Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost - July 1 - 2018

Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector
July 1, 2018

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Jesus went to the country of the Gerasenes – Gentiles, not Jews.  On the way, a great storm arose, which Jesus ended with just a few words:  Peace, be still.  Because he went to this region, this is one of the ways the Gospels indicate that the incarnation is intended to be for all people.

And while he was there, he cast out the Legion of the Demons from a local Gerasene madman, and the demons rushed into a herd of pigs and the pigs rushed into the sea.  (we know they were gentiles because they had pigs.)  Jesus told the healed man to speak among the residents in the Ten Cities, the Decapolis, about what the Lord had done for him.

Honestly, why would the committee who set the lections for us leave out that story?

No, we skip that one, and are transported back to Galilee, where the unnamed daughter of Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, lay at death’s door. 

While Jesus was on the way to see her, a woman who had been bleeding for years was healed as soon as she touched his cloak.

Jesus stilled a mighty storm, and he healed the mad, the sick, and even the dead.  And every time, everyone who witnessed these events was amazed, as well they might be.

There’s an odd thing here, though, that skipping the story of the man with the demons obscures:  Jesus told him to stay in the Decapolis and tell his friends “how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”  But when Jairus’ daughter was raised and healed, he told the people who witnessed it “that no one should know this.”  In one case we hear, “tell your friends,” and in the other “tell no one.”

Earlier in Mark, when Jesus was speaking in parables to the public, the report says, “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”[1]

Before we even get to that bit, it was written that the reason for the parables was, as Jesus told the disciples, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables, in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand, so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”[2]

“They” are not to understand so that they cannot repent and be forgiven.

Here, he is quoting from the Prophet Isaiah (1st Isaiah, in chapter 6).

Here is Isaiah:  “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.”[3]  The prophet is cast down in his heart because he knows he is “a man of unclean lips” who lives “among a people of unclean lips.”[4] But one of the seraphim touches his lips with a flaming coal, saying, “’Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blocked out.’”[5]

Isaiah accepted the role of prophet, and the voice of the Lord said to him, “‘go and say to this people: <keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking but do not understand.>  Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.’”[6]

How long shall this be? asked Isaiah.  And the Lord answered, “’Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land ….’”[7]

The Harper Collins commentary says about this exchange, “The message God gives Isaiah will not lead to repentance, but to the hardening of the people’s heart, thus making them ripe for God’s judgment.”[8]

So here’s my question:  Why would God not want people to repent?

I wrote in the Epistle newsletter a couple weeks ago that there is a certain appeal – for us human beings, anyway – to an atavistic nihilism: a desire to see just how bad things can get – but I can’t say I’m at all comfortable with the thought that God shares that desire.

Being Episcopalians, we don’t tend to talk a lot about God’s judgment on sinners; that’s a more popular subject with some of the more conservative churches.  We tend toward a progressive view, offering the idea that God seeks to welcome all people, and discourages us from judging one another altogether.

There is an undeniable tension between that view and texts like these before us today – texts that sure sound to me like the Lord God did not want people in Isaiah’s time to understand so they might repent, that Jesus did not want people in his time to understand so they might repent.

Other parts of Scripture, such as the gospel of Matthew, however, tackle this subject a little differently:  essentially, Jesus is quoted there saying, “They will hear but not understand….”  He is being descriptive, not directive.

One approach is the idea that God in the OT, and Jesus in the NT, do want us to turn again, to repent, but recognize that not everyone will, but also hold back on the option of using divine power to make them turn back – God could force a change of heart, but never will.  We have the freedom to say Yes, and equally we have the freedom to say No.

One commenter writes: “…in speaking in parables, Jesus gives sufficient light/revelation for anyone to come to Him, yet does not give too much light that a person may not refuse to come to Him. To those who harden their hearts, God allows them to do that without overwhelming them to the point of destroying their will.”[9]

It can be pretty disturbing to think that God will withhold power to fix what is wrong in the world, giving more authority to human agency to mess up than anything else – including ending injustice and oppression.

Because really, don’t we want God to step in and fix things?  To cure the sick, rescue the lost, feed the hungry, free the captive, welcome the refugee, house the homeless, and so on?

Then we know it would be done right, and ... well, not to put too fine a point on it, we wouldn't have to be the ones to make it happen.  We could go on being comfortable and take care of our own, and not have to worry about the future or our past or helping those in need.

Yet, as soon as we ask the question, we realize the answer:  we’re not here just to receive mercy and love; we’re here to share them.

If Jesus’ stories and Jesus’ actions and Jesus’ teachings – and the law and prophets – are not enough to reach our hearts and turn our hearts back to God, then all the stories and all the actions and all the teachings are so much distraction, offering no hope for our souls.

But those who do turn, and seek God’s healing grace and mercy, and ask for help to meet the needs of the hour – not just for themselves – will receive all those things and more.  God is not absent.  God is our strength and our hope and our guide, and without God’s mercy and grace, we would be like the disciples in that boat in that storm – unable to save themselves or anyone else.  But with God … the possibilities are endless.

If we take the stories about Jesus to heart, then, like Jairus’ daughter, and even at the point of death, we can be healed, we can stand, we can be fed, and, because of that, we can tell the stories and do the needful, and we can rejoice in the life before us.

Therefore with the psalmist, we sing:

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication. 

If you, O Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?

For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared.

O Israel – O people of God – wait for the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy;

With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.[10]

In other words, we love because God first loves us.

And that sounds like a plan to me.  What do you think?



[1] Mark 4:30-31

[2] Mark 4:11-12

[3] Isaiah 6:1

[4] Isaiah 6:5

[5] Isaiah 6:7

[6] Isaiah 6:8-10.

[7] Isaiah 6:11-12.

[8] Harper Collins Study Bible, Society of Biblical Literature, Wayne A. Meeks, General Editor (New York: Harper Collins © 1993), 1022.  Emphasis added.

[10]Psalm 130: 1-3, 6-7

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