‘The power of being nothing, but sane.’
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 23 June 2019
In our reading from the letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul uses a striking image when he writes:
‘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. It expressedvividly this picture that Saint Paul gives us, an image without parallel in antiquity, that when you are baptised you have clothed yourselves with Christ. Your new identity transcends all the divisions that we experience of Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female – we are all now one in Christ Jesus.
The theme of clothing is reflected in our Gospel reading too. It’s a terrible description of this man that is gone into in some detail. He’s a man not in his right mind, violent, uncontrolled, shouting, consumed by destructive passions, who lives isolated from human company and who for a long time has worn no clothes.
The picture of this man before and after his encounter with Jesus could not be starker – at the end he is sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. It’s a very typical description that Luke gives us in his Gospel of what someone is like when they have been transformed by the love of Christ.
Two other stories in Luke’s Gospel come to mind and both these stories only occur in his Gospel.
The parable of the Prodigal Son tells the story of the younger son who takes his inheritance and goes off into a far country and squanders his money in the way he lives. He runs out of money and so to earn a living he gets work on the land feeding some pigs. The story goes on to describe how he is so hungry he would gladly have eaten the food that the pigs are eating. Then comes the turning point in the story. Luke describes how the son ‘comes to himself’ or ‘comes to his senses’ and now in his right mind he makes the journey back to his father where he is welcomed with open arms and clothed with the best robe!
It’s a deeply moving story! The life of faith, suggests Luke, involves waking up; coming to your senses; being in your right mind!
The other story in Luke’s Gospel, that has echoes with the one we’ve been thinking about, 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 Mary is not helping her: ‘Tell her to help me’ she says to Jesus. Jesus replies that in fact Mary has chosen the better part. So what is Mary doing while Martha busies around the place? Luke writes:
‘She sits at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he is saying.’
Sitting at the Lord’s feet, clothed and in our right mind – that’s something of what we seek to be as Christians and why we come together week by week. We come to sit at the Lord’s feet, to be clothed with Christ, you could say, and to be put in our right mind.
A contemporary Welsh poet, Gwyneth Lewis, in her short poem ‘Homecoming’ expresses something of this. She writes:
Two rivers deepening into one;
less said, more meant; a field of corn
adjusting to harvest; a battle won
by yielding; days emptied to their brim;
an autumn; a wedding; a logarithm;
self-evidence earned, a coming home
to something brand new but always known;
not doing, but being – a single noun;
now in infinity; a fortune found
in all that’s disposable; not out there, but in,
the ceremonials of light in the rain;
the power of being nothing, but sane.2