Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough, 25th August 2019
Tenth Sunday after Trinity: Jeremiah 1.4-10 & Luke 13.10-17
Last week, rather by coincidence than anything else, I found myself watching the film The Lion King, which was recently produced making you feel you are watching real animals rather than an animation. It being our favourite film as I was growing up, I was rather familiar with the story, but nonetheless moved by its profound simplicity, and of course its beautiful music.
As in so many Disney films, we see the story of good and evil, with which we are so familiar in our human lives, acted out in the lives of fictional characters or animals taking on human features. The Lion King in particular teaches us about the difference between good and bad stewardship – a topic that is maybe even more relevant today than it was twenty-five years ago.
However, the story of The Lion King also invites us to think about the more personal question who we are, and how we can live as the people who we are meant to be, which is also the theme of our readings this morning. First we have the almost poetic reading from the beginning of the prophecy of Jeremiah, in which God sets out what his plans are, and always have been for the prophet: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you”.
God does not speak these words only to kings and prophets, but they apply to each of us: God, our Creator, knows us before we even know ourselves, and has a consecrated us, even if we don’t quite know yet what that will look like. Just as for Jeremiah, also for us the thought that we are here for a reason, can be quite overwhelming and daunting, and maybe our first reaction too is one of ‘I cannot do this’, whatever the ‘this’ may be. Often we don’t dare to trust in our own abilities. We can make ourselves believe that we do not have the experience or skills, or we convince ourselves that surely we have already made too many, too bad mistakes to be worthy of what God has in mind for us.
However, what we hear today, what we see in Christ – and I will come to that in a moment – is that what God has in mind for us is what makes us flourish, and makes us truly who we are. We need to trust that God gives us what it takes to be that person, and that includes the gifts, talents, perseverance and indeed the forgiveness that we need.
Here, I would like to go back to The Lion King briefly, as it shows so well in the life of the young lion Simba, how he tries to hide from his destiny, his fulfilment. After he blames himself for the death of his father, the king, he is too ashamed to go back to his family and seeks for himself another life. It is a life that is seemingly happy and fulfilled, as he is adopted into a new family of friends.
However, it is not until he is called back to his home, where they desperately need him, that he finds his true self and his true purpose in life. And maybe the most important message is this, that it is love who makes him realise who he is, and who he is meant to be. It is love that calls him home. It is that love that brings us to our Gospel reading this morning, in which we hear how Jesus heals a woman in the synagogue on the sabbath day. It is a story of healing, and I think some of us will wrestle with the question why this woman, and not so many others who are also in desperate need of healing?
So I would like to suggest this morning not to think too much about the question whether miracles like this still happen and whether that is part of God’s plan for us. Instead, here, I would like to look at the story as a way in which God’s love works in our lives, setting us free, again to be who we are meant to be.
The woman, we hear in Luke’s Gospel, has been crippled for eighteen years. For almost two decades, she has not been able to be fully the person she was, until she encounters God, until she encounters Christ. Or maybe more precisely, until Christ calls her to Himself. It is love that sees her, and love that calls her over.
Love cannot be confined by human rules and regulations. An unclean woman in the synagogue on the sabbath day was probably bad enough, but then as Jesus lays his hand on her, it gets too much for the leaders of the synagogue. But Jesus rebukes them, calls them hypocrites, as he points out that the woman is one of their tribe, their family, and has been set free this day.
Fortunately the crowds recognise what has happened, and they start rejoicing in the things that Jesus was doing, the way he shared God’s love with so many, and so unexpectedly. It is something that is easily recognised, but hard to put into words: seeing God’s purpose for someone being fulfilled. It has something to do with love and freedom, and something that is a cause for celebration, for giving thanks.
That can sometimes be difficult, when we see that others have clearly found their way, but we are still searching. It can be hard not to envy them, to start wanting what they have, or even to start thinking that God has nothing in mind for us. However, on the contrary, rather than worrying about what we have not found yet, we are called to celebrate what others may have found already. God’s gifts are given to be shared and to be celebrated.
There is two more things to be said about searching finding what God has in mind for us. The first one is that it is a life-long journey, of searching and finding, getting lost along the way, and searching and finding again – or maybe I’m still thinking of my cycling trip through the Cotswolds, avoiding main roads and trying not to run over any horses, cats or other animals crossing the streets.
The second one is that finding God’s plan for us, is finding our true selves: recognising what we already knew, and that is that we are children loved by God. It is as simple and obvious as that, yet at the same time maybe one of the hardest things we need to learn about ourselves. But it is there for each of us to find: our freedom made possible through God’s love.