The most convincing study on prayer and healing was published in 1988 by cardiologist Dr. Randolph Byrd. A computer assigned 393 patients at the coronary-care unit of San Francisco General Hospital either to a group that was prayed for by prayer groups or to a group that was not remembered in prayer. No one knew which group the patients were in. The prayer groups were simply given the patients' first names, along with brief descriptions of their medical problems. They were asked to pray each day until the patient was discharged from the hospital - but were given no instructions on how to do it or what to say.

When the study was completed ten months later, the prayed-for patients benefited in several significant areas:

They were five times LESS likely than the unremembered group to require antibiotics.

They were 2 times less likely to suffer congestive heart failure.

They were less likely to suffer cardiac arrest.

If the medical technique being studied had been a new drug or surgical procedure instead of prayer, it would probably have been heralded as a breakthrough. Even hard-boiled skeptics like Dr. William Nolen, who had written a book questioning the validity of faith healing, acknowledged, "If this is a valid study, we doctors ought to be writing on our order sheets, 'Pray three times a day.' If it works, it works."

In our passage today, verses 10-17, we have different responses to a healing by Jesus. That of the woman, the ruler of the synagogue, and the crowd.

This is the last occasion that Luke records Jesus teaching in a synagogue, perhaps to illustrate the opposition that Jesus faced from the religious leaders. Jesus became aware of this woman who had been crippled for 18 years by an evil spirit.

Jesus took the initiative, called her forward, and healed her.

We have a God who has taken, and does take the initiative. He did this by sending his son to earth to die in our place on the cross. We don't have to work our way to him. He comes to us and heals us. Heals us from the sin that separates us from God, heals us from the sin that distorts us from what we are meant to be.

God has done this in Christ. He does it in the power of the Holy Spirit who alone opens the eyes of those who are spiritually blind, who frees those who are crippled by sin.

The woman responded to Jesus' invitation and he frees her from the effects of this evil spirit that has crippled her for 18 years. She had to come forward, which would have been difficult both physically and emotionally. She probably came to hear Jesus and tried to make herself as inconspicuous as possible. Some people would have thought that her disability was a mark of God's judgment on her.

In the healing we see the initiative, the compassion, and the power of God in Jesus. We see the joy of the woman who responded by immediately praising God. This contrasts with the response of the synagogue leader. The synagogue leader ignored Jesus and complained to the crowd. He ignores the miracle, and he ignores the power of God. He has no compassion, in contrast to Jesus. He has no joy, in contrast with the woman who had been healed. He is concerned that Jesus had broken a commandment. The fourth commandment says that the Sabbath shall be kept holy, and that people should only work for six days.

The leader of the synagogue would have been happy to lead livestock to water but was unhappy that Jesus had healed a person ! Jesus exposes the inconsistency of the leader. His rebuke shows that the leader has not repented, something that is necessary according to verses 1-9.

Was Jesus saying then, that anything goes on a Sabbath ? How does this relate to our Sundays ?

Jesus isn't saying that anything can be done on a Sunday. He is not going against the fourth commandment because he is not saying that the Sabbath is not to be holy, or set apart for God. However, this passage does justify essential jobs being done on the Sabbath, especially those that relate to the well being of people. An example today would be the running of hospitals and nursing homes.

Of course in Jesus' day the Sabbath was a Saturday. Christians started setting aside Sunday as a holy day to break bread and commemorate the day that Jesus rose from the dead but it hasn't always been a day of rest. The first Christians used to meet together before sunrise on Sundays. Around 96 A.D. Clement of Rome decided that the Lord's Supper was to be conducted in an appropriate way and had to be led by a church leader. It did not become a 'day of rest' until the rule of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 321 A.D. Only agricultural work was allowed on a Sunday then. At this time the communion service became more formalised with incense, candles, and curtains.

From the sixth to the thirteenth centuries the church took a firmer view on what was permitted on Sundays, even inflicting penalties on people who did not attend Mass.

The Lord's Day Observance Society was founded in 1831. In the nineteenth century the evangelical Vicar of Cheltenham even stopped trains from stopping there for six years.

The Sunday Trading Act has turned Sunday into just another day for many people. This has been affected further by a European Union Directive Although this has some positive measures, for example restricting the hours one can work in a week, it has at least one negative one. Employees can be asked to work for 12 days in a row. They allow for a days rest in a week, but this can fall at the start and the end of a 14 day period. These rest days do not have to be at weekends, so a worker could find him/herself unable to be at home with their spouse and/or children except during holidays.

