“I don’t know that I want to go to the ER,” I said, “there are a lot of people out there worse off than I am.” That is exactly what I said and an email to my doctor earlier this week. I was going on my 72nd hour of having a migraine. I could no longer function like a normal human being functions. I had already been to the emergency room once, but the migraine still persisted. This was the worst migraine I had experienced since giving birth to Ellen. And that also (at the time) put me back in the hospital. I was at a loss and had no idea what to do. The truth is, I was willing to try anything. But I did not like the idea of going back to the ER. I had gone just the day before and had to share a room with someone. That itself was not terrible. The fact that she had to bring her for-year-old daughter who knew only one volume for her speaking (which by the way, was obnoxiously loud) was what I was afraid of happening the second time around. In addition, this migraine caused me to be sensitive to light, sound, and smell. Going for a car ride was actually torture. If you have never had a migraine, I do not actually recommend it. But the doctor called me into her office. The nurse said we can give you something called Toradol for pain and something for the nausea. So, being willing to try anything at that point in time, I let the nurse stick two big needles in each arm. I had only been in pain for about four days. But the relief I received was almost instantaneous. I was never so glad to feel normal again, whatever that means.
The woman in our story today had been bent over and hurting for 18 years. 18 years. Can you imagine? Can you imagine being in pain for 18 years? For some of you, I know that this is not something you have to imagine. Some of you have been in pain for 18 years or longer. Some of you have been fighting one element after another, after another, after another. You seem to have one issue resolved, just to have another one pop right back up. If someone offered you relief, wouldn’t you take it? It wouldn’t matter what the circumstances would be, would you jump at the opportunity to be pain-free?
Maybe you have not been in physical pain for 18 years, but mental pain. Maybe you fight the demons of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues that have you running to dark spaces. Maybe you fear to name your demons because then they become all too real. Maybe you keep to yourself because the shame and stigma associated with people like you is just too much to bear. Maybe you can name off all of your meds on one hand like they were the name of candy. Perhaps you thought about ending your life before God has called you home. Maybe you’ve thought about it more than once. Maybe you thought about it this morning. Maybe those demons are so dark that you dare not tell anyone else for fear of being chastised.
Maybe you are not in physical, or mental pain, but emotional pain. Maybe you are suffering from broken relationships that go longer than 18 years. Maybe you haven’t spoken with someone who you call “family” in over a generation. Maybe you know you have a brother, sister, mom or dad, or other relations that live close by, but never darken your doorstep. Maybe you have broken Friendships that are just too painful to speak of. Maybe you recall having a good friend who did something to betray your trust and that friendship is no longer. 18 years can seem like a short time when you think about denial or betrayal.
Or maybe, dare I say, you are not spiritually well. Maybe you have not been spiritually well in a long time. Perhaps the church made a decision you did not agree with, or a pastor did something that greatly disappointed you, and you have not been the same since. Maybe you decided that one Sunday you would just not come to church. And one Sunday turned into two Sundays, turned into three Sundays, turned into 18 years. And for some reason, God called you to this place this morning.
No matter what our ailments might be, my friends, I daresay, we all are battling something. And I think we may all be able to name something in our lives, that given the chance, we would jump at the opportunity to be healed. So for this woman who has been suffering for 18 years, and for us, it does not matter that Jesus comes to us on the Sabbath day. The leaders of the synagogue want him to obey the law to keep the Sabbath holy. But see Jesus sees the opportunity to do exactly what Jesus does: care for others. He cares not that this opportunity comes on the Sabbath. What if this woman had been suffering for 18 years and one more day would have literally killed her? Our call is the same as Jesus’: when the opportunity comes to heal or be healed, take it. And what does the woman do when she is healed? She immediately rises and begins to praise God. Now, I know it doesn’t say this in English, but in the original Greek text, the praising is in the form of ongoing praise. So this woman didn’t praise God once and walk away, but she praised God and praised God and praised God and praised God and continued on and on.
Those in the synagogue wanted to remind Jesus of the Jewish law. But, Jesus calls them out, asking them if they wouldn’t help one of their animals if it needed it. So we should do with humans. Then Jesus calls this woman a “daughter of Abraham” further shaping and molding the relationship at hand. God, through Jesus Christ, has freed her. In an unlikely place (a synagogue–not a hospital), on an unlikely day (the sabbath), and with an unlikely person (a woman), God makes God’s-self known. So often we want to place limits on what God can do, or the time in which God can do it, or even the people God can act through. What happens when we finally get to that point where we’re willing to do anything?? So is God. What do you need to be freed from today?
Do you need to be freed from frustration? Do you need to be freed from toxic relationships? Do you need to be freed from shame? How about doubt, do you need to be free of that? Do you need to be freed from unrealistic expectations or criticism? Maybe you need to be freed from yourself. Are you the thing that’s holding you back from God? Whatever it is you need freed from, God is here, in this place, at this time, and nothing can stop God. Lay what has you bent over at the foot of the cross and be free. Raise up your hands and eat. Open your mouth and drink. Splash in the waters and be reminded that no one, no thing, no illness, no powers on this earth have any claim to you. The one who claims you and calls you by name, who calls you “my daughter” or “my son” and who calls you “beloved” is waiting for you. God is waiting for you to free you. Freedom, for you. Given, for you. Your expectations, broken, for you. Your wholeness, for you.