September 6, 2009
St. Paul's United Church, Richmond, ON
14th Sunday After Pentecost 2009
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I love Jazz. It takes rhythm, melody and beat to rework tunes that are familiar. The boundaries of the familiar are pushed and we are lifted into new intensity, harmony and beauty. We feel the music in a new way. Our senses are expanded. All music shares this, for you can hear Beethoven or Bach in new ways. This happens when the musicians give a performance that push the boundaries of what went before and makes us hear the piece in a new way. There is a risk taken and the boundaries pushed.
Mark gives us a picture of Jesus who also is pushing boundaries - challenging the givenness of his times. He challenges the forces that held people back from living life fully. His healing was about restoration to wholeness. I think we can hear in the text the same sound of sighs, grunts, and groans as Jesus went about his healing ministry. We can also hear the cry of joy when wholeness is achieved and a new reality emerges, a person is transformed and restored to community.
In the metaphorical language of driving out demons we catch the sense of combat. We know those demons ourselves, those things that hold us back, make life more mean spirited, make us less than we are. Jesus confronts those demons that rage against human life and offers liberation. He is about unblocking those things that limit our experience of holy adventure.
Since the beginning of time one of the ways we have identified ourselves is Place. Our tribe, family, location has given us a sense of who we are. Location has been a marker of identity. In the time of Mark this sense of location had been broken. The community was broken and when one was ill one was even more pushed outside of the community and God. Jesus, in healing, restores one to community and to God.
In our story in Mark we see this dynamic at work. As I read Mark he is responding to the question of “where do we experience God - how do we have a sense of God?” He has Jesus as the one who gives us a new sense of God - one that is not located with one specific location or rule or doctrine. Jesus by his ministry and his location shows how God can be experienced every where. Jesus is making concrete the idea of sacred space that is part of the legacy of Judaism. Beginning with the creation story there has been an affirmation that God owned the world and we are the stewards of it. Creation is God’s body and we are the ones who make concrete our love of God by the care we take of the world.
Mark has Jesus move from the desert, to the synagogue, to the home, to the field to show how God is found everywhere. This breaks the boundaries of narrow religious understandings. Jesus pushes the boundaries of belief, widens sacred space to all of reality. Where is God found? Everywhere. In everything.
One of issues we face today, both locally and globally, is connected to an understanding of God. There is tension within communities about who belongs. The issue our society, and each of us faces is to move from a narrow definition of community to world affirm sense of belonging. To move from a tribal God to God who loves all of creation. It can be a whole earth sense of who one is - we are connected not only to one specific place, but have the sense we are part of the whole ecosystem - a world and earth community.
Within each church there are questions about how affirming or inclusive we really are. Do we draw boundaries about who can come in? With the Canadian society there are issues within multiculturalism. On a more global reality this issue of inclusion is writ large in Israel and Palestine, in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the world stage we are playing out what we experience within a family system or a community setting - the issue of identity. The question is one of boundaries and enemy, of who is included, who is within the circle and who is the outsider?
In today’s story Mark makes his point by having Jesus move into enemy territory. The gentile is the ultimate outsider - beyond the normal. Here is a woman - in that fact she is the outsider - she is a gentile - a double whammy - and she speaks to Jesus. This is a no no. And not only speaks to him but corrects him. Again a surprising story. It is a bold story for here we have the hero having his sense of inclusion expanded. That God’s kingdom includes a rainbow of experiences and people. The outsider is included.
This outsider joins in the healing. She adds to what God is doing and brings a new reality, a new sense of God. She has pushed the boundaries and lets more of God’s holy adventure to slide in. She reminds us that our frail human activity and words matter. We join Jesus in the pushing against those things that hold us and the world back. Our hands are needed to push the boundaries that imprison. Our groans and sweat are needed for the healing of this world.
The religious vision is a move us to breaking boundaries. Calls us to healing broken persons and communities. A sense of God, who is everywhere, where there are no Godforsaken places, moves us to live creativity, joyfully and in harmony, bringing peace and justice.
This is good news. It affirms that we even if we are a product of narrow visions of reality we do not have to remain there. It redefines what some take as reality. Jesus left the boundaries of his time, so can we. Normal is now inclusion.
When we work out of such a world view we now have a viewpoint to address how we deal with differences. Our sense of place will affirm the local without an attitude of fear of the other - we will welcome difference as it expands our sense of community. We will be a people who begin, not with exclusion but with inclusion. Our boundaries will be wide - our family more than genetics - our welcome to include all, even the those who are not like us. As Jesus went beyond his boundary situation, all we are asked to do is to journey with him.