11th Sunday after Pentecost: Lower Back Pain

First Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-14

9bIf you remove the yoke from among you,
  the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry
  and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
 then your light shall rise in the darkness
  and your gloom be like the noonday.
11The Lord will guide you continually,
  and satisfy your needs in parched places,
  and make your bones strong;
 and you shall be like a watered garden,
  like a spring of water,
  whose waters never fail.
12Your 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.

13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
  from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
 if you call the sabbath a delight
  and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
 if you honor it, not going your own ways,
  serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
14then you shall take delight in the Lord,
  and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
 I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
  for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Psalm: Psalm 103:1-8

The Lord crowns you with mercy and steadfast love. (Ps. 103:4)

1Bless the Lord, O my soul,
  and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.
2Bless the Lord, O my soul,
  and forget not all God’s benefits—
3who forgives all your sins
  and heals all your diseases;
4who redeems your life from the grave
  and crowns you with steadfast love mercy;
5who satisfies your desires with good things
  so that your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
6O Lord, you provide vindication
  and justice for all who are oppressed.
7You made known your ways to Moses
  and your works to the children of Israel.
8Lord, you are full of compassion and mercy,
  slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-29

18You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20(For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Gospel: Luke 13:10-17

10Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! 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? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  The Lion and the Mouse

A Lion lay asleep in the forest. A timid little Mouse came upon him unexpectedly, and in her fright and haste to get away, ran across the Lion’s nose. Roused from his nap, the Lion laid his huge paw angrily on the tiny creature to kill her. “Spare me!” begged the poor Mouse. “Please let me go and some day I will surely repay you.”

The Lion was much amused to think that a Mouse could ever help him. But he was generous and finally let the Mouse go.

Some days later, in the forest, the Lion was caught in a hunter’s net. He filled the forest with his angry roaring. The Mouse quickly found the Lion struggling in the net. Running to one of the great ropes that bound him, she gnawed it until it parted, and soon the Lion was free.

So quickly share with your neighbor:  What bound the mouse?  What bound the lion?

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


As I have read and reread our text for today, I decided this must be the chiropractor’s favorite story in the Bible.  I have gone to a chiropractor for years and lower back pain is the name of my game.  Walking bent over seems far too common these days.  Compression fracture of L1 is the exray’s opinion, “Old” and “ugly” are some of the words being whispered in my ear daily, and the chiropractor says to go to a doctor who will do an MRI to tell us if it is an old fracture or new.  I start the day pretty well but by the end, I creep into bed and am beaten down by the pain and the constant reminders of my aging.  The lady in this story has my ears.

         Maybe lower back pain in not your challenge.  It may be poor eye sight or perhaps a different diagnosis.  Or maybe you have carried a burden in your heart for someone, an aging parent or spouse, a wayward child, or even a debt.  Remember those days when we agonized over finding a spouse or a job or the right house?  Many things burden us and we walk around bent over if not physically, then emotionally.  Like the woman in the text, we come to church as the walking wounded.  Like the woman in the text, the problem is physical and spiritual.  Young people are not exempt from carrying burdens.  Our woman has been like this for 18 years, perhaps half her life.

         So take a moment and reflect on the burden you carry and the message that is whispered in your ear by the evil one.  I won’t ask you to share with a neighbor for most often our burdens are private and we try to be strong.  But be honest with yourself this morning and don’t point to the other guy or the person in the other pew.  What cripples you?

         Our woman did the right thing.  She went to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  Perhaps her bent over image had become routine and accepted so it did not bother her or others.  In fact her condition may have become part of the scenery.  Maybe she could not stand up to see that her hair was frazzled and wrinkles were forming.  Maybe she didn’t have a mirror and no one cared anymore, not even her.  But she went to the synagogue because it was the Sabbath.  Good choice.

         Our woman was not one of the ones who so often cried out to Jesus to deliver them from their demise.  She was not seeking healing.  It is possible to become oblivious to our dilemma.  We are like the frog in the pan of water that is gradually warming and we have given up hope that we can be rescued.  Like the woman we can be resigned to our burdens.  Coming to church is still a good choice even if it is 18 years without a miracle.

