Luke 13: 10 – 17_Jesus Shows Us a New Story_August 25, 2019

Jesus Shows Us a New Story

Luke 13: 10 – 17


preached on August 25, 2019


Everybody has a story they tell about themselves.  I’m not talking about the somewhat fictional tall tale we might tell to make a good impression.  I’m talking about the stories we tell, not to impress, but for a different reason.  Like the stories we tell about what we do in our lives.  Our stories can show who we are, what’s important to us.  If we’re part of the Christian tradition, our stories can help us see how God is working in our lives.


Take my father’s story for example.  He was born in 1907, in the town of Duxbury, in the eastern part of the state.  Today it’s a suburb of Boston, but at the time Duxbury was a rural town with an economy based on farming and fishing.  My father’s father supported his family by driving a truck, delivering meat around town.  My father was the fourth child born to the family, the second son.  Four more children were born after him.  Then, tragically, his mother died in childbirth. My father was nine years old.


His oldest sister took over running the household, but only for a few years until their father remarried.  Dad said his father firmly believed that women should be able to support themselves financially.  So each of my dad’s sisters went to school: one to be a nurse, one a secretary, a couple to be teachers.  Dad’s older brother, my uncle Henry, had a troubled relationship with their father.  He left home at the age of sixteen.  So in a sense it was up to my dad to fulfill the role of the good son.  In his early years, that’s what he did.  He was active in the congregational church, did well in school, and went on to college, the first in the family to do so.  He paid his expenses with a job driving the launch for the college crew team.


I think my grandfather always hoped his high achieving son would come back to Duxbury and take over the meat business, but my dad’s life took a different turn.  After college he took a job teaching English at a school for boys, far away from home, in a place known at the time as the Hawaiian Islands.  While he was there, he got to know a charismatic, enthusiastic bishop in the Episcopal church, Bishop Littell.  My father began attending services at the Episcopal church and fell in love with their beautiful rituals.  After a time, he felt a call to ordained ministry.


The story of my father’s early life was a story of leaving home, family, and the church of his boyhood to become a priest in the Episcopal church.  He grew to be different from his father in many ways: profession, faith, eventually politics too.  Later in life, my father used to joke that his father could tolerate his leaving Duxbury.  His father eventually accepted his going into the Episcopal priesthood.  But his father was a staunch Yankee and independent businessman.  He never got over the fact that my dad became a supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.

When my father was serving as a college chaplain, he met my mother.  His story moved into romance, marriage, children, and a parish in Pittsburgh where he stayed for eighteen years.  That’s where my story begins.  Like my dad, I was the fourth child in the family, but unlike him I was the youngest.  Like him, I enjoyed school and church but, unlike my grandfather, my father never expected me to, so to speak, go into the family business.  In fact, he was surprised when I joined a congregational church.  And when I went to seminary in my forties, he was flabbergasted.


Those are just a couple of stories about my father and me.  Each of us has a story.  Our stories show who we are, what’s important to us.  Our stories can help us understand how God is working in our lives.


What’s your story?  Is it a tale of early success, a rewarding career, a long and happy marriage?  Many aspire to a story like that.  For some, things do go that way, but for many of us, our stories are more likely to be a mix of success and failure.  There are high points, but some points are low.  The job we were laid off from.  The relationship that ended painfully.  The adult child whose life is torn apart by drug abuse.


Jesus came to show us that our stories can change.  In his ministry, over and over, he shows people that they don’t have to stay in the story they were born into.  They don’t have to live out the story other people tell about them.


In our gospel passage for today, from Luke, Jesus meets a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years.  We don’t know much about her, but we can guess that the story told about her, maybe the story she told about herself, was one of pain and disappointment.  What was it that made her crippled?  Luke says she had a “spirit of weakness.”  That probably means that nobody could explain, in medical terms, why her body had become so badly deformed.  Maybe it was what we today would call arthritis.  Or maybe her disability was the result of painful trauma in her personal life.


