Managing Workplace Anxiety: I Don’t Want to Look Stupid (Luke 13 Sermon Notes)
The Text. Luke 13:10-17
Luke 13:10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he
was doing. (NIV)
Theological Point: There are several theological points that can be mined from this text, but my focus is upon this rare phrase Jesus used, calling the woman a daughter of Abraham to the synagogue leader. The term son of Abraham was widely used at this time as was the phrase children of Abraham. But daughter of Abraham was extraordinary and quite rare. There is an obvious miracle here—the lifting up and healing of a bent-over woman who for years could only look at dirt and the feet of others: looking down! There is another miracle here: Jesus gave her dignity and identity by calling her daughter of Abraham to a religious leader of the faith of Abraham. He restored her physical ability to look up and he gave her spiritual ability to look up as a daughter of Abraham! [Note: the preacher might also want to tie in the relationship of identity as a child of Abraham—a child of the covenant—to being a child of God in the New Covenant so that the congregants feel like the text refers to them].
Hermeneutical Connection: We often find ourselves burdened and looking down, bent over by the pressures and stresses of life. Jesus is able to bring healing to us, enabling us to look up by lightening our load and also by giving us dignity and identity as sons and daughters of God! Our theological identity gives us courage to live it out in our daily lives, especially at work, reducing stress and increasing self-confidence.
The preacher can introduce the series mentioning some of the statistics that indicate the severity of the problem of stress at work. Here is an opportunity to catch the interest of the congregation by focusing on a very real problem in their lives. Then, I suggest an introduction to the first sermon—perhaps something like:
According to recent research, one of the greatest sources of anxiety in the workplace is speaking out. This can range from being asked to give an oral report to a group to addressing concerns alone with your supervisor or the head of the company. Otherwise confident individuals can begin to stutter, lose their train of thought, and even totally freeze when called upon to speak up. Some have been known to excuse themselves quickly and race to the restroom, relieving themselves of lunch! It is terrifying for many to be in a situation where they might be called upon to speak up at work. Research indicates that the primal fear at work here is one of identity: I’m afraid of looking stupid by saying something ridiculous or unintelligible.
Note: many preachers may find it hard to identify with this fear since they are in a vocation that calls them to speak often! Still, notice the statistics or do an internet search of “fear of public speaking” or “fear of looking stupid in the office” and you’ll see that this is a very real concern for many.
A. Unpack the Scripture
The narrative of the bent-over woman is so graphic it is worth describing as the first part of the sermon. What was it like to be bent over for eighteen years! She could not look people in the eye, struggled with pain, sleeping was dreadful, and she couldn’t lift her face to the sun and sky. What would it be like to look at feet all day? The disease may have been Ankylosing Spondylitis: a chronic progressive form of arthritis distinguished by inflammation and stiffness—and in some patients even ossification of joints—especially in the lower spine. Treatment focuses on relieving back and joint pain and preventing or correcting spinal deformities. Even today we don’t have any medicines that can actually cure this condition.
Early in the course of the disease, sufferers often find that the pain is relieved somewhat when they lean forward. So they often go through the day leaning slightly forward, and gradually their spine begins to fuse. The more they lean in order to relieve the pain, the greater the angle, until a patient might be bent almost double, as the woman in this narrative.
Illustration: [The best illustrations come from the preacher’s heart and life experiences. Look there first.] Persons with a physical or mental ailment might be tempted to think of themselves as less of a person and hang their heads. I met a young man named Robert at the Genesis Club in Worcester, Massachusetts, who has Down Syndrome. He attended a high school for four years in an adjacent affluent suburb and was occasionally ridiculed. Compared to the popular kids and athletes, he felt like a “loser” and unable to be fully part of the community in a respected way. At Genesis Club, however, he found acceptance and more. The Genesis Club participants provide a supportive, loving community and also offer him resources to be skilled so that he can work and be productive [http://www.genesisclub.org/]. It is as if Genesis Club said to him: You are no longer called “Loser” or “Retard”; you are now called Robert, a Son of God, whohas much love and life to give. His new identity has given him new confidence in his life and work. He looks up!
