A Sermon by Marvin K. White
I wanna keep talking to you about Luke, and Luke in the Bible, the book of Luke.
And what we know about Luke is that Luke wasn’t even there when Jesus lived or died. So Luke got all of his information from other people who were there, or he had read about what was going on. He listened to the other storytellers, or he was just told.
So Luke’s account of everything that he was talking about was secondhand information, was third hand information, fourth, fifth, sixth hand information, and now I’m telling you a story and so it’s like 12th hand information. But I still love this book called the Bible. Because I know it’s not infallible. If we wrote it, then we got most of it wrong, probably. So this is my Bible. I believe some of it. It’s more like an employee handbook to me, and it’s definitely a mystery book and not a history book.
So Luke, Luke, Luke, Luke. Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. This is Jesus. And just then appeared a woman with a spirit that had been crippled, crippling her for 18 years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 18 years when he laid his hands on her.
When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her immediately, she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which you work, which your work ought to be done. Now, come on those days and be cured, but not on the Sabbath.”
But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrite. 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? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for 18 long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” When he said this, all of his opponents were put to shame and the entire crowd though started rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
I love this story because it’s a true Glide Memorial Church story. But when we tell it, it kind of goes like this: now Glide was serving three meals a day, seven days a week, that 700,000 meals a year. Now Glide was doing acupuncture on Ellis Street on Fridays. Now Glide was doing COVID testing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Now Glide was distributing fresh produce on Mondays to the community. Now Glide was giving COVID vaccines on Fridays. Now Glide was offering all manner of social services every day of the week. Now Glide Memorial Church met on Mondays for meditation Tuesdays with the lay leaders, Wednesdays for the choir rehearsals and Thursdays for the white anti-racist group.
Now Glide Memorial Church met on Fridays to open up the sanctuary, met on Saturdays as needed for rehearsals. Now Glide Memorial Church was teaching what liberation was on Sundays, which was the Sabbath, because there was work to do.
And just then appeared a woman, there appeared a man. There appeared someone who was two-spirited, there appeared someone trans, there appeared someone non-binary, there appeared an entire immigrant family. There appeared an unhoused person. There appeared a person questioning their privilege and their existence on how to deploy it all.
And there appeared a person with an addiction disorder, spirit that had crippled them for 18 years. They were bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. And imagine on that 18th year of this addiction, on that 6574th day, you see an open window and you decide not to jump out of it, but to let hope in through it. You decide today it gotta be today. And then Glide saw them and Glide called them over and said, “Woman, BIPOC person, white person, young person, old person, blue collar person, white collar person, academic person, artist person, housed person, unhoused person, depressed person, in therapy and on meds person, person with cancer, a cold, monkeypox, COVID, you are set free from your ailment.
And when Glide extended unconditional love to them, extended a community embrace to them, told them that they are not their condition, that they are not defined by what disease they caught. They are not measured by the glass ceiling that they have been told they had to break through. They are not judged or guilty or deemed unworthy because their body is defending them against invading viruses and cells.
When Glide Memorial extended hands of beloved community to them. When Glide Memorial Church called out to them on social media, emailed them in the newsletters, invited them into our congregational life groups, sang with them and to them, prayed with them and for them, witnessed to them and was witnessed to them immediately they stood up straight and began praising in that little space that church can create between the seemingly continual suffering assaults on our bodies.
When Glide Memorial Church said, “You are set free from what ails you,” people stand up straight. Now the scripture didn’t say they were healed. Well, it just said they stood up straight and praised that their healing was not out there somewhere.
Their healing is not something that they have to be deemed worthy for. Their healing is not the quid, the pro, nor the quo. When Glide Memorial Church extends the message that all the captives, from whatever is holding you captive to whatever fear, will be set free, they took their healing into their own hands.
But the members and the leaders of the synagogue, the gentrifying neighbors, the NIMBYS, the inconvenience taxpayers who thought their money should wipe out and not clean up after those being fed, helped, and healed. But the leader of the synagogue of Better Than Thou, the synagogue of Pull Your Bootless Self Up By Your Bootstraps, but the leader of the synagogue of This Ain’t My Problem. But the leader of the synagogue of Why I Gotta See People Shooting Up and Not See the Streets Paved In Gold, but the leader was indignant because Glide had a music department meeting on Thursday.
