Set Free - Reflections 8-21-19

Texts for Sunday August 25, 2019

Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17


The text for Sunday’s Gospel is one of my favorites. I’ve loved to imagine the freedom the woman felt as she stood upright for the first time in 18 years. This event would have returned her to participating fully in her community as well as having restored an appreciation of herself to her. You can read my musings from three years ago.

This year, because of the emotional and theological space I find myself in these days (last week’s reflection), instead of seeing an individual bound to a life of isolation and pain in this story, I see systems, beliefs, behaviors, values, attitudes, goals which bind humanity. These systems, beliefs, behaviors, values, attitudes, goals imprison us, keeping us from the full and abundant life intended by our Creator.

Did you know that August 20th was the quad-centennial commemoration of the Forced Transatlantic Voyage of Enslaved African Peoples to Jamestown, Virginia?  Yup. 1619. The 64 people who were stolen from a Spanish slave ship were brought to our shores beginning the process leading to legalized slavery in this country.

As Bread for the World (an advocacy organization for hunger issues) describes it:  this enslavement was followed by deliberate public policies and practices that have systematically dis-empowered and disenfranchised people of African descent for 400 years in the United States and around the world.

In the US, racism extends to anyone of different ethnicity and skin color, as in not-white. Non-Christian religions face prejudice. Sexual orientation and gender identity have dis-empowered and disenfranchised LBGTQIA+ folks.  And, let me not forget sexism. Our country is bent over and quite unable to stand up straight.

I do know that these are not just our country’s issues. Humanity has separated, sorted, and demonized one another since the beginning of time and has done dreadful things to each other.

The Church is not exempt. Our denomination within the Church is not exempt. Institutional racism currently exists in the ELCA through discriminatory treatment within the call process; inequitable compensation of clergy of color; racial segregation; divestment from black communities and congregations; systemic polices and organizational practices; and failure to fully include the gifts of leadership and worship styles of people of African descent.*

In the story, the leaders of the synagogue challenged Jesus. With the system, beliefs, values, the power and privilege that they had in the community it was easy to maintain the status quo. 

Really, is there any hope for change?

As in so many places in the Gospel of Luke, this story of the bent-over woman gives us a glimpse of God’s intentions. Satan/System/Power is determined to bind us to this infirmity; God is even more determined to loosen the binding and release us. 

Even church can’t get in the way. We rejoice for Jesus’ way of love.

The full welcome and acceptance of people of various sexual orientations and gender identities has been/currently is excruciatingly slow, especially in the church. 

One of the last “hurdles” in some church hierarchies has been the ordination of people who live in same-gender marriages. It was 10 years ago today - August 21 -  that our denomination in its churchwide assembly voted to remove barriers for people in same-gender marriages. Does that mean that all churches in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America welcome pastors who have same-gender marriages? Of course not. Women pastors still face resistance and we just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the church voting to let women be ordained.

But there is hope. Jesus actions and words in the text promise that.

In the summer of 2019 mom and daughter Jamie Bruesehoff & Rebekah Bruesehoff spoke to an ELCA national youth gathering.  First mom Jamie came out and told the story of her daughter Rebekah who transitioned from a boy to a girl. When she was 7, Rebekah had thought about killing herself because she was so uncomfortable trying to live as a boy. Counseling and support helped pinpoint the issue. Then Rebekah came on stage and described how her transition changed everything.  She had “stood up straight”; it was obvious that she was delightfully comfortable in her own skin. Rebekah made the Bible story for this Sunday come to life as she praised God for her release and brought the message that God’s love and grace was big enough to handle this.

And the church? Well, that night the ELCA youth gave her a standing ovation. But one of the most moving parts of Rebekah’s story is that her own congregation gathered around her and affirmed her new name. Here are excerpts from Jamie’s Facebook page about that day:
On Sunday morning, we had a blessing of Rebekah and her “forever name” during worship…This weekend, a week after her second anniversary of living as herself out in the world and on the weekend of her tenth baptismal anniversary, we gathered with friends, family, godparents, and church members to affirm her new name as a community of faith. We remembered Rebekah's baptism and rejoiced in her identity as a Child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever....It was important because we need her to know that not only her friends and family support her, but that her community of faith stood and affirmed her. It’s not just Mommy and Daddy saying God made you and God loves you. We need her to know that when she encounters Christians who tell her she is less than, she is sinful, she is dangerous, she is going to hell… we need her to know that her faith family gathered around her, laid their hands on her, affirmed her and blessed her in the name of God.

When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said “Woman you are set free from your ailment”. When he laid his hand on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. (Luke 13:12-13)

*At the most recent Churchwide assembly, the ELCA read an apology to People of African Descent.

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Written by Pam Larabee-Zierath


Gathered by Grace, Scattered for Service
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