Sermons by Dr. Donald Scofield

“Set Free from Religion” 

August 21, 2016

Luke 13:10-17 NRSV 

10 Now he [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.

11 And 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.

12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment."

13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 

14 But 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." 

15 But 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?

16 And 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?" 

17 When 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. 

I do not care much about religion! And I dislike it when people speak of “organized” religion. After working in ministry in the church for 35 years, I have discovered that, in spite of our best efforts, there is not always much organization to religion. People are often being much too generous to refer to the church as “organized religion.” Furthermore, I do not want to be identified as a “religious person.” One can be religious about keeping one’s shoes polished or one’s bathroom clean! And I definitely do not want to be identified as a “religious” leader because they were always in trouble with Jesus! 

So, what is my problem with religion? For me, it comes down to this: I do not want to spend all my time following a list of do’s or don’ts crafted by a well-meaning if not misguided group of “religious” leaders. 

Quite frankly, I do not care how “religious” I appear to other people. Instead, I care about being faithful to God and following Jesus. It really is that simple! As the title to a Tony Campolo books suggests, I would like to follow Jesus without embarrassing God. Do I always accomplish this? Absolutely not. None of us do! But that should be our goal instead of following a bunch of religious rules! 

I think this was at least some of Jesus’ point in our reading for today from the Gospel according to Luke. The religious leader in this story was far more concerned with protocol than with that poor crippled woman. 

The crippled woman did not come to the synagogue to be healed (as insinuated by the leader of the synagogue). She came to worship. After all, it was the Sabbath—the day set aside for worshipping God in the Jewish faith. Furthermore, 

the “bent-over-woman” does not approach Jesus. She does not ask Jesus to heal her and, unlike many other healing stories surrounding Jesus, we know nothing of her faith. 

Jesus sees her, has compassion on her, calls her, lays his hands on her and heals her. The healing was a compassionate gift from Jesus and, as a result, she celebrates and worships God along with the rest of the congregation. 

But the leader of the synagogue sees the situation quite differently. He sees Jesus’ healing as work rather than a gift. And work is, according to the law, forbidden on the Sabbath. 

The leader is more concerned with rules and regulations than he is with people and their struggles. He is angry with Jesus for breaking the rules. And he is angry with the gathered worshippers who he sees as accessories to this crime because they are appreciative of the healing. This religious leader attempts to corral the Holy Spirit and dictate to God when healings can take place. 

Jesus, in his response to the leader, indicts all who would show kindness by untying animals in order to give them water 

but refuse to show kindness by “untying” a woman from the constraints of a crippling condition. They do so simply because 

such healing can be defined as “work” and is therefore forbidden on the Sabbath. 

By saying such things…Jesus reiterates his claim “that the Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mk 2.27) I think the same could also be said for religion: “that religion was made for humankind and not humankind for religion.” 

Unfortunately, too often we get it backwards and, as a result, churches and leaders put their focus on religious structures and rules rather than on God’s people. The bondage of the crippled woman was not just the bondage created by a painful and twisted back…it was the bondage to a failed “religious system” that put procedures and rules before people! 

If we are honest, we would have to acknowledge that the bondage of “religion” remains a problem even to this day. 

“Religious” people attempt to dictate what is and what is not acceptable for Christians. They confusingly intertwine their “religion” with patriotism, politics, and prosperity. They claim that real “Christians” line up neatly behind certain beliefs 

and social issues such as abortion, capital punishment, and the rights of LGBTQ persons. 

Jesus, however, came to set us free from the bonds of sin and slavery to “religious” rules and practices. Jesus calls us to follow him wherever he leads and to understand that ministry 

in Christ’s name will, at times, bring us into conflict with “religion.” 

As a congregation, we are not here to perpetuate “religion”, but to follow Christ and serve our neighbors by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, standing up for the oppressed, and challenging the injustices of our society. 

I really do not think Jesus cares if we follow all the “correct” procedures and rules. 

And I do not think Jesus cares if we act and look like “religious” people. 

Instead, I think Jesus cares if we are willing to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him. 

In order to do so, we must allow Christ to set us free 

from the bonds of “religion” and the demands of “religious” leaders that cripple us and prevent us from standing up straight and seeing the holy face of God right in front of us.

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