I have poor posture.
When I see other people with good posture, I really admire their ability to sit or stand up straight, naturally—without even thinking about it.
Mary Ellen has naturally good posture.
My little 1 year old Owen has naturally good posture.
I used to have good posture as well.
When I was a kid I was a really good basketball player for my age.
I can remember the day, I was 5 or 6 years old and playing with a basketball in our driveway, when I decided that basketball was going to be my favorite sport.
It was going to be the sport that I concentrated on and got really good at.
It was a decision between basketball and football.
I loved both sports.
We played both on the playground at school.
But for whatever reason I chose basketball.
From that day on, I would spend hours and hours shooting baskets.
Whenever I had a free hour or two, I would play basketball.
I remember, the pride I felt when older kids and adults would say things such as: “Kenny is going to play in the NBA someday.”
In middle school I was considered the best basketball player in my class.
That was my identity.
I lived for it; I loved it.
On the weekends I would head for the public basketball courts early in the morning and play all the way until dark.
And during summer vacation—I would do this every day.
When I was in the 7th grade I made the Freshman high school basketball team.
This was a big deal.
But, suddenly I was no longer the best basketball player on the court.
I was 2 years younger than the other kids on the team.
And 2 years at that age makes a big difference.
To make matters worse, we didn’t go to the same school.
I was a little middle-schooler; they were big high school kids.
And so I got made fun of.
Today they would call it bullying.
In any event, I lost my confidence that year, and became very anxious on the basketball court.
And in order to divert attention away from my anxiety, I began to slump my shoulders on purpose—to try and seem relaxed and cool.
I haven’t had good posture since.
I had a burden, a self-esteem problem which caused me to bend my back.
One day “Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.”
And a woman was there.
She had been disabled for 18 years.
“She was bent over and couldn’t stand up straight.”
What do you suppose she was doing there?
Was she there every Sabbath or had she come that particular day because she had heard that Jesus would be teaching?
Had she heard about how Jesus had compassion on people?
Had she witnessed or heard the reports of His miraculous healings?
Had she heard people talking about how He seemed to have a special affinity for the least, the last, the lost, the broken, the lonely, the people living on the margins?
Was she hurting—mentally and physically?
Is that why she had come?
Was this her last hope?
I wonder how many other things she had tried in order to be “set free” from her condition.
Had she tried self-medication—perhaps she had gone through addiction problems only to find that they only make matters worse.
Had she read self-help books?
Had she spent money at seminars led by motivational speakers promising everything under the sun?
I know that some folks think this woman had osteoporosis—a degenerative bone disease.
But I don’t think so.
I think her problem was more mental than physical…
…more spiritual than material.
The Scripture tells us that she had been “disabled by a spirit for eighteen years.”
And she was in a synagogue seeking help.
Also, when Jesus heals her He uses the language of being in bondage and being set free.
I wonder what this woman was in bondage too?
What was the breaking point?
What had caused her back to bend?
Obviously, it hadn’t always been that way.
Had she been bullied and called names as a kid?
Had she believed those names and those bullies?
Was that the burden that was causing her back to bend?
Had it gone on for years?
Did her back bend slowly, over time or did it happen quickly?
People with all sorts of burdens are walking our streets, working in cubicles next to ours, riding the school bus three seats behind; living home alone, day after day.
Some people, like the woman who couldn’t stand up straight are more visible than others.
I see a lot of these folks coming to our church building during the week in order to get food, ask for a light bill to be paid, get help with their rent.
On some folks I can see the weight of many years of suffering on their face.
For others I might see the crushing hurt of a new and painful reality.
Divorce can cause a person’s back to bend as can the loss of a loved one; financial worries; poor health; a child who has run away, physically or emotionally.
Perhaps there are people here this morning who know the pain and oppression of being marginalized and alone.
Do we notice them, the way Jesus noticed the woman in the synagogue that day?
We never know what other people are going through, do we?
We never know the weight they are carrying.
We never know…
I was having a conversation with my mom on the drive from Northern Kentucky to Chattanooga last week.
During our ride my mom said something to me that really stuck.
She said: “Preach the Word.”
“People are in church because they are hurting, so preach the Word.”
That’s about the best advice anyone could give.
The woman in our Gospel Lesson this morning went to the Synagogue that Sabbath to hear Jesus “preach the Word.”
She must have been really surprised when Jesus not only preached the Word but “saw” her and “called her to him.”
You know, I think there is a lot more to this Scripture passage than meets the eye.
And I say this due to the emphasis of Jesus “seeing” her.
What does it mean when Jesus “sees” someone?
I think it means that Jesus sees beyond the veil, beyond the façade, beyond the pleasantries.
I think it means that Jesus sees right into the soul.
When Jesus “saw” this woman, Jesus “saw” her hurts, her struggles, her pain.
He “saw” this “daughter of Abraham [who had been] bound by Satan for eighteen long years.”
He “saw” her and it was love at first sight.
And I’m not talking about romantic love; I’m talking about agape love.
I’m talking about compassionate, merciful, unconditional love.
I’m talking about the love of Jesus.
And this agape love is the same love Jesus has when Jesus looks at me, and you, and the sad looking beggar on the street corner, and the man holding a gun at a convenience store clerk, and a teenager taking her first hit off a joint or a young person trying heroin for the first time.
And when Jesus sees us, Jesus does the same thing He did for that woman that day—Jesus calls us to Himself.
And if we come…
…He places His hands on us; we straighten up and start praising God!!!
It took me a long time to learn to love and respect myself.
And I didn’t learn this or gain this strength on my own.
Jesus saw me; Jesus called me…
…and called me…
…and called me to Himself.
I finally ran into His arms.
And when I did; I stood up straight…
…I don’t mean that I suddenly had great posture…
…but I mean that I stood up straight on the inside.
One day, a couple of years ago, my dad was having a conversation with someone—I forget who it was.
I happened to be in the other room, overhearing the conversation.
My dad was saying, “You know, when Kenny came back from his first year of college…”
…which is where I gave my life to Christ…
“…he was a completely different person. It was amazing.
We hardly recognized him.
His whole outlook had changed.
He had so much confidence.”
Between then and now, I have gone through many a time when I have loosened my grip on Christ.
I’ve even walked away completely.
And when I have done that, I have gone from standing up straight to slouching in misery and muck.
For me, the only way to live is to stand in the embrace of the One Who loves me—unconditionally, no matter who I am, no matter what!!!
And when I do this, I am finally set free from the agony—the bondage of concentrating and worrying about my own troubles and shortcomings, and am able to see the hurt, the pain, the potential and feel just a bit of the love Jesus has for others who are walking in the chasm of self-hate and self-pity.
And that is exhilarating.
It is exhilarating to love other human beings rather than to worry about what they think of you.
There is a lot of hate and hurt in this world.
How people make it through without Jesus I don’t know.
CNN reported the following painful story the other day:
A “little girl was abused so badly that she had a black eye, dried blood in the corner of her mouth and deep purple bruises all over her body.
But it’s what she said when asked her name that’s truly startling.
The girl is only 4.
She lived with her mother and her mother’s live-in boyfriend.
Police say she was called an ‘idiot’ so often and for so long that it was the word that sprung to her young mind when a social worker asked her name.”
I pray that young girl will be able to stand up straight one day soon.
I pray the same for her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.
Hurt people hurt other people do they not?
A professor at Syracuse University used to say that “stupidity is a learned behavior,” and I believe this.
Not being able to stand up straight like the woman in our Gospel Lesson for this morning is a learned behavior.
Basking in the love of Jesus Christ is a learned behavior as well.
In John 8:36 Jesus promises that “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.”
I have found this to be true.