Sermon Archives

Sunday, August 21, 2016
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14, Year C)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Unbind Us and Set Us Free

Come Holy Spirit and unbind us from the things that tie us up and tangle us and keep us stooped over and looking down. Come Holy Spirit and breathe your spirit of freedom and love into our hearts so that we might be able to look up and see the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

Two weeks ago, six youth from Christ Church joined youth from across the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan on a mission trip. Most of the youth were from the suburbs of Detroit – Grosse Pointe, Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham, but there were also youth from Novi and Pontiac. This was the Diocese’s first year hosting the mission trip in Detroit.

The idea came from the Diocesan Race Relations and Diversity Committee. They thought that this would be a great opportunity for conversation around race, gender and diversity. This mission trip set out very intentionally to carve out a space grounded in our faith for youth to explore these issues.

The stated overall vision of the mission trip was: “to provide an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the City of Detroit, to experience transformation through eye-opening moments, to take fear down and to find out who our sisters and brothers are.”[1]

Each day had a theme and our educational components, activities and service projects were related to that theme.

On Monday, our first full day, the theme was ‘Living in the D’. We started the day looking at a video called “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Walls that Divide Us” [2]. This video explored the ways in which various systems, including federal housing policies and local insurance and real estate practices, worked together to result in the landscape that we see today in Detroit.

We then received an introduction to the organization that was hosting our first service project.

Our host was a neighbourhood development organization called ‘Mack Alive’. It is located on Detroit’s Eastside, and runs a variety of programs, including neighbourhood beautification, youth mentorship, employment readiness and a veteran’s housing project.

We were told that Mack Alive “serves the residents of a neighbourhood listed as No. 2 of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Detroit by Neighbourhood Scout. This designation is based on population and crime data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department. The list was compiled by the predicted number of violent crimes per 1,000 residents. It is estimated that the violent crime rate is 145.29 per 1,000 - there’s a 1 in 7 chance of being victimized in this area yearly. This area is primarily homes, more than 25 percent of which are vacant. The neighborhood has an income level below 73.8 percent of all U.S. neighborhoods.”[3]

We all listened in silence, as we processed what we were hearing.

The day was a lot of fun. We were given the gift of living into a beatitude coined by one of the youth leaders: “Blessed are the flexible, for they will never be bent out of shape.” Mack Alive didn’t have all the materials necessary for us to complete the tasks that we were assigned, but the agency and the mission trippers did the best we could with what we had.

After we finished working, we went to a nearby basketball court with some of the neighbourhood youth that worked alongside us, and played basketball with them.

Later that night, we got back to our home base at Wayne State and debriefed the day together.

Some of the mission trippers revealed that the morning presentation had caused a great deal of anxiety and fear about the neighbourhood that we were going into for the service project.

But as they reflected on how they actually felt when they were meeting, working with and playing with residents of that neighbourhood, they uncovered a disconnect between the statistics and their experience.

The youth said that they didn’t feel afraid at all. They reflected that the sense of community that we experienced there was filled with warmth and hope.

The commitment of those residents to improving their neighbourhood touched and inspired the youth. Meeting residents and working alongside them towards the same goals dissolved the fear and anxiety that they felt earlier that day.

And that was precisely one of the goals of the mission trip; to take down the walls of fear that are hidden in plain sight. Those walls of fear that keep us bound to a certain understanding of the world, our place in it and that dictate how we relate to others.

That was Day One of a week brimming with these kinds of experiences. (If you want to hear more stories, the Christ Church mission trippers will share their experiences of that week on September 25th, at the Rector’s Forum, which I encourage you to attend!)

In our Gospel passage, Jesus heals a woman who was bent over and unable to stand up straight on the Sabbath. This healing contradicted what was generally understood to be acceptable Sabbath practice in Jesus’ time.

In the Old Testament there are at least two main approaches that can be found towards the Sabbath. One approach is based on the instruction to Israel to rest from all work, mirroring God’s decision to crown creation with a holy day of rest (Genesis 2:2-3).

Another approach is based on the commandment to Israel to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy, in recognition of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, which is how it is framed in the commandments handed down to Moses (Exodus 20:8-11). The God who rests, is the God who liberates the people of Israel from slavery. The liberation from slavery also meant freedom from the oppressive work system of Egypt and from the gods of Egypt who require and legitimate a work system that was insatiable.[4]

In our Gospel passage, Jesus emphasises this second approach. In his argument with the synagogue leader in the temple, he cites rabbinic tradition that allows an owner of cattle to take them to water on the Sabbath, provided that the cattle carry no burdens. Using a common rhetorical structure of the time, arguing from the least to the greatest, he argues that just as one is allowed to unbind an animal, so is he allowed to unbind a person.

This theme of liberation is one of the great overarching narratives in our holy story. This sacred story tells us that God seeks to free us from what binds us and keeps us tied down from loving God and loving one another.

The opportunity for all those on the mission trip to be immersed in the complexity of Detroit for a short-time, in the comfort of a reflective, caring and compassionate community, enabled us to take the risk of really trying to be with our neighbours.

And those interactions freed us from our fear, generating more space for love.

God seeks to free us from what keeps us bound and stuck.

And in baptism we have a visible sign of God’s promise of liberation. The waters of baptism harken back to the waters of creation, when the earth existed in a state of limitless possibility. The waters of baptism recall the flood of destruction, which also held the seeds of new life floating in the ark, reminding us of God’s promise of salvation even in the trapping of death. The waters of baptism recall the parting of the Red Sea for the Hebrews as they escaped Pharoah’s army, and were launched into freedom from slavery. The waters of baptism recall Jesus’ own baptism, where he was claimed as God’s beloved as he received the Holy Spirit, freed from the need to find his worth anywhere other than in the love of his father in heaven. The waters of baptism recall Jesus’ death and his resurrection, and our freedom from death in the promise of eternal life.

Baptism stands at the heart of the Sabbath message, reminding us that there is nothing we have to do or say, but that God delights in us just because we are. What we are called to do is rest in God’s love.


[1] http://www.edomi.org/yaya/mission-possible-detroit/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh42TGld1HY

[3] http://mackalive.org/about/

[4] Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance, p. 3.