took a seat in one of the husband’s waiting seats at Lenox Square Mall recently and struck up a conversation with a fellow who teaches Sunday School with Truett Cathy at Jonesboro First Baptist Church. He also works with Chick-fil-A opening up new chicken sandwich shops. They are currently opening a new store every five days, and have a store in nearly every mall in America, and are concentrating on free standing shops. I asked Howard Crumley if Truett still goes to every store and preaches to every new employee about how important it is to work hard and devote themselves to high Christian principles. He said that it is to big of an operation now but that they still have regional managers who teach the new employees that Truett cannot get to himself. Truett still promises to be the best employer that he can be by providing health insurance, retirement plans and college scholarships to young people. They tell them how they are set free to achieve the highest and the best for life.
In today’s gospel lection we hear how Jesus set a woman who was crippled free from her illness. She had been bent over for eighteen years, probably from osteoarthritis, a common degenerative disease of the cartridge between spinal joints that can still today cause an older person to be “doubled over,” as the New Living translation describes this woman’s plight. But Jesus said to her, “Woman thou art loosed…” or in the original language, “Woman thou are freed…” This is the Good News that Jesus is still trying to convince us of today.
My brother took us all out for breakfast at the Lexington Cracker Barrel the last time Marilyn and I were in North Carolina. While were there five tour busses unloaded a huge crowd on their way to our Georgia Dome to hear Bishop Jakes proclaim to thousands, at his annual national conference called, “Woman Thou Art Loosed!” In fact, these women had about as many men, dragging along, as they did women. The Good News is that all of us are freed!
But what are we freed from?
We know already that we have been given free will by our Creator. We are free because we know that we are free. Free choice is wired into our souls. It’s obvious that there is a link between our choices and the consequences of those choices, good or bad. Secular Philosophers typically agree that humans do not feel pre-programmed. Although it may be a genetic predisposition that causes our back problem, it can also be caused by our decision to climb up on the roof and then accidentally falling off.
We are free from God’s control and are dangerously operating on self control. We are not puppets. Our Creator took a chance on freedom. Although He is omniscient and knows what will happen, His foreknowledge does not limit our free choices. He has a perfect plan for our lives; but we have to choose to find and follow His plan.
The precious woman in our text could have chosen to remain crippled. She had probably gotten used to being bent over, having to twist her neck and look up at people; but no, our heroic woman accepted her freedom and “stood up straight,” for the first time in eighteen years. Yet, we all know people who have optioned to remain bent and twisted by the limitations of a lifelong string of bad decisions. Jesus is telling us to break loose of our past history and to walk into a new day of better choices.
In today’s world this woman’s decision to accept her freedom might mean losing her disability benefits. She might have to find a job, or to face life standing up straight. Old friends would not recognize her with her head standing tall. Her old excuses would not be validated anymore. She may even miss the sympathy.
Stepping into freedom is a little like putting on a tailor made suit that fits perfectly, but you were used to the old stretched and corduroy sport coat and polyester pants. But in a few hours the suit begins to fit wonderfully well.
And the best of all is that God is with us on the untraveled highway. In this New Testament age the Holy Spirit of God Himself joins us on the journey. His still small voice nudges us along. Doors begin to open. New light is shed on our pathway. The excitement of marching forward with faith into a new horizon is thrilling.
As is typically the case, Howard’s wife came looking for him first, but as he was leaving he shared just one more quick “Truit-ism,” Mr. Cathy remarked that he wanted to live to be 100 years old because, “You don’t hear of as many people dying at 100!”
The truth is that Mr. Cathy is much older than he was, but old folks are not the ones who chronically worry about getting old, anyway. They have been there and done almost everything they want to do on earth and they are looking forward the another new lease on life in Glory. They are beyond jobs and career opportunities. It is the new challenge that excites them! Hopefully, at whatever age, we all know that we are “Free for Life!”
The happiest Sunday School parties are with the older folks. At one Christmas Party last year the Right Reverend Bill Holt danced with a woman that was not his wife, and to loud applause. Not because their dancing was so great, but because they were still dancing at all.
God’s got a perfect plan on this new job, eternal benefits, wellness is guaranteed, no more mistakes with orders, no more bad choices to hold back our advancement, and a new day every day for ever. Indeed, set free for life on earth and then in heaven.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor