Sunday, June 19, 2022
By: David May, Rector
I think it’s true – because of the way God has made us – that we will do or try to do those things that follow our heart’s desire – and sometimes in the most extraordinary ways, come what may. Which is, frankly, why I preach the way I do. Not that I’m trying to set up too much of a straw man but I’m not interested in listening to someone stand up here and say ‘here’s what’s wrong with you and here’s what you need to do’. There’s not much of our heart’s desire in that as far as I can tell.
And it’s not just me who embraces this homiletical principle. Augustine of Hippo said that after years of reading and contemplating the Holy Scriptures, and searching his own heart and the mysterious intentions of his own will, and countless hours on his knees in prayer, that he had discovered what the problem was. After all that he came to this conclusion: ‘it’s me. I’m the problem”. And at some fundamental level from which his own humanity sprang he knew that no amount of good advice or wise observations or haranguing by preachers was going to change that. On his own, his best efforts weren’t going to move the needle – not really. Only the thing he could fall in love with, only the thing he discovered was his heart’s desire, would change him. He would obey only what he saw his heart already loved.
To put it simply, in Jesus God has given us his heart’s desire and ours: Jesus, who in this gospel reading today heals our blindness so we may see as he sees, who calls his children to come away from the land of the dead to the living, to come in from the cold, who breaks the chains of our captivity, and welcomes home those who are lost.
This is his Good News, Jesus is our Good News and our heart’s desires. And he is where our heart’s desire and God’s heart’s desire for us meet. This meeting place first shows us who we are now and then shows us what we shall be: we shall be like him.
Which is a beautiful word. And, I would also say, a costly one. Because it includes losing your life to gain it, even if it is for your heart’s desire. The gospel reading this morning shows the beauty and the cost of finding your heart’s desire.
As the story begins, Jesus disembarks on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee at a Gentile community. It was a place that any self-respecting Jew would’ve thought of as ‘the wrong side of the tracks’, a place they should have steered clear of. As the story is told, it’s a place that Jesus and his disciples probably weren’t heading for when they stepped into the boat the night before. But there had been a storm out on the water that night that pushed them off course, it seems, and in the wrong direction. Or, if you were the man tortured by demons living isolated and lost among the dead – well then maybe that storm was the hand of God blowing Jesus in exactly the right direction.
I suppose the people in that community dealt with this poor man the only way they knew how. He was scary because he was like them (he had arms and legs and a face, he had a mother who had brought him into the world just like everyone else), but he also wasn’t like them. He looked like a person, but he didn’t act like one. He is a person living in a world that doesn’t want him. So they tried to chain him down for his own good, I guess, or to keep him under lock and key so they don’t have to see him or acknowledge him or deal with him. Or maybe it was a little of both. But the storm that blew Jesus into their community blows through them too and after it is done, the man is found beside Jesus, clothed, and, we hear, in his right mind. The man, now himself again, wants to go with Jesus. He has found his heart’s desire. But Jesus say, ‘no. Stay here. This is your home. Stay here, these are your people and they are yours. And say to them what God has done for you.” And what God has done for him…I wish I could here what he said about that!
And we hear something so curious about all this. It’s not the man who scares them anymore. It’s Jesus. So they plead with him to please just go away. For them, there is something too costly about what he has done.
Years ago, at a former parish I served, an individual’s personal storm blew them into our parish. She was like us. Except that she also wasn’t. She first came one weekday afternoon looking for help. She was (there’s no fancy way of putting it) an addict who was trying to make ends meet as an exotic dancer. She was like us. But she wasn’t. She was sort of scary, I guess.
She had only come the church on a couple of weekdays before. I remember saying to her once (the way that clergy say to people) that I hoped she’d always feel welcome to come to our church some Sunday morning, that we’d always be glad to welcome her. Well, one Sunday morning, she took me up on that offer and came to church. She was like us as she’d put on her best clothes to come to church. But her best clothes were not like our best clothes. Her best clothes – among other things – were really shiny! So, there were wide eyes and sort of uncomfortable overly large smiles trying to greet her. One person, though, an older woman of our parish, stayed herself, and wasn’t afraid and nervous over what to do or how to act. She took this young woman by the arm and made a place in her pew for her right by her side. I thought that day that older woman looked just like Jesus because she was acting just like him.
Later after church, this older woman came up to me and said, ‘do you know how we sang ‘Fairest Lord Jesus’ today?” She said, “ I’ve sung that hymn a thousand times. But with that girl next to me, it was the first time I ever felt like I was doing / what singing that hymn all these years / made my heart desire. I think something’s changed in me.”
She was changed. We are changed when we find our heart’s desire like that. There are plenty of people here who would tell you the same.
There is no story we have about what happened to the man whom Jesus freed from a legion of demons and who was used to living in a world that didn’t want him. I wonder what happened to him and to that village? Did he find that he was still living in a world that didn’t want him? Was he like a tiny pebble dropped in a pond whose ripples change everything around him? We don’t know. But I bet he followed his heart’s desire, Jesus, who gave him the thing he was to do with his life now: Go say what God has done for you.
Well isn’t that the Church? Isn’t that us? Isn’t what Jesus gave him to do our work? Aren’t we the ones who find our heart’s desire in Jesus and then go and say what God has done for us too? Isn’t that our story to tell as our heart’s desire? Amen.