You Are Set Free
August 25, 2013
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." 15 But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. (Luke 13:10-17, NRSV)
Our Gospel Lesson this morning tells us a story of healing. A woman had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. Jesus healed her—on a Sabbath, no less—but he did not merely heal her physically. He also healed her spiritually. Jesus told her that she was “set free” from her infirmity (v. 12).
The approach that Jesus took with this woman is quite different from our current experience. How many of us have visited a doctor for an ailment and been told by the doctor, “You are set free from your ailment. Please leave a check for your “Co-pay” amount to the receptionist on your way out the door!”
You are set free. These are words of invitation—they are not only a precondition to healing for this unnamed woman; they also are an important condition to the discussion we had last week about “staying in the race,” God’s invitation to holiness. You may recall the words, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…” (Hebrews 12:1). We spoke a bit last week about attachments and the weight that we carry. This week, we add the word “freedom” to the invitation. When God invites us to holiness, God invites us to freedom.
Freedom is a word that is near and dear to the heart of Americans. It’s a word that we sing about, but with very different meanings.
- On our patriotic days, we sing, “From every mountainside let freedom ring.” That, of course, is from the song “America.” We are singing about an ideal of liberty that was part of the founding of this country. An ideal for which many, many people have put their lives on the line and died.
- But freedom is an ideal that we work towards. Every once in awhile, we are awakened to the reality that freedom had been an elusive goal for some people in our country. When Peter, Paul and Mary sang “It’s the hammer of justice, it’s the bell of freedom,” it was a call for justice for all, and it was a reminder that some people still struggled to reach that same American ideal of “freedom and justice for all.” This coming week, we commemorate the day fifty years ago on which nearly a quarter of a million people marched on Washington, D.C. seeking that same dream of freedom.
- What a different meaning, we heard from another song of the 60s, when Davy Jones of the Monkees sang “I Wanna be Free like the bluebirds flying by me…” In this song, being free meant a non-committal relationship--holding hands while “walking in the sand, laughing in the sun, doing all these things without any strings to tie me down.”
It is amazing that the same word in the English language can mean both a celebrated dream that speaks of justice, and also speaks of “don’t tie me down.”
What did Jesus mean when He told the woman who had been crippled by this spirit for eighteen years, “you are set free”? (v. 12). Was He making a political statement? Was He speaking about civil rights? Was He speaking about the nature of her love relationships? I don’t think so—I think the freedom that Jesus spoke about was far different. The freedom that those songs sang about is all external. Jesus spoke to the woman about freedom that was internal.
Freedom does not exist in a vacuum. It is a relational word. For the word “freedom” to have a specific meaning, we have to identify what we are free from. We are free from something. It is a word of emancipation—with roots dating back to the days that Moses told the Pharaoh to “let my people go” (Exodus 5:1). When we are freed, we are released from something or someone that bound us. Those chains that bind us can be external, but they can be internal too. When Jesus told the woman that she was set free from her infirmity, he was saying that she was released from the control that her infirmity had upon her spirit, upon her life. She could be freed from her spiritual infirmity, whether or not she was healed from her physical infirmity.
Freedom doesn’t always mean that we will be healed from the external circumstances in which we find ourselves. Not everyone who suffers will receive the gift of healing. Some people have live with illness and with suffering. Even the Apostle Paul suffered physically. He wrote that he suffered from a “thorn in the flesh.” Three times, he prayed that God would remove this thorn, but the thorn remained. What Paul received, instead, was the assurance from God that God’s grace would be sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). For Paul, freedom meant that his thorn in the flesh could not separate him from the love of God in Jesus Christ. His thorn in the flesh was transformed from a thorn of pain into a sign of God’s grace.
Those words “You are set free” tell us that the chains that bound us have been broken. But when we speak of spiritual freedom, we are talking about chains that are internal. When Jesus sets us free, He frees us from the chains of sin. He frees us to become the people that God created us to be in the first place. He frees us to become the children of God.
Yet, for some reason, we have trouble accepting this freedom. Freedom in Christ means taking on some degree of risk. It means that we are launching out into unfamiliar territory. Freedom in Christ means that we change our way of living. It means that even as we give up the habits and ways of coping that brought us comfort, we need to learn to look to God for comfort. It means that as we give up old relationships that dragged us down, we look for new relationships that lift us up. It means that as we let go of the external possessions that seemed so important, we look to the new life within us as the source of meaning within our lives. It even means that we change the way that we see the world around us. We now look at the world free from the lenses of fear, skepticism and doubt that obscured our vision. We discover that the truth which “sets us free” (John 8:33) is Jesus Christ himself, the One who is the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
Christ offers that same freedom to us, yet we have to claim it. Picking up again on the themes that we spoke about last week, we have to get into the race, we have to let go of the weight and sin that ways us down and we have to persevere until we reach the finish line. Even when the ways of the past try to call us back, we need to continue to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
So I ask you this morning to prayerfully consider these questions:
Freedom is very personal, for it means that we find our freedom inside, through the Christ that dwells in us. What does freedom mean for you this morning?
What are the chains that bind you spiritually and hold you back from living the abundant life that God offers to you through Jesus Christ? Are the chains called fear? Anger? Hurt feelings from past wrongs? Pride? Guilt? Do you find yourself caught in a cycle of perpetually reliving an event from the past? Do you find yourself caught in a web of looking to external sources of comfort rather than looking to the Prince of Peace? Jesus offers you freedom this morning.
Are you willing to receive the freedom that Christ offers to you? Some people, when offered the opportunity to claim their freedom, don’t accept it, preferring the comfort of the familiar chains to the uncertainties of freedom in Christ. Are you willing to claim the freedom that God offers you to live as His child? Are you willing to let God change your life?
Just as Jesus spoke the words to the woman who had been crippled for eighteen years, he speaks the words to you this morning, “You are set free.”
We began this sermon by remembering songs about freedom. In Advent, we sing another freedom song: “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free.” The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus the Christ has come to set us free. He offers this freedom to you and to me. May you receive this freedom that Christ offers today!
May it be so!
Copyright © 2013 by Thomas E. Frost. All rights reserved.
 Preached at Cunningham United Methodist Church in Palmyra, Virginia.
 Samuel F. Smith, “America,” from The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 697.
 Lee Hays and Pete Seeger, “If I Had a Hammer,” in MetroLyrics, viewed on the internet on August 25, 2013 at http://www.metrolyrics.com/if-i-had-a-hammer-lyrics-peter-paul-mary.html.
 Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, “I Wanna Be Free,” viewed on the internet on August 25, 2013 at www. lyricsfreak.com/m/monkees/i+wanna+be+free_20095433.html.