Sermon delivered on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity the 25th August 2013 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands in the service of the Holy Eucharist.
Scriptures: Isaiah 58: 9b-14     Hebrews 12:18-29     S. Luke 13:10-17

S. Luke 13:16 "Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?"

We have just heard that Jesus expressed a great sense of compassion for someone who had experienced a severe physical constraint for a very long time. This was a woman crippled for eighteen years: one could equally well imagine someone imprisoned in a lonely cell, like the man who later styled himself the Count of Monte Cristo in the famous novel, for years and years. Perhaps those of us who have experienced the attention of immigration departments and procedures of various countries over the years or who have had difficulties in meeting utility or other monthly bills or obtaining a mortgage, equally know what it is to be in a real way “bound” for some period of time. But especially when God gives us a discernment that these discouragements are not His “last word” then we are right to maintain hope.

I have found myself envisaging that the woman of St. Luke's Gospel had a premonitory sense that she was going to have an unbound future, and that this sense of hope and faith kept her going through the eighteen years, like someone in prison who is kept going by the hope that in spite of present appearances, one day he will walk through the gate, or, like a prisoner of war, tunnel out a free man. This woman, after all, was a worshipper and attended the synagogue. Being crippled, she would perhaps have been denied certain privileges that other women enjoyed at the synagogue, but that did not prevent her from taking part in whatever way was open to her. No doubt her faith would have been tried sorely over the years. She would have had times of depression, and other times when her hope, fashioned by the promises to Israel that she heard being read at the synagogue, was brought to the surface.

As we have seen, the day came that I am supposing she was waiting and ready for, when this particularly remarkable Rabbi teaching that Sabbath day in the synagogue called her to Him and told her that now she was free from her infirmity. Immediately, we are told, she was made straight and she praised God. She had been ready for the moment, but at the scene there were others who were not ready. The ruler of the synagogue argued that the healing could equally well have waited until a weekday. Her life was not at stake and the work of healing should not have been carried out on the Sabbath. But Jesus replied that if an ox or donkey could be untied on the Sabbath to be watered, a needy individual should all the more then be loosed from an infirmity. Indeed, what more appropriate day could there be for such a release of body and spirit?

The woman can be viewed as a great example to us all. Whatever it is about life’s circumstances that binds us, let us follow her example in looking forward to the day of unbinding, and not wallow in what might seem to be a helpless condition. The Gospel counsels us to recognise that there is no condition known to man that is finally helpless - God is our help, through Jesus Christ. We look forward, first of all, to the day of unbinding in the eternal sense, the promised Eternal Day in which the bonds and restrictions of our present life will be left behind for ever. Our second lesson, from Hebrews, envisages that we are to have a clear sense that this heavenly Jerusalem is what through our relationship with Jesus we have come to already, warning us that such a reality must not be denied or refused.

This New Testament perspective is more complete, as we might expect, than what is provided from the Old Testament, but our first lesson from the book of Isaiah also counsels us to look forward, and provides some pointers of how this may be done. The earlier part of Isaiah Ch. 58 testifies that not all was well: there was what was described as the yoke, an instrument of burden, there were the afflicted and the hungry, there was darkness and gloom, there were ruins left unrepaired, and equally there was a neglect of the Lord. The prophet points his hearers forward to the love of God and of one's neighbour as being the necessary conditions for a future release and a lifting of the current burdens. From the New Testament point of view, these hopes are to be fulfilled in the promised Eternal Day, but the Old Testament reminds us that in this life too we are to expect God's promises to begin to be fulfilled. Even in any current time of burden and darkness we are to walk by faith rather than by sight, until we see the fulfilment of the promises beginning to appear. The Isaianic walk by faith involves a faithful adhering to the prophetic instructions, such as pouring oneself out for the hungry and afflicted, and putting God's ordinances above one's own pleasure and convenience.

The author of Hebrews shows us that we have actually come "to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is a God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel." We have come, indeed we might say, to the utterly Holy Eucharist. It is not merely a matter of looking forward to these things, but, remarkably, that by belief and life in Christ we have already approached and begun to take hold of them. The author of Hebrews repeatedly warns that by abandoning belief and life in Christ we forfeit an incomparable treasure. The majesty of this treasure does not lie in the raw fear of the sort that the terrors of Mount Sinai induced, but in the graciousness with which the living God assembles His company to which we have become privy. At the head of that company is Jesus Himself, called "the mediator of a new covenant" and the sprinkled blood "that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel."

In Genesis 4, the Lord said to Cain, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground." That "voice" of the blood of Abel spoke, no doubt, of redress against his brother. But the voice of the sprinkled blood of Jesus speaks more graciously, asserts the Gospel message. It speaks not of redress against those who put Him to death, and in particular, not of redress against the Jewish people, whose authorities instigated His condemnation. Jesus' sprinkled blood speaks more graciously, so graciously that the Church herself has so very often fallen short in expressing the extent of that graciousness. We who have become aware of our utter unworthiness to approach what we are promised, though, are relieved to be confronted not by the condemnations of the terrors of Sinai but by the graciousness of the voice of the sprinkled blood of Jesus. The key question to us then becomes not "What have you done?" - a question that must bind us to our sins. We should admit the answer to that, but yet in spite of our frailty, our unworthiness and our sin, the gracious question of the sprinkled blood that unbinds and looses us from our infirmity is, "With this, with my loosing and unbinding of your conscience, with my freeing you and making you straight, what can you not now do for Me and your brothers?”


1. Identify some long-term condition or frustration that "binds" you. Do you enjoy a sense of an "Eternal Day" which releases you, or a prophetic looking forward to a release in time?

2. List some ways in which the "blood of Abel" condemns us and corresponding ways in which the "sprinkled Blood" releases us.