Scripture: Luke 4:31-42
Given at FPC Anniston on 09/11/2016
When I was growing up, for the first few years, I remember traveling a few hours down I-95 to visit my grandparents in the town of Santee, SC. And because this was before the time of DVD players in cars, or iPhones, or really any kind of electronic distraction, my brother and I would soon grow restless. To keep us entertained, though in all honesty it was perhaps more to keep themselves from going insane, my parents would play different games with us that required looking outside the car. Counting cows fields (5 black and white, 4 brown) or license plates from other states, I spy or 20 questions and early on in our trips, my parents would offer a quarter to the person who first saw the “Big Sombrero” at South of the Border. Now, any of y’all who have done any traveling along I-95 know what South of the Border is. Their billboards run the whole length of the interstate and they have a horribly stereotypical Mexican looking man named Pedro and his mule reminding you that you only have 697 miles to go until you get to South of the Border. Because I grew up only 20 miles from the South Carolina border on I-95, when I was in college in South Carolina and would travel home for a long weekend or break from school, those billboards would help countdown the miles until I was back in North Carolina and getting close to my house. But for those of you who haven’t been blessed with either knowledge or sight of South of the Border, the reality is a bit underwhelming. In the end, it is small and relatively tacky collection of buildings made to look like a Mexican town that is really little more than a place for high schoolers in North Carolina to go and purchase illegal fireworks, though I would never suggest that that was a good idea, or stereotypical and racially insensitive t-shirts, keychains, and kitsch. (Probably an equally terrible idea.) And the Big Sombrero was a Mexican hat that sat high atop a tower 200 feet with an elevator and stairs going to the rim of the Sombrero. Once along the way down to Santee, we convinced my parents to stop and let us go up in the Big Sombrero and for $2 a person, we could go up in the Sombrero and see all the tobacco and cornfields that surrounded the area and, on a clear day, I’m told, that if you squint and look off to the west, you can see the sprawling metropolis of Florences, SC. OK, so the Sears Tower, it ain’t. But the Big Sombrero did rise a couple hundred feet off the ground and so it became visible a few turns before we actually passed South of the Border and so that covered the first 20 minutes of the drive or so. Of course, going to my grandparents house always provided my brothers and I more than enough excitement and so anytime we got too restless my parents would remind us of our final destination and we would happily remind each other that we were heading to see Granddaddy and Gaga. On the way home was a different story, leaving my grandparents was never easy and so our dispositions were not nearly as cheery but my parents tried to help us along and soon we would be counting down the miles until South of the Border and the Big Sombrero and another quarter. Those 3 hour drives between our house and my grandparent’s house seemingly never went as expected because those kind of trips, once you have added two children under the age of 5, rarely do. Flat tires, spilled drinks, bathroom stops, coffee, more coffee, all dot the landscape of my memory of those times but more than that, memories of embraces from my grandparents, walking alongside the pond that sat behind their house, boating along the Cooper River, fishing with my grandaddy, those things that happened once we reach our destination made the journey with all its twists and turns well-worth the trip.
Our lives, too, are a long journey—one long journey from beginning to end. A journey in which we search for meaning of life, in which we try to answer the deeper questions and queries often asked by the cosmos, a quest in which we look for love and wholeness, and ultimately a love that can us whole. And while all our journeys begin at the same point and in at the same point, along the way, each of us encounter twists and turns, adventures the likes of which we could never have imagined, stumbles and falls, joys and celebrations, struggles and loss. And while each of us will experience our share of all of these moments with all of these being doled out in varying amounts from person to person, everyone of us has a starkly different path from the one sitting next to us. So it is that they further we go along this journey of life, the more stumbles and falls we accumulate and the more those stumbles and falls can begin to color the way we view our lives, the people in them, and the whole of the world. In the Christian tradition, we call those stumbles and falls sin or brokenness, and within the Reformed Tradition, we accept and acknowledge that the whole of the world finds itself overcome by sin and brokenness. That’s not hard to see. Our world is rarely the way we each know it can be and our lives rarely are as perfect and pristine as we would have them be. Each of us builds up a backlog of times in which we have run the gamut from “less-than-perfect” to downright horrible to one another and ourselves. And the memory of those times stick with us, they cause us to think less of ourselves and others, they make us see the world, not as the wondrous playground of God’s love and grace, but as the mess that we often make it until that sin and brokenness begins to feel like a weight around our necks and our lives feel weary and heavy-ladened until we find ourselves desperate for someone to come along and redeem us and our world, to make us whole and holy again, and to heal us from the disease that is sin and brokenness.
