Rev. Dr. Fred G. Garry
“Crossing the Wires”
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Most of the best things in my life were never my plan. When asked to give a synopsis of what my life has been, I often say, “my life happened in spite of me.”
No place was this clearer than a cottage on Lake Ontario. Not my idea, not my plan, not my desire. Yet, for the six years we summered there and labored to fix up a shack into a place of fun and relaxation, for those six summers I will always rejoice, be thankful and ever acknowledge, it happened in spite of me.
After walking the grounds and cluttered rooms of a summer home that had been one family’s gathering place for eighty years, I was struck by the neglect and dilapidation, not its potential. Kathy has a far better eye for this than I do. And since it was a plan that she and her mother had cooked up, I just sighed and said, “Do what you want to do.”
After the sale was complete, what needed to be done was to empty, to gut, to tear out, to rebuild. Every room, every space needed great work. This was a disaster. No room could just be painted; no space could be “spruced up.” This was down to the studs. And, for the vast majority of the projects, this meant we would tear it down to the studs. So much work.
One issue came up right away. After we removed the odd assortment of wall surfaces and the drop ceiling making the cottage a cause of claustrophobia, we could see that the house was wired to combust at any moment. The wiring was . . . not very good; okay, it was dangerous.
A good friend, Ken, who knows how to do everything came out to the cottage one day and gave me a great tutorial in all things related to wires, switches, outlets, and breakers. He walked me through the principles and gave me the sort of safety tips that allow me to be here today, alive that is. His tutorial was thorough but simple. I was to do the mainstay of the work; he would come back and check on me and do the really tricky stuff.
What he did was show me a path. Remove the wall coverings and expose the wiring. Turn off the power and then remove the old wire. Determine how you want to rewire the room and get started all the while paying attention to how things connect and what it is you want to do. Once this is done, then turn the power back on and see what you got.
For the better part of the month on each day off and on each evening without an event I could be found taking down drywall, ceiling tiles, and paneling, removing old wires, running new wires, and then praying. “Please, oh please, work.” Sometimes the lesser gods of home remodel smiled; other times they were less gracious.
In the end, Ken came back and helped Kathy trust my work. He was our inspector so to speak and troubleshooter. Ken came back and for the most part told me I did fine.
First a confession, I loved this. There was something so fascinating about connecting the outlets and the switches to the boxes and to the junction. Mind you if I had to explain how any of this actually works, as in science or technical definition, my limited knowledge would be clear to all. I was more on the lackey level than supervision. But there is something so simple, so basic I found great delight in it. This goes with this and the light comes on. What fun!
Probably an occupational hazard but as I tore down the drywall and pulled the old wires, as I ran new wire and redid the fixtures of each room, as I did this, I could not help but hear and see the gospel, how God works in us. More specifically, I could hear and see the process by which we are redeemed, restored unto God. With each simple step, each basic task I could see how God works in us.
This would be a more dramatic illustration if I was zapped with enough electricity causing a near death experience and I could say that I saw heaven as I lingered between this life and the next. That would be very dramatic, but not true. I got a couple of zaps and there was one time I ran a 220 line and feared for my life, but on the mainstay less than dramatic.
What I saw in the cottage as I ran the new wires was the work of the Holy Spirit in us. We are brought down, taken down so what is broken and bad can be removed; we are carefully given a new plan in life; and then, new life is worked through us, a new way of receiving and handling power.
In the next three weeks we will explore each of these steps through the Beatitudes. Justin did a great job announcing the Beatitudes, this is the way God turns us around, redeems us, brings a whole different view of life. In the coming weeks we will explore the three parts of this. There is an emptying; there is a filling; and there is the moment when the power goes back on.
There is a great debate as to whether Jesus ordered the Beatitudes in this way or if Matthew put them in this order. And there is a beautiful order to be seen and followed. Whether the order was how Jesus spoke them or how the church lived them, they are a pattern of salvation. We are emptied; we are filled; and we receive power. Seeing them and living them, we are saved; we receive new life.
Again, the source of the pattern is less important than the pattern itself: emptying, filling, and bringing the power back is very important. It is important because if we mix this up, there is incredible frustration and even danger. I would say, and this is not an exaggeration, I would say, most people struggle with faith simply because they do not know the pattern, this plan. Ken has never come to help them, give them a lesson.
