “It’s ok, I can take it. I can take all of your pain.” When I got home and unpacked this experience with my spiritual director he had me meditate on doing just that. Then he prayed that the burden I was carrying would be lifted so that I could walk as the healthy beloved child of God that I was. It was a moment that changed my life just as the healing of the bent over women changed her. I could lift my eyes from the ground and look to the hills. That is the power of Christ.
Since that time I have learned a very useful way to dump that load of rocks and it is right outside our door here in the prayer garden. The Labyrinth is a wonderful spiritual exercise for dumping those rocks that we carry. Take that backpack into the Labyrinth and pray as you go in that Jesus will receive and relieve you of your burden. It may take a couple of trips. I have even literally carried a token that stood for whatever it is I needed to dump into the center. When you reach the center place whatever it is at the base of the tree out there and then thank God for taking that burden from you as you pray your way back out to the entrance.
You can rest assured that you have given that burden to Christ and he will help you stand up straight and walk.
Gracious and loving God your will for us is health and unity with you. Help us this day to cast off whatever it is that binds us, that bends us over so that we may stand up straight, look to the hills and praise your name. AMEN