St Mary Magdalene, Evensong Sunday 26 August. Ruth Martin
Exodus 4 v27-5v1, Luke 13v 10-17
Let my people Go.
You may recall the film ‘One Flew over the Cuckoos nest’, starring Jack Nicholson, who found himself incarcerated in a mental institution that was determined to exert power over him, plotted to escape, only to discover that the other inmates he befriended had actually themselves entered as voluntary patients,had chosen to be in the place of their own volition. Ultimately our hero is forcible operated on to subdue him and he loses his unique and beautiful fight to live freely, an observation not lost on one of his new friends who then grasps freedom and flees the institutional life.
Slavery is all around us, perhaps in us, and tonight’s readings give us insights into God’s way of trying to set people free.
Firstly In our continuing story from Exodus, tonight we have Moses working with Aaron to face the ultimate authority in the land, Pharoah, and ask for the people of God to be set free. Here, God has become deeply personal. Not only has the frightened Moses been compelled by God to return to Egypt to try and help the Israelites be set free from slavery, but God has also enlisted the help of Aaron the priest to support him.
Secondly, we have the story of a miracle, in Lukes Gospel( and only in Lukes Gospel) of the woman crippled for eighteen years who is healed by Jesus, set free. Often our attention in this story might be drawn to the fact that the leaders of the synagogue are very angry that Jesus heals on the holy day of rest, the Sabbath, but more intriguing surely is the fact that she has been crippled by Satan. By bringing her from the very periphery of her community, to stand at centre stage in the synagogue, Jesus not only transforms her value, but also sets her free, individually, to become whole.
So there is much in these two stories for us to learn from tonight .
The picture of slavery revealed through the story of Moses, is familiar to stories of slavery though the ages ; whole communities, whole ethnic groups with a lack of choice, the living of daily lives in bondage and at the whim of others, powerlessness, arduous tasks that give no space for respite, injustice and cruelty where ultimate power is wielded by a human being who sees self interest in perpetuating the enslaved. No wonder Pharaoh does not listen to Aaron and Moses. Although this may seem so remote to us today, modern slavery in our world today still exists, there is money to be had, an investment to be made, and the human rights of the enslaved are largely ignored by those wielding that particular power. Human trafficking is a modern example. The economics of slavery were not lost on Wilberforce two hundred years ago, nor on Martin Luther King fighting for some recognition of black rights in the 1960s.
So we are clear from the story of Moses and Aaron, that it is God’s will that people should be free.
Yet the healing of the woman paints an even more challenging picture . She is healed from being an outsider in her communitythe, and also from the grip of Satan.
Firstly, the woman in our New testament as an unclean outsider, in her society. Who are our outsiders? Yesterday the Government announced the extension of cadet forces, and the scout movement, into the most disadvantaged communities, to try and help them. There will be many people who will scoff at the idea, a cheap alternative to other forms of intervention, and some of those who scoff may be experts . But if it is successful, what it would mean is that social outcasts who are treated with contempt, and who may spend a lifetime being on the periphery of our accepted society, may find acceptance and self- respect as well as respect from others. I see this as a modern example of how those of us who now live our lives as members of the body of Christ can show how God can heal failure and division- that may even have been self inflicted in part. So what? God still wants to heal communities and individuals.
Secondly, the intriguing nature of her infirmity, what is being healed? One of the challenges of applying the healing miracles to our world today is the literal way in which these are often portrayed; we know in fact that healing is about wholeness. The paralympics about to start this week will be a wonderful example of wholeness within, despite challenges of birth or accident which may have placed individual athletes as outsiders at one time or another.
Later on In our Lords prayer we will ask not to give in to temptation, and to be delivered from evil. Satan, evil. One of the hardest challenges that we all face from time to time is that in our decision making, in our choices, we may become enslaved to a life from which we lose the capacity to see that we have the key to our own freedom.
So we need to ask ourselves, are we enslaved to anything which prevents us from being the people God wants us to be? Sometimes we know that our priorities are not God’s priorities for us, and finding ways of achieving God’s freedom for us, may be a difficult path, and ultimately, the journey of the pilgrim in all of us. Allowing God into our hearts to continue to transform us is to allow a light to be shone sometimes on the parts we do not want others to see.
In the Christian tradition, God is a personal God, available and accessible.
We know from our story in Exodus that eventually God’s people were set free, but we also know that they were led from a life of no choices…..into the desert ( which they moaned about greatly)…..before they reached fulfilment of Gods’ purpose for them. We in our journeys from anything enslaving us will have desert times before we find ourselves whole, and let us pray that we allow Jesus, through the Holy Spirit to help us find the key to our fullness of freedom and life , and to guide and comfort us on our way and to be mindful of God’s wish, to set ‘my people free’.