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Sunday, September 06, 2009

"If you want someone to listen, whisper"

Yet he could not escape notice.” Mark 7:24-37
XXIII Pentecost – September 6, 2009
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton rector and pastor

This is the first time in a long time that I have been here, at St. Paul’s, to preach on Labor Day Weekend. You may be wondering why that is so.

Well, see, (ahem) it’s just that I wanted to give our new deacon an. . .an opportunity to preach all those sermons the past few weeks on ‘bread’. Ummm . . . and . . .and. . .I decided to return after the gospel subject changed. (Yeah, that's the ticket . . .)

I understand he did a marvelous job and for his reward, he’s spending some well-deserved end of summer time with family.

I suspect, however, he may not be eating any crusty French bread with his Shrimp Ettufee.

This morning’s gospel lesson gives us a veritable smorgasbord of healing stories. We learn about the healing of the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman as well as that of a man born deaf who also had a speech impediment.

Some scholars refer to Mark’s gospel style of fitting two stories in between a message as a “Markan sandwich.” Well, that sounds a little too close to another sermon about bread, so I’m going to go with the strange message that is the real stuff of this passage.

Jesus , we are told at the beginning of the passage, “entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice.”

At the end of the passage, we hear, “Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.”

What's that old saying? "If you want someone to listen, whisper."

Some biblical scholars refer to this as the “Messianic Secret” – by which they mean that the writers of Mark’s Gospel had to come up with a convincing explanation for why Jesus did not seem like a messiah during the course of his life.

By emphasizing secrecy in his gospel, Mark could simultaneously claim that Jesus was the messiah and that nobody knew it until after he had died, and that his messiahship was revealed only through his resurrection.

Other scholars insist that some aspects of the secret were historical – so the secret of his messiahship wasn’t so much of a secret at all – except for the parts that Jesus wanted to reveal – and when and to whom he wanted to reveal them.

Secrets. They provide the two slices of bread of this morning’s gospel sandwich from Mark that is stuffed with two slices of stories about healing.

Secrets. It’s interesting how they rarely stay ‘secret’, isn’t it? Sooner or later, for good or for ill, the truth will have out.

I think Jesus must have known that. I suspect, at this point in his mission and ministry, his ‘messiahship” was not so much the issue as he was simply trying to stay ‘under the radar’ of the religious and governmental bureaucracy.

Or, perhaps, he was trying to say ‘under the buzz’ of the word that had gotten out about him so he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by people flocking to see him.

Nice strategy. Rarely works. Obviously didn’t, as this gospel passage reports.

You know, I fully expect to hit the ground running when I get back to the office on Tuesday – once the word gets out that I’m back.

Until then, “Shhhhh . . . . .” (Let's just keep my return a little secret between you and me.)

Secrets. Whether it’s good news or speculative gossip, secrets are rarely contained. It may take a few years, but eventually, secrets are exposed. Sometimes that’s good. Other times, it can be devastating.

As my grandmother always advised, "Live your life as if everything about you will be known because someday, everything will."

There are secrets and then there are ‘family secrets’ – the stories of Uncle Joe who embezzeled money or Aunt Sally who tipped the glass a bit too much. They are ‘open secrets’ in the family. We don’t like those stories to become ‘public’ ‘lest people think ill of us or, in some cases, we might lose our social standing.

I had a mini-family reunion with my brother and his last weekend. Many family secrets were told. Some left us slack-jawed with astonishment. Some made us laugh out loud or giggle wickedly as we had when we were kids. Others had us weeping while still others provided important information or insights.

There are other secrets – the secrets we keep about ourselves. They can be the most deadly. Sometimes, we work so hard to keep secrets about ourselves that we actually believe the stories we put out there in public.

You know. That we’ve really got it ‘all together’. That nothing – absolutely nothing – is wrong and everything is absolutely fine. Just fine. Fine, thank you. We’re fine. Yessireebob, just fine.

That we don’t have any real personal concerns – or, say, a nasty temper. Or that we’ve been drinking or eating just a little too much these days – especially when we’re stressed. (Stressed? Who, me?) Or, having an increasingly difficult time getting out of bed in the morning. Or, finding any enthusiasm about going to work.

These are the most damaging secrets of all – the ones we keep about ourselves – because they are not so much damaging to others as they are to our own souls.

I remember seeing Sweet Baby James Taylor in concert a few years ago – a man who has faced a few demons in his own life.

As the band was tuning up after intermission, a male voice in the crowd called out in a boozy slur, “I love you, James.”

Taylor looked up from the mike and scanned the crowd, looking for a face to connect with the voice. He shook his head sadly, leaned into the microphone and said to the crowd, “That’s ‘cause you don’t know me.”

Author Fred Buechner is a man who knows the toxicity that personal secrets can hold.

It wasn’t until one of his daughters was battling an eating disorder that he came to understand that the family secret about his father’s suicide was the poisonous source of his secret bouts with depression, which had come to manifest itself in his daughter’s anorexia.

He writes:
"It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are — even if we tell it only to ourselves. If we don’t, we run the risk of ourselves losing track of who we truly and fully are. Little by little we come to accept instead some highly edited version which we do reveal from time to time in the hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.

It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people maybe to tell us a secret or two of their own. Such exchanges have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and consequently what being human is all about.

Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell."
The hidden message of this morning’s gospel passage is that, sandwiched between the secrets we keep about ourselves are the stories of potential healing in our lives – ridding ourselves of the demons that try to possess us and opening our ears to hear and loosening our tongues to tell the truth about our lives. And, how those stories fit into the history of our families – as well as the chapters we are yet to live.

Somewhere between the public and private stories of our selves is the secret truth of our mortal lives. Listen carefully to the whispers in your life. I have come to believe that it is in these whispers that God tells us the secret truths of our lives.

And the place of that secret truth, my friends, is the place where we will find Jesus – and healing with Jesus and through Jesus – who is, Himself, the Bread of Life.



Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Amen, dear sister. This gives much to ponder.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. You haven't lost your touch!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Oh, those secrets, what a catch 22 they are...

Some of the best deeds I've done, I've done in secret. Yet the heaviest lead weights around my neck are also tied to unhealthy secrets.

I have always had the weird phenomenon of when the secrets of others start to unravel, it always makes my own seem even heavier.

You know, your sermon reminds me how much I love how we all read the same texts and go so many different places. This morning, when I was reading the texts prior to going to church, I blogged a little b/c I got hooked on the fact the Syrophoenician woman was a "stressed out, unannounced visitor" and how stressful that scenario can be. (On the Kirke Planet, I live so far out from town, if someone has decided to visit me unannounced, can't be good. There's stress somewhere!)

Then Ann was posting HER take over on FB, and it's different than both of ours--was the Syrophoenician gathering the crumbs from the table, or was she wrestling with Jesus?

What a blessing we can all read the same text and go so many different places with it!

(Hmmm. I'm starting to wonder if this is a sneak preview of what EFM is going to be like for me...)