Several of you requested that we print the sermon I preached on Sunday, August 21, so I am including it here. The title was: “you are set free: stand!” based on Jeremiah 1.4-10 & Saint Luke 13.10-17.
Among the tribes in Northern Natal in South Africa, the Zulu people when greeting one another, instead of saying: Hello, Good day, good morning, good evening … say: Sawubona which means: I see you. I see you. I see you!
This greeting carries with it a whole lot more than how’s its going … it invites both the one speaking and the one being spoken to stop and to know, that in that welcoming —
… one sees, and one is seen
… one acknowledges, and one is acknowledged.
… one honors/respects the other … and the other is respected, reverenced, honored.
The response of the one seen to Sawubona is Ngikhona which in English is saying “I am here,” but it is more complex than this. It tells the observer, that you feel you have been seen and understood, and that your personal dignity has been recognized.
What if we greeted one another with this intentionality?
The order of the greeting of this exchange is really important. The literal translation is UNTIL YOU SEE ME ~ I do not exist. This, by extension means: when you see me — you bring me into existence.
Isn’t this true for each of us? When another sees us, I mean, really sees us, we exist, in a totally new way. We come into our power, our dignity and our self-respect in a profoundly different way.
I remember a time in 4th grade (while I was taking a summer school class) and the teacher saw something in me that had never before been encouraged. We were doing a little class play (actually re-enacting the TV show: “Queen For A Day”, (if you’re old enough to remember this … and, I just need to say … I was the host of the show!) and I was scared to death to speak my lines, due to my speak impediment, (which you’ve heard me talk too much about) but my teacher encouraged me, he saw in me a possible public speaker; maybe even an actor. I’ll never forget this … he saw me, and in seeing me, he set me free.
For the Zula people — I see you affirms that a person is a person. It speaks to their interconnectedness.
I see you / I am here — embraces a community.
I see you / I am here — speaks to interdependence of human spirit of sharing.
I see you / I am here — reveals respect, recognition of giftedness of the other.
Being seen … and not being seen … there is an interplay between these two realities in our texts this morning.
From the Book of Jeremiah, we heard Jeremiah’s call from God: Now the word of God came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”1 If these words don’t speak to being seen, I don’t know what does. Before you were born, I formed you in the womb. Before you were born, I knew you. This sounds so much like Ps. 139: vss. 13 & 14: as the Psalmist is speaking to God: you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am reverently and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; you know me so well.
Jeremiah’s response: “O, Holy One! I do not know how to speak, I am only a boy …”2 was kind of like telling God to be quiet.
God ignores this by saying: “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’, for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid for I am with you to deliver you.” Then God stretched out a hand and touched my mouth; and said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”3 Basically: get on it with!
If Jeremiah had been part of the Zulu tribe, God would have expected him to say: I am here … because what God said through all those words of Jeremiah’s call was — I see you!
What does it mean to be seen … really seen? I believe it frees us … it really frees us to be the women and men that God created us in love to be.
Think about when you see, honor and acknowledge your beloved; your son or your daughter, your friend; your colleague … something happens in the other that releases an energy, a power, a smile; a joy. The same happens to us where we are seen … we’re set free to be our most true and authentic selves.
In Luke, we read that Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath. While there, he noticed a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for 18 years … who had been bent over; unable to stand up straight.4
We don’t know how Jesus knew this (its just what the texts says; maybe Luke knew it or it came from another source. Maybe Jesus had seen her previously while in the temple). All we know is that when Jesus saw her and he called her over and said: “woman, you are set free from your ailment: He lad his hands upon her and immediately she stood up straight.”5 It was as if he said: you are set free: stand! She began praising God, and I would have done the same!
The leader of the synagogue accused Jesus of working on the Sabbath; as if we were made for the Sabbath, instead of the Sabbath made for us.
The leader of the synagogue did not see the woman —Jesus did.
The leader of the synagogue was more focused on the correct way of acting — Jesus wasn’t.
The leader of the synagogue, felt empowered by order, Jesus was empowered by his heart.
I love what happened next.
After the leader of the synagogue makes his ridiculous statement about there are six other days to be healed, so come back tomorrow 6 … Jesus got a little snarky: If your ox or donkey needs water on the Sabbath you untie it (i.e.: you work) to lead it to water. Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham who has been bound, bent over for 18 years, be healed and not have to wait one more day regardless of it being the Sabbath? 7
By Jesus telling the woman: you are healed! By Jesus, touching woman and saying you are set free, stand!
He was in effect saying: I see you! And her response by praising God was her way of saying: I am here/ I am seen / I am respected / I am empowered / I matter!!
Friends, this is our call as people of faith —
• to empower others by seeing them;
• to respect others by reverencing them;
• to honor others by loving them.
I believe this text is challenging us to freedom, and this begins when we really see each other. This happens when we acknowledge each other. This occurs when we let others know that they matter. And this means to those we love and know as well as those we don’t like and don’t know. This means people we pass on the street asking us for money and people with whom we disagree be it theology, politics or ethics.
So, how might you and I see others this week?
How might we let others know that they are seen?
Here are 4 practical ways (though there are many others):
1) Give some time to another. Time is our most valuable commodity. Really spend some time with another person looking at another eye to eye.
2) Acknowledge others for their gifts, their efforts, their energies and their talents.
3) Compliment a colleague, a family member, a friend, a loved one. This says clearing: I see you, I know you, I understand you and I love you!
4) Consider who might be bent over in our city, in your place of work or in your family. How might you say to him, to her: you are set free: stand!
For this is what God is saying to each one of us: I see you; I see you … you are set free … stand!
I see you,
1 Jeremiah 1.5;
2 Jeremiah 1.6;
3 Jeremiah 1.7-9;
4 Luke 13.10-11;
5 Luke 13.12c;
6 Luke 13.14;
7 Luke 13.15-16