Our scripture from today comes immediately after Jesus is thrown out of his hometown of Nazareth and begins, in earnest, his own journey. And because the people of Israel are so desperate for light and love to break into the darkness of their lives, almost immediately large audiences begin to gather when he comes into a town and some of those crowds decided to follow him wherever he went. And because of the large audiences and folks who are following him around, word begins to quickly spread about him, about his message, and about his seemingly magical ability to heal people of their ailments. And so it is that one day he walks into the synagogue in Capernaum, and almost immediately a woman with an “unclean spirit” begins to chaotically spasm around the room until at the sight of Jesus, the spirit in her begins shrieking at Jesus. And it’s almost as if the spirit in the woman could see the spirit of the Christ dwelling in Jesus and immediately became terrified of what was coming next and upon hearing the command from Jesus immediately leaves the woman’s body as she collapses from exhaustion but finally back in her right mind. This whole episode leaves the people in the synagogue stunned and word spreads even further about him and his abilities. And as he leaves the synagogue he comes next to Simon Peter’s house where his mother-in-law is ill with fever. In those days fever was thought to be an ailment in and of itself and not a sign of a greater infirmity. And as Jesus stood over her, immediately her fever broke and she was feeling so well that the scripture tells us that she resumed her housework and serving her guests food and drink. This is such a wondrous event that by nightfall, people have come from far and wide to be healed by Jesus who evidently works through the night until all who are in his midst are made to feel better.
We each possess ailments from which we need relief, comfort, healing. We each carry the pains of lives that have not always been lived in a manner that honors God. Lives that have done and left undone that which would have drawn us closer to God. We each need to know the immediacy and God’s love and grace without which we are left to our own devices and without which we will each surely perish. And then Jesus comes in and says to us to be healed. Jesus comes in and commands to the demons that we each battle with everyday to be silent and go away. Jesus arrives and almost immediately, if we let him, our fever breaks and we can resume being servants for one another believing that we have been made whole by Jesus and through the power of God’s grace and love. As it turns out, that is not an easy thing to live into. Our lives are all scattered with times, moments, memories that we wish we could forget, that we wish we could fully leave behind, the results of which we yearn to not have to see. But because God’s grace is freely offered, because it is there for the taking, because Jesus passes by you each day and the hem of his garment is within arm’s reach, it becomes our responsibility to reach out and touch it, our job to earnestly want to be forgiven and then to live into that forgiveness. And if ever you were looking for permission to leave behind the ashes of your past, let me, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth offer it to you. If ever you wanted to be made whole again, all you have to do is reach out and grasp it, and believe that God’s forgiveness is for even you, but once you do, and here is the key, you can’t remain where you were.
The final passage of the scripture for this morning tells of how the people wanted Jesus to stay with them. Placed in stark contrast to his experience in the synagogue in Nazareth, here the people almost try to trap Jesus in order for him to remain with them, showing them how to see God’s love and God’s light from one moment to the next. Desperate to remain his gaze for as long as they possibly can. But Jesus would not be held down, would not be trapped in a single location, can never be the sole ownership of one group of people because he knew he had to continue his journey, telling the good news of God’s love to all the people he possibly could. Healing them of their ailments and showing them too how to see God’s realm erupting all around them. And he continues that movement today. He continues to move through the world, binding the broken, bringing sight to the blind, ending oppression in all its forms and declaring the year of God’s favor for all people. And we, who have been healed, who have been made whole, must also follow Jesus out into the streets, along the highways and byways, to places where it seems the love and light of God has not been visible for a long time. We must take up that message of healing, of rebuking demons, of speaking truth to power, and of working for a time when all God’s children are afforded the measure of dignity that they deserve simply because they are children of God.
Sisters and brothers, our journeys are indeed long and they are all filled with stumble and falls, times when we are less than perfect, moments when we are horrible to one another and if that were the end of the story, the whole of the cosmos would eventually collapse under its own weight, but its not. Healing is possible if you are willing to be healed, wholeness is available if you drop everything and follow Jesus, love is in you, all around you, and at the core of creation. The whole of time and space from beginning to end is infused with the grace of God and that grace is a power that nothing in all of creation can overcome, in Jesus name, Amen.