- June 23, 2019
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for 23 June 2019 (Proper 7 Year C)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Galatians 3.23-29; Psalm 42; Luke 8.26-39
Title: Two Sides of Life
“When the people came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid” (Luke 8.)
My friends, do you remember a time when YOU came face-to-face with the power of God? What was it like? What did you feel? Where you afraid, like these people on the other side of the lake?
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus and his disciples sail across the Sea of Galilee. They spent a lot of time out on this lake, but this particular move across the lake was important.
They moved from the Jewish side of the lake to the Gentile side. They crossed over from “THEIR” side of the lake to the other side.
Now, it is unlikely that the people of that side of the lake had ever even heard of Jesus. Perhaps some heard of him, but they did not follow the Torah, they did not worship in the Temple, why should they care about this Jewish teacher?
Either way, it made no difference, because whether they were ready for it or not – whether they wanted to or not – they were about to come face-to-face with the power of God.
And it would challenge everything they knew about life.
It’s the same story when we come to our first reading from Galatians. This text also grows out of a direct experience of the power of God. An experience that challenged everything that Paul knew about life. An experience that radically changed his life – forever.
If you spend some time reading the letters of the apostle Paul in the New Testament, you are likely to be delighted at times, frustrated at other times, and downright confused quite often.
The apostle Paul can be very difficult to understand.
The same Paul who says, with such strident conviction, that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”, in the very next letter, he tells slaves to obey their “human masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6.5) and later makes it clear that he does not think it proper for women to teach in the church.
How does this happen? How can one person express two different opinions which seem so clearly and obviously to contradict each other?
Welcome to the challenge of being human!
The problem for us is that we want things to be simple, to be clear, to follow direct lines and rational movements. But rarely does that ever happen with humans, for we live in two realms, in different two realities.
We humans are biological beings subject to all the forces of natural selection and all the laws of physics. And we are also spiritual beings into whom the Holy Spirit has breathed the breath of life, powerful creatures made in the image and likeness of God.
Both of these realities are always true, and they always will be true. The key is not to simplify, not to ignore one realm or the other, but to integrate both into one beautiful whole.
Of course, this applies to far more than just us humans. Nearly every experience of life has these two opposing realities.
Just consider the following:
The gift of God’s grace is 100% free, and yet it costs us absolutely everything.
The Master who we follow, Jesus Christ, is 100% human. A full and complete human being, and yet he is also 100% fully divine. “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.”
The Bible that we read, these Sacred Scriptures, they are divinely inspired, breathed by the Holy Spirit for our instruction. And yet they were written by flawed human writers with their own motives and ambitions.
You can just go on and on with this kind of analysis.
For instance, our western capitalism has produced more wealth than previous generations could have imagined, and it has also produced the most extreme income inequalities that the world has ever seen.
Do you see what I mean? It is always like this. We live in two realms, all of the time. We are always standing between two different realities.
There is danger before us when we attempt to simplify, to ignore one side or the other. Healing and wholeness come when we can embrace both realities and bring them together into one. ****
Consider again what happened when Jesus crossed the lake to the other side. Remember that he is now in Gentile territory. And he heals this man, a man who does not worship God, does not make any profession of faith, a man who has never been baptized, one who did not even ask to be healed, and one from Jesus, in fact, asked for nothing.
And yet, the power of God moved, and he was healed.
How do his neighbors respond to this? The people on the other side of the lake – they ask Jesus to leave. Don’t you think that’s odd? I mean, he set this guy free! Restored him to his right mind…so they ask him to leave town, right away.
I think it confused them – this whole healing thing. I mean, the crazy naked guy in the graveyard had become part of the backdrop to their world. They were scared of him, sure, but they were also used to him. He was always there and they knew who he was.
But now, all this changed. The people there recognize that POWER had just moved in their community, but they could not make any room for it.
They do not want that kind of power in their midst. They would rather keep things simple, keep them the way that they could understand.
The people are afraid. And there are still many people who do not want to change, even if it means that healing will come. They would rather keep things simple, the way that they have always known things to be.
But the power of God bring change, a change that we cannot control.
The point of this story, and all these Gospel stories, is to demonstrate the power of God at work in Jesus, and specifically in the words of Jesus. Most of his signs are done by speaking the word. He speaks, and the winds and waves are calmed. He speaks, and the legion of demons are banished. He speaks, and the sick are healed. He speaks, and the five loaves and two fish are enough to feed thousands.
Sure, many of these things do not make any sense to us today. We are not accustomed to miracles in our lives. We are rational beings – and we want things to make sense.
But there is another side to this life. For the power of God at work in Jesus brings the two together into one, and makes peace in the midst of confusion.
Jesus is the bridge builder, the One who brings the two together into one, who integrates the two opposites.
The early church spent a lot of time and effort trying to explain to everyone that this Messiah was both human and divine. Totally and fully both, without one nature diminishing or overpowering the other.
How can this be? This confused many who were continually trying to simplify things and make him into one or the other – human or divine.
Again and again, the church had to come together and say, No, no no! Christ is 100% human and 100% God.
And this is why he is the one who can integrate both Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, gay and straight, Republican and Democrat, newcomer and native-born, insider and outsider.
Christ is the One who bridges the gap and brings them all together into one beautiful whole within the kingdom of God.
The power of God bridges the divide between the two sides. The power of God crosses the water to the other side, and there it challenges everything that we think we know about life.
It is never comfortable or easy to let go of our simple definitions, to accept the mystery and complexity of life. But we must do this, because Jesus is leading us to the other side of the lake, to the other side of life, to bridge the gap.
And as our Presiding Bishop is eager to tell us all, the way of Jesus is the way of love, and the way of love can change the world.
My friends, in Jesus Christ our Lord, we come face to face with the power of God. Because he is alive today, and that power of God can still set us free.
Allow him to show you the way. Listen to his words. Watch what he does. Let him restore you to your right mind, peaceful and integrated.
Then go back to your home, just like that healed man, and declare to everyone how much God has done for you. Amen.