Sermon: Breaking Down Barriers

22 August 2010


Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 22, 2010

Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke 13:10-17

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our minds and hearts gathered here together be acceptable in Your sight, o Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

             Do any of you have a sibling who seems to be your polar opposite?  Or perhaps children who seem so different from each other you wonder how they’re both or all from the same parents?  My brother, John, is 4 years older than me, and not just in mere appearances but even in taking personality tests we come out completely opposite each other.  For instance, I started school when I was 3-years-old and finally graduated from Divinity School 22 years later, and I still relish continuing education opportunities and stand like a school supplies geek longing for the need to use notebooks and binders and things in OfficeMaxx around this time of year.  My brother, on the other hand, wanted out of school as soon as possible, choosing to go into the Navy, so he wouldn’t have to go to college.  I was a sociology major who went on for my Masters in Divinity – touchy feely stuff as Johnny would label it, and stuff that took time to process.  He got out of the Navy, became an EMT, an Emergency Dispatcher, and finally a Firefighter – the things of instinct, quick action, and proper procedure.  Despite our dissimilarity, I’d like to think that God, much like he did with Jeremiah, knew who we would be as we were formed in the womb, perhaps laughed a little as he gave the two of us to our unsuspecting parents, and then consecrated us to perform at least a small part of His work in the world – each in our own way.  Even though John would never identify this phenomenon of our birth in that way – as a thing of Spirit.  And despite our dissimilarity, we have both grown to really like each other, get along very well, rely on and respect each other.

            Now my brother, despite his attempts never to go to school again, and all of the very legitimate barriers in his life to doing so, has recently gone back to college – obtaining his Associate’s Degree this Spring and now hurdling ahead towards his Bachelors’ in Fire Science.  Considering his distaste for all things academic I have, since he embarked on this endeavor, received some calls asking for proofreading or writing assistance – and some SOS calls for other assignments.  (If only they required that I spend a few moments in Office Maxx…)  Well I got one of those calls this past Sunday as I was coming in from Fellowship time.  You see, at the new school in which he has recently enrolled they require some very different courses.  I don’t know if other colleges are doing this, but this one requires that the first class all students take is a class called “Wellness.”  It is all about being in touch with oneself holistically – in mind, body, and spirit.  Right up Johnny’s alley!  His first assignment revolved around rating himself on a scale of 1-10 in areas like diet & nutrition, self-esteem, finances, communication, and spiritual life.  After rating himself he had to identify one major goal he had for each of the 12 areas in the assessment and one more immediate action step he could take toward that goal.  But the other part of the assignment was what got me thinking about things in a more spiritual way, because he also had to identify all of the barriers he had in his life toward achieving his main goal in each category.

            Barriers… we can all identify with that word, I think.  Time.  Money.  Desire.  Belief in ourselves and others…or lack thereof.  Lack of skills.  Lack of knowledge.  Age.  Race.  Gender.  If someone asked you what the barriers were to achieving something – any of the above and so many more could be listed.  After all, the first thing Jeremiah did when he received his call from God – even after God identified him by name and told him that there was a special purpose for his life – was list a few of the barriers he saw to God’s plan.  “I do not know how to speak,” said Jeremiah.  “I am only a boy.”   

And in today’s story from the gospel of Luke Jesus enters a synagogue for the final time to teach and butts up against a barrier in the form of a religious leader who challenges his work on the Sabbath.  He was not necessarily against the work Jesus did, but rather against the timing of it.  The woman didn’t ask for healing, but Jesus saw her need and freed her from the infirmity that had her bent over and broken.  The tricky thing, of course, is that God breaks into our lives to heal and challenge us in God’s time…not necessarily our time.  Jesus taught through his own actions and his defense of them that humanity, compassion, healing, and justice are more important than the appropriate time or some of the rigid rules and restrictions of traditional faith practices.  When we enter into the world of Christianity, whether through Baptism or an invitation to join a friend at church, we enter into a space for our own healing – and then into the responsibility of witnessing through our words and actions the glory of God and working for justice. 

