NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON—12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON—12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 P.M.
Sunday, June 24 , 2007
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Small Meeting Room, 138 Pears Ave. (Toronto)

1 Kings 19:1-4 (5-7) 8-15a

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.

RESPONSIVE PSALM 42:1-11; 43:1-5

P: As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
All: My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
P: When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
All: My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
P: These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
All: Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help 6and my God.
P: My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
All: Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
P: By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
All: I say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
P: As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
All: Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
P: Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
All: Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
deliver me!
P: For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because of the oppression of the enemy?
All: send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling.
P: Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.
All: Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
P: Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

*EPISTLE* Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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.

*GOSPEL* Luke 8:26-39

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had 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. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

SERMON PROPER BEGINS

We don’t always think about what we read in scripture. In the Gospel of Luke there is mention of swine herds. We don’t think about the Middle East as being a place where pigs are raised for food—neither the Jews or Muslims eat pork. For us it is a dry place, a desert where it takes hard work and irrigation to raise food. And yet, in a story involving observant Jews in the Middle East we find a story involving swine without explanation, as if those that heard this story in Galilee and Jerusalem and Nazareth would not find it the least bit unusual. Reading it while preparing my sermon notes was the first time it struck home to me that this was a story involving domestic pigs. It raises questions around food production and taboos in the Middle East during the Roman occupation. It also changes one’s opinion of Jesus—he was certainly not one to try and reach consensus or common ground before acting. In meeting the needs of one person, others were harmed. It is a more harsh version than the parables such as the lost sheep where Jesus talked about the value of the individual. For Jesus, the first priority was to help the most vulnerable. Jesus’ miracle, not surprising as the result was the destruction of the food of a community and the livelihood of swineherds, was not appreciated by most that were witnesses to his healing. They were frightened and urged him to go away. The one that was healed was willing to be a messenger that a miracle could occur, transforming the life of the most marginalised.

If knowledge and understanding of scripture changes, then acceptance of the message of faith has to also change over time. It isn’t just the words of Thomas seeing the resurrected Christ that tells us that belief in God includes questioning and doubt. In times of peril and oppression it is hard to see light and hope, to reach out for something sustaining. Faith is not constant—there is an ebb and flow that we experience. What is constant is what is offered to us, unending love and unending hope. It is not the gulag or holocaust that holds the ultimate truth, but the ongoing certainty that such actions are evil and can and should be resisted through the building up of the shalom kingdom of peace and justice is where truth can be approached. It is in helping to bring the hope and promise of the year of Jubilee to live that we show we accept the commitment of baptism.

Acceptance of living in a relationship with Christ includes acceptance of everyone, the breaking down of barriers of race and gender and class and the creation in the here and now of a new way of life of being equal children of the divine. It includes the risk of letting others accept you and the risk of overthrowing centuries of expectations in order to accept the gifts and responsibility freely offered to all of creation. Christ doesn’t offer the certainty of regulations and boundaries but the certainties of love and trust and confidence that we can live in harmony with one another even if the dominant society demands otherwise.

All times are challenging, periods when it is hard to be certain of what we can do to help build the Shalom kingdom, to live in right relationship with God and with one another. This was true for Elijah and David in exile, for Jesus in his journey from Bethlehem to Golgotha, for Paul in his missionary zeal. It remains true in the monasteries and convents of today, in large congregations and when alone in the midst of the demands of daily life. The media tells us of wars and epidemics, of violence in our communities, of hunger and homelessness. This was the reality of the time that Jesus lived; was experienced by the psalmist David and lived through by Elijah. God did not endorse oppression; God did not call for poverty; God did not express contempt for those that were ill. Rather, God called through the prophets for justice and right relationships; the authors of the epistles reminded all that everyone in the community was called to work towards an inclusive, loving community; in the life of Jesus we saw God walking among us, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, welcoming the outcast, telling us that the judgement awaiting us was based on our treatment of those in need. And, as Jesus showed us, the first thing to do if one is embracing a life of faith is to learn that meeting the needs of the individual is the overwhelming priority that has been with us since the dawn of creation. A world where individuals truly matter is a world where war is unthinkable, where racism and sexism and homophobia doesn’t flourish, where hunger and fear and loneliness aren’t allowed to corrode the spirit.

Just as scripture can be found to have new meaning, so too can being open to the voice of God bring something unique to the current moment. We may not find the voice of God where we expect to, but there is assurance that God is seeking to speak to us. Elijah was in the wilderness, in exile from his community, and hoping to learn what God wished him to do. He looked unsuccessfully for the voice of God in storms and the raging fire. He found the voice of God in the stillness, coming out of the silence. We may be looking for the voice of God to come from a celebrity or from some spectacular presentation but the voice of God may be waiting for us to notice it coming from a street musician or a guerrilla gardener or the strange gap in the sounds of a city that can be best heard just before sunrise. For me, the divine voice can be found often in the prayers and poems of those whose lives have intersected with me.

The following prayer, excerpted from a longer work by the late Ojibway Elder Art Solomon, is a reminder that the voice of the sacred is around us and to live in harmony with creation we need to return to the unity offered to all in creation. It seems appropriate on this Sunday in ordinary time to accept this gift of a simple prayer calling on our behalf for renewal and rebirth:

Grandfather,
Look at our brokenness.
We know that in all creation
Only the human family
Has strayed from the Sacred Way.
We know that we are the ones
Who are divided
And we are the ones
Who must come back together
To walk in the Sacred Way.
Grandfather,
Sacred One,
Teach us love, compassion, and honor
That we may heal the earth
And heal each other.

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One response to “NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON—12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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