Many times, without this plan, we get into trouble. We get into trouble in simple ways: We try to make our lives better before we can see what is not working. We try to fill our lives with new things, good things, while we are still full of old things, less than good things. We try to work with the power on; we don’t know the danger of power.
In the weeks to come we will look at each of these in particular. We look at the teachings of Jesus and the way they remake us and bring us new life. Today though we need to make a distinction. And the distinction is about who is Ken and what he does and who we are in the world of rewiring an old cottage. This distinction is important. We can see the distinction if we look to the “good news” or “gospel” in our two readings.
In our first reading we have the introductory words of the Apostle Paul. He is writing to the church at Philippi as a prisoner in Rome. He speaks of the good work God has begun in us, how it will be brought to fulfillment. Mostly he speaks of a shared gospel.
In our second reading we can see Jesus at work, teaching and healing. He is traveling far and wide and offering hope to all. Matthew says Jesus is offering the good news or gospel to the people.
Now for the distinction.
The good news for Paul is that Jesus Christ has restored our relationship with God. He is the atoning sacrifice necessary for our sin; he is the New Adam in whom we are remade in the image of God, recreated at it were. We are promised an eternal life with God in heaven. And this is good news, great news even.
Yet, this was not the good news Jesus offered as he walked everywhere through Greater Syria. His good news is that you can be free in this life; you can be reconciled to each other in this life here and now; you can be made whole here and now. In the coming weeks we will see what this good news looks like: we can see and know our brokenness; this brokenness can be removed and new life can come; and we can live free in this world, which is power.
The gospel of Paul is like my friend Ken. Ken’s is in charge; he is the one who knows and teaches; he shows how it is to be done. He has a job; he began a work in me; and he saw that work to completion. All the lights came on. But he didn’t do my job.
The gospel of Jesus is to say, you can do your job. Get busy removing the coverings (the paneling, the drywall, the ceiling tiles); you can remove the old wires; go ahead: run the new wires; and even, cut the power. He tells us we can, but he doesn’t do it for us. This is my job, your job.
The gospel of Paul is that in Jesus Christ we are reconciled to God. His sacrifice on the cross and victory over death has made the way for us to be forgiven and reconciled to God. And this is great news. We are reconciled to God, but that is God’s work in Jesus. Our Reformed tradition says, quite rightly, that we cannot do this job, earn this forgiveness, even be seen as worthy of this grace and mercy. This is all true.
What is also true is that this reconciliation to God doesn’t extend to you and me. God is reconciled to us, great; we are not reconciled with each other. The first is Ken’s job at the cottage; the second is mine. I have to remove the falsity covering my soul; I have to remove the broken habits, the anger and greed and delusion that destroys me; and then, I need to bring in new life. I need to replace the old with what is beautiful, what is good, and what is true. This is my job, your job, our shared work.
As if this sermon does not already have enough metaphors, let me introduce one more. Justin introduced this truth last week, let me put it forward again but with visual aids.
The beauty of wiring is that for the most part there are two wires, a black one and a white one. Sometimes a white wire or a black wire is alone, but for the most part they need to be connected with their pair. White wire goes with white wire; black wire goes with black wire. Again, I like the simplicity of this. Keep them separate, but also connect them to their pair.
The gospel of Paul is the black wire; the gospel of Jesus is the white wire. They are both needed; they are both true; but we need to keep them separate. God is in charge of God’s business; Jesus reconciles us to God as the Son of God; Ken does his job, but he doesn’t do mine.
Here’s the thing. What if we keep waiting for God to not only do God’s job, but to do ours as well? What if we are expecting Jesus to not only reconcile us to God, but to also reconcile us to each other? What if God forgiving us in Jesus Christ is God’s job; what if you and I forgiving ourselves and one another is our job? Too often I fear we are waiting for God to do our work as well.
Our work is to cut the power of anger; our job is to loosen the hold of greed; and, we must remove the layers of falsity covering our brokenness. This is a lot of work.
Ken was a great instructor, but he didn’t do my work. We have been given lots of instruction; we need to get to work. Ken is not going do it. Amen.
- Philippians 1:3 - 10
- Matthew 4:23 - 25