B. Spiritually “Bent Over”
Life has a tendency to bend us over to the point that all we see is broken pavement, dirt, and shoes. The stresses and strains weigh us down—we are crooked with anxiety. Looking down, we see only finite things and we take in the dust of life. Looking up, we look into the infinite handiwork of God. Looking down is to be in despair; looking up is to praise and celebrate.
Illustration: We have a time in worship service when we greet one another. I walked up to a woman and said, “Welcome to the worship of God.” She looked me straight in the eyes, shook my hand firmly, and said, “Pastor, I am goingthrough bankruptcy, I lost my job, my house is being foreclosed on, and my husband told me this morning he is leaving me…”
I wonder if she saw my jaw drop!
I will never forget what she said next: “But I’m here because I am confident that God will lead me through this mess!” To this day, I am amazed when I think of her. She had all the reason in the world to be bent over with grief and sadness, but she held her head high and spoke with such faith and confidence. Her trust in God moved me!
C. Daughter of God at Work
One of the greatest fears at work is looking stupid or being put on the spot. Research indicates that a large number of people are terrified of participating in focus groups or saying much on a work team. They lack the confidence to speak out. In their minds, they may feel like they have something to contribute, but the idea of actually saying it is full of anxiety. They’d rather say nothing than risk looking ridiculous or irrelevant. And so, they look down rather than in the eyes of others. Many of these people are bright and have much to share, but their wisdom is a prisoner of their fear.
Jesus described the woman he healed to a leader of the community as daughter of Abraham—a title of distinction. He lifted her up, both physically and spiritually. He freed her of a demon of self-abasement to a Spirit of liberty and supreme identity as a child of God. When a person is so seized by God—redeemed, restored, renewed—and free of those things that crush our spirits and weigh us down, his or her eyes go up to God in praise and also in the eyes of others as fellow esteemed and beloved children of God. When we really believe we are sons and daughters of Abraham—and of God Almighty—we are able to look up and speak with confidence because we are not defending ourselves, or afraid of what others think of us, but confident that the One who is in us, and calls us by name, gives us the confidence to speak and share as needed. Our terror of what others think of us is minimized by our confidence in what God calls us: child of God!
Illustration: I led a church leadership team for years that included highly competent people. I noticed, however, that one of our female leaders I’ll call Sarah was quiet in our team meetings. I knew from her emails and conversations that she was quite capable and had great ideas—but in these meetings she went silent and spent most of the time writing in a notebook. After a few months of this, I asked Sarah, “You have such great ideas! Why don’t you speak up in team meetings so that the rest of the team can benefit from your perceptions?” “I try to muster the courage,” she said, “but wind up keeping my mouth shut. I’m afraid it might come out wrong. Everyone on the team is so good at what they do and articulate. I’m afraid they’ll think I’m an idiot!” Sarah was terrified of speaking out.
It took some time, but with encouragement from the team, and some effort on my part to draw her out, she started to speak up. And the more she spoke up, the more her eyes met ours—she looked up! It was amazing to see her demeanor change as she developed the confidence to share her thoughts. “I feel like I have something to share and now I have the confidence to share it,” she said.
Wrap It Up! Here is a chance for the preacher to drive in the point and really connect with people who are deeply encouraged by this message. Perhaps something like this: We can change the way we think of ourselves by letting God persuade us deeply that we are indeed sons and daughters of the Lord. The encouraging team to help you do that might not be at work, but it’s right here in this church! This preacher and this congregation want to support you in helping you unpack your identity as a child of God and develop that confidence to look straight into the eyes of others and speak your thoughts with confidence. God may have given you what others need to hear, but they’ll never receive your important word of wisdom if you lack the confidence as a child of God to speak it.
God is the God of those who are straightened up, looking up, and speaking forth with confidence as sons and daughters of the Almighty! We bow our head only to God.
George Cladis is Executive Pastor, Liberty Churches, Shrewsbury, MA.
Other sermons in this series on Managing Workplace Anxiety: