August 21

Let Your Shoulders Down

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 13:10-17

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Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  

Her name was Mozelle Cogman Goins.  She was born in Macon Georgia in 1902.  As was the norm in some parts of the south.  Education for African American students ended at the eighth grade so that a woman could join the domestic work force.  Not one to follow in the steps of convention Mozelle applied to the incoming class at the University of Detroit Law School entering in either 1919 or 1920. She arrived for her first day of class and came into the office to register and was met with a “deafening silence” a direct quote from her grand-daughter Pat Rencher.  Nevertheless, they allowed her to attend class.  After her first year she was told that some of her papers were not up to par.  Not to be deterred she rewrote and submitted those papers, and the Law School allowed her to advance to complete her second and third year. 

 The Detroit Free Press published the 1923 graduating class from the U of D Law School and Miss Cogman was among the graduating class.  However, the story didn’t end well.  A week after the picture was published, she was called into the office and told she never completed her assignments from her first year and therefore they would not confer her a law degree. 

She later married, owned a dress shop, worked for social service agencies and remained active in community affairs.  After a conversation with Pat this week we realized that Mrs. Coins and my grandmother Eunice Gunther Lowery were friends and very active in the Detroit African American community.  My friend Pat recalls the law books that were in her grandmother’s library and how people would stop by the house for consultation and advice. 

 Detroit attorney Leslie Graves tried in the 1980’s to petition U of D Law School to grant her law degree.  The school only gave a commendation but no degree.  Currently The Hon Kathey Gilforf is leading an effort to confer the degree for the class of 2023 which is the “Year of the Woman.  Mrs. Coins passed way in 2002 at 100 years old.  A pioneer and a trailblazer whose story deserves to be lifted up and acknowledged.  

 Cole Arthur Riley writes in her new book “This Here Flesh”. You cannot tell the story of injustice without telling the story of power. Injustice has survived by cowering behind the guises of morality and ethics. And that power, which is stolen, malformed, or inequitable will, no matter how well intentioned, always cast its weight in the wrong places. This is rarely accidental. Injustice has survived by cowering behind the guises of morality and ethics. She goes on to quote the Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin “When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his every act of protest confers dignity on him.”  

 I don’t know if the expression “we made it through” is an apt description to describe this historical event.  However, there are still people who to this day generations later who are still figuratively carrying the weight of the world, the weight of daily injustices and micro-aggressions, the weight of grieving young people, the weight of this week trying to get to your job on-time if your only options are to get to work in the Orange and Green line trains.  What I do know is that people will always come together in the face of injustice, to support each other, cook for each other, hold each other, cry with each other, hold space for each other when on some days that was all that is all we can offer.    It is love and an awareness that no one should have to shoulder anything alone that keeps them together. 

 If you’ve been here or have listened the past several Sundays, you know that our Hebrew Bible readings have been proclaiming harsh and judgmental words from the likes of Amos and Hosea, from Isaiah, and this morning from Jeremiah.  While this morning’s reading describes the call of Jeremiah to be God’s prophet (despite Jeremiah’s protests that he is too young for the job). Jeremiah himself describes that job given by God (which will unfold in the coming chapters of the book named for him) this way: “See today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow….” 

Please notice something else in this morning’s reading from Jeremiah, the last phrase. “…to build and to plant.” We sometimes forget that the prophets in their harsh language were calling the people of Israel back to lives faithful and responsive to the will of God. Using Jeremiah’s imagery, we must remember that “plucking up”, “pulling down” or even destroying and overthrowing in God’s Garden are actions that need to happen before new growth that Jeremiah talks about can occur. 

 I want us to try something this Sunday.  You know they say that when we are tense, we tend to hold our shoulders up near our ears.  So, try this, hold your shoulders up to your ears in a tense position.  Then try to move your head to the left, now to the right.  It’s hard right?  Now try and move your body, to the left, to the right. It’s hard.  Now let go with an exhale. 

 There is an expression “he / she/ they look like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.” What we just did was an example of that statement.   

When you are carrying the weight of the world it is hard to move. 

 We don’t know what weight the bent over woman was carrying: perhaps she was the victim of some sort of oppression, perhaps her binary pronoun did not match their non-binary authenticity, perhaps she was the victim of domestic abuse.  If it wasn’t for the fact, she was bent over she would just have been another woman going on with her day-to-day activities.   

 But Jesus noticed that she was carrying the weight of the world and had been for so long that people assumed that she had an infirmity.  But Jesus sees her suffering and he heals her on the Sabbath.  Notice here that Jesus approaches the woman.  Not the usual healing stores of the infirmed approaching Jesus for healing.  

