June 23, 2013
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
This morning’s readings are about extremes. For Paul, there is a need to tell the church in Galatia that the categories of privilege and denial no longer apply to those who are in Christ.
Men cannot lord it over women,
Free people cannot lord it over slaves,
Neither Jew nor Greek may lord it over the other.
In the body of Christ, these distinctions, so often used to include or exclude, to exalt one and demean the other, do not apply, and are not allowed.
I understand that Paul has been used for centuries to do precisely the opposite of this, to elevate men over women, to justify seeing some people as less than and others as more than. I believe that this is not Paul, but a misreading of Paul. It is a half-reading, stopping before we get to the part that speaks of a more mutual, reciprocal, equal relation between men and women than he is given credit for.
Our other story, the man with a legion of demons out in the land of the Gerasenes, is also about extremes. First, it is extremely unlikely that anyone from Israel would want to visit this place. It says that it is opposite Galilee, and this means both in geography and in religion.
And the man, whose name we never learn, is also a case study in extremes.
There met him a man from the city who had demons;
for a long time he had worn no clothes,
and he lived not in a house but among the tombs…
For many a time [the unclean spirit] had seized him;
he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters,
but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.
A man from the city, he is driven into the desert. Bound by chains and fetters, but he breaks them. He lives naked among the tombs, like the dead, not clothed and in the city like the living.
I have spoken before about how many social and ethnic and religious lines Jesus had to cross to go and speak to this man. Every detail about this story, from the tombs to the pigs, speaks of someone and something a good Jewish man would not go near.
That is the point.
The point is that we see Jesus entering those places that are broken, those places that are unclean, those places that are wounded, those places that have no place to live. And in Jesus, we see the love of God at work.
I believe this is why the healing stories tend to be so radical: because in Jesus, the love of God becomes real and true and available even in the extreme places of life, even to people in extreme pain, in extreme confusion, in extreme grief, in those places we do not want to visit.
I, for one, need these extreme and over the top stories of Jesus healing people, in part because normal and I have only a passing acquaintance. I need to know that the love of God is not stuck in the sanctuary, but is available out there, with them, because sometimes I am ministering to and with people out there, and sometimes I feel like one of them out there myself.
Until such time as baby number 2 gets a name (and we are working on it), we have taken to calling him Jellybean. Last week, we went in for a fetal echocardiogram, a ultrasound to make sure Jellybean’s heart is okay, given our history with Mira. We discovered that parts of Jellybean’s heart are not quite as they should be.
We do know that this is not the same problem Mira had. As one doctor put it, if they both had the same thing, we would all be famous and written up in medical journals. A distinction I am perfectly happy avoiding.
What this does means, we do not know yet. One thing it means is that in July we are headed down to Detroit to go get some more doctors to look at him and see what is going on.
We looked on-line to see what this might mean as far as health or surgery or what. To quote Pastor Mark from Relay for Life, that was a mistake. The range of possibilities is pretty big and the far end of that range is scary as hell.
So Mary and I got dropped right back into those emotions we thought we were done with from when Mira had her surgery. We have more questions than answers, more fears than assurances, and more doubts than clarity.
For me, I need to know that Jesus walks up to people who feel like they are naked among the tombs. I need to know that Jesus goes to those places that scare the hell out of me. I need to know that the love of God can make all things new in the place where nothing seems right and nothing is settled.
That is the witness of our story today.
Jesus goes outside the bounds, past the borders of politeness, beyond the sign that says “here there be dragons,” to where people are in extreme situations. And Jesus heals them. The love of God goes where the law of God would keep us out. And the love of God makes all things new. The power of grace enters the most unexpected places, and allows us to live.
This is the good news to which we cling. This is our saving hope. This is the love in which we live and move and have our being. Even in the extreme places of life.
Thanks be to God.