Nikos | Sermon (August 25) by Rev. Robert McDowell

          Are you spotting any interesting vanity license plates lately? 

     Last week on Facebook, a friend of mine posted a picture that he took of a vanity license plate that he saw on the back of a pick-up truck in a Costco parking lot in Columbus. It had the letters IM with a space, and then the letters SANTA. IM SANTA. The comments under his post were fun. Someone said, “Santa drives a Dodge! Yes!!” Someone else said, “Did you put milk and cookies in his truck?” And another person wrote, “Maybe he’s picking up some reindeer feed.” 

     Jesus has been giving us very important messages this summer from the Gospel of Luke.  We are in the sixth part of a seven part sermon series on the things that Jesus wants to tell us, and in today’s scripture, Jesus wants to tell us that there is always hope for you and for me.

     I remember when our family went to our very first Cubs game at Wrigley Field in Chicago several years ago. This was several years before their more recent success when they actually won the World Series in 2016. You want to talk about people who have hope.  Just take a look at Cub fans!  It was in the middle of August, hot and humid, the Cubs were in last place in their division, and it was a Tuesday night.  But none of that mattered. The game was sold out.  There was an eternal hope even during those lean years that someday their Cubs would win the World Series.

     But if you really want to find hope, all you need to do is turn to Jesus.  Jesus is our true source of hope.

     Luke tells us of a woman who found hope in church one day.  She experienced the healing touch of Jesus Christ in her life.  Jesus has a way of untying us from things that keep us from having hope.  Luke tells us that Jesus set this woman free.  Later in this passage, Jesus says how this woman was set free from her bondage.

     Luke shows us three things that can prevent us from experiencing the hope of Jesus Christ in our lives.  These are things that can keep us tied up, if you will.

     I’m not very good at untying knots. 

     I remember when our daughter was just wee little and we visited my parents.  Penny and I went to a baseball game that night and my mom and dad were in charge of their little grandchild.

     When we got home, my dad said, “We had to put her to bed with her baby shoes on, because we didn’t know how to open up those little white plastic coverings over her shoestrings.”  He said how he had tried all evening to open up those coverings and he couldn’t do it.”   My dad was really embarrassed when Penny took all but five seconds to take them off and untie her little shoes.

     Sometimes we get tied up in life and we don’t know how to get free.  And sometimes we lose hope, don’t we?   

     Luke gives us three things that can sometimes tie us up in life, but he also shows us how Jesus is more than able to set us free and restore our hope.

     The first thing is this.  Jesus can untie the knot of the forces of evil in this world.  Luke tells us that this woman, who had come into that worship service when Jesus was preaching, had a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.  She was so crippled that Luke tells us that she was bent over and was unable to stand up straight.

     I find it very interesting that Luke just doesn’t tell us that this woman was crippled and bent over, but he tells us that she had a spirit that had crippled her.  This tells me that for the past eighteen years this woman was not just contending with a physical problem, but she was also up against an evil force.

     God’s design is for all people to be healthy and physically whole.  God doesn’t cause people to be sick or to be injured or to suffer from a serious illness.  I believe that these things are the result of our fallen world. 

     This text reminds us of the presence of evil in our world.  Even though God created this world and called it good, there is also an evil force that is at work in the world. In our story this morning, Jesus heals this woman and set her free from the spirit that had been troubling her for all of those years.  Luke tells us that she immediately stood up straight.

     We contend with evil forces all of the time.  Forces that would keep us from having hope in Jesus Christ.  Forces that would keep us from being set free. 

     William Wilberforce was a devout Christian and member of the British Parliament from 1780 to 1825.  He felt a calling to serve Jesus Christ through the political arena.  It was William Wilberforce who is mostly responsible for abolishing the slave trade and slavery itself in all of the British territories.  

     The interesting thing about William Wilberforce was that it took him 18 years to get his motion to abolish the slave trade passed.  And then just four days before his death, the English Parliament finally passed a motion to end all slavery in the British territories.  A year after William Wilberforce died, almost one million slaves were set free from the evil force of slavery.

     Eighteen years must be a significant number for us today, because Luke tells us that the woman in our scripture lesson had been crippled for eighteen years.

     We need to realize that sometimes, we are contending against the evil forces of this world.  We are involved in a spiritual struggle.  But thanks to people like William Wilberforce and this woman in our scripture today, we can always have hope in Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ will not fail us.

     The first thing that Jesus wants to untie us from is from the knot of the evil forces of this world.     

     The second thing that Jesus wants to untie in our lives is the knot of spiritual dryness.  When Jesus healed this woman, notice the first thing she did.  Nobody had to tell her to do this.  She just did it.  She began praising God.

     Sometimes, hope can be so low in our lives that we can feel empty and we experience a spiritual dryness. I don’t know of too many people who don’t go through times of spiritual dryness in their spiritual journey. 

     I have a friend who shared with me over lunch that he was feeling spiritually dry in his life. He was living out his faith and active in his church but inside he was very empty.  Before we left that day, we prayed right there in the restaurant and I told him that I would continue to pray for him and check in on him.

     A week later, I called him on the phone just to see how he was doing. And then I sent him a birthday card with a reminder that I was praying for him. Sometimes, I would just send him a text or a facebook message to let him know that I was thinking of him.

     Each time I spoke with him, he seemed like he was doing better. He said that he was learning to not let problems at work get the best of him. He was taking better care of himself by exercising and eating right. He also said that he decided to share what he was going through with his wife and he felt a lot of support from her.

     And then a really wonderful thing happened. He called me out of the blue one day to tell me that a new job opportunity was opening up for him and he was very excited about it. He said that this new job couldn’t have come at a better time.

