Worship | August 21



The video above includes the full service, except for the time for sharing.

Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained through One License with license A-727859. Copyrights for songs given after the sermon text.

Sermon | What’s a street/Sabbath/body/_______ for?  
Texts: Isaiah 58:9b-14, Luke 13:10-17
Speaker: Joel Miller

On days I ride my bike into church the commute home includes a left turn off High St by Global Gallery followed by a nice long coast down Dunedin Road towards the river.  Not every day, but what has felt like most days this summer, a group of kids is out playing on Dunedin near the bottom of the hill.  And when I say playing on Dunedin I mean on Dunedin.  On the street.  The play frequently involves bikes and scooters turning circles and tricks, weaving back and forth from curb to curb.  Cars slow as they approach and wait for the street to clear before passing.  Even a grown up on a bike cruising at gravity-assisted speed has to ride the brakes and yield to the action.  These kids rule the road.  It’s pretty awesome.  

It’s perhaps because of this recurring experience that a particular line from the Isaiah reading stood out to me:

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 
“You shall be called…the restorer of streets to live in.”  Hmmm.

If there’s one thing streets aren’t, it’s places to live in, especially not for children.  Even parents who want to encourage the most free-range of childhoods still tend to hold to the general rule of No playing in the street.  Streets are dangerous places.  They contrast sharply with the safe, inviting spaces we seek to create in our homes and yards.  So close to one another, yet worlds apart.  Usually.

The people to whom Isaiah preaches and writes know nothing of cars and trucks speeding through their neighborhoods.  But they do know of war and occupation.  They do know of exile and returning to a place where their grandparents once played in the streets, now in disrepair.

Even though the book of Isaiah as we have it bears the name of one prophet, it’s better to think of it as a lineage, a school or house of prophets, all with similar characteristics, covering multiple generations.  Maybe kind of like the House of Gryffindor.  Kind of, sort of.  Harry Potter reference. 

And so the Isaiah who had the vision of the Lord sitting on a throne high and lofty in the temple in the year King Uzziah died, chapter 6, the Isaiah who sang the love song gone bad of the vineyard, chapter 5, that Ben preached about last week, is not the same Isaiah who speaks these words in chapter 58.  Just as importantly, the people who hear them are not the same.  They have gone from a people with a king and a temple living under the shadow of encroaching superpowers, to a people defeated and exiled, and now returning from exile without king or temple.  As Ben said, Isaiah is a prophet for fierce times, and those fierce times lasted a long time, about two centuries from the earliest words of the first Isaiah to the final words of the last.  All ultimately contained within that one big scroll of Isaiah.

And here, in chapter 58, we are hearing from the last era of Isaiah house.  It’s a time of restoration.  A time of rebuilding.  A time when people dared to dream again of justice and equity being realized in their lifetime.  Even the streets being filled again with children playing and women and men exchanging conversation and ideas and marketplace goods.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 

But before this infrastructure revitalization program can get in full swing, the prophet, or prophets of Isaiah, wish to name some conditions.  The people must, in the prophet’s words, remove the yoke from among them that weighed down their neighbors, they must stop with the accusations and infighting, offer their food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.  And, importantly, they must keep Sabbath.  To delight in this weekly cycle of ceasing from pursuing their own interests and simply be.

This is what prophets do, hopefully still.  When things are going bad they call us to clarity on what matters most.  When things are going good, they demand that the goodness not be hoarded.  Sabbath practice embodies this call, going all the way back to the early stories of the Israelites collecting manna in the wilderness 6 days but not the 7th.  Everyone had enough, and no one had too much.  Not just some neighborhoods with streets to live in, but all. 

It’s this presence of Sabbath that connects the Isaiah reading with the gospel reading in Luke chapter 13.  Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, the last time in Luke’s gospel he’ll be in a synagogue.  And “just then” as Luke says, “there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for 18 years.  She was bent over, and was quite unable to stand up straight.”  That’s all from verse 11.

If Isaiah is speaking to an entire people as they consider the kind of community they wish to rebuild, Jesus and those in the synagogue have come face to face with an individual, a singular person bringing their own story and situation before those gathered.  We are told nothing of what those last 18 years have been like, very likely the majority of her life.  There’s no medical breakdown of cause and condition, only that a spirit has crippled her – some unwanted and unseen force has taken hold of her body and bent it over on itself. 

This has been her yoke to carry, her burden to bear, her life to live. 

But of course bodies are never isolated individual things, and ailments and the spirits that inflict us are never merely private affairs.  As Jesus will soon say, this woman too is a daughter of Abraham.  She is more than just a condition, and that condition is itself a family affair, a matter impacting the collective body. 

But she, a woman, a “damaged” woman nonetheless, has stepped into sacred space, the synagogue, during sacred time, the Sabbath.  And these spaces and times have entire infrastructures of meaning within them, built up over the years, of who’s allowed to do what when, and where it’s safe to play or not, and why and how it’s OK – or not – to be declared a whole person.  And if you cross a line, if you step over the curb even just because you want to stand up tall and walk over to the other side of the street, after all these years, and if you get hit, well, that’s on you, because that’s not where you’re supposed to be and that’s not what this space is for.  Read the signs, examine the maps.  That’s how this works.

