Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sermon, 5 Pentecost/Proper 7, Isaiah 65:1-9 and Luke 8:26-39

Just about 20 years ago, a series of events led me and my wife to begin looking for our first house.  After what seemed like a too-long search, we eventually found one on the northwest side of Spokane.  It was a cute little two-bedroom, 1 bath deal; fairly small, but just right for a “starter” home.  It also came with a washer, dryer and box of brownies in the kitchen. 

I did some cleaning shortly after moving in, mainly in the laundry room and especially in and around the washer and dryer.  The previous owner left the house in good condition, don’t get me wrong; I just felt the need to do a little more.  My mom called while I was cleaning, and I remember telling her, “I don’t mind dirt, but I want it to be my dirt.”

It just doesn’t feel quite right mixing DNA that’s accumulated in, on and around the laundry facilities.  So I cleaned.  It wasn’t spotless, but I eventually got it to the point where all of the previous owner’s dust, fuzz and lint had been removed; and that’s all I was really looking for.

Over time, the laundry room would again build up with dust, fuzz and lint; but it was our dust, fuzz and lint that populated the laundry room and formed their own little communities.

Today’s lessons from Isaiah and Luke are similar to that cleaning of our laundry room.

In Isaiah, the Lord speaks out against Israel for failing to recognize God’s call to them and for walking in ways that have strayed from God.  God cries out against them:  “You follow your own devices, you sit in tombs, you eat swine’s flesh with abominable broth and you say, ‘Keep away from me for I am holy’.”

Israel was given the Law.  They were God’s chosen, descended from Abraham and rescued from slavery in Egypt.  They were given a clean place in which to live and grow in the Torah.  Over time, however, that clean place became not a place of invitation and blessing, but a place of exclusion and segregation.  Over time, the people didn’t notice the uncleanliness that crept in.  This allowed them to maintain their own image of holiness while failing to see their shortcomings.

In today’s gospel, we find Jesus in Gentile territory.  There he is confronted with a demoniac who lives in the tombs.  After an exchange with the demon-possessed man, he commands them into a swine herd where they proceed to drown themselves in the lake.  Jesus healed the man.  He cleansed him of that which caused him to live in an unclean place.  And this act upset and frightened the people of the town; so much so that they asked Jesus to leave them.

Why?  Why be frightened of a man who heals and cleanses?  Why not be thankful that this demon-possessed man who had to be separated from society and bound with chains was no longer a threat to either the town or himself?  I think there are two closely related reasons why the people were frightened; or maybe a Part A and Part B.

The first reason was because God was doing a new thing amongst them.  This was a healing like they had never seen before, performed by a prophet who spoke for God.  And when God does a new thing, it can be a frightening experience.  How many of us have been frightened when God decides to do a new thing?  Think about Easter and the implications of that resurrection event.  That can be a frightening thing – and they fled from the tomb in terror and amazement.

The other reason they were afraid was because God, through Jesus, was not only doing a new thing, but was messing with the status quo.  Their sense of normal was being challenged and turned upside down.  I imagine that at one point the town was clean from all abnormalities.  Then the man became possessed.  It probably didn’t happen overnight.  It probably happened through a slow process, allowing the people in town to get used to a different normal; allowing them to learn how to deal with their new situation; allowing them to feel comfortable taking more drastic steps.  Then Jesus comes and upsets their sense of an abnormal normal.

In Isaiah, God is calling the Israelites to account.  He is pointing out that they have allowed holiness to be slowly eroded and supplanted with entitlement.  It’s an entitlement that comes from being God’s chosen, and it results in a special feeling of holiness even though we don’t keep up our end of the bargain. 

In Luke, Jesus disrupted a way of life that people had come to accept.  Abnormality became normal, and Jesus said, “No, this isn’t right.”  For in what time and place is it ever normal to chain naked people to rocks or trees and abandon them in a cemetery?  The answer, of course, is that it is never right.  But over time, probably very slowly, inappropriate acts of segregation and abuse become normal.

I am not that different from the Israelites Isaiah spoke to or the people of the Gerasenes.  In my case, I cleaned the laundry room in my new house because I couldn’t stand the thought of doing laundry with someone else’s DNA-infused dust, fuzz and lint populating the washer and dryer.  Over time, though, my own dust, fuzz and lint began to accumulate and populate the laundry room – and I barely noticed because it was my own dust, fuzz and lint.

In these two lessons, this is exactly what is happening.  The people started out with a clean place.  But over time, they got used to and barely noticed the buildup of their own dirt.  God and Jesus are asking the people to notice and deal with that dirt.  And we are now asked to do the same.

What aspects of your lives do you need to examine and clean?  What minor abnormalities have you ignored, allowing them to grow and become normal in your own life, while still seeing yourself as completely clean and holy?  What dirt don’t you notice?

In this season of Ordinary Time, may I suggest that you take a new look at your life and find places that need to be tidied up for God.  You might even consider this your Linten discipline.

And when cleaned, like the man in the gospel, go and share with others what God has done for you.



First time comments will be moderated.