As Christians we can make a stand for Sundays. We can avoid doing anything on a Sunday which causes unnecessary work for others. For example shopping and, perhaps in some cases, buying petrol or eating out.

When exposing the double standards of the leader Jesus mentions that this woman is a daughter of Abraham. This society treated women as possessions, yet Jesus treats her as a person. Valuable. One of God's people.

He says that she has been kept bound by Satan for eighteen years. This shows that the affliction was a serious one and it shows the power of Jesus in freeing her.

It also confirms the existence of the spiritual world. The Bible teaches us about evil spirits as well as good ones. We should believe in all of them, trusting in the good which has already defeated the evil. We see Jesus authority over evil in healing this woman. We see his victory over sin and death through his crucifixion and resurrection.

We live in the Western part of the world which is sceptical of the spiritual side of life. Yet when questioned 40% of people claimed to have had an experience in which they had been aware of the presence of God. But few have dared to talk about it with anyone, even their spouse for fear of being thought stupid or weird. We should be aware of this, and look to give people the opportunity to share their experiences, and to move them on in their knowledge and love of God.

One example is Tim who's story was recorded in Christianity Today magazine. "While on a winter ski trip, he was driving along an ice-covered road in the Colorado mountains. "Suddenly my car went into a skid," says Tim. "I hit the brakes. No action. The car spun around backwards and kept sliding downhill and was about to drop off the side of the mountain.

"But my car came to a stop right on the edge of a cliff! It was like somebody had a hold of my back bumper. And there was no way my car stopped just because I was slamming on the brakes. No way. Too much ice.... It was weird."

Tim now believes God was watching out for him in some supernatural way. And as he puts it: "I really think it was an angel."

I want you to understand that Tim's no flake. He's not one to make up amazing stories just to wow me or anybody else. He's a sane, sensible, ordinary guy who thinks he may have had an angel's arms (if angels have arms) wrapped around the back bumper of his car."

We have looked at the responses of the woman, the synagogue leader and, in verse 17 we read of the response of the crowd, 17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Francis X. Bushman, the first of the old-time movie idols, started as a sculptor's model. He won "the most handsome man" contest sponsored by LADIES WORLD magazine. He was working in 1915 for the Essanay studio in Chicago for $250 a week. His agent David Freedman, however, knew that in the gold-rush atmosphere that prevailed among the competing film studios in those early days of movie making, the sky was the limit for talent with a proven following. How to prove it was the problem, and Freedman conceived of a plan.

The agent instructed Bushman to take the train to New York. Freedman met him at Grand Central Station, carrying a large sack of pennies. The sack had a small hole, and as the two gold-diggers walked along 42nd Street they were followed along the trail of pennies by a surging crowd. By the time they arrived at the Broadway offices of the Metro Film Corporation, the movie executives looking out the window saw such a mass of followers that they felt lucky to sign Bushman on for a mere thousand dollars a week.

The crowd were delighted at the wonderful things that Jesus was doing. We don't know if this was rooted in the praise of God, like the healed woman in verse 13. It might have been founded on the pleasure of seeing the humiliation of the religious leaders. Being a follower of Jesus is more than just taking an interest, even a delight, in what he has done. Later in the Chapter, verse 24, Jesus says, 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and not be able to.'

An American businessman travelled to Europe to see the famous Oberammergau Passion Play. Following the performance the businessman had the opportunity to meet and talk with Anton Lang who portrayed Christ in the Passion Play. Seeing the cross that was used in the play, the businessman wanted his wife to take his picture with it. Handing the camera to his wife, he asked her to take his picture while he lifted the cross to his shoulder. To his surprise he could hardly budge the cross from the floor.

"I don't understand," he said to Mr. Lang. "I thought it would be hollow. Why do you carry such a heavy cross?" Anton Lang's reply explains why this play draws people from all over the world to that little Bavarian village every decade. "If I did not feel the weight of His cross," he said, "I could not play the part."

If being a disciple of Jesus costs us no pain to acquire, no self-denial to preserve, no effort to advance, no struggle to maintain, then this isn't what Jesus had in mind. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not something we should take lightly. It involves our total commitment.

Different responses to Jesus... What is our response to Jesus today ?

Interested in what he has done like the crowd, yet it not really affecting our lives ?

Ignoring his works, denouncing him like the synagogue leader ?

Responding to his invitation like the healed woman ?

Are we making every effort to follow Jesus. To put him before everything and everyone else ?

What about the people whom we know ? Do we love Jesus and them enough to hear their spiritual stories, and to help them make every effort to enter the narrow door ?

