Woman Un-Bent

thistle

Pentecost 14C

Luke 13:10-17

August 21, 2016

 

Woman Un-Bent

by Irene Zimmerman

 

That Sabbath day as always

she went to the synagogue

and to the place assigned her

right behind the grill where,

the elders had concurred,

she would block no one’s view,

she could lean her heavy head,

and (though this was not said)

she’d give a good example to

the ones who stood behind her.

 

That day, intent as always

on the Word (for eighteen years

she’d listened thus), she heard

Authority when Jesus spoke.

 

Though long stripped

of forwardness,

she came forward, nonetheless,

when Jesus summoned her.

 

“Woman, you are free

of your infirmity,” he said.

 

The leader of the synagogue

worked himself into a sweat

as he tried to bend the Sabbath

and the woman back in place.

 

But she stood up straight and let

God’s Glory touch her face.

 

———-

 

For years I’ve loved this story in the Bible – unique to Luke’s gospel.

And for years I’ve loved this poem written by Irene Zimmerman.

 

“But she stood up straight and let

God’s Glory touch her face.”

 

That line brings me close to tears.

 

I’m not sure why…

I suspect it’s partly because I’ve known so many people

who’ve spent their lives bent over-

looking at the ground.

 

Sometimes we’re bent over

because we’re afraid.

We’ve been shamed into thinking that for some reason we’re not good enough,

we’re not worthy, not valuable…

and so we don’t dare lift our heads.

 

Sometimes we’re bent over

because we’re compelled to by someone else.

We’ve been ‘kept in our place’ by those with power or privilege…

 

Jesus sees a woman bent over for 18 years

in the back of the synagogue

and he calls her forward.

 

He touches her,

and says, “No more – you are free!”

And she stands up straight.

Jesus is in the business of setting people free.

Jesus is in the business of releasing us from bondage-

from whatever it is that keeps our heads down-

addiction, sexual abuse, domestic violence,

Jesus says, “No more – you are free!”

 

Whatever it which keeps us from claiming a place as one of God’s loved and chosen people-

from racism, sexism, homophobia,

Jesus says, ‘No more – you are free!”

 

You are free!

Stand and feel God’s glory touch your face.

 

A few years ago I was at a preaching conference in Nashville,

and I heard a talk given by an Episcopal priest named Becca Stevens.

 

Stevens is the founder of Thistle Farms,

a residential and jobs program for women who have survived

prostitution and addiction.

 

Most of the women have served prison sentences.

Most of them have also had a history of abuse.

 

All of them have been bent over by shame –

the horrible feeling that comes when we feel we are utterly unlovable.

 

The women live at Thistle Farms for two years.

They are given room and board,

and most importantly, they are given unconditional love.

 

Stevens tells the story of Shana.

Shana’s mother was an addict.

 

When she was 13 year old,

her mother sent Shana into her dealer’s house in exchange for drugs.

 

Shana worked as a prostitute for the dealer for the next 10 years.

 

When the dealer was arrested and sent to prison,

Shana needed a place to go.

 

She came to Thistle Farms with the words,

“Trust no one,” tattooed on her chest.

 

Shana began the work of healing.

At Thistle Farms healing is not only an emotional process,

but one in which the the women gain financial independence as well.

 

Thistle Farms also is a business, where the women create and sell bath and body products.

Shana started working as a sales associate for Thistle Farms.

 

Shana started learning some job skills

and getting something to put on her resume

to fill in the gaps where her only income was from prostitution.

 

Shana is now living on her own in a two-bedroom house, but she still thinks it’s a dream…

that someday she’s going to wake up and everything will disappear;

that someone will make her go back to the hell she was living in;

or that she will be sent back to jail.

 

The community of Thistle Farms tries to reassure her that this is real.

That love is real and possible – even for her.

 

Becca Stevens calls the program “Thistle” for a couple of reasons.

The first is because thistles grow and they grow everywhere…

their roots can even move through concrete

and so they grow on streets and alleys –

the places where the women once walked.

 

Secondly, although thistles are a weed, with a prickly outside,

they have a soft beautiful purple center

making them really pretty flowers.

 

There is a beautiful center in each of the women who live at Thistle Farms.

 

The hope of Thistle Farms is healing –

that these women will be freed from whatever has bent them down,

and they too will stand up straight and tall.

 

Jesus says, “No more – you are free!”

 

The leader of the synagogue

worked himself into a sweat

as he tried to bend the Sabbath

and the woman back in place.

           

But she stood up straight and let

God’s Glory touch her face.

 

Amen.

 

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