            Over the first year of the vision for our church we have focused on prayer – on growing in the spirit and increasing our faith.  As we enter into the second year of our vision and focus on sharing we turn to the gospel of Luke – a gospel that is about God’s universal concern for all people – about fulfilling God’s call to be people who work toward justice for all.  Who is it in our congregation, our community, or our world who is bent over, longing for healing in body, mind, and spirit – longing for justice? And how are we or how could we be helping to bring that healing and justice about?  Perhaps it is through hosting the Field of Flags and raising awareness about the toll that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking on our servicemen, women and their families.  Perhaps it is through sending our youth and their chaperones to South Dakota to work with the Lakota people, helping to show their children that people outside of the reservation really do care about them and want a brighter future for them despite the experience that history has shown.  Perhaps it is through opening our doors and our communion table to anyone who wants to know and feel the presence of Christ – despite what some others might see as barriers to their ability.  Perhaps it is working with our brothers and sisters in the UCC throughout our state to be sure that all have proper access to healthcare for themselves and their children.  Or perhaps it is in hosting a SERRV booth to help provide living wages for and educate our own folks about the conditions of people in third world countries.  With all the barriers broken down who would you stand up for?  What cause are you passionate enough to fight for?  Working toward justice allows for us and others to really experience Sabbath – in that it helps us work toward a day when people can see a glimpse of God’s promise, of freedom in God, in the midst of even the most unpromising circumstances.  (Provoking the Gospel of Luke)    

The story in the gospel of Luke has something to do with an opportunity to be healed so that we can be a channel for the kingdom of God at work in this world.  The exact thing that the woman in the story has not been able to do for nearly twenty years and yearns to do [namely be able to stand up and look others in the eye] is precisely the thing Jesus empowers her to do. (Alyce McKenzie – Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology) Think of a time when the thing that was most important and perhaps most difficult for you to do became the thing you were especially able to do through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

In this week’s UCC reflection on these passages, Kate Huey writes, “We’re not here each Sunday because we simply enjoy one another’s company.  We are not here just because we like to sing or see our friends or just because we feel we should be in church, or even because someone is pressuring or influencing us to be here.  [After all we are all people of free will.]  No….we are here this morning because somewhere in the deepest part of our spirit there is a hunger for the reign of God…we long for the healing, and the justice, and the love and acceptance, and the peace that is the reign of God.  We are here because we’ve come to know that we can’t fix this world on our own, or even provide for ourselves on our own, and that our only real choice is to turn to God and one another for what we need and long for.”

            In the church where I grew up they are in the process of some strategic planning – including an all church survey.  One of the newest members of the church answered one of the last questions like this.  When asked about his involvement in the life of the church he answered how he felt about the time he gives and then wrote, “What if God said, ‘I don’t have the time.”?  The truth is, friends, there are barriers all over the place to our ability to truly be God’s people.  Everything from overextended schedules to the fact that we are sinners despite our attempts not to be (at least in most cases) to even not owning up to our faith at times or to the feeling that nothing we do can ever be enough.  And if we let those barriers get the best of us, then we won’t ever accomplish even a fraction of what God has in store for our lives. 

There is no time like now to be God’s people, no day like today for breaking down those barriers, when there are so many people and places who need to hear a word of hope and comfort or even a word of challenge to complacency.  Our society and our world are in need of some major help – some healing from a deep brokenness that cannot be fixed over night.  And if our major goal is to heal all of it, there is a very good possibility that we will never see that goal reached in our lifetimes.  However, God does not ask us to be God.  Even Jesus didn’t go it alone – invoking the other two Trinity members for help in teaching and healing.  Instead, God calls us each to work in our own little piece of the puzzle with our own set of skills and abilities.  Even when we don’t believe we can do it, God knows we can.  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”  God declares us sacred and sets us apart for service – dedicates our life to some part of God’s purpose in this world that we may not even realize until we are ready to meet our maker.  Through the Spirit God works to heal the places in our lives that are hurting and broken so that we in turn can break down the barriers we see in our own lives and become the healing presence of Christ in situations of sorrow and poverty and desperation. 

            Let us pray today that the God who calls us gives each of us the ears to hear that calling.  Let us pray for our own healing in Spirit.  And let us pray that God grants us the wisdom to see the barriers we have and the strength and courage to break through those barriers to do God’s work of mercy and justice.  Amen.



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