         She comes not asking and not expecting but Jesus sees her.  He calls her over. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  Do we need to read that again?  “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  It probably was not a dramatic Pentecostal healing service for there is nothing in our text to indicate that type of scene.  I do not read about a preacher calling to the congregation for people with burdens to come forward.  I do not read about an animated congregation praying loudly or in tongues over her demise.  I DO read about a God who sees us when we are bent over, crippled, and besieged by spirits that would cripple us.  I do hear God say, “You are set free!”  Please hear those words for the unseen burden you carry today.  Jesus says, “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will set you free.”

Stand Up Straight

         Jesus did not deliver the woman from having a back.  He removed the burden.  Perhaps like the chiropractor, he did an adjustment and suddenly her spine was straight and the nerves were back in line.  Perhaps like the mouse, the lion’s paw was lifted and she was no longer a snack.  Or perhaps like the lion, a chord snapped and the net fell off.  Jesus declared “You are free,” and commanded her to “stand up straight.”   What does that mean to us, to stand up straight?

         When we are seen, we do stand taller.  The hospice nurse visited our home and brought the doctor with her.  They asked my husband to stand up.  He got to his feet and straightened his back and was suddenly 6 foot 6 again.  I had forgotten.  I’m sure our son in the army stands straight when a higher authority comes and calls his name. To stand up straight is to acknowledge personhood and responsibility.  Jesus has taken the burden and now the woman can stand up straight and be a significant part of the community, not a piece of the background poor.  Accepting that Jesus is here, carrying our burdens, even in the worst of times, allows us to face life with hope. Our lady praised God and gave God the credit that was due.  The chiropractor is the agent of hope but God is the object of our praise!


         Our lion sets the mouse free but there are still hunters in the forest of his life.  Jesus sets the woman free but the leaders of the synagogue are watching with their expectations and explanations of reality.  Not everyone likes the chiropractor.  The leaders complain that Jesus has broken the Sabbath.  And even so our churches splinter over how the Sabbath or Sunday should be observed.  Let us hang our head in shame and pray, “Lord, have mercy.”  Even we have probably at some point defended our Lutheran traditions.  Jesus points out the incongruity.  On the Sabbath, the leaders untie their ox or donkey, not honoring all the multitude of rules established in faith tradition.  Likewise God works outside our boxes and our definitions.  He even heals on the Sabbath, a day of rest!

         “Untie” to me means that God releases us from guilt, from shame, from expectations.  Freedom is the opposite of being tied.  Freedom is not getting everything I want, that I think will make me happy.  Our lady will still live in reality and have to face challenges but she will face those challenges knowing in the depth of her soul that God has and does see her and is capable of helping her deal with her problem.

         The leaders not only untie the oxen and donkey, the leaders take them to water.  Being untied and left in the stall, hungry and thirsty is not what benefits the animal.  The animals are led to water.  Jesus not only unties us but he also feeds us.  The woman chose to be in the synagogue even as you chose to come to church this morning. The sermon is spiritual food, delving in his word, enlightening our lives.  Communion reminds us that we are forgiven.  The prayers of the congregation release those things that concern us and place them squarely in God’s hands.  The woman’s choice to be in the synagogue was a good choice.  That day she was untied and she was watered.

         Jesus concludes, 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”  Please do not slip over her title, “daughter of Abraham.”  She has gone from “a woman bent over” at the beginning of the text to “a daughter of Abraham.”  She is untied, watered and owned.  When we step into church on the Sabbath, we leave behind our “one of the masses” anonymity, we leave the freeway of life, and we step into the presence of God as his child, seen and cared about.  We come tied and thirsty but God unties and offers us water.  The woman made a good choice to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath and you made a good choice to be here today.

         The lion had mercy on the mouse.  The mouse was bound by the lion’s paw and bound by fear but the lion had mercy.  Later the lion is caught in a hunter’s net, bound by ropes and the fear of the hunter but the mouse has mercy.  We come to church today as the bent over ones, caught by the lions of life that would devour us or by the nets of systems that bind us.  We come bent over and often we are not even looking for healing for we feel helpless.  But God sees us when we don’t see ourselves.  We can stand up straight as we leave here.  God unties us and waters us even on the Sabbath, surprising others…especially on the Sabbath…for we are his children and the praise goes to him.

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”

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