Sermon: 2 Pentecost C 6 23 19
It's too bad I hadn't paid much attention to Isaiah before I went to seminary. I might have saved myself some serious trouble if I had read today's lesson before Molly and I went to Brazil in 2001. Our son Alex was living there and before we moved from Miami to New York for seminary we visited him in that South American Country for a couple of weeks.
We had said our goodbyes and Alex had headed back to the town where he lived in the mountains, leaving us on the beach in Rio De Janeiro to get some supper before we headed for the airport and home.
I felt like some seafood. Brazil's cuisine was meat-oriented, as far as I was concerned, and I thought on the beach we should be able to order some seafood. I ordered the squid dinner. When it arrived Molly warned me not to eat it. I admit it was not very appetizing. The squid--there were two or three--looked like boiled tennis balls, gray and not looking very fresh. I dove in and basically I don't remember very much after that. Molly steered me onto a bus and onto a plane and got me home 14 hours later, or something like that. But I was utterly out of commission.
I would like to say I learned my lesson, but frankly, faced with a big bowl of Chesapeake Bay oysters a few years later I repeated my performance. But now that I've read this passage from Isaiah, I'm sure I'll never make that mistake again. Or maybe just never talk about it again. At least in public.
But I like to think that I might have reconsidered my selections if I had heard Isaiah preach against "broth of abominable things." I mean, maybe just the briefest pause might have brought me to my senses.
But Isaiah was not out and about preaching the way he was preaching because people got his message and changed their ways. He was preaching the way he did because people did not realize how much their own decisions and choices were responsible for their unhappiness, their dissatisfaction and their discomfort. Some things never change.
Isaiah writes of God saying, "I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here I am, here I am," to a nation that did not call on my name. I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices."
Isaiah is probably the best and most evocative writer in the entire Bible. When he writes about God, we see the outstretched hands of the Almighty, trying to help.
What did Isaiah say God called them? "A people who provoke me to my face continually."
When Isaiah relates that God equates these people with "smoke in my nostrils," it is not the sweet and scented clouds of incense he's talking about. He is talking about stench. He is expressing God's great displeasure.
However, God chooses to judge but not destroy the present generation. Instead God's hope is put in future generations. Happily, that includes us.
Whether and how we seek to live into that promise is what our faith journey is all about. Heaven knows--and God knows quite clearly, according to Isaiah--that there are times when we --you and I-- are the people ignoring God's outstretched hands. But we realize it and we make an effort to shift our focus so we can give better consideration to what God has to offer. We seek to do God's will rather than try to follow our own will, our devices and desires.
Our psalmist today seems to have that viewpoint already. The opening lines of today's psalm are pretty clear:
18 Be not far away, O Lord; *
you are my strength; hasten to help me.
19 Save me from the sword, *
my life from the power of the dog.
20 Save me from the lion's mouth, *
my wretched body from the horns of wild bulls.
21 I will declare your Name to my brethren; *
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.
These words reflect recognition of God's availability and power and the psalmist's strong desire to conform to God's ways.
Paul's letter to the Galatians suggests that those who truly believe in and follow Jesus no longer need a disciplinarian because we have adopted Jesus' ways and our faith guides us into right living. This particular reading concludes with , "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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise."
What this makes clear is that the rules that controlled behavior for the faithful in the past no longer apply; rather, we are called to love God and love our neighbor. And in case it wasn't clear, the followers of Jesus are led to understand they are to live as Jesus lived. That is how we are guided into right living.
The closing lines about "there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female," and so forth drives home that the old ways, the old rules about who was in and who was out, who was in charge and who was not, all these things have been removed by Jesus. People who follow Jesus don't need rules; they do the right thing. People who follow Jesus don't need to know who's important and who's ordinary. Everyone is equal in God's sight and should be in our sight as well. It's pretty clear and it's pretty emphatic.
Jesus offers us a fine example in our Gospel reading from Luke. In his time people did not try to reason, much less heal, those who behaved erratically, like the Gerasene demoniac. They kept their distance and those so afflicted were expected to not get too close to ordinary society, either.
This didn't stop Jesus. He ordered the demons to leave the afflicted man and they entered a herd of pigs and the pigs ran into a lake and drowned. We have no clear notion of what was afflicting the man, but we know that Jesus dealt with him with kindness and peace and when the townspeople came and found them talking, the troubled man was dressed in clothing and in his right mind.
At that point we come upon the difficulty we face every time our faith asks us to do something we're not comfortable with doing. The people see the man, stable and sane, clothed and speaking with Jesus. What's their response?
That's right. They were afraid. They asked Jesus to leave.
We don't know if they were afraid because of the power to exorcise that Jesus just demonstrated. We don't know if they were afraid because the pigs had drowned themselves and, well, somebody was going to be unhappy about losing a herd of pigs. We don't know if they just didn't want to face the reality of a neighbor who was a raving lunatic before and who now was being sane. But we know they were afraid.
We can understand being uncomfortable doing things that are socially unacceptable. We can understand feeling awkward helping a stranger, especially one who was raving not so long ago. We can imagine some discomfort inviting into our circle of friends people who previously were considered outsiders and rather permanent outsiders at that. So we can perhaps see how the people were afraid in this story.
But we can also see that Jesus offers us a better way to handle situations that used to baffle us. Jesus shows us how to help the person who is struggling, whether they're disabled or disoriented or disagreeable. That's our calling. And it is in fulfilling this calling to reach out to those who are struggling that the church was formed, that we might be of help to those in need, of comfort to those who are stressed, and to love every one of our neighbors who comes our way. Amen
A sermon preached on the second Sunday after Pentecost, June 23, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY, by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector