February 7, 2021

Fool’s gold


Isaiah 40:28–31

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

29 He gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

1 Corinthians 9:16–23

16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Mark 1:29–39

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.


In the 1984 movie Splash, a man played by Tom Hanks falls in love with a mermaid played by Daryl Hannah. There is one scene when Tom Hanks gives her a present. As a mermaid she had never received a present before, so she doesn’t understand that the present is inside the gift-wrapped box and she thinks that the present is the gift-wrapped box.

If you have ever wrapped a present for a cat you will find that the cat enjoys the box and the wrappings more than the present inside.

It is kinda adorable, but for me it is a metaphor about religion. Last week we talked about cults and dangerous qualities of religious groups.

And I think that the metaphor of the pretty box with the ribbon is a metaphor for the way some people think that the religious organization and structure and rules are more important than the treasure or gold inside.

That is the loving and caring relationships that religions espouse. Relationships with the Divine and with one another.

It is always a danger I think that the religion becomes more important than the divine itself. That the religion which espouses love, sometimes isn’t that loving.

And that is why I entitled the sermon this week fool’s gold.

Fool’s gold also known as iron pyrite is comprised primarily of iron and sulfur and has a metallic luster and a brass-yellow hue, which makes it look like gold.

It actually has been quite useful in history. It actually was called Pyrite, from the Greek word meaning “fire” because these were rocks that created sparks when struck with steel. Some early guns used pyrite as part of the ignition system to fire the gun.

Pyrite today is found in energizer batteries.

But I digress. The point I am trying to make is that sometimes we think something is more important than it is.

We think something is gold when it isn’t.

And that is true in religion sometimes.

In our epistle lesson we have Paul writing something that sounds a little crazy.

20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. 

It kind of sounds like Paul is going undercover and when he with Jews acts like a Jew. When he is with the legalists he is a legalist. When he is with those who are anti-law, Paul is anti-law.

But you might think that this chameleon performance is not very honest and not befitting of the world’s greatest missionary.

Isn’t that more the kind of thing one expects from a salesperson who will do anything, say anything and be anything in order to make a sale.

But I think what Paul is getting at is this: And I am going to quote from Marcus Rempel a blogger, philosopher, farmer, pastor, counsellor from Manitoba:

All the religious and cultural packaging and baggage people carry around is just that - packaging and baggage. It's a container that can be filled with clutter and bullshit, or it can be filled with gold. Paul is after the gold. He is done fretting over non-essentials. He has caught hold of something essential that he wants to share with everyone he meets. End quote

And what is that essential that he wants to share with everyone. It is the gospel. What we Christians call the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the good news that whoever you are, wherever you are, however you are, you are loved and invited to love.

It is the essential fact that when two people created in the image of God encounter each other and treat each other as the image of God, and love one another, then God is alive in that moment. And that is what we Christians call Jesus.  That is what Jesus died to show us: unconditional love.

Marcus shared about the time he listened to a conversation between Rabbi Sarah Bassin and Imam Abdullah Antepli. I listened to that conversation too. The conversation was taken from the Podcast “On Being” and it was episode was called; “holy envy” which is the acknowledgement that sometimes we can envy the spiritual practices and devotion of people in other religions. And in this interview there was an acknowledgement, that while the world is full of bad news, there is a good news story that Muslims and Jews in many place around the world and in North America are dialoguing and building friendships.

The Imam talked about his holy envy of Jews, the fact that Jewish scholars often question God, while in his tradition questioning God is not done.

The Rabbi talked about how forgiveness is woven into so much of Christian tradition, but not so much in Jewish tradition except for one day a year, the day of Atonement.

But as I listened to the dialogue, I saw what Marcus saw. Two people laughing, sharing deep thoughts, affectionate towards each other, respectful of each other, learning from each other, without giving up their own faith.

It was a genuine encounter of care between two people who believe in God and are children of God.

It was an example of the gold of each tradition.

To me that puts the words of Paul in a new perspective. To the Jew I am a Jew. To the legalist I am a legalist.

Maybe with a Muslim I am a Muslim.

In Paul’s terms whether one is circumcised or not circumcised is not the issue. What one’s religious tradition or container is less important. The new creation of love is everything to Paul.

God is love. Love is God. God loves you. You can love God and love one another.

That is the gold.

And sometimes the religious tradition can be fool’s gold. Sometimes religious tradition can be the nicely wrapped present, and the gold inside can be overlooked.

Now I am not against religious tradition or even the rules of religious tradition. It is sometimes hard to find gold at all if you don’t have a religious tradition.

And I am a Presbyterian, and proud of parts of my tradition which believes in the priesthood of all believers, which is a reformed tradition and encourages us to continually reform, which believes in a representative government, which acknowledges the authority of scripture, tradition, reason, and the church…

But says these are all subordinate to the Holy Spirit, to God, and to the person of Jesus.

But my religious tradition and yours is all about leading you to the gold, to love, to God; and in our Christian tradition leading you to Jesus, and to Jesus’ way of love.

Some twenty-three years ago there was a movie that turned into a huge commercial success. It was called “Armageddon” and the premise was the earth was about to be destroyed by an asteroid. Even firing nuclear weapons at the asteroid won’t work because there is a lot of mass in an asteroid.

The answer is to send a drilling rig team up there and drill inside the asteroid to put a nuclear weapon inside the middle.

And the hero is a driller Harry Stamper, who along with his team takes a space shuttle up and drills down and plants the bomb

But something goes wrong and someone has to stay behind and detonate the bomb and sacrifice his life to save the world. And Harry stays behind and sacrifices his life and the bomb is detonated and the asteroid splits and avoids crashing into earth.

