The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s135g09 Sunday 23 6/9/2009
'He took him aside in private, away from the crowd.' Mark 7.33
It seems that Jesus craved a bit of solitude. In other parts of St Mark's gospel Jesus is said to have gone from town to town, clearly so that no one missed out on hearing the message. He welcomed all, he had compassion on the crowds. Jesus' message was to both Jew and Gentile so he had some travelling to do.
But twice in this passage we find Jesus trying to escape the crowds, and I detect distinct hints that Jesus didn't want to heal either of these people. We have the dismissive statement about the children's bread thrown to the dogs and we are told Jesus sighed before saying 'Ephphatha' to the deaf and mute man.
This indicates to me that Jesus didn't come to fulfil all our expectations, to heal all our diseases or to heal us all of our diseases. Jesus came with a message about what we must do. Jesus would not have been crucified if he had fulfilled everyone's expectations and healed all our diseases.
We have to hear the first words the deaf man heard to tell no one. And we have to realise that despite these being the first words the man had ever heard to not tell anyone the very first thing he actually did were in direct disobedience to those first words he told everyone! Here we have this formerly deaf and mute person, now a self proclaimed disciple and apostle for Jesus. How many times have we gone to church and been told that we need to be confident in our faith in Jesus and bold in our proclamation thereof? We want crowds to flock to Jesus, we want everyone healed; we want everyone's expectations fulfilled. And we find Jesus trying to escape all of this attention! The 'successful' churches are where a multitude gathers and praises Jesus. Spare me from such a successful church!
This world will not be 'fixed', if 'fixing' is necessary, by Jesus or God fulfilling all our desires. While my desires might be for good and worthy things, my desires might be for things at the expense of someone else. Specifically **my** 'salvation' is almost inevitably at someone else's expense like those of other faiths, or those of no faith, or those of a different gender, or those who express their intimate affections with someone of whom I disapprove.
There is much evidence in the Old Testament that God didn't make his name known, and surely this is for precisely the same reason. We do not possess the 'correct' name for God, placing us in any position of privilege or preference above others. No one faith possesses the correct name for God, placing anyone in a position of privilege or preference over other faiths.
I began this sermon by saying that Jesus here seemed tired of being called upon to fix things. And I suppose God gets perplexed as to how long it will take for humanity to get the message that it is how we get on with others that is important. And again, it is far too easy to personalise this, when it is a corporate response that is necessary. It is something about our faith in God including people of other faiths, people of different gender, people who express their intimate affections to people of whom we might not approve.
Surely this has implications on how we pray. Certainly we are meant to pray for the things that we desire, for ourselves and for others. But our journey of faith is not in the earnestness of our prayer, for ourselves or for others, but how open we are to the salvation of others.
Recently I have been led to reflect that for health professionals 'health' means (re-) integration into society. This is particularly evident in the psychiatric setting where withdrawal, denial and stigma create a chasm that somehow needs to be bridged. One enters the community of the hospital to find health. It is not just the expertise of the doctors, nurses and health professionals that brings about health, but the community that is present, including, of course, the professionals. And the aim of all the professionals is the (re-) integration of people into the full community. Not all people discharged from hospital are the 'picture of health' and indeed society is sometimes not a very healthy place to live. And it has come to me that the Cross, baptism and communion are given to achieve precisely this - our (re-) integration into real society. Jesus' association with the tax collectors and sinners that so infuriated the religious is a potent demonstration that any chasm between sacred and secular has indeed been bridged. For this I can assume that any voice, be it religious delusion or word from sacred scripture that separates ourselves from others is not from God. Thus 'repentance' is to accept this (re-) integration into society. This is to 'rejoice' with God that all are found.
So often the 'church's' message is to withdraw from society, often to set up an alternative society. So in Australia we have parallel systems of schooling the state system and the church system. How can we effectively preach the message of God's unconditional love for all within a segregated educational system? We see our primary activity as 'christians' when we worship on Sunday mornings. Some better 'christians' dress up in white robes on Sunday mornings and it is this that makes them special.
I want to suggest that the efforts to which health professionals go, to (re-) integrate people back into society are actually better expressions of Jesus' mission than our efforts in the Church to separate ourselves off, pretending we are privileged or preferred. And it is not easy, for few people want to be in hospital, few people want to accept weakness, few people want to accept help from others.
So, for me, it is in hospitals that the Cross, baptism and communion are more manifest than in the most orthodox church service. It is in hospitals that we see God at work more clearly.
Indeed the hospital system's aim to return people to society is much more healthy and opposite to the church's aim to keep people from the world and 'safe' within the confines of the church's emotional, doctrinal, or physical walls. And that more healthy aim of the secular health system, is, for me, much more clearly God's will. As soon as the church exists for its own longevity by keeping people 'inside', she defeats the purpose for which she was founded. It is no different to a mother being eternally pregnant, but never bringing to birth her child. A hell of a lot of pain and agony and all for naught.
I was at a lovely service just yesterday, the consecration of our new Assistant Bishop, and the Dean began the service by welcoming everyone to the Cathedral in his usual inimitable style. And it made me think that we are so good at welcoming others into our places of security, but Jesus left the security of orthodoxy and mixed with others in the real world. And the Dean, a former service chaplain, would no doubt agree.
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