June 19, 2022

Reverend Glenn Petersen, Vashon Episcopal – Church of the Holy Spirit

Isaiah 65:1-9; 1 Kings 19:1-15a; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

We Belong to Christ

God is God; we are not.  God creates, God speaks and it is so.  God breathes into us and we are made alive.  God mends the broken and God welcomes those we exclude.  God is God; we are not.

God speaks to his people in the voice of prophets like Elijah and Isaiah, who proclaim that Yahweh is God, they are not.  God makes covenant with them, but they keep breaking it, taking it for granted, abusing their relationship with God.  God gives a Torah, a way to live; e.g. through Isaiah God says:

Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow; bring the homeless poor into your house.

But do they listen?  They are a rebellious people, rebellious to God’s authority.  Elijah experiences this.  Elijah, who in the power of God defeated the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, now afraid, has run away into the wilderness to hide from Queen Jezebel.  He sits down under a broom tree to die, saying, “It is enough, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  The Lord God says, “Get up and eat.”  Elijah journeys to a cave.  He feels like pulling the bedcovers up over his head and going back to sleep.  He wants to call it quits.  The world out there is too difficult and so is God’s calling.  He wants to throw in the towel, take off his gloves, exit the ring.  Better to cower in a cave than to walk with God.  Elijah says, “Stop the world, Lord, I want to get off.”  But the Lord comes to Elijah saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Like Elijah, I have had times of struggle with God’s calling.  To pastor a church isn’t easy.  I’ve felt like saying, “Lord, I’ve been very zealous for you, but lots of your people don’t want to hear, don’t want to respond, don’t care.  Lord, give me a break.  Why is being a pastor so hard?”  In my years of ordained service, I’ve had a few such talks with God.  I’m sure you, too, as servants of Christ, know that being faithful followers of Jesus isn’t easy.  So, do we cower in a cave or get up and risk the waters?  Do we stay where we are or dare we get in the boat with Jesus and go to the other side of the Sea?

Near the end of the long book of Isaiah, after the Israelites’ years of Exile in Babylon, will they finally listen to God?  God reaches out his arms for the sake of reconciliation, but the people rebel, choosing to live their own way, follow their own schemes.  God is angry, but then remembers those who are loyal, who are faithful servants of God.  For their sake, God is willing to do new things.  But, those who turn away will suffer consequences.

Jesus, in our Gospel reading, has gone to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the Gentile side.  Going to the other side, to other people, meant weathering a storm.  In his ministry, Jesus faced storms, conflicts, controversies.  Nonetheless, he gets in a boat to go to the other side, into Gentile territory.  After calming the storm, now on the other side, a broken, demon-possessed man confronts Jesus.  What a story!  After an odd bit of bargaining, Jesus expels the demons into a herd of swine, whereupon the pigs rush into the lake and drown.  You can well imagine that many townspeople are not very happy with this.  They ask Jesus to leave.  The demoniac, now healed, asks to go with Jesus, but Jesus tells him to stay, to remain as witness to the power of God to heal, to create life, to make all things new.  God is God; we are not.

We read in Galatians how Paul keeps trying to get through to Christians that God is bigger and different than their imaginations.  Yes, God cares about the law, i.e., about how we treat one another.  God cares about doing good, not harm.  The law serves as our teacher, our parent, pedagogue, and disciplinarian.  The pedagogue carries a stick, which reminds us that God is two-handed, ambidextrous.  With the right hand, God is gracious and merciful, ready to forgive, full of love and compassion.  But we may need a swat from God’s left hand to remind us that God is God, and we are not.  The left hand reminds us to listen up, so that we may enjoy the loving embrace of God.

When we are living in faithfulness, trusting in God’s grace, trusting God to be our God, everything is made right—justified.  When we truly live in Christ Jesus, as God’s children, then we don’t need the threat of the stick or the swat of the left hand, because we trust that God is good and we are beloved children of God.  We belong to Christ.  God has done this because God is God and we’re not.  When we are in Christ, we are a new creation.  The old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  In Galatians, Paul writes, we now live by the Spirit; the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against such things.  We now belong to Christ—baptized into Christ, we have put on Christ.  We are newly clothed in Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for we are all made one in Christ Jesus.

Do we get it?  Having been drowned in the waters of Baptism, baptized into the death of Christ Jesus, then raised to live a new life, to walk in the Way of Jesus, we have been clothed in Christ:  there is a new creation—no longer them and us, no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, for we are all one, all made whole in Christ Jesus.  Everything has become new!

All the categories we concoct – Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sikh – God overcomes.  All the flag-waving and nationalistic allegiances, the distinctions of young/old, gay/straight, male/female, light skin/dark skin – God overcomes.  We make molehills into mountains; God levels them.  The barriers and divisions we devise, God destroys.  We still have differences, but our divisions are overcome in Christ Jesus.  We celebrate our diversity, for we are made one and whole in Christ.  We belong to Christ.  Beloved, we are God’s children now.  In Christ, under the mark and sign of his cross, we become who we truly are.

We are still learning this truth of belonging to Christ, aren’t we?  We, like the Gerasene demoniac, have our own demons.  We need healing.  We need liberation from a legion of false allegiances, powers and principalities.  Have we demons of anger and hatred toward people on the other side?  Are we beset by demons of violence, fascination with weapons, obsession with guns?  Do we not seize swords of scorn to pierce the heart and soul of perceived enemies?  We suffer a demonic allure of savage power and so-called redemptive violence, the temptation of what terror teaches in lies of tongue and pen and the easy speeches that comfort cruel men.  We search for wealth and power while we scorn doing right for its own sake.  We perceive goodness as weakness; we choose bombs to shower destruction.  We choose pride of race and clan and so-called American exceptionalism.  O God, redeem us.  Heal this strife-torn world.

We belong to Christ, so let us put on the clothes of Christ.  As Saint Paul writes:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

God is God; we are not.  Why would we put our trust in, why would we worship that which is not God?  God comes to the great prophet Elijah, not in earthquake, wind or fire, but in the sound of sheer silence.  Thus Elijah discovers or rediscovers what it is to live in the presence of God, to stand before the Lord.  Using a Latin expression, Martin Luther called this living coram Deo.  The wind may howl, the earth may shake and fire rage, but we get up and move, not in fear, we move from the cave because we sense the presence of God.  We hear God’s voice in the silence and we know that we live all our days coram Deo—before the face of God.  We read in Isaiah 65 God addressing his people:

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.

Let us call on the name of the Lord.  God is God; we are not.  We live coram Deo.  With Elijah, let us come out of the cave.  With Jesus, let us get into the boat to go to the other side.  In the boat together, we face the storms which inevitably come when we walk in the Way of Jesus.  We worship the living God.  Why would we worship that which is not God?  Do we want healing wholeness or do we trust in demons?  In Holy Baptism, did we not renounce the demons, the ways of the world?  In Holy Baptism, did we not die to all of that?  Whatever differences exist among us, now, in Christ Jesus, we are made one.  We belong to Christ.  The walls and barriers that divide us have come down—not because of us, but because of Christ.  So, let us stop erecting walls, building barriers, hating, killing, weaponizing ourselves and our world.  Let us live liberated from the demons of division.  In wondrous ways we are diverse, and yet in Christ we are made one.  We are made whole.  We belong to Christ.

In Christ Jesus we are children of God.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  Now, all of you are made one in Christ Jesus.

We belong to Christ.

To God Alone Be Glory.                                       Amen.