Nonetheless, after 18 years of distress, this woman enters the synagogue on the Sabbath as this teacher and healer from Nazareth is teaching. 

We are coming off a time, still partially in it, during this pandemic, when the signs and maps that told us how to go about life suddenly stopped working.  This has been one of the great blessings during a time of suffering.  When everything shuts down and your evening calendar is suddenly clear and even the streets are empty, it’s time to reevaluate what all that clearness and emptiness ought to be filled with when the time for filling comes.  Like a mandatory extended Sabbath of ceasing from all nonessential labor, which also spotlights all the essential labor folks do that doesn’t get honored.  Like we all went into exile in our homes, and when we return, what is it we’re actually rebuilding and restoring?  What’s a street for?  What’s a job for?  What’s school for?  Uh oh, now we’re getting in dangerous territory.  What, to stay with Jesus and the woman in the synagogue, is a Sabbath for?  What’s a body for, whatever the condition of that body might be?  What’s church for?    

It feels like the open ended nature of these questions is slipping away as activity flows back in to fill the empty spaces, but I want to keep them open.

They’re the kinds of questions Isaiah poses to the newly returned exiles looking out over the land of Judea.  If we’re going to rebuild, what is it we’re actually rebuilding and who benefits?

Or maybe we’ve actually worked out some answers to those questions and we’re trying to hold on to them.  Like those kids on Dunedin decided their street was for playing and they’re not giving that up anytime soon.  It’s a done deal.  Trikes and scooters have the right of way down there.   

They’re the kinds of questions this woman opens up to those gathered in that synagogue.  This unnamed woman who gets no speaking parts, but whose very presence as she appears on the scene, cracks open these questions that folks now have to face directly.  If we’re going to have this time set aside as sacred, this Sabbath, what’s it for?  And who is it for?  And if we’re going to be in these bodies, what are they for? 

When Jesus sees the woman, he calls her over to come alongside him.  He tells her she has been set free from her ailment.  Only then, after already declaring that she is set free, does he touch her.  Luke writes, “immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”  What’s a body for?  It’s for praise.  It’s for awe and wonder and gratitude and joy and grief and for holding everything that woman’s body held in that moment. 

It’s a temporary fix.  As disability advocates graciously remind us, all of us who can stand up straight are merely temporarily-abled.  It’s not a permanent condition.  And it’s not a prerequisite for embodying awe and wonder and thanksgiving.

We can imagine this woman living a full life into old age and her body again starting to bend with the accumulation of the years.  We can imagine her still set free from the need to fit into anyone else’s definition of what makes her a whole human being.  Free to praise, free to simply be a daughter of Sarah and Abraham in the wide family of God.  Free to touch others with healing hands and be touched and loved.  The way we live in our bodies is never just a private or individual matter.

What is a body for?  What is time for?  Sacred time and ordinary time?  Can we think more creatively about our streetscapes being places of connection rather than separation?  What is it we’re rebuilding -with our vocational lives and relationships, with church?

These are questions Isaiah and Jesus and this unnamed woman who dared walk into a synagogue on the Sabbath open up for us.  Let’s keep them open.  And when we’ve found an answer that sets us free, let’s rejoice.


Joyous Light of Heavenly GloryVoices Together #504. Text: based on Greek Phos Hilaron (Eastern Mediterranean, ca. 3rd c.; Marty Haugen (USA), 1987; Music: Marty Haugen, © 1987 GIA Publications, Inc.  All rights reserved. Podcast/Streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE, license #A-727859.  All rights reserved.

Siyahamba (We Are Marching)Voices Together #793. Text: Xhosa; traditional South African; English trans. Gracia Grindal (USA), 1984; Music: traditional South African; arr. Freedom Is Coming, 1984. Text and Music: © 1984 Peace of Music Publishing AB (admin. Walton Music Corp., a division of GIA Publications, Inc.).  All rights reserved. Podcast/Streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE, license #A-727859.  All rights reserved.

Jesus Christ Is WaitingVoices Together #287.  Text: John L. Bell (Scotland) & Graham Maule (Scotland), © 1988, WGRG, Iona Community, (admin. GIA Publications, Inc.).  All rights reserved.  Music:  French traditional, 15th c. (public domain); harm. James E. Clemens (USA), © 2001.  All rights reserved. Podcast/Streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE, license #A-727859.  All rights reserved.

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore TheeVoices Together #103. Text: Henry van Dyke (USA), 1907, Poems of Henry van Dyke, 1911, alt.; Music: Ludwig van Beethoven (Germany), 1823; adapt. Edward Hodges (England), Trinity Collection of Church Music, 1864, alt.  Public domain.

Come Away from Rush and HurryVoices Together #9. Text: Marva J. Dawn (USA), © 1999 Marva J. Dawn (MennoMedia Inc.); Music: Gregg DeMey (USA), © 2008 Re:Create Music (admin. Faith Alive Christian Resources).  All rights reserved. Podcast/Streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE, license #A-727859.  All rights reserved.