Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)
July 18th, 2021
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God…”
If you’ve ever lived or moved abroad, or if you’re from another country now living in this one, you have undoubtedly known the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land.
If you’ve gone to England you have to remember to look the other way before crossing the street. Even a trip to another time zone or climate, a place where another language is predominantly spoken, can leave you feeling discombobulated, with that lingering sense that things just aren’t the same here, everything feels a little bit off. We aren’t in Kansas anymore.
But this alienation, this feeling of being a stranger, doesn’t only happen through travel or physical place.
We have all at times felt like a stranger even in the midst of friends and family, members of our community.
You’ve felt that alienation when you’ve been left out of something fun your friends did; when you weren’t brought into the funny joke shared amidst friends; when you’ve been betrayed by those you thought were your friends.
You’ve felt alienation because of struggles in your life – addiction, mental health issues, physical limitations.
You’ve felt alienation and estrangement because of the burden of your sins. Those thing you bear regret for saying or doing or thinking, or even those things you failed to say or do or think.
Things were no different in Jesus’ time, and were perhaps worse.
Sickness, disability – these were things which caused people of Jesus’ day to be separated in a real way from their communities. We heard a few weeks ago of the shame the woman with the issue of blood carried with her; Jesus was often healing lepers, people who were exiled from regular community as they still are in parts of the world today.
Illness, not being understood as it is today, meant you were considered unclean for participation in the worship life of the temple. Alienation, exile, loneliness – these are all things that those who suffered from sickness or disability experienced in Jesus’ time.
Yet it is exactly those – the unwanted, exiled, estranged, and alienated – that he seeks out for healing, as we hear in the Gospel for today.
There was so much need around them that they barely had any chance to be alone, pray, and recharge, and even today when Jesus and the disciples attempt it, they are followed and swarmed by those in need.
But rather than turn them away Jesus sees their alienation, he sees that, as the Gospel says, “they were like sheep without a shepherd,” a crowd hungry for healing, for receiving Jesus’ teaching.
Later on, we are told, wherever he went, the sick were brought to him and laid at his feet so that they might even just touch his clothing, just like the woman with the issue of blood. And all who touched him, says Mark, found healing.
But we must remember that here healing does not just mean the removal of their illness, but that what Jesus offers these people is wholeness.
To be healed of your leprosy, of your hemorrhage, your blindness, your possession, was not just a return to health, a removal of physical suffering, but a return to community.
It is a deliverance from that estrangement and that alienation which so many suffered, often likely more difficult than the physical ailment, a return to family and friends, a return to the temple where you could draw near with God.
Jesus’ healing allowed people to once again know love and fellowship.
For us and the various ways we suffer, it is likewise the unexpected side-effects of illness that are more a challenge than the illness itself: the pain of losing our independence lingers far longer than the pain of the broken hip.
The damage to relationships more than the effects of our addiction.
St. Paul, at various points in his Epistles, speaks about our relationship to God in terms of estrangement and alienation. He reminds the Ephesians that they, at one point, were strangers and aliens – not Jews, but not yet Christians.
This being apart from God, Paul says, is like being in the world without hope, without guidance.
While Paul was writing specifically to the Ephesians, can the same not be said of us?
We have all at one point wandered through this life without hope, as strangers, alienated and cut off from the source of our hope, our life, and our love.
We know what it’s like to be lost and on the outside, lonely, broken, and deeply needing wholeness.
But, St. Paul tells the Ephesians and us, it is now through Jesus that we have been brought near. Now, through his sacrifice on the cross, through his blood, that we are no longer strangers. Now through his death and life do our struggles need not alienate or estrange us.
It reminds us a bit of Jesus’ words to the disciples, “I no longer call you servants…instead, I have called you friends.” Through him we are brought into friendship with God, into relationship, into love.
Not as strangers, Paul says, “But…citizens with the saints and…members of the household of God…”
Paul says in the Epistle today that Jesus has, “broken down the dividing wall,” and this is exactly what Jesus does for us. His sacrifice breaks down the walls that divide us, not just because we are all one in Him, one in God’s family – no Jew, Greek, no slave, no free, no white, nor black, no man, nor woman – but also because following Jesus, loving Him and accepting that we are loved by Him breaks down the walls that keep us alienated from God, from each other.
This is exactly what Jesus is doing in the Gospel lesson today, breaking down the barriers that the sick face and giving them new life. Gathering together all those lost souls who have wandered without a shepherd and bringing them into his fold, giving them a shepherd, walking with them in the dark valley.
And this is what Jesus is doing for us, day by day, as we strive to follow him.
This is what Jesus does for us at this altar every Sunday when we receive his body and blood.
When we receive Him at the altar we likewise receive him into our hearts where there can be no more dividing wall between Him and us, no estrangement or distance.
The hope, the very purpose of our coming here every Sunday, is that by receiving him we will be joined, as St. Paul says today, with the whole structure of those whom He loves, that we may each individually and as a community be a holy temple for the Lord, a dwelling place for God.