A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on 19 June 2022
There are two words that have come from my reflections this week on our two readings from the New Testament, and they’re the words ‘transformation’ and ‘disruption’. They’re linked, in that transformation is disruptive – so there’s push back. Let me explain.
In the Gospel reading from Luke’s gospel, we’re given a description of a man who’s violent, uncontrolled, consumed by destructive passions, living naked – so he’s isolated from society.
Then he encounters Christ, and when the people come out to see him after his encounter with Christ, they find him sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.
It’s a deeply attractive description of what happens when someone’s transformed by the love of Christ – they sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in their right mind.
There are two other similar stories in Luke’s gospel.
The most well-known is the parable of the Prodigal Son in which the younger son takes his inheritance and goes off into a far country, squandering his money. The money runs out and so he works on the land feeding some pigs. He grows so hungry he would gladly eat the food that he’s giving the pigs to eat.
But then comes the moment of transformation. Luke describes how the son ‘comes to himself’ or ‘comes to his senses’ and now begins his journey back to his father where he’s welcomed with open arms and clothed with the best robe.
The story again suggests that the life of faith is about coming to our senses; being in our right mind; and setting out on a journey home – to ourself and to our God.
The other story in Luke’s gospel that has echoes with the one we’ve heard today, is the story of Mary and Martha. Mary and Martha are sisters who live together and they welcome Jesus into their home. Martha is busy about the place and complains to Jesus that her sister’s not helping. Jesus replies that in fact Mary has chosen the better part.
But what’s Mary doing? Luke writes:
‘She sits at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he’s saying.’
Sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to what he’s saying, clothed and in our right mind – this is what happens to people when they’re transformed by the love of Christ.
We heard Saint Paul also talk about the transformation that the love of Christ brings, and he too uses the imagery of being clothed:
‘As many of you as were baptised into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.’
From the earliest times in the life of the Church, a newly baptised person was clothed in a white robe to symbolise just this – that when you’re baptised, you’re clothed with Christ.
As God’s people, baptised and clothed with Christ, this is the mindset we bring to each day, each encounter, each choice that we face. That’s why we come together week by week – to sit at the Lord’s feet, to listen to his teaching, to be clothed with Christ – to be transformed.
What then of the disruption?
Saint Paul found that he was endlessly having to argue the case and defend his position; because the transformation that he himself had experienced and was working tirelessly to bring about in the churches that he founded, this transformation was deeply disruptive.
We heard him argue that a Christian’s new identity in Christ transcended all the divisions of his day – Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.
And that wasn’t good news if you were a slave owner, or a man, or a Jew. So his gospel of transformation was resisted.
Read the Acts of the Apostles, read Paul’s letters, and this disruption is going on all the time with all those social constructs, all those stratifications which every society, every community, every group has, now demolished, tossed aside, overturned – why?
Because, as Saint Paul passionately believed, we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Saint Paul, himself transformed by the love of Christ, is living and preaching a gospel of transformation. But he finds that because it’s so disruptive it’s resisted – vested interests have to be protected, the status quo maintained.
The same’s true in our Gospel reading; you might have thought that when Christ brings this violent, uncontrollable person to their senses, that it would have pleased the local villagers – that’s not the case. They’re afraid, Luke tells us, so much so that they ask Jesus to leave, go, get lost.
No gratitude there – just the very human fear of set ways and patterns being upended – fear of what might happen next.
The gospel is transformative and disruptive – so there’s push back.
And if our heart’s desire is for ourselves to be transformed by the love of Christ, there’ll be push back in us too – so we have to be determined, resolute, and persistent.
That’s how Christ was, determined; that’s how Saint Paul was, resolute.
And that’s how we must be too, persistent, if we want to journey home – to ourself and to our God.