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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

No Where Is Off Limits For God - 06/19/2016

Our readings this week offer us a couple of portraits of people and places that others have given up on …

“I was ready to be sought out,” says God through the prophet Isaiah in our Old Testament reading. This is written to a people returning from exile to find Jerusalem, the teple and their way of life destroyed. The nation of Israel, a people who appear to have forgotten the faithful God of Abraham, are clearly looking to feed their wants and desires … to quell their worries and create enough noise to drown out their fears. They burn sacrifices and offer up incense to other gods in hopes that they will be rewarded with fertility – fertility in their wombs, in their fields, in their treasuries. They sit inside tombs consulting the dead, as if the dead would tell them what to do about a sick child or how to deal with anger and hatred and violence. They eat that which is considered unhealthy and unclean. They position themselves above the one true God because they believe they themselves are wiser, they themselves have all the answers, they themselves are holier and more powerful than the omnipotent God of Israel who brought their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt.

Omnipotent …

… what comes to mind when you hear the phrase “omnipotent God?”

... to be omnipotent is to be all-encompassing, all-powerful, all-creating. It is to be everything and the tiniest thing all at once, and as far reaching as our imaginations can wander and beyond that, without end.

That is the omnipotent God who calls out to the people of Isaiah's world, the all-reaching God who not only brought them out of Egypt, but also sustained them for 40 years with sweet quenching waters, quail, manna and a whole lot of patience while they made their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

“I was ready to be sought out,” by these people God says, even though they did not call God's name. God said “Here I am! Here I am! and held out a divine and all-powerful hand. When the people didn't receive the grace of God being offered them, God continued to hold out that hand … but, still the people returned to their worship and offerings to gods who do not exist. They returned to their one-way conversations with the dead, they continued leading lives with their backs squarely turned to God's steadfast and enduring promise of love and comfort and abundance.

But God did reach out to this ungrateful people with graciousness and with more patience than they themselves could have mustered, with more patience than they deserved.

And even when God became angry with the people … God preserved a cluster of them, like a cluster of ripe and succulent grapes that produces good and life-giving wine … “Thus says the Lord:” we hear today in our reading. “As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, 'Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,' so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all.” (Isa 65.8-9)

Once again, God has reinvented and recreated the chosen people ... blessed to be a blessing to others, and those others blessed to be a blessing to yet more people, and so on... all the way through time to each of us and all who gather around the gifts of God.

I think there are echos between this text from Isaiah and our story of the tormented man of the Gerasenes.

Right away, our ears pick up some obvious similarities. Both stories include things that would have represented the unclean and the untouchable to Luke's first audience – and perhaps to us too.

The tormented man is frightening to others. He's possessed, naked and out of control. He is someone we'd likely avoid if we encountered him in our own streets. He's yelling at Jesus as he approaches. He's probably trying to break free of the bindings people have placed on him in their best efforts to protect themselves – and he himself –  from his violent and unpredictable behavior.

The stories also share the setting of the tombs  – an unclean place – a place where being part of a community of some kind if out of the question. Those who first heard this story would have also responded strongly to the mention of pigs – an animal that until quite recently in human history was considered unclean or unsafe to eat.

We also have this image of an omnipotent God in both stories – A God who goes everywhere we can imagine and then beyond that, without end. In this story, this characteristic of God shows up in Jesus … our Redeemer …. who once again demonstrates that human lines of division will not keep his healing ministry safely and privately confined among only certain Jews in the Galilean countryside …  maybe as far away as Jerusalem.

No – Jesus' presence in the world has ramifications for everyone – even the Gentiles – the outsiders, the unclean ones – those on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And … even the one among them who is tormented by mysterious demons that have taken over his life.

And there is another parallel we can draw between these two accounts of God and God's people. It is the people's response to the mighty hand of God … the God who cries out to the Gerasenes “Here I am! Here I am!” and then heals the tormented man even when the man didn't call on God for help. God in Jesus was there to minister to this man too. And in this act of compassion and grace, we see very clearly that God's mercy and grace is not confined to any boundaries we may try to place around it.

But like the people in our account from Isaiah, the Gerasenes are not all ready to hear that saving Word of God. They are not all ready to know that healing ministry among them. Not yet anyway. “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So (Jesus) got into the boat and returned.” (Luke 8:37)

Maybe to those who sent Jesus away it just sounds to good be be true or maybe they are overwhelmed with the reality of having this previously possessed man back among them in their places of business, in their homes, in their worship spaces. God only knows why they turn their backs squarely to Jesus when they saw the man sitting at Jesus' feet, in his right mind, clothed.

For whatever reason, they cannot accept what God has freely offered in the person of Jesus. And so he returns to the other side of the sea, but God preserves one who understands among them. Someone to be good and life-giving wine, to “declare how much what God has done” for him, for his family, for the community of Gerasenes.

We can imagine that the man does this and in telling his story to all who would hear it, he nurtures the faith of the Gentiles on the other side of the sea. And with that God has reinvented and recreated the chosen people again ... blessed to be a blessing to others, and those others blessed to be a blessing to yet more people, and so on... all the way through time to each of us and all who gather around the gifts of God.

These stories may make us wonder – where is God calling us today? What forgotten people and places is God sending us to?

“Here I am!” God says to us each time we repent and are washed clean of our sins, each time we come together for the body and blood of Christ.

“Here I am!” God says to the family that is torn in bitter dispute.

“Here I am!” God says to the child who feels he does not quite fit in when he looks around his classroom, or family or place of worship.

“Here I am!” God says to a our sisters and brothers who struggle with mental illness, addiction, abuse or thoughts of suicide in a culture that has so much to learn about walking with those who suffer in these ways.

“Here I am!” God says to world that continues to be so deeply wounded by issues of racism and bigotry; to a country that must find a way to come together in conversation for the sake of the thousands of families who have lost people so needlessly to gun violence.

“Here I am!” God says to our worried faith communities that have grown so much smaller in the last couple of generations, but surely glisten like a beautiful cluster of grapes and hold the promise of good and life-giving wine for the world.

“Here I am!” says our omnipotent God, the one who has and will continue to break into all the spaces of our lives no matter how enormous, no matter how tiny … and no matter whether we respond like the one who declares all that God has done throughout the country and in the city ... or the one who is not ready to hear and see … not yet anyway.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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