Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff
Sunday 19th June
We all know about the mistakes I make in the Pews News – I’m always causing confusion by listing the 10.00 as the Family Service every week or sometimes making it at 10.30 instead of 10.00 or putting somebody down to read at the wrong time – or any host of other things. But, as yet, I haven’t come up with anything as funny as the following extracts from church bulletins:
The church will host an
evening of fine dining, superb entertainment, and gracious hostility.
Women’s Luncheon: Each member bring a sandwich. Polly Phillips will give the medication.
and my favourite .....
Because it is Easter Sunday Mrs Carmichael will lay an egg on the altar.
I dare say it’s only a matter of time before I come up with a howler - but if I do, I trust you all to keep it in house – I don’t want to be quoted in churches up and down the land.
Anyway, turning back to our gospel reading ......
We’re not sure exactly why Jesus went to the land of the Gerasenes – an area to the east of Galilee, where there would have been a steep climb when they got out of the boat because the land rises sharply from the lakeside.
As we’ve seen before with the widow of Nain for example, Jesus sometimes chooses to take a detour, away from where the main action was happening – this time it was to cross over the lake – over to foreign soil. Maybe he wanted to escape the pressure of travelling around under the hostile gaze of Herod Antipas who was trying to harm him – or to find some peace by avoiding the pressing crowds and the constant questioning of the Pharisees - but if that was the case this trip wasn’t going to offer any respite. For the Jews this was ‘bandit country’ because although many Jews would have lived there as well – this was Gentile country.
Immediately Jesus arrives - this violent, naked, crazy man – possessed, it seems, by a multitude of spirits, - jumps out and confronts him. It would have been very alarming – frightening - the air filled with the man’s screaming and yelling. The disciples probably wanted to get straight back into the boat and head for more familiar, safer, territory. But as is often the case – Jesus has other ideas.
He deals with this situation with the same quiet authority that had just stilled the wind and the waves as they were crossing the Sea of Galillee.
He looks beyond the surface, just as he did with the woman who was behaving in an altogether shocking way in the house of the Pharisee.
It’s a very comforting thought isn’t it that we can count on him to see past all our shocking behaviour and to know what our real problems are and whatever they are, always be prepared to walk alongside us in whatever mess we’re in?
There’s a bizarre scene here with the pigs – another sign of being in totally foreign territory, because Jews didn’t eat or keep pigs. We could focus on why Jesus allowed the demons to enter the pigs which resulted in them drowning, there are a number of theories around, but Luke’s focus in telling the story is on the man himself, and – as always – on Jesus.
For Luke, what happened to this man isn’t just the remarkable healing of severe psychological disturbance - it is full and complete salvation – rescue from madness and insanity.
It’s a story all about the rescue that God promised to his world long ago - back as far as Abraham – back as far as providing for Adam and Eve in the Garden after they’d messed up.
As our OT reading illustrates, God has always been the one to initiate a relationship with his people. Even when his people weren’t seeking him out, he was seeking them.
God has always done that because it is his nature to do so.
And now the promised Salvation has actually appeared in Jesus – in palpable, flesh and blood form. The good news that God’s kingdom has come has started reaching many Jews in Israel – and to this Gentile writer, Dr Luke, the great news is that it’s already beginning to spread further afield to those outside the Jewish boundaries.
The real point of the story comes at the close. The man, quite understandably, wants to be allowed to stay with Jesus. He is now utterly devoted to him because of the astonishing way he’s been rescued from harm - like the woman who washes and anoints Jesus’ feet – and he’s also not sure it’s going to be at all easy back in his home territory, where everyone would have known about his past. There will always be those in any community who are reluctant to believe that people can be transformed. Yet Jesus says to him “Go home and tell them what God has done for you” – and he goes off and tells them what Jesus has done.
Mind you, Luke isn’t offering any worked out doctrine or formula for understanding how ‘God was in Christ’ – at least not yet. At the moment it is simply something people are discovering from their experiences.
As Tom Wright, says: “what Jesus does, God does”. Or to put it the other way round, if you want to tell people what God has done, or what he might be like, tell them about Jesus.
What communicates more than anything, in a world where people are so suspicious of arguments about God and faith is our own story of what Jesus has done in our life – rather than trying to convince anybody through arguing the toss.
The best brains in two thousand years of Christianity have struggled to find adequate words to explain how all this can be, but it is a truth known to all who have experienced the presence of Jesus in their lives
– all who’ve experienced him changing and shaping their attitudes and priorities, forgiving and healing their deep needs; comforting them with a sense of his presence.
– dealing with disturbance in their lives and bringing peace.
The gospel is life-changing if we let it be, if we don’t try to contain it and keep it under control. Living Christian faith isn’t theoretical – it’s about the discovery of God’s rescuing power in the Person and ministry of Jesus.
This is God who always – and persistently - takes the initiative and seeks us out and keeps seeking.
Did you notice too in that OT reading what the people had made for themselves – a crazy, busy religion full of questionable, forbidden practices and how they’d persuaded themselves that because they were wholly occupied with their rituals, that this was somehow meaningful?
It’s so easy to forget what is real, to lose our ability to recognize real holiness, amidst all the demands and claims made upon us, many of them legitimate appeals. But reality is all about discovering God’s love in Jesus.
In our Galatians reading Paul tells us that without Christ, we are all in the condition that the demon-possessed man was. In lots of ways we are chained up, exposed, living in a world of unreality. But once we are ‘clothed’ with Christ, sitting at his feet - we can be at peace; we can be made whole once again.
If you think about it, ‘madness’ is an apt metaphor for the kinds of stuff we often allow to control our lives and the way we think. And when we give up our up craziness and let Jesus in, we give up the illusion that we know how to live life by ourselves. Jane Williams observes in her lectionary reflection for today: “We give up the little rituals and fantasies of superiority and control, and admit that our only hope of being what we are meant to be lies in belonging to Christ.”
And being in this relationship is a place of rest. I love verse 35 of our gospel reading: Then people came out to see what happened, and when they 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.
...and no wonder – miracles happen when people come to Jesus just as they are - disturbed and in a mess – with all their demons - and let him quietly deal with them.
There can be occasions during a church service when perhaps we feel that God may be trying to speak to us ..... but it’s time to move onto the next thing ..... so before we turn to our intercessions, let’s be still and know that he is God, be quiet for a moment and listen for a still small voice.