FIRST LESSON: Isaiah 58:9b-14
SECOND LESSON Luke 13:10-17
SERMON: “Pick a Fight”
Former president John F. Kennedy once told about a legendary baseball player who always played flawlessly. He hit consistently and was never thrown out at first base. Once on base he never failed to score. He never dropped a ball and threw with unerring accuracy. He ran quickly and played perfectly. Actually, he would have been one of the all-time greats except for one problem: No one could persuade him to throw away his snack and come out of the press box to play! (1) Anybody know someone like that? They won't try to do something significant themselves, but they sure can criticize those who do. Certainly Jesus ran into a lot of that in the synagogue, so the contemporary church can’t claim it started anything new on this front. Last week we considered Jesus’ response to some of his critics who sought to embarrass him by setting a trap designed to show that either Jesus disregarded the law, or he wasn’t quite as compassionate as the people thought he was. The Lord avoided the trap by both honoring the law and being compassionate. So that tactic didn’t work for his detractors. This time they straight out throw criticism against him for healing a woman on the Sabbath. Hey! Remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy is one of the “Big Ten;” it even shows up ahead of “thou shalt not steal” and “thou shalt not murder.” So we shouldn’t be surprised that they were able to found him vulnerable on this one. They were looking to pick a fight, and Jesus just handed them the opportunity. I know a few people, you probably do to, who just love to pick fights. To some people, it’s not so much whether they are on the justice side of an issue or not; they just like to fight. And when we take a stand on an issue, we frequently hand them a good opportunity. If you know me well enough, that I would choose a sermon title like “Pick a Fight” seems quite out of character, because I don’t like to fight. When my sisters and I were growing up my mom said repeatedly that she didn’t care how much noise we made, as long as it was “happy noise.” When we started to fight, she separated us. I suspect sometimes that a shortage of opportunities to fight as a child may have had something to do with why my sister Peg chose to pursue a career as a lawyer. In my life, I have found that more than enough fights come my way that I don’t need to go looking for them. And this one came looking for Jesus. Luke records, “Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” (v. 14) His criticism is aimed toward the people, but it is also pointed towards Jesus. Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with having said, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” Indeed, some have said, that the only way to avoid criticism in life is to do nothing, say nothing and be nothing. That certainly wasn’t Jesus’ style. Our great physician’s will for each and every one of us is to be healthy and strong in body, mind and spirit. Pointing out the temple leader’s hypocrisy, Jesus answered them, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (vv. 15-16).
The synagogue leader got caught up in religious rules and regulations and missed the bigger picture. Critics often miss miracles – a woman was healed of something that had crippled her for eighteen years! He preferred to pick a fight with Jesus than to acknowledge the healing.
That said, picking a fight is not always the wrong thing to do. Indeed, Bob Goff, the president and founder of Restore International, a non-profit organization fighting injustice and human rights violations around the world suggests that every one of us should pick a fight – not the fight the bully picks in the school yard, not the fight of the synagogue leaders trying to discredit Jesus, but Goff says, “I want to pick a fight where I can make a meaningful difference somewhere in the world.”
We do that when we support certain missions. We fight for the children of our community when we purchase and donate school supplies through North Kent Community Services and when we make and pack lunches for Kids Foodbasket. We fight on behalf of the one in eight persons in our world who suffer from lack of enough food to eat when we support World Vision through the Hunger Fast.
We do make a meaningful difference in many places around the world when we give to Presbyterian Unified Missions. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness.
Concerning critics, Goff points out that it is easier to pick an opinion than it is to pick a fight. It’s also easier, he reminds us, “to pick an organization or a [team] and identify with that fight than it is to actually pick your own fight, commit to it, call it out and take a swing.” Picking a fight can be messy, time consuming, and costly. It can even be scary. It can be misguided – like the synagogue critics who had no other agenda than to embarrass and discredit Jesus and get in the way of the healing and hope that he came to bring.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am in no way discouraging or belittling the financial support that many of us give, not only to the church, but to organizations who are out there leading the battles against heart disease, cancer, child abuse, world hunger, illiteracy and prejudice, injustice and oppression of all kinds. There are a great many things these organizations can do that we can’t do personally. No matter how much I might want to, to matter how long I live or how hard I try, I cannot discover the cure for cancer. The American Cancer Society has a shot at it, has made a tremendous difference over the years and will continue to do so. They need and deserve our support. But I want to do more than send them a check a couple of times a year.
I want to pick a fight on behalf of those who are getting the dreaded diagnosis, who are overwhelmed and scared and alone. I had a follow-up visit last week with the surgeon who did my surgery back in 2010. I haven’t seen her since I was in the hospital – always her P.A. But she has started doing those follow-up checks again herself, so we had quite a conversation. During that conversation I told her about my eventual retirement plans and the long to-do list that includes volunteering to walk the journey with those who are facing this battle. My friend Pat went with me to that daunting meeting with all the specialists and therapists and counselors. I went with Ellie.
And guess what! St. Mary’s has a program for that. They will train in me in what I can and can’t do – like I can’t give medical advice. I was so excited after talking to Dr. Caughran on Tuesday that I mentioned it to a couple of people (okay a few people!), who all said “Good for you. That’s a great thing to do.” A pat on the back is nice, but I want to pick this fight, not for pats on the back, but “because someone else’s suffering matters to me.”(2) So this is a fight I’m going to pick – a battle against the fear, the isolation, the devastation a cancer diagnosis brings.
Remember Joshua – from the Old Testament? He’s the one who got to lead the people into the Promised Land. In the first chapter of the Book of Joshua God says to him four times, “be strong and courageous.” Once it is to be “very” courageous. Skip down to the tenth chapter and we hear Joshua saying to the people, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous.” What Joshua heard from the Lord God, he spoke to the people – it’s a bit like when we hear our adult children tell their children something we said to them when they were young.
Pick a fight. If you’re going to put the time and energy and resources into a fight, make it something healing, not hurtful; something helpful, not detrimental; something critical, not than criticizing. Some of you are already engaged in a fight – tell me about it; tell someone about it. You may pick up and advocate or a prayer warrior .
Perhaps some of you are engaged in a fight that is enough, so much that you truly can’t take on another battle; maybe you could lose a little help with your struggle. Tell me about it; tell someone about it. You have friends here who will get into the fray with you.
Pick a fight. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous.” Be very courageous.
Pick a fight. You are sure to be criticized if you do and criticized if you don’t, so do what you know in your heart is right.
Pick a fight. It can be messy, time consuming, and costly. It can even be scary.
And it can be exactly what as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ we ought to be doing.
(1)Steve Goodier, One Minute Can Change a Life: Sixty-Second Readings of Hope and Encouragement, Life Support System Publishing, Inc., 1999.
(2)Bob Goff, Why You Need to Pick a Fight on ChurchLeaders.com