Reflect and Pray




Preached by Keith Garner, reader at my former parish, on 27/8/00

Luke 13:10-17

As most of you know I worked at one time in the pottery industry - for Spode in fact. There was one period when we were having a lot of trouble getting the production levels we needed for one particular type of mug..... it sold well in America but we couldn't get enough of them through the factory.

The main problem was with the process for sticking on the handles..... they kept coming unstuck at one end when they were put through the kiln and we were throwing away huge numbers of scrap mugs.

We were discussing this problem one day when the supervisor of the cup shop, said he thought it would solve the problem if we could just change the design of the handle slightly. It sounded like a good idea... but all design changes had to be agreed with the Design Director so we put the idea to him.

It turned out that the new modification the supervisor was suggesting was actually what the handle ought to look like. In fact, what it had looked like when the mug had first been designed and made some twenty years earlier.. Over a period of time the handle had been gradually but entirely unofficially modified until it was quite a long way from its original shape. Eventually this had caused the problems we were having and what the supervisor was suggesting - although he hadn't known it - was that we make it as it should have been made all along.

Obviously the solution was to go back to the original shape .... to go back to how things should have been all along. And that's really very similar to the way Jesus saw the Sabbath. The Pharisees thought that the commandments were all about the way God wanted people to act - that they described things God wanted people to do ; Jesus knew that they really described the way God wanted people to be.

We can see this from what Jesus said about murder - (Matt 5:21ff)

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago,

`Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject

to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry

with his brother [without cause] will be subject to

judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother,

`Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who

says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell..

Now I know that violent crime is on the increase... but the vast majority of people in this country - or any country for that matter - - could quite truthfully say that they have kept the commandment - they've never murdered anybody... they could say that they've done what God wanted them to do. But Jesus said that the important thing was rather to be what God wants you to be ..... God wants us to be centered in love rather than hate ...and Jesus was showing that if you are angry with someone without cause then in God's eyes it's just as bad as committing murder.

It's so bad in fact that Jesus went on to say....

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar

and there remember that your brother has something

against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.

First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come

and offer your gift.

"Leave your gift there" ... it's not appropriate, he said, to offer a gift to God if you've got anger in your heart.

And this wasn't some new slant that Jesus was giving to things.... it was a message that God had been giving to his people down the ages through the prophets. There was no real point in the people going though the motions of carrying out religious acts if their hearts weren't in it. God didn't want lip service... he wanted real commitment. Through the prophet Amos (8:4ff) he said...

Hear this, you who say ``When will the Sabbath be ended

that we may market wheat?'' - skimping the measure,

boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales,

It's a wonderful picture of the dishonest merchants of the day... there were no trading standards officers in those days of course -- although from the sound of it they'd have had a field day. Here were these merchants - cheating their customers left right and centre - giving slightly less than the required amount rather than slightly more.... putting the price of essential things like grain up as far as they could... and using scales that didn't weigh fairly but always gave them an advantage.

As if this wasn't bad enough they had the nerve to take part in the celebration of the sabbath to give the impression of respectability. But all the time they were just impatient to get back - regretting the lost opportunity to make money by swindling still more people.. Through Amos God sends a warning to people like this..... although they're doing the right thing in outwardly observing the sabbath, they're not being the right thing.... they're not being what God wants them to be... and their ritualistic actions don't count for anything.

This idea comes out in the reading from Luke 13... there's a very powerful contrast in fact between what the Pharisees say about the sabbath and what Jesus tells them.

Jesus has healed the crippled woman and the Pharisees are upset ...the leader of the synagogue is indignant and says to the people

There are six days for work. So come and be healed on

those days, not on the Sabbath.''

To him healing counts as work and there's a time for work and that time isn't on the sabbath ... he doesn't want any more sick people cluttering the place up and he doesn't want to risk disorder in the synagogue if people start getting a bit too enthusiastic.

His first priority was keeping to the letter of the commandment - God said no work so the leader wasn't going to allow any work. Jesus points out how hypocritical this is... they don't think twice about making sure their animals can get a drink of water... how can they object to this poor woman being freed from her condition... an act of love and compassion and one that was very much in line with what God wants.

What that does is to help us put the whole idea of the sabbath into perspective - we've seen that Jesus didn't actually say anything new about it - he simply looked back to God's original intention.

It's quite rare these days for the full version of the commandments to be used in our communion service...... but we're not actually missing out on anything when we use the summary that Jesus gave.

Some of the commandments relate to God and Jesus summarised these by saying we should love God. The rest are about our dealings with other people and Jesus summarised these by saying we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves. If we try to follow what Jesus said then we shall automatically be trying to follow all ten commandments.

