Rev. Will Conner
If you have been with us over the past couple of weeks, you might recall that we are in the midst of a message series on faith. During our first week we learned that faith kind of has two parts: an inward hope and outward action. That faith gives us hope for the future, but faith also requires us to act on this hope. And last week we explored what the Olympics can teach us about faith. We explored that just as our athletes in the Olympics have people cheering them on, have a coach, and team mates—we too do not do faith alone. We too have people cheering us on, we too have team mates, and we too have a coach.
This week we are going to take a little risk and explore another aspect of faith. But first I want to tell you about something that happened to me a few years ago.
I don’t know about you but I tend to be pretty risk adverse. When I was in seminary in Atlanta I was a fairly avid cycler. One afternoon I decided that I was going to go ride on the Silver Comet Trail. This is a great trail, it’s a paved multiuse path that stretches over a 100 miles and connects into a similar trail in Alabama. It is such a great ride. I’d ridden this road many times, and was eager to get out and have some time to enjoy the ride by myself. I guess my plan was to ride about 20 miles, out 10 and back 10. When I reached the 10 mile marker, though, I thought that I should keep going. I kept riding another 5 miles.
But an additional 5 miles out is an additional 10 miles in the overall ride. This meant that by the time I finished I was going to have ridden 30 miles, this was the farthest I had ever ridden. As I was ridding back I started to tire and then I started to feel sick. I felt depleted. My sports drink didn’t keep me going. There was a bike shop on the route about that time, so I pulled off, stumbled inside and asked them if they had any food. I was light headed and needed some sugar. I found some energy gel on the wall and quickly consumed the calories. Somehow I made it back to my car. As I was putting my bike on the rack, I felt as if I was going to pass out. I sat in my car, truthfully I felt drunk; I shouldn’t have driven. But my friend lived a couple of miles away so I drove to his house.
Luckily I made it. I got inside demanded orange juice and sat at his table. I then took a shower, still feeling weak and sick. Then we went to get a bite to eat. As soon as we got to the restaurant I ran to the bathroom and threw up. Following this I started to feel better. And I realized that I had gotten myself into trouble. It was very hot that day, but I didn’t think to limit myself. And I think that I was suffering from heat exhaustion. Looking back on this, I think that attempting such a ride, alone, and in the heat was pretty risky behavior.
While this was risky, in life I generally find it difficult to take risks. I feel like I try to play it safe.
Can anyone else identify with having difficulty taking risks?
I know as a teenager it can be a very difficult thing to pick up the phone and risk calling the girl. Today’s teenagers have it made, but I remember trying to call girls in high school fearing their parents would pick up the phone.
Perhaps you have had an idea that you want to try at work, but you are afraid it might fail. So you are scared to take the risk. You are scared of the potential failure so you never attempt your dream.
You can find articles that talk about how Americans are becoming more risk adverse. People are starting fewer business.
You also find, and this might affect you, few people take all of their paid vacation days in a year. More than 20 percent of people said they didn’t take all of their vacation days because they view taking them as risky. They don’t want to appear as if they can easily be replaced in their job. Maybe you have felt this way.
Perhaps you have a friend that is doing something you don’t like, perhaps she is doing something that is putting her in danger. Are you going to risk speaking up? You might risk losing your friendship and relationship if you tell her how you feel.
One I know every parent can relate to is that it is so much easier to tell your kids yes than to risk saying no. They ask for that new toy or another piece of candy. It’s much easier to say yes than to risk a meltdown if you say no.
The good news is that we aren’t the first ones to have struggled with taking a risk. In the Bible we are going to explore a story where Jesus risks a lot to help someone. Really if you look at the 4 gospels, these are the books in the bible that tell us about the life of Jesus, we see that Jesus is someone who is constantly dealing with risk taking.
Our story, today, comes from what Luke writes about Jesus. You can turn with me, if you have your Bible to Luke 13: 10-17.
Here we read that “Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.” On the Sabbath Jews of that time would go to the synagogue, much like Christians so to church on Sunday. They would go and hear from a teacher. Jesus is often portrayed as one who teaches in the synagogues on the Sabbath. So this a pretty normal occurrence, a low risk environment, so to speak.
There was probably a good size crowd there, and Luke tells us that “a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for 18 years. She was bent over and couldn’t stand up straight.” So in the midst of the crowd, you have people young and old who have gathered to pray and to praise God and learn about faith. And there is this faithful woman who week in and week out comes to this place, and she is in pain, she can’t stand straight, but faithfully she comes.
Then we learn that Jesus sees her and “called her to him and said, ‘Woman you are set free from your sickness.’” Then Luke tell us that Jesus touched her, “he placed his hands on her and she straightened up at once and praised God.”
So Jesus, in the midst of teaching, perhaps preaching in the synagogue, calls a woman up front and lays hands on her and heals her. Now you might think that this would and amazing occurrence. That people would praise God for this miraculous healing.
