Proper 7 (2022)
Today we’re talking about the religion of man and the saving gospel of Christ. We may not realize it but we have all built religion and ritual into our world. We have to. It is how we operate without being overcome by the incredible multitude of decisions that we must face every day. For Christians, our religion, our faith, helps us explain our world and how our God wishes to be known by us.
I’ve often used the phrase ‘Don’t put God in a box’ meaning that God can, and does do things that we wouldn’t expect Him to do. Some aspects of our practice of Religion, can, at times domesticate our God. Our Old Testament lesson is one such example where God appears ‘out of the box’.
I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name.
Here, the Lord is calling out to a people that you would not expect. This is a people whose irreligion has become a religion. They’re just plain doing it wrong yet God still desires to be found and by some of them, is found.
Jack our three year old has been doing this thing lately where he decides he wants to play hide and go seek. The only concern I have about this that when he runs to hide he does so in full view of me. At other times he’ll see that i am coming home so he’ll quick run and hide but when he hears the door shut he’ll yell ‘Dad come and find me! I’m in the bed!!’
See in many ways, I actually believe this is how our God operates. We think He’s doing it wrong when really He just wants to be revealed and worshipped. We’re the ones that continually make up ways to complicate God’s gift of the Good life. Jack just wants to be found - that’s the good life for him, the hiding is just a foil to spend time together.
God just wants to be with His people. Israel was doing all sorts of weird things to look for God in all the places He said He would not be found. Things like sitting in tombs in some sort of ancient seance. They were eating pigs flesh, which is not only forbidden in the law of Moses but also risky business at that time.
Here in verse 5 they have established some sort of socio-economic barrier to worshipping together:
who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all the day.
The Lord disdains this sort of nonsense. The idea that one of us is better than the other is a ridiculous notion. Our God gave us simple means to be found.
In His word, and in His gifts given to His people. These elements require only faith to receive their benefit.
In Galatians 3 St. Paul is pointing out just how difficult it is to live under ANY law- Mosaic being the law of Moses or otherwise.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.
If you look around at how we live and operate today, how we form social and economic groups we don’t typically work on a basis of faith. We work off of some sort of complex societal contracts.
Perhaps one of the most spurious and relatively new social contracts to arise is that of the modern HOA. There are whole online communities that discuss how to live within and how to evade these physical communities. One of my favorite stories from this feud, and I have no idea how true it is, involved a man building a bat box in his yard simply because they were not allowed by his HOA but the species of bat that lived there was protected by the endangered species act.
If we try live according to the law, at some point, it will always come crashing in against itself. Presently, our world is embroiled in a debate between fairness and equality. In contrast the church is constantly trying to evaluate how we serve communion- making it accessible while still guarding people from potential harm.
This is why the content of our faith must be more than rules. For instance, our approach to the 8th commandment - a rule - requires us to not only trust the Lord but also to trust our neighbor.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
To defend, speak well, and explain everything in the kindest way is only done through the lens of faith. This is the primary justifying work of Jesus. He explains our entire lives all of our shortcomings in such a way that we appear spotless before the Father. He constructs a whole new edifice of goodness and true life around us. Grace is the primary work of Jesus.
Our Gospel lesson today reframes everything for us perfectly. We meet a man who already lives on the outskirts of geographic Israel and on the far reaches of even the smallest society - I like how Luke puts it delicately:
Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
The Gerasene country is so obscure that it must be framed by a more prominent landmark. Then you hear this:
When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs.
Think about the absolute destitute nature of this poor human. The rules of society and spirituality have rendered him homeless, naked and seemingly the only people around him that didn’t speak against him were those with no voice left to protest.
To this man Jesus shatters the rules. He casts out demons and the world still wants to retain their old rules.
Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and 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.
There is no faith. No belief that something new can be constructed from this misery only religion that says they should stay away. There is no belief except for the faith the man who is now free exhibits. Jesus issues this man a new purpose and goal:
“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
The Christian life is one that looks at all the opposition in the world be it spiritual, economic, mental, or simply just station in life and then we consider what God is capable of doing. Ordinary rules don’t apply - we have faith that He can construct something out of nothing. This is because we live by faith.
We see through the normal limitations of life and ask What has God done? He has redeemed all people.
We go forth in His name with that image on our hearts and minds. We reexamine all the man made religions of our world in light of God’s plan and seek to show how much God can do with all that we are.