What about the commandment we're looking at today - the one that talks about the sabbath. What can we take away with us this morning. One thing I can't really do is to try to tell you what we should or should not do on Sundays... the leader of the synagogue tried that and got himself into trouble..... in fact we've seen already that the way we keep the sabbath has more to do with who we are and what our relationship with God is than it has to do with a list of things we should or should not do. From the way Jesus summarised the commandments we can see that it's all about love.

There's something very important about the fourth commandment. It's something that we can easily miss....and it's something that the synagogue leader seems to have missed. This important thing is that it's not just about the sabbath .. it says

Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the

seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it

you shall not do any work

It's not just a one day commandment... it recognises that there are seven days in a week and it recognises that on the other six there's work to be done.... work of one sort or another. We remember God on the sabbath.... but we shouldn't try to shut him out of the other six days. Paul wrote to the Corinthians ( 1Cor 10:31)

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

and to the Colossians (Col 3:23)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving

We're not to try to cut God out of the six days. The cycle of six days plus a sabbath was given by God for our wellbeing and we should dedicate ourselves to him on each of the 7 days.

There's an important point here isn't here?.... one that some people might find quite hurtful. It's all very well talking about work.... but today there's a whole lot of people who don't have a job. I can identify very much with them as I went through two frustrating years without being able to get a job. I found it very helpful to take to heart that my standing with God doesn't depend on what job I do ... or even on whether I have a job of any sort. My worth stems from the fact that God loves me enough to have sent his Son to die for me.

God's view of work is very different to that of the world. The world takes it for granted that a brain surgeon is worth more than a labourer..... takes it for granted and builds a whole set of value systems on it.

To God the only thing that matters is whether you are doing whatever it is you do with a good heart as a kind of offering to him. It's perfectly possible for a dustman to honour God by the way he goes about his work and equally possible for a brain surgeon to leave God out of his work all together.

Your work may be following a career.... or it may equally well be looking after a family or caring for a sick loved one. It may be giving time to voluntary work or it may be working hard looking for a job.... the important thing is - as Paul said ...

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men... It is the Lord Christ you are serving

Work then covers six of the seven days and that brings us to the seventh.... the sabbath... a day to be kept holy ... a day to rest from what we have been doing.

When I worked in the potteries one of the things I was responsible for was arranging the stocktakes - we used to do two a year..sometimes three. It used to take some time to work all the results out and I was normally under pressure to have staff in on Sundays to complete the work more quickly.I did try it a couple of times - it had long been a tradition. I found though that it was too much for people. If you had them working two Sundays running they'd actually be working nineteen days without a break - and by the end of that they'd be stale and tired and making mistakes. The one day off in seven is not a luxury... it's a necessity.

Again the Christian perspective is different to that of the world. If we've taken what Paul said to heart, by the time the sabbath comes round. we've actually been working for him and his glory enthusiastically and with thanksgiving for six days and we'll be ready to focus on worship on the seventh.

The seventh day isn't a millstone that God's tied round our necks... it's a precious gift from him - it gives us the opportunity to be blessed physically emotionally and spiritually. It's not a restriction ... it's a gracious gift. it's a great opportunity he gives us.

Again there are a whole series of questions we might ask.... what about people who have to work. In the days when lighthouses used to have lighthouse keepers to look after the lamp what were they to do? They couldn't stop working - if they didn't put the light on because it was Sunday there'd probably have been a shipwreck ... that can't be right can it?

What about the emergency services? If you dial 999 on a Sunday what do you want - a quick response from an ambulance or a recorded message asking you to phone back on Monday?

What about those for whom working shifts including Sundays is part of the only job they've been able to find?

What about any one of us when some emergency crops up in our own lives.

These and many other questions will drive us quietly mad if we try to look at the sabbath from the point of view of what we ought or ought not to do. On the other hand if we think instead of the sabbath not as a restriction but as God's gift to us... if we are working through the week enthusiastically for his glory and not just grudgingly for men then we have a chance of being what he wants us to be on a Sunday.

If we're living the whole of our lives for God then we're going to want to spend time on Sunday worshipping him.........

If we're living the whole of our lives for God we'll be sensitive to the needs of others ... we won't place unnecessary burdens on them but neither will we condemn them without knowing their reasons for not doing as we do.

If we're living the whole of our lives for God we'll be aware of the way our actions witness - for good or bad - to others

If we're living the whole of our lives for God we'll know for ourselves that his love has set us free... and we'll want to live our lives ...seven days a week ... being the people he wants us to be .... being the people he has set us free to be.