‘Woman, you are set free …’

African American clergywomen encouraged to keep their eyes up for the journey ahead

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

African American clergywomen share communion during closing worship at last week’s retreat held in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Photo by Gail Strange)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — “When you have ground-facing eyes you can’t see the road ahead of you, you can’t envision your future. When you have ground-facing eyes all you see are dirt and rocks because you have ground-facing eyes.”

These where the opening remarks of the sermon preached last week by the Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter, director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries during closing worship service of the African American clergywomen’s retreat

 Drawing from Luke 13:10-17 — the story of Jesus using the Sabbath to heal a woman crippled for 18 years — Hunter said that many clergywomen are like the woman in the story.

“You are the one who can’t see the path immediately in front of you and God’s word is a word for you today,” she said. “You are the one bent over by heavy loads in life, you are the one bent over by weariness and disenchantment, you are the ones bent over by relationship issues and grief and injuries that will not heal, by racism, by sexism, many of you are bent over — but don’t despair, because the word of God is for you today.”

“The good news about this story,” Hunter said, “is Jesus notices the woman.”  We don’t know what spirt had this woman in bondage, Hunter said. “She may have been hopeless,” she said. “Like many of us we are convinced that our hopes and lives are limited to what we can see with our ground-facing eyes.”

Simple, empowering words

Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter

“Jesus calls her over. Jesus lays his hand on the woman,” Hunter said. “He doesn’t ask her what her issues are or tell her to pray or repent or live right. He says something to her that is simple and empowering — he says, ‘Woman, you are set free.’”

“Jesus notices and Jesus sees,” said Hunter. “Jesus looks at God’s children … Jesus calls us by name. Jesus knows our every weakness, even when we don’t have the strength to ask for anything.”

Hunter noted that the woman in the passage stood up straight and started praising God immediately after her healing. “But the story doesn’t end here,” she said.  “This story is also about some church folk. The church folk were so worried that Jesus healed this woman on the Sabbath that they missed the miracle.”

“These people are supposed to be co-laborers with this woman in the faith. It seems that no one in this passage has compassion for this woman except Jesus,” she said. “The synagogue leaders are more concerned for the laws of the Sabbath than they are with this woman’s healing.”

In this story, Hunter says Jesus teaches church folk a new way to interact as leaders. To be a church leader is not only to be a rule-maker and a disciplinarian, but to have a compassionate and healing spirit. “Real church leaders would not let a sister be bent to the ground without lifting her up,” said Hunter. “Real church leaders are not just stern and regulatory. They engage in ministry with the least and the lost.”

Hunter concluded her message by reminding worshipers that the people rejoiced at the glorious things Jesus was doing. “She stood up straight and tall and then she begins praising God,” she said. “She no longer has ground-facing eyes. Now she can see right in front of her. Before, she couldn’t see Jesus if she wanted to because she had ground-facing eyes, but Jesus could see her.”

“Sometimes we are the bent-over people,” Hunter said. “But God has a way of taking folks with ground-facing eyes and lifting them up. God has a way of taking folks who are bent over and setting them free. God has a way of taking those who are bent over and lifting them straight up.”


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