Broad Brook Congregational Church, UCC
6th Sunday after Pentecost
July 4th, 2021
The Woman in the Pew
(Excerpts from a sermon by Rev. Kathryn Matthews Huey)
Trinity United Church of Christ
March 7, 1999
As we begin the process of learning what it means to be an Open and Affirming church (ONA for short), I will be presenting some excerpts from sermons written by Pastors of UCC churches.These sermons will be the focus of conversations afterword. Please use the suggestion box in the narthex for any questions. For those members who are unable to attend services, feel free to call me with any questions.
“Jesus asks us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Unfortunately the word neighbor has come to mean anyone who looks like, talks like, thinks like, walks like, and loves like we do. Most of us sitting here have a nostalgic feeling when entering this space, a place of peace, healing, and Christian love. But there are many who have not had a positive encounter with a church. There are many who were not welcomed and in fact were told that they were not welcomed at a church. Henri Nouwen once wrote that we should pray “to love Jesus, and to love the way Jesus loved.”
“Now Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. He looked up and saw a women who was bent over—bent over for the last eighteen years, Can you imagine what her life must have been like? Her world was defined by the small piece of ground around her toes, or what she could look at on a slant. The bent-over woman was captive, bound by her ailment. She could not move freely, meet another person face-to-face, or look up to see the salvation-the healing-that was coming to her in the person of Jesus.”
“Jesus was teaching. He saw the woman and he spoke words of healing to her: “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” And he touched her. Immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. Despite the protests of the synagogue leader, Jesus had broken the rules of the sabbath and put human welfare over religious obligation. He then went back to what he had been doing—teaching—and he began with the question, “What is the reign of God Like?” In his act of healing, Jesus has shown the people what the reign of God was like, and then he went on to talk more about it.”
BBCC is on the way to being intentional about our commitment to welcoming the stranger and loving as Jesus loved. As we invite people to come into our community of faith, we pray that people will respond and will show up either here in person or via the internet. Different people will come and among them will be the bent-over woman. For she can be seen in churches all across this country, every Sunday of the year, and she takes her place in a pew right here in our midst.
“Let me describe her:”
She is a mother whose child was sick all night. Mothers can distinguish between the different cries of their child. We come to know that piercing cry of pain from an earache. This mother’s child was probably crying all night.
“Longing for the reign of God, “the bent-over woman” is an African American family trying to sell their house in a city marred by racism. A person working in the real estate industry recently told about a meeting their company had held about diversity and fair housing. In this country we think we have made great progress on the issue of race. We now have laws that are meant to eliminate racist practices in the buying and selling of homes. But laws cannot change human hearts, and laws cannot end prejudice. One woman real estate agent at the meeting, told of a Black family that asked her whether they should take down their family pictures so the potential buyers would not know their race; perhaps their house would sell more easily. Everyone who listened to this story was very still and very full of sadness. It was a moment of painful discouragement, a moment of awful realization of how far we still have to go.”
“The bent-over woman is sitting in a pew. She is a young teenager struggling with the knowledge that he is somehow different. Two years ago, in Cleveland, a fourteen-year-old boy named Robbie was trying to hold on to hope for his future. When he told his parents that he was gay, they assured him of their unconditional love for him. But at school Robbie agonized as only teenagers can every time his peers taunted him mercilessly. At church he was told he was disordered and sinful. In the end the love of his parents was not enough to keep Robbie from losing heart, and one terrible day, he took his own life.”
Robbie isn’t siting in front of us any more in that pew. Lord have mercy on us!
But his parents and siblings, his friends and perhaps even peers who teased him—are sitting in our midst. All of them, deep down, are longing for the reign of God.
“These are just a few of the people who come to church. And there are more. There are people who are weighed down and bent over by loneliness, grief, worry, anxiety, and doubt. People who are confused by a world that preaches a word of its own, a false word that often leads them—leads us—astray from God’s plan and God’s goodness and God’s will for our lives.There are people whose financial difficulties or mental illness or physical illness or physical ailments or business troubles feel like crushing burdens to bear as they move through their lives. There are people going through divorces, struggling with their children—or parents— or estranged from their siblings. As we worship each Sunday in our churches they appear before us. Perhaps, like the bent-over woman, they have not asked us for healing. Perhaps, like her, they simply appear. We may not recognize them. And, that’s not all. We ourselves may be those people, for each one of us suffers, and each one of us carries burdens that at times weigh us down and bend us over.”
“We don’t come to church every Sunday because we simply enjoy one another’s company. We are not here because the music is beautiful or merely because we feel we should be in church. We are not here because someone is pressuring us to be here. I believe we come here on Sunday mornings because somewhere in the deepest part of our spirit is a hunger for the reign of God. I believe that we long for the healing, the justice, the love and acceptance, and the peace that is the reign of God. We are here because we have come to know that we can’t fix this world on our own, or even provide for ourselves on our own, and that our only real choice is to turn to God for all that we need.”
And in truth, it is God who brings the reign of God in God’s own time. But this day, today, we are called here at BBCC to proclaim the reign of God, to witness to its beginning in Jesus Christ and to its coming fullness. But we are called to do more than to proclaim the word, we are called to enflesh it, to become a word of hope for those who appear before us.
“I urge you to examine religious rules and obligations in light of the example of Jesus, who put compassion and mercy and human need first. I urge you to remember the heart of the Law is the love of God and the love of one another. I urge you as a community of faith to become a word of hope for those who appear before you, including gay and lesbian and bisexual people and their families and friends, and all those who believe in and hunger for justice, inclusivity, wholeness, and mercy. I know that in so doing you will be richly blessed, for wherever acts of healing, compassion, justice, and mercy are made flesh, all creation is new…creation is healed.
In a very real sense, your church will become a new creation. That is my prayer, and my hope, for you this morning, May God bless you. Amen.”
On the following Sunday, Trinity United Church of Christ voted overwhelmingly to become the 296th Open and Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ.