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Two Women Bent Double With Trouble

Luke 13:10-17

Today, I would like to tell you the tale of two women bent double with trouble…

One of the women was named Sarah Winchester. Sarah inherited 20 million dollars. That’s a lot of money under any circumstances, but back in the late 1800’s, it made her one of the wealthiest people in the world. She had at her fingertips all the power and possessions and people that money could buy. The problem was that she not only inherited a ton of money, she also inherited a ton of guilt. That guilt weighed so heavily upon her that she withdrew from the world, cut herself off from everyone and everything, and proceeded to pour her money into building what stands today as perhaps the most unusual house in America. The house was immense and it was built to become a haunted house. Everything about it has a touch of the macabre. Why did she build such a strange and evil place? Because in her frantic desires to be purged of her sense of guilt, she hoped that the ghosts of her past would come live in this ghoulish palace and relieve her of her inner pain. And who comprised this gathering of ghosts she hoped to assemble? Indians and soldiers killed on the American frontier. They had all been killed by bullets from the most popular rifle in America—the Winchester. Remember her name? Sarah Winchester. What brought millions of dollars to Sarah had brought death to millions of people and she could not live with the guilt from that. Of course, the ghosts never came to the house. And Sarah’s unrelieved guilt and remorse bent her over physically, twisted her mentally, and left her miserable in her maudlin mansion. If you visit the Winchester mansion today in San Jose, California, you will see what unresolved guilt can do to a human being like Sarah Winchester.

The other woman in this tale has no name so far as we know. We learn about her in Luke 13. Here we are told that one Sabbath Jesus was teaching in the synagogue—and there He encountered a woman who had been bent double by some spiritual burden. For eighteen long years she had been so weighed down with guilt and shame, so worn down and burdened and humiliated that she literally could not stand up straight. Please don’t miss something very important in this story: the woman’s problem was spiritual, not physical. Yes, she was bent double physically, but that was simply an outward manifestation of the inward problem. Most of Jesus’ miracles focused on physical infirmity—blindness or lameness or illness. But in this story it is clear that the woman was bent double because of something gone wrong spiritually. The original Greek text calls it “a spirit of weakness.” We don’t know precisely what the problem was—the writer regretfully gives us no further details. Perhaps she had been involved in some public scandal which left her stooped in shame. Or perhaps she had been caught in some sordid sin that left her bent in humiliation. Or perhaps something in her past was so scarlet that she was overloaded with guilt. We don’t know. The Scriptures do not tell us. They only give us the bottom line: that when Jesus said to her “You are rid of your trouble,” that was all she needed to hear. When He assured her that she was forgiven, it freed her from her awful burden and allowed her to straighten up and straighten out in life. End of story? Everyone lived happily ever after? Not quite. The leaders of this synagogue became angry, indignant, aggravated, because Jesus had healed the woman on the Sabbath. They were more concerned about rules than renewal, more concerned about regulations than regeneration. Jesus then wheeled around on them with a fiery tongue and said in effect: “The Church is here not to burden people but to help them, not to frustrate them but to free them. The Church is here to bring healing and forgiveness to people, not lay more guilt upon them. This woman has been bound by Satan for eighteen years. That’s long enough! She shouldn’t have to wait another day.” And the Bible says that the people burst into tears at what Jesus had said and at what He had done.

There you have it: a tale of two women bent double with trouble. One never found the grace of forgiveness, and consequently she died bent, twisted, miserable and alone. The other received the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ and proceeded to stand straight and tall in peace and joy. Now with that in mind, let me remind you that a significant slice of the Good News of Jesus Christ is that He sets us free. He unshackles us, forgives us, encourages us, inspires us, motivates us, saves us. He lifts from us the oppressive burden of guilt, and enables us to live, really live. Now from that truth, let me draw two great affirmations.

First, in life, we need to stand tall for what is right.

My friends, let me tell you something—the Devil fights dirty. He doesn’t challenge us fairly and squarely. He catches us when our defenses are down. He shoots his dart where we are most vulnerable. And suddenly we lose our temper. We follow the crowd. We rationalize. We forget who we are. We tell a lie. We break our promise. We do what we know we should not do. Satan deadens our decision-making and short-circuits our self-control. It’s the teenager in the back seat. It’s the alcoholic buying “just one.” It’s the boss touching his secretary’s hand. It’s the husband walking into a porn shop. It’s the mother blowing her top. It’s the father beating his child. It’s the gambler placing just one more bet. It’s the Christian losing control. It’s Satan seizing the advantage gained by guilt. And when guilt gets its clutches into us, it won’t let go easily.