Glide let volunteers in at 5:00 AM to prepare the meals, to feed the hungry lined up around the corner. The leader was indignant because somebody with one day of recovery was taking and talking like an expert to somebody with one minute of recovery. The leader was mad because of all of this healing that was happening on the Sabbath.
And they kept saying to the crowd that was gathered, and let’s be clear, in this story there was a crowd that was gathered for everything you can imagine that people will need to be healed from. There was a crowd gathered at Glide Memorial Church for that healing. They were asking, Can you help me find a place to get my hormone injections?
Can you help me get my children back? Can you help me with this housing application, with this job application? Can you help me fix my broken soul? Can you help me with my overwhelm of what I’m supposed to do with all this suffering in the world? The leaders said to the people standing in line to get physically and spiritually fed, “There are six days on which you could be asking for help and where the work ought to be done. Come back on those days and be cured, but not on the Sabbath day.” But then we remembered what we thought about two years ago at the beginning of the pandemic when we were just two weeks in and we had to move our spiritual work online because of COVID.
That wasn’t our vacation. That was work. We started holding our Sunday Celebrations online because that was the work. We asked people to join us online through Facebook live stream, and to let the people know that the church was still working, that the people were still working, that God was still working.
We came and kept going to work. Glide Memorial Church was one of the first churches to lead the efforts to protect vulnerable populations, vulnerable communities, and vulnerable churchgoers. This was our faith response working and keeping the church going was our faith response. We came to work. If we hadn’t done that work, beloved, I strongly believe that we wouldn’t be here today doing this work.
All I was saying was what Jesus was saying, but nicer.
“You hypocrites. Don’t each of y’all charge your Teslas up every Sunday? Don’t you turn on your Keurig? Don’t you order from DoorDash? Don’t each of y’all turn on your big flat screen TVs and computers, and look at the work to be done at your jobs for the next week? Don’t each of y’all, at the very least, work my last nerves with this hypocritical stuff?
So ought not this woman, this child of God, whom systemic oppression has bound for 18 gazillion long years of patriarchy that says her body is worth more broken than healed, shouldn’t she be set free from the bondage on this Sabbath day?
I mean, yes. The bleeding will still be bleeding tomorrow, but the blood loss might mean death if we don’t stop it today. I mean, yes, they still gonna be hungry tomorrow, but the decision somebody makes on an empty stomach to feed themselves might mean death if we don’t feed them today. I mean, yes, you still gonna be an addict tomorrow, but if we don’t offer you a safe injection site today, offer you a clean needle today, offer you a recovery group today, offer you Narcan today because you using today, that might mean we won’t be able to prevent Hep C or AIDS or overdosing today.
And when Glide says all of this, all of our naysayers are put to shame. And here’s the thing about shame. Shame takes a lot of work. Inaction takes a lot of work. Ignoring the suffering of your neighbors takes a lot of work. Thinking your insured suffering makes you better than somebody’s uninsured suffering is a lot of work and being put to shame to eke out a living of that most unliberating space called shame will kill you. And the entire crowd, in church, on the street, in the emails, on the internets, in the mail, on the phone, in the meetings, in the groups, in the circles, on the boards, in the volunteer pools, on the frontline, in Freedom Hall at Taylor Gate, the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that we were doing, because we know none of us can rest until all of us can rest.
And none of us are free until all of us are free. And here’s the thing about Sabbath. God took one after finishing creating the heavens and the earth. And all the host of them as well. And on the seventh day, God ended God’s work, and yes, creating the conditions in which all of creation have an opportunity to thrive is work.
The enslaved, the chattel, the incarcerated, the captives are not allowed breaks ever until those of us who are working for freedom can create a pathway for their freedom. And our blessing is in the breaks we take, not in the boxes we check off. Our Sabbath rest comes from looking back and feeling satisfied that we did all we could with what we had, to build a world where we are all free.
Our Sabbath rest comes from knowing that our work, when in service of our healing, is sacred. And sacred work has Sabbath built into it and written into it. You are the creator. Yeah, you are the creation. The seventh day isn’t earned. You are not defined by your work. You are defined by your work. You are the seventh day.
You are the rest and you are the Sabbath. Amen. Amen. Amen.