Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
Jesus sent the man away saying,
“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8)
When our son was about four years old, it so happened that we were in Rome for an ordination at the local Episcopal church. Because it was a very ecumenical occasion, arrangements had been made for us all to attend an audience with Pope John Paul II the day before, with the proviso that we were to bring children.
So off we went to the audience, and at the appointed time, the children were called forward for a blessing. Our four-year old son marched right up to the pope and gave him a big hug, and then looked him square in the eye and asked, “Now what?”
Well, today might be called, “Now What?” Sunday. Last week you may remember was Trinity Sunday, which I called the exclamation point that comes at the end of the long cycle stretching from Advent through Pentecost that tells the story of Jesus: his birth, his baptism, his ministry, his arrest and trial, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his gift of the Holy Spirit. A lot has happened, liturgically speaking, with plenty of high drama and unexpected outcomes—and it has all pointed to a God who is revealed to be all about love, relationship, and community! And now we enter into that long stretch of time when we are left to live out in our own life, what we have been taught by Jesus.
We heard in the gospel the story of a possessed man, the co-called Gerasene demoniac. Apparently a whole legion of demons possessed him, who made him do crazy things like wear no clothes and to live by himself among the tombs. But when the demons realize that Jesus has taken an interest in the man, and is about to heal him—that is, to throw them out—they beg to be allowed to escape instead into a nearby herd of pigs … which they do, only to cause the pigs to rush into the lake and be drowned. Strange and dramatic events, to say the least!
You might think, after such a powerful healing, that Jesus would encourage the man to take on some great new role: to become an evangelist, or join the disciples, or write a gospel. But instead, Jesus simply suggests that the man go home. It’s time for him to live his life ordinarily, to get on with it.
We’re in a place rather like that this Sunday. After all the drama that has gone into telling the story of Jesus, week after week, we come to a moment in the year when the message is simply about the ordinary. Live your life. Fulfill your commitments. Do the work that has to be done. It’s what my mother used to encourage as “having some normal home life,” whenever she thought I was gadding about too much as a teenager or burning the candle at both ends. Settle down. Don’t rush. Catch your breath.
Except that … life can’t just be ordinary any more, not after what we have learned about life through following Jesus these past weeks and months. He has taught us that God looks on us, even with all our faults and imperfections, and sees something of infinite beauty and dignity. Something even worth dying for. Something definitely beyond ordinary.
Jesus has taught us that we human beings are nothing less than an icon of God’s own compassion and love—a living, breathing image of what is at the very heart of creation. And so Jesus loves us, because we are lovable. And Jesus coaxes us into loving one another, because God has made us capable of doing so. And Jesus challenges us to see in the ordinariness of our life, nothing less that an embodiment of the great mystery of creation. As Paul says in the reading from Galatians, we are no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free—we are heirs of Christ! Heirs of all creation!
And knowing that, life can’t be just ordinary any longer. Or rather, the ordinary, is extraordinary. Isn’t that what actors help us to see: holding before us an image of ourselves, they encourage us to look within and see something of immense interest and fascination that we normally overlook? Or music takes the simple fact of sound vibration and turns it into something of exquisite power and depth. Poetry takes simple words and phrases, and weaves them into layers of multiple meaning. Painting takes a flower, a landscape, a shape, a color and asks us to see the breathtaking beauty within it. Even something as ordinary as bread and wine can become Christ’s own presence; and nothing more than water is enough to make us God’s own children.
Some of you may remember a film called “Room with a View,” a Merchant-Ivory film based on an E. M. Forster novel about some English folk on holiday in Florence. Miss Lucy Honeychurch, a very prim and slightly prudish young woman, meets a certain Mr. Emerson, a rather eccentric romantic young man. On a walk through the central Piazza Signoria of the city, they witness a violent fight between a couple of young Italian men, which results in one of the young men being carried away bleeding from the mouth, eyes rolled back in his head, and quite dead.
Seeing such an eruption of human passion reveals to Miss Honeychurch just how narrow the line is between being alive and being dead, and that realization makes her feel as if something has changed inside of her. Suddenly, the quiet sheltered life she has lived is no longer sufficient. She has discovered the extraordinary within, even in so ordinary an event as a stroll through the city. And so Mr. Emerson says to her, as they later look out over the Arno River trying to make sense of it all, “Don’t you see? We can never go back to the way it was. Something dramatic has happened. Something has changed.”
That’s where we are today. We are asked to see, after all that we have been through with Jesus, that we can never go back to living the way we were before. Something dramatic has happened. Something has changed.
Jesus has given us all that we need to live life differently—to live it creatively, passionately, confidently. He has given us trust in the power of love. He has inspired in us commitment to mercy and truth. He has given us assurance of our ultimate worth and dignity. He has demonstrated in himself the triumph of life over death.
And so now, like the Gerasene demoniac of today’s gospel, it’s time to get on with it. We have been relieved of whatever holds us back. So now is a good time to … well to go on a mission trip to Navajoland (like our guests from Indianapolis). Or it is a good time to mend a broken relationship. To marry the person you love. To plant a garden. To mentor your children. To care for aging parents. To start a family. To become politically engaged. To go to school. There’s nothing more we need. We have been given all that is necessary—which is not to say that what we do with our ordinary time won’t be a struggle. But it is to say, that we will not be overcome in the doing of it. Amen.