You may not believe this, but I still feel guilty about something I did when I was in college nearly 30 years ago. I worked one summer out at the Green Giant Pea Cannery in Waitsburg, Washington. I worked from seven at night until seven in the morning, seven days a week without a break. I had to catch a bite to eat here and there as I worked. The pay was great: the work was awful. As the summer unfolded, weariness and boredom set it. Now I want to tell you, it was not a wise thing for the Green Giant Company to put a bunch of irresponsible college boys on the lines where the peas were being placed in the cans. In order to counter our boredom, we decided to see if we could put some other things in those cans along with the vegetables, kind of like prizes in a Cracker Jack’s box. I suppose it was mostly harmless, but it was the wrong thing to do. Now I love Green Giant peas—and I still eat them—but every time I do I feel just a twinge of guilt. In fact, I figure that when I get to heaven, St. Peter is going to say: “We are going to let you in, but first there’s a large fellow dressed in green who wants to speak a word to you!”

Well, some guilt we can laugh off, I suppose, but some we can’t. And when that heavy guilt begins to work on us, it bends us over in shame and humiliation. It twists our lives and makes us miserable. There’s only one way to throw off that burden of guilt and stand tall for what is right in life—and that is to claim the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ. I learned that from Paul…seventh chapter…Book of Romans. It’s the Emancipation Proclamation for all those bent double with trouble.

Read what he says in verse 15: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Sound familiar? Close to home? Read on Verses 18 and 19: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me. I can will what is right but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Holy smoke! That fellow has been looking in my window and reading my mail! Verse 24: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The guilt is bending me in half! But don’t stop there. Paul doesn’t. Listen to the glorious affirmation that follows. “But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! For there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Amen. There it is. You heard it right. For those in Christ there is no condemnation. No matter who you are or what you may have been or done in life, claim this promise. Accept that forgiveness. Throw out the guilt. Stand tall in your life for what is right.

But also, in life, we need to stand up for Jesus Christ.

The best thing we can do for ourselves in life is to commit ourselves to Jesus Christ. If we accept His forgiving grace for our guilt, then we shall find the way to straighten up and straighten out the way we live. But God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ, while it may be free, is not cheap. Our commitment to Christ must be more than a vague nod in His direction. It has to be more than a spiritual “tip of the hat.” Instead it has to be a profound personal relationship, a constant and on-going closeness, a warm and lively friendship, a deep and unshakable commitment.

During the Second World War, a young man was shipped overseas. A few days after he left his wife gave birth to a baby boy. For three years the young soldier served in the South Pacific—and he never saw his son until the war was over. The wife tried to bridge the problem of separation by practicing a little ritual each night as she put the child to bed. Each evening, they would put on his pajamas and kneel beside the bed to say their prayers. Then the little boy would run over to a framed picture of his father on the bed table, kiss the picture of his dad, and then run back and tumble into bed. This nightly ritual went on for more than a year. At last, the day came when the father returned from the war. That night for the first time, Dad got to participate in the bedtime ritual. He helped his son put on his pajamas. Then mother, father, and son knelt together beside the bed for prayer. When the prayer was finished, the mother said to the little boy: “Now you can kiss your father goodnight.” The little boy ran over to the bed table, kissed his father’s picture, ran back and tumbled into bed—leaving his dad standing there with open, empty arms!

Of course, in time the little boy came to know his dad not just as a picture, but as a presence, as a person. But that’s a parable for us, isn’t it? Too many people today in their religious experience are merely kissing the picture. Too many are looking at Jesus but fail to really see Him. Too many have not yet dared to stand eye to eye and heart to heart with Jesus and say: “I believe that you are the Son of God.” They haven’t really accepted the living Christ into their lives. They don’t really know Him personally yet. They just kiss the picture.

I don’t want you to be like that. Do you remember what Jesus said in that passage of Scripture? “The Church is not to burden people but to help them.” That’s why this church is here—to set you free from the shackles of evil in your life, to lift from your shoulders the back-breaking load of guilt you’ve been carrying, to help you stand up and stand tall for Jesus Christ in your life.How long have you been carrying your load of guilt in life? Eighteen years? More? Less? It doesn’t matter how long, you don’t have to carry it one day longer…

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