Maybe someone had persistently abused her, physically or verbally, until her emotions became so twisted up inside that she couldn’t stand up straight.  What was the story the people in her village told about her?  Maybe they said she was paying the price for some sin her parents had committed.  In those days people often believed that a person’s disability was the result of some wrong that had been done, by the person herself or someone in her family.


What was the story the woman told about herself?  Was her story that she was born with a healthy body, that she grew up running and climbing trees and doing all the things active kids do?  Did her story go on to include a tragic accident, or some injury of body or spirit, that made her unable to stand up straight?  In the story she told about herself, was she now a hopeless cripple, condemned to a life of limitations?

The world must have looked very different to her.  Because she couldn’t stand up to see people’s faces, she must have recognized them by their voices.  She knew what her neighbors’ footprints looked like.  Her intuition made up for her immobility, but from her actions in the synagogue that day, we might guess that she feels helpless.  She feels there’s nothing she can do about her condition.  She’s in the crowd, but she doesn’t approach Jesus.  But he sees her, making her painful way through the crowd.  For him, she’s not just another cripple.  He refuses to see her as an invalid.  He refuses to write her off as just another woman with a deformed body.  He refuses to accept that what God intends for her is a life of brokenness.


So he calls her over.  “Woman,” he says, “You are freed from your affliction.”  To him, she is a daughter of Abraham, a woman who can stand up tall and take her place among God’s beloved children.  Jesus breaks into her story of pain with a brand new story: a story not of brokenness, but of possibility, a story of hope.


In a book called Engaging the Powers, theologian Walter Wink says that Jesus tries to wake people up to the kind of life God wants for them.  Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God, where all people are of equal worth and dignity.  He breaks into our stories of brokenness and says your story can change.  He says, the story God wants for you isn’t brokenness, but possibility.  The story God wants for you is a story of hope.


What’s your story?  Is it a story of brokenness?  Jesus comes to show us that our stories don’t have to be the stories we tell about ourselves when we feel broken.  Our stories can be different.


A young girl named Angela was determined that her story would change from one of brokenness.  At the age of eleven, Angela was stricken with a debilitating disease that affected her nervous system.  She was unable to walk and her movement was restricted in other ways.  The doctors didn’t hold out much hope.  They predicted she’d spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.  But Angela was undaunted.  Lying in her hospital bed, she vowed to anyone who would listen that she’d be walking some day.


Angela was transferred to a specialized rehabilitation hospital in the San Francisco area.  Her therapists were amazed at her undefeatable spirit.  As they worked with her, they taught her about imaging: about visualizing herself walking.  Angela worked hard in physical therapy, in whirlpools and exercise sessions.  But she worked just as hard at imaging: lying in her bed, faithfully visualizing herself moving, walking, even running!


One day, as she was working with all her might to imagine her legs working again, it seemed as if a miracle happened:  the bed moved!  It began to move around the room!  Angela yelled, “Look at what I’m doing!  Look!  Look!  I can do it!  I moved!”

But no one paid any attention to Angela because at that moment everyone else in the hospital was screaming too, and running for cover.  Alarms were going off, equipment was falling, and glass was breaking.  You see, it was the San Francisco earthquake of some years ago.  But don’t tell Angela.  She’s convinced that she did it.  Only a few years later, she was back in school.  On her own two legs.  No wheelchair, no crutches.  After all, as Angela would say, “Anyone who can shake the earth between San Francisco and Oakland can conquer a piddling little disease, can’t they?” (Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen, Chicken Soup for the Soul, 1993, pp. 171-72).


Everybody has a story.  Our stories tell what we do in our lives, who we are.  Jesus came to show us that our stories can change.  He shows us that we don’t have to stay in the story we were born into.  We don’t have to stay in the story we tell ourselves when we feel broken.  Jesus came to show us the story God wants for us.  No matter how hopeless we may feel, he came to call us over to his side, to lay his hands on us.  At his touch, we can stand up straight and tall.  We can look to a tomorrow filled with possibility and hope.










Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 11