But you have to understand something about the Sabbath. You see, in Judaism, there are six days in which one is permitted to work. But on the 7th day you must take the day off. You must rest. The Sabbath is not a time to do work; it’s not a time to mow the grass; it’s not a time to go to the doctor to be healed. There is plenty of time during the work week to get business done, but the Jews had an understanding that God granted them one day off each week to recharge for the week. And who likes their days off interrupted with work.
When I look at my schedule. My basic work week is Sunday through Thursday. Each week I try to take off Friday and Saturday to spend time with family and to prepare myself to be my very best on Sunday and the rest of the week. If I hear about something on Friday or Saturday, and it’s not a legitimate emergency, likely it can wait until Sunday. It’s important to set boundaries, to recharge, and to spend time with family.
Thinking about this Sabbath and the importance of taking time off, we then hear from the leader of the synagogue. And he’s not too happy with what Jesus did, in fact, Luke tells us that “the synagogue leader, incensed that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, responded, ‘There are six days during which work is permitted. Come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath day.”
This might sound cold and calloused to you. After all this woman has been in pain for 18 years. But the thing is, the synagogue leader knows that if the doctor works every day of every week he himself will tire out and will be in pain. So it is permitted that medical emergencies can be dealt with on the Sabbath. If you have a heart-attack or you break your arm—it’s ok for this to be attended to on the Sabbath. But if you have a chronic condition, say diabetes, or back pain—it’s not an emergency, and the synagogue leader is right, there are 6 other days in the week in which you can receive treatment.
But of course, this wasn’t an ordinary healing. Jesus wasn’t a regular doctor, and so he takes a risk. He takes a risk because a woman is pain. God has commanded that the people rest on the Sabbath, but Jesus takes a risk and gets to work on the Sabbath. Perhaps Jesus is thinking there is no way this woman can rest on the Sabbath since she is in so much pain—so I’m going to risk a little work to allow her to rest.
Really Jesus doesn’t even address the whole working on the Sabbath thing here. Jesus doesn’t really address the legitimate concerns of the synagogue leader. Luke tells us that Jesus says, “Then isn’t it necessary that this woman, a daughter of Abraham, bound by Satan for eighteen long years, be set free from her bondage on the Sabbath day?” Jesus risked ridicule; Jesus risked being thrown out of the synagogue; Jesus risked being banned from preaching in the synagogue ever again; Jesus risked his life to give life to this woman bound up in pain.
I think that this story that Luke tells us about Jesus is an example for our lives of how God wants us to take risks in our lives and faith. I think that it is safe to say that God challenges us to take risks in life. And I want to suggest that taking risks can be a good thing. It doesn’t matter if you are Christian or not, taking risks can make the world a better place, and if you are a Christian, taking risks for faith can deepen your faith.
If you are in school. Think about if you took a risk to never cheat on a test and to stand up when you hear someone being gossiped about. If you took this risk, I guarantee that you will feel good about this risk and about yourself. By taking a risk like this, God will bless this.
Perhaps you and your spouse haven’t been getting along lately. What if this—just this week, you take the risk and pretend that whatever junk has happened between you doesn’t matter. And you risk taking care of each other, and you risk going out to eat together, and risk talking and joking, doing something nice for other. This isn’t going to completely fix your marriage, and if you are in this position you might be thinking I’m crazy. But what if you took a risk, just for a week, and tried it.
What if, just for a week, you risked getting up 30 minutes earlier to pray, to meditate, to read your bible? Just this week. Perhaps God might bless this risk, and you might just have a great week—perhaps the best week in a long time.
What if you have been putting off regular exercise. You know you need to do it; I know I need to do. What if just for this week, you risk, with me, daily exercise.
What if you risked meeting someone new this week? Just someone new. Not someone you go to church with, not someone in your family, not someone you talk to on a regular basis. What if you risked meeting someone new? You may have nothing in common, and you may gain nothing from this. But you could hit off, you could find out you have something in common, and you could end up inviting them to worship with you next Sunday.
If you don’t have kids, or if they are grown, what if you took a risk and decided to mentor a young person. What if you took the risk and decided that you were going to pour your life into the life of a young person and help them become a better person. Think about the difference you could make.
Imagine what your life could be like if you took risks like Jesus. God blessed the risks that Jesus took, and if you take risks for your faith, God will bless your risks too.
And look at this sanctuary, as a church you took the risk to invest resources into renovating this place. You’ve taken risks as a church by hosting the medical clinic, by pioneering things soul fest that are a blessing on this community.
What next risk is God calling our church to take? Imagine what could happen in the next 6 months if we took a risk in this new sanctuary. Imagine what could happen if instead of counting our attendance on Sunday, we took the risk and counted all those in our community who aren’t connected in a faith community— Who might be living isolated from other people. What might happen to us as a church if we took the risk as Jesus did and focused on everyone else in our community.
I’m not sure what specific risk God is calling this church to make. But if we all practice taking risks in our own life perhaps God will lead us to the risk he wants us to take as a faith community.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.