In the second half of the Gospel the woman recedes from the narrative, and we move into Jesus’ encounter with the leader of the synagogue. It’s not the healing that concerns the leader of the synagogue, it’s that Jesus heals on the Sabbath day. 

The Sabbath was meant to be a complete day of rest as God had rested on the 7th day.  No work was to be done, no farming, no fishing, no shopping, no cooking, no healing.  The leader was caught up in the when’s and the where’s of the letter of the law by pointing out that this was not the day.  Pick another day to heal.  But Jesus saw the same law much differently.  The law did not trump God’s action when it came to God’s children especially this child of God, the daughter of Abraham.  From where Jesus stood, what better way to honor the Sabbath than by setting a captive free? 

 This is why he came after all.  Early on in Luke’s Gospel Jesus made know his work in the world as he read the words of Isiah: 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:18-19.  

 The invitation that Jesus gave the woman who was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders is the same invitation he extends to us today. 

Jesus says: Stand up!  Breathe and let your shoulders down with whatever the weight of the world that you are bearing. 

 He invites us to stand up and be transformed, and to be released from the things that leave us bent over, feeling low and less than, to be released from whatever bondage messes with our self-worth and our self-esteem.  We are invited to come from out of the shadows and valleys, and into the light of God’s amazing and healing love. 

 So many times, we try to put our best foot forward and never let on how burdened we may really feel.  Some of us come into a place of worship with our brokenness and we feel that if we keep a smile on our faces and pretend that everything is alright no one will ever know the weight that we are facing.  Once inside places where we think we are safe we still are unable to look up and see the world around us.  We may feel alone or forgotten.  We may struggle to see and remember that God is present.  But like the woman who stood tall in the synagogue that day, we are the children of a loving and caring God.  God’s grace working among us and through us helps us to stand up straight. 

 This summer I served as a delegate for The Episcopal Churches 80th General Convention.  A triennium convention that was delayed for a year due to COVID.  A convention which historically been held over eight days was compressed into four days of legislation and as a self-described church nerd I was so to speak in my element.  There were two important and moving highlights from General Convention.  The first was the expedition of the late Right Rev. Barbara C. Harris, the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion and who served as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of MA. It was moved that Bishop Harris who passed in 2020 be included in the episcopal calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  The historical significance of this is that General Convention usually doesn’t add people until 50 years after their death. 

 The other important piece of legislation was the creation of a fact-finding commission to research the denominations’ role in the federal boarding school system that separated generations of indigenous children from their families and cultures in the 19th and 20th century.  These actions come as U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland kicks off “The Road to Healing,” a national listening tour in which the secretary will hear from survivors of boarding schools in the United States. 

Convention members heard testimonies from clergy who had officiated at funerals for children whose remains had been repatriated from the former Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.  Others spoke of pushing the city of Albuquerque to acknowledge that children had been buried beneath a public park constructed on the former site of a Presbyterian run boarding school. 

 Still others shared their experiences as survivors themselves, or descendants of survivors.  Ruth Johnson of the Navajoland Area Mission attended two boarding schools – an experience which is still hard for her to speak about.  She spoke about being ill and being beaten and she ended with “I could have easily been one of those who didn’t make it home.”  

 To quote Bishop Mark Lattime of the Diocese of Alaska, “This is important work, and it’s for all of us.” “You might think your diocese doesn’t have a history with boarding schools with Indigenous people, and – while that might be true- there isn’t a diocese in this church that doesn’t have a history with Indigenous people.” 

 I want to tell you: there is no day, week, hour or moment that the God who formed and created us does not see our plight or hear our cries.  Our God energizes us and gives us hope no matter what trail, burden, or injustice we might face.  And God gives us one another to share in that hope. 

 I would like to stand before you and preach that we are beyond being bent over carrying the weight of the world but we all are aware that recently we have witnessed firsthand the actions of the weight that is being pressed down on innocent children, the weight being pressed down on those who feel that they are not heard, the weight of families whose loved ones have died as a result of guns violence.  We are never in a position in God’s eyes to oppress another, belittle another, scare or gaslight another or to act like another is less than.  That thought that it doesn’t happen here, it won’t happen here, it doesn’t apply to me disconnects us from the love of God and from our neighbor. 

 Like so many prophets known and unknown, past and present, like Jesus himself, we have been put on this earth so that we might find a way to ease one another’s pain and release from bondage and set them free, to raise up people and children who will stand tall knowing that they are precious children of God and worthy to share in God’s love. 

 It was a Sabbath day when the bent over woman was told to stand and stand she did and she praised God. 

With God’s help, any day is a good day to help others to stand. 




God loves you. 

Beloved people of God, forth from this place and share God’s love with others. And now may God’s grace, peace, joy and love abide with you now and forever. Amen 


-The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman, University Chaplain for Episcopal Ministries

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