“They Came to Him from Everywhere”
by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
Scripture: I Corinthians; Mark 1: 37-45
February 15, 2009
“And he was out in the desert places and they came to him from everywhere.” — Mark 1:45
Centralization of government control is accelerating rapidly these days, as the legacy of a party whose ideology claimed to be against such centralization, but left us with bloated government, bloated fiscal deficits, and galloping job loss. Finally, they comically mismanaged the 750 billion dollar government appropriation for the banks (TARP). It makes one want to vomit now as they undermine the confidence and unity of purpose that alone will save our economy by withholding support for the current president and his policies, in the name of the very same nonsensical principles that destroyed us during the last eight years. When it is fatal to play politics the Republicans are playing politics, and I can scarcely bear the deep sadness and alarm that grips my heart at such utterly immoral behavior. Can they not put the country before the party in a time of dire catastrophe? The ship is going down and they refuse to share in manning the pumps because of ideological differences with the majority of us, as we trying together to save ourselves.
At a time when unity is a matter of life and death they divide us, at a time when only the recovery of confidence will save us, they spread doubt. And they have no shame: having caused this loss of confidence in the first place they prevent us from regaining it. President Obama strives heroically for unity because he knows, as we all do, that unity is essential to the long-term recovery of purpose and the confidence that we need. Stimulus bills are by nature emergency measures; after the emergency we need a common vision to heal us. As a nation we cannot survive the snarling partisanship that the Republican Party brings to America, ever since the days of Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh.
Confidence is the only medicine that will cure us; imagine the effect on confidence, on the fractured, fearful mood of our citizens, of a congress united behind a president who knows what he is doing! So we have a problem of unity and partisanship, and the center will not hold. If we fail to hang together we shall continue to hang separately as one by one solitary souls lose their jobs, their houses, their families and their hope, while the people who brought us to this despair learn nothing and continue on the same path of divisiveness, sowing doubt and confusion. One can only hope that the electorate remembers for a very long time what they have done and are continuing to do.
In our lesson we find Jesus out in the wilderness because in the villages people are mobbing him for miracles. Jesus away from the center and out on the edges is the central theme of Mark’s gospel. The story of Jesus for Mark is the story of a movement away from Jerusalem and its sacred center the temple. One might take this to mean that centers are a bad thing in and of themselves, but one would be mistaken. Let me give you the punch line of this sermon here rather than at the end. The problem is not centeredness as such but the wrong kind of center. (A charitable interpretation of the current Republican obstructionism is that they think Obama is constructing the wrong kind of center).
That the temple and it sacred authority is the wrong kind can be seen from its violence. Temple means sacrifice, that is, the threat of force that keeps us in line by fear. Mark’s gospel offers us a new center, Jesus Christ himself. He is a person not an institution, he offers relationship not rules and regulations, he invites rather than coerces, he offers rather than demands, gives rather than takes. A telling illustration in our story is that he defies the rules and touches the leper. “Don’t touch lepers,” is one of the rules of his culture, just like “Don’t forgo publicity,” is a rule of our culture, which Jesus also disobeys. “”Don’t tell anyone, he says to the healed man; currently all publicity is good even the negative – “Just spell my name right.” Celebrities are all publicity; they are nothing more than a pretence, a rumor and a story.
Jesus is the true center, to which we can be attached by something as simple as faith; but we are shackled to the false center, of fame, fortune and politics as the art of getting elected, country be damned! In service of this false center we sacrifice our children, our country and our honor, as we call ourselves political leaders, thus showing that we have not only no honor but no shame.
The false center is the self center, also known as the ego, obsessed with the desire that the ego generates, wanting the other with such passion that we become the other, thus losing ourselves and finding ourselves in the prison house of desire tied to the whipping post at the center. In this state we cannot care if children go uneducated, if parents are unemployed, if people are in despair and depressed by a great depression. “We care only for ourselves and our party.” I can hear the Republican politicians murmuring in their hearts and wishing that Obama fail so that when he does they will be able to say, ” We had nothing to do with it; so elect us again. We had nothing to do with the failed attempt to rescue the nation from the depression; nothing to do except our best to make Obama fail, country be damned!” This is the wrong kind of center, the spiteful center.
There is a right kind of center: in the Gospel it is Jesus and his grace. In this world it is the responsible source of security and the power needed to make society cohere and perform. To be sure there are pathologies of the center, totalitarianisms of various kind, but not all centers of powers are automatically toxic, some are necessary always and some essential in emergencies. We are in a state of dire emergency in America and we need a unified center to inspire us to believe again, not a divided voice, accusing and undermining. One Republican called the latest stimulus bill a catastrophe; after so much Republican created catastrophe can it be he still can’t recognize it when he does not see it?
Let me return to our lesson; Jesus healed the leper and the leper repaid him by refusing his request to keep the miracle to himself. He disobeyed his benefactor and made it impossible for Jesus to help any more people in the villages. Allegorically speaking, we desperately need help in the villages, and the jabbering lepers are making it impossible. Soon we will all be forced into the wilderness.
In the mean time there is the true center, as near as our faith and as sustaining as our prayers. Bring your leprosy to him and he will touch you, something that hasn’t happened to the average leper for a long time, and more than that, he will heal you. And if the lepers on the national scene would shut up we might be able to come together around a healing center and begin the long process of repairing the moral and spiritual damage they have done to us, and we have done to ourselves, through each of the last eight years.