     I can’t tell you how wonderful it was for me to hear the joy in his voice. In just a couple of months since our lunch together, he was feeling hope again. He was feeling more like his old self. And so I jokingly said to him, “I don’t like to brag, but I think it’s all because of my prayers.”

     But then I said to him, “I just want to cry tears of joy for you right now because I remember vividly how low you were feeling when we were together for lunch just a few months ago.”  And he said to me, “I know. I just want to praise God for these positive changes in my life. God is good!”

    Now, we all know that not everybody experiences that kind of spiritual transformation in a short amount of time but Jesus is always reaching out to us with healing and hope. 

     Jesus unties us from the knot of the forces of evil and from the knot of spiritual dryness.  And last, but not least, sometimes, we need to be untied from ourselves.  Sometimes, the knot that has us tied up isn’t external. It’s internal. It’s something we can choose or not choose to untie.

     I like how Luke contrasts the woman who was healed with the religious leader who criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. One was open to hope and the other was closed to receiving hope. The reason the religious leader didn’t choose to receive the hope that Jesus was offering is because of his narrow interpretation of working on the Sabbath.

     Jesus reminds the religious leader that this woman he healed is a daughter of Abraham which means that she is one of them.  This woman is a child of God. The religious leader of the synagogue saw this woman as someone who wasn’t worthy of being healed. He failed to see how God was at work in that moment in healing her and restoring her to wholeness.

     I wonder how many times our eyes aren’t opened to the new ways that God is at work in and around us. Sometimes, we just miss these holy moments which can keep us from receiving the hope that God wants to give us. 

     Sometimes, we are the knot that needs to be untied. Jesus calls us to have open minds to the new way that God is at work in the world. 

     On this day last year, I officiated at a memorial service here at our church. It was for Pauline McClew, Martha Sloan’s mother. Pauline was 99 when she passed away, just shy of her 100th birthday. 

     Martha and her family decided to celebrate Pauline’s 100th birthday anyway, so after the memorial service we went into our Fellowship Hall and celebrated her milestone birthday in heaven. It was a powerful reminder that nothing can rob us of receiving God’s hope in our lives, not even death.

     During that memorial service, I shared these words about Martha’s mother that continue to speak a powerful message of hope for all of us exactly one year later from that memorial service.

      I said, “I’m so thankful for the people in our lives like Pauline who offer hope and point us to God’s beauty and love.  Every time we gather for worship, God speaks a word of hope, helping us to see God’s presence in the midst of a broken and hurting world and pointing us to the future when God will make all things new again.”

     And so on this day, exactly one year later after that memorial service, I want to thank Martha and her family for that reminder that there is always HOPE4ME. There is always hope for you. God is even able to turn a memorial service into a birthday party. 

     A friend of mine was sharing with me this past week about a time when he had asked a printing company to print materials for United Way. It was a a big project that had a lot of pages.

     The man from the printing business dropped off the booklets and proudly gave them to my friend and asked him, “So what do you think?” My friend opened the box, looked down at the first page and realized there was a big problem. 

     The printing guy asked, “Is there something wrong?” And my friend said, “Instead of United Way, it’s says “Untied Way.”

     Evidently, the autocorrect they used at the printing store had changed every word that said, “united” to “untied.”

     It was such a big mistake, that the printing company had to reprint all of that paperwork to make it right.

     Actually, for you and me, it is true that God wants to untie us and give us hope. 

     And so, if you are here today and you are feeling all tied up in knots, maybe wondering what the future holds, maybe you are in need of healing in your life whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual, whatever knot you are experiencing, know that Jesus is more than able to untie us and set us free. 

     Jesus Christ will not disappoint you. Regardless of what you are facing or what knot is keeping you tied down, whether it be an evil force, or spiritual dryness, or even ourselves, Jesus is offering all of us his hope so that we can receive healing and be made whole.

     Praise God that there is hope for you and for me!

During our summer sermon series on vanity license plate sightings, we’ve been asking people to share interesting ones they have seen. 

Have you seen an interesting vanity plate recently?

We have been summarizing Jesus’ teachings from the Gospel of Luke into vanity license plate messages. Our reading this week is when Jesus healed a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years! Jesus was able to free her. This story reminds us to not give up on how Jesus can bring healing and wholeness to our lives.

Share a hope that you have for healing and wholeness either for yourself or someone else. It can be a need for physical, spiritual, relational, or emotional healing. 

Pastor Robert shared three areas in our lives that God offers us the hope of healing. He refers to these as “knots” that Jesus seeks to untie in our lives so that we can be the people that God has called us to be. 

Knot #1 – Jesus unties the knot of evil in our world. Notice that Luke tells us that a “spirit” had crippled the woman for eighteen years. This suggests that their is an evil force at work in the world. Pastor Robert lifted up William Wilberforce, the 19th century British statesmen who fought to end the slave trade. Like the woman who had been crippled for eighteen years, it took eighteen years for the British Empire to get the votes needed to end the slave trade. These stories of persistence remind us to not give up hope when facing the evil powers of this world.

Where do you see evil forces at work in the world?

Knot #2 – Jesus unties the knot of spiritual dryness in our lives. Notice that Luke tells us that after Jesus healed the woman, the first thing she did was to praise God.

Share a time when you were set you free from the knot of spiritual dryness leading you to praise God.

Knot #3 – Jesus unties the knot of ourselves. Notice that Luke tells us that after Jesus healed the woman, the religious leaders who heard about it were critical of Jesus healing on the sabbath.

Share a time when you were not open to how God was seeking to bring healing in your life. What helps you to be open to receiving God’s healing touch in your life?

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