A GOD WHO CROSSES THE BOUNDARIES
A sermon for the third Sunday after the Epiphany (25 January 2015) at St Luke’s Anglican Church, Haifa
As always it is good to be here with you, and I appreciate the privilege of giving the sermon for our liturgy this morning.
As always we open our hearts to receive the portion of Scripture assigned for this week by the church. It is not always easy to understand the logic of the lectionary editors, but it is a valuable spiritual discipline to accept the set readings so that we pay attention to a wider array of texts than may be the case if the priest simply chose the passages that appealed to him.
As always, as we come to the table of the Word, we are seeking to discern what the Spirit might be saying to the church, here today, here in this place, here in these words.
Our Gospel today comprised two brief stories. One concerned the healing of a leper. The other involved the healing of a centurion’s servant. What has that got to do with us? And what might the Spirit be seeking to say to us through these stories?
We can be sure that the point of these stories is not to offer us health advice. We are not intended to glean information about dealing with skin complaints, or expect a miracle cure every time we feel unwell. Just as the parable of the sower is not designed to teach farming techniques, these stories are not intended to influence how we seek medical help when we need it.
Rather, the stories are celebrating the healing power of God that we experience in and through Jesus, and that is an important theme in these weeks of Epiphany. We can expect to encounter the God who reveals himself in all kinds of everyday situations, and we can expect that God to transform and heal our lives.
Most of all, of course, these stories are about the significance of Jesus for us. As Christians, Jesus is our supreme epiphany or revelation of God. He not only shows us what God is like, but also what we can be like. He reveals God to us, and also reveals ourselves to us.
That epiphany process will most likely happen in the everyday events of daily life, so that gets me thinking about context. Who we are, where we are, what we are, who we are with, and what opportunities are before us????
You will have noticed, I expect, that these are local stories. Maybe this is so routine for you that you do not even notice it all that often. But these are stories about places not far from here. They are set near the lake in Galilee. We could be there in less than an hour!
You are blessed to live in this land, even if living here is not always easy. When you look around the hills, and the valleys, and the lake, and the ocean – you are looking at the same sights that Jesus once viewed. A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same.
As a visitor – even one who comes here often – I find myself asking if Jesus is any more present here than in my own country on the other side of the world? On this Australia Day weekend that is a question that comes to mind for me. Jesus has never walked the hills of my ancient land, but for sure he is no stranger there.
Where ever we are in the world, Jesus calls us to follow him, to be instruments of his grace, and to be agents of God’s kingdom in that place, at this time, and among those people.
So let’s go back to the stories from today’s Gospel and see if we can discern anything the Spirit of Jesus might be seeking to say to us.
When I do that, I notice something about these two stories. They both involve Jesus crossing very clear social boundaries in his own culture and among his own people.
The first story involves a leper. We are not quite sure what illness such a person had, but the consequence of their skin infection was that they were outcasts. It was understood that the infection could go away and the person could be given the OK to return to everyday life in the village. But until they had been checked by the priest, no one one was to go near them. Jesus crossed the boundaries. He accepted the person back into everyday life and then sent him to the priest to get the paperwork completed!
The second story also involves crossing pretty clear social boundaries. An army commander comes to Jesus and asks for his help as his servant is unwell. He may not have been a Roman centurion, as they were not based in Galilee at the time. But he could have been a Greek commander in the army of Herod Antipas. The same Antipas who had killed John the Baptist and had his men looking for Jesus. We often think of this story as being about the trust that the centurion had in Jesus, but it may also be a story about Jesus having great trust in this centurion not to arrest him!
THE GOD WHO CROSSES THE BOUNDARIES
One of the things that Jesus reveals about God this Epiphany is that our God crosses the boundaries that we like to enforce. God escapes our labels and our definitions.
Another of the things that Jesus reveals about us this Epiphany is that God expects us also to be people who cross the boundaries, and act out of compassion. We are not to stay back behind the lines. We are not to worry what people will think about us. We are not to be afraid to take risks with people who we can barely trust.
Imagine if we actually lived like that.
What a different kind of place the world would be!