This sermon was preached at the 8.30am BCP Holy Communion and 10am Parish Eucharist on Trinity 1, Sunday June 189th, 2022 by Rev’d Canon Rachel Firth, Vicar of Huddersfield.
Today’s passage from Galatians is a very familiar one – the one we always hear quoted when issues of equality are at stake. In the morning prayer of the Jewish faith are the words which translate as “I thank you God that I am not a Gentile or a slave or a woman.” As St Paul tries to communicate to the earliest believers the kind of relationship we have with God and with one another – as Paul lays out the transformation Jesus has brought – he turns those words on their head. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave not free – neither male nor female – for all are one in Christ – there is neither privileged for one nor alienation from God for the other. This is a declaration of God’s equality in the community of faith.
I think that’s important – Paul is talking about all of us being one in Christ living in God’s equality. He doesn’t say that the rules of the society we live in will match the high bar that God is setting here. This is what God expects us to recognise in the way we live our lives – and in how we shape and influence the world around us. We don’t say – the world around us is rubbish so we’re just going to roll with that and be rubbish too. Our identity as God’s children – as those bapsitsed into Christ Jesus, is literally a higher calling – to be salt and light that changes the flavour of the world around and illuminates the problems that need solving.
I wonder what it means for you to live a little more this week in God’s equality with others? I wonder if you identify yourself with the Greek, the slave and the female who have been raised to equality, given full access to God which had been denied (by the world around you if not in reality by our loving creator God).
I wonder how many of us recognise ourselves in the other group – perhaps not literally here – but go with me. Imagine those who already thought God was on their side, the privileged and the chosen in the thinking of society – those for whom and by whom the rules were made. Those who now have to adjust to sharing the good things.
I think this in the modern vernacular is called “checking your privilege” – and as we dwell on Paul’s statement of God’s equality I would encourage you to reflect on this this week. Some people are quite accustomed to looking at the advantages that they have in life through the pure chance of birth, geography, nationhood, race, gender etc. and the not so incidental societal structures that help some and not others. There are some though who instantly go into a version of the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch. Privilege? Privilege me? “We used to live in one room, all twenty six of us, no furniture, half the floor was missing and we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of falling.”
Those of us who are present here today will have known varying degrees of disadvantage in our lives, of prejudice and also of privilege.
I invite you today to examine that – and ask what impact your understanding of yourself as a disciple of Christ has in how you might choose to engage with questions of equality in your own life and in the life of this Christian community.
So now, in a place of reflection on our own privilege or the injustice and exclusion we have experienced or perhaps knowingly or unknowingly contributed to – we meet a man who is naked, homeless, screaming, living in a graveyard – cast out by family and society – whose only engagement with him we can gather as the gospel continues is to sometimes chain him up – presumably because he is seen as a danger to himself and others.
Perhaps we instantly feel compassion for the man possessed – but I ask us all to be honest enough to recognise that we would also feel fear. If our man was out on the park screaming right now we’d be dialing 999 and no mistake.
We are in the land of the gentiles now – there are Jewish communities in this part of the country but not the majority – you can tell by the pigs. Jesus lands in this foreign land where he has come to get away from the crowds and clamour – and finds that just as there was no peace in the Jewish communities there is no peace here on the gentile side either.
But as Jesus has stood calm and resolute before the storm of creation on the sea of galilee – so he is calm before this human storm. This story has sometimes been understood as a representation of what many wanted to do to the hated Romans – and what many expected the coming Messiah to do – to send legion – literally a regiment of roman soldiers, into the sea – to drive them out of the land of Israel – to be a new king in the worldly sense.
But this is not what Jesus does. He brings personal healing – and then he gives this man a task. The man wants to stay with Jesus. You would wouldn’t you? He has been brought back to himself, he has found his identity again through God’s grace in action in Jesus – and he asks if he can follow Jesus. And it’s not just about his new relationship with Jesus – despite the healing can you imagine after years of living as he was living – of unpredictable, frightening and dangerous behaviour – going home and trying to be accepted by the family and community who had lived with him through that – who had cast him out to be the man who lived amongst the tombs because they could not come with him. Here staying with Jesus isn’t just nice, dedication and discipleship – it’s safe. It’s a place to hide.
Jesus has other ideas. Jesus sends him to tell others what has happened. In a perfect example of the kind of evangelism we are most of us called to – Jesus says “GO home and tell them what God has done for you.” God is revealed in our experience that what Jesus does, God does.
Jesus does not mount an armed assault on the occupying Roman forces and cast legions into the sea. Jesus does not reverse the oppression of the culture around him by simply oppressing a different group of people. For with Jesus there is a different set of rules – a new equality. It’s a lucky day indeed for those who already know God, for all those free men.
So today, will we be those who allow themselves to be transformed, who bring themselves to him in expectation that transformation is possible – or will we be those who witness God’s power at work and run away terrified?
God in Jesus meets us at our most terrifying, the place where we scare ourselves and others, in the darkest and most frightening places of our being and identity – and Jesus is not afraid. Jesus sees who we are. Jesus offers transformation and purpose. Jesus changes us and we are sent home to change our world. Not to hide behind Jesus, or even to hide away from the world in the beautiful walls of a church, and tell ourselves that faith is just a private thing.
Go home and tell them what God has done. God has shaped creation that all might be equal, that all might be restored. May we too be transformed by our encounter with God today in bread and wine and may we have the courage to go home and tell them, our families, our friends, our neighbours our colleagues, what God has done – granting us all freedom and equality in Jesus Christ. Amen.