It is yet another story of a Harry saving the world.

And while it is a great story and saving the world from extinction is a pretty big thing…

It is not the same as we understand salvation in the Christian tradition, nor the salvation that Jesus was talking about when he talked about saving the world.

And so, I want to talk about our gospel lesson this morning to get at the kind of salvation Jesus is talking about.

And today’s gospel lesson is about healing. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus starts his ministry and immediately he gets to it. Jesus is a person of action. He takes on evil and casts out an evil spirit. Then he starts healing and listen to the way Mark tells it:

they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.

They brought to him all who were sick.

The whole city was gathered around the door,

He cured many who were sick

He cast out many demons.

The way Mark talks about it, Jesus was a one man emergency room and hospital all put together and he went from one miracle to another miracle.

It was like a hospital television show after a natural disaster. People coming by the scores to be healed, and Jesus healing them.

Now the first churches I remembering attending were a Methodist Church in England and the United Church of Canada in New Brunswick.

And while I was just a child basically, I don’t remember any healing services. I suppose that if people in those churches got sick they went to the doctor. It wasn’t that people in the church wouldn’t pray for those who were sick but the understanding was, I think, that miracles that happened in the bible didn’t happen today the same.

And then I ended up in a Pentecostal church for a while. And they believed that every supernatural thing in the bible happens today and should happen today. Speaking in tongues, walking on water, ax heads that float, people paralyzed walking again… all by the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

They took the scriptures very literally.

And while I believed in healing like that myself, I never actually saw people healed, that one could say it was a supernatural miracle. I never saw a paralyzed man, healed by prayer and faith. And people still died of cancer and car accidents and heart attacks.

There was certainly no parade of sick people coming to the doors and getting healed.

And so, when I became a Presbyterian, hearkening back to some of my mainstream roots, attracted in part to the education and rationality of the Presbyterian church, I kind of went back to the idea that miracles, at least supernatural miracles don’t happen today, or at least rarely. I am a person of science, did a science degree at university and I ended up thinking of miracles more metaphorically.

And I was skeptical of my Pentecostal tradition because I saw too much stuff that was highly questionable.

But over the years my skepticism had been tempered a bit and my understanding of Jesus has changed.

Healings happen all the time in this world. Way more than they did in Jesus day. Mostly they happen in the hospital and with doctors and with medicines, but is it possible that many of you watching this service might not be alive today, if it were not for medical interventions, such as operations and drugs.

Well, it isn’t supernatural healing. Does it have to be a supernatural healing to count as a healing?

When I went to. Knox College in 1979, one of the women who worked there was Eileen Best,  who was related to Dr.  Charles Best, who along with Dr. Frederick Banting discovered usable insulin for diabetics.

Was not the discovery of insulin a miracle for those with diabetes?

And maybe just as much a miracle is that they sold the patent for $1 so that diabetics would not have to be rich to afford treatment.

I believe that God works through people to bring healing in this world and lots of healings happen.

But I am more and more convinced that the primary job of Jesus is to heal.

Remember when I talked about Harry saving the word in the movie “Armageddon.”

If someone saves the world from mass extinction, are the people nicer, would wars end, would we practice justice, would there be more equality and, equal access to health care and education?

If Harry could save the world from extinction it would be wonderful….

….but who can save it from hate, prejudice, oppression, violence and greed…

Jesus offers a way. That way is to take up a cross and suffer and die to selfishness and hate and prejudice and greed and be born again to unconditionally love, to radical grace and universal forgiveness.

The salvation that Jesus offers is to heal us of every hurt we have every sustained, every unkind word, every rejection, every name or evil word or slur or lie uttered against us, every hit, every blow every act of violence done to our person, every shun, every time we were excluded or isolated by others, every put down, every abuse, every intolerance, every disrespect…

All of us need this kind of healing, to set us free to love, to care, to include, to forgive and to be healers.

The salvation Jesus offers is not to be rescued from physical annihilation, or even to escape this world to a better place, but to be transformed by his love, to love, and that love that he promises will never end or die, and we will be loved in this life and the next.

And this healing is played out in many ways in community life. When a leper was healed in Jesus’ day, the leper was free to enter the community again and engage in worship and family life and in work.

When friends brought a paralyzed man, that man was raised to walk home arm in arm with his friends.

When a woman touches his garment and is healed she is considered a daughter of Abraham, a full member of the community.

Jesus’ healings were stories of human communities healed from brokenness and disease, and unhealthy emotional attitudes that kept people from loving one another.

Joan of Arcadia was a tv series that lasted two seasons and played from 2003 to 2005.

The title alludes to Joan of Arc, and thes title character Joan see and speaks with God who appears to her as many different people, including small children, teenage boys, elderly ladies, transients and passerbys.

God frequently asks her to do little things that seem trivial or even silly, but always ends up improving the larger situation.

It was highly rated and had an Emmy nomination, but the ratings didn’t keep it going.

And rather than solving the issues about God, it often raised as many questions as it did give answers.

Joan’s brother was in a car accident and was a paraplegic. One time Joan asks God to heal him and God replies that he doesn’t do that sort of thing, and that if God healed here brother Kevin, then he would have to heal everyone and then we wouldn’t be human would we.

What I like about the show is the way God appears in and through so many different people, and that the way God works is in people.

Obviously, a television show cannot capture and understand the full essence of God. Nobody can. God by definition is larger and more than we can ever understand.

But I wonder if God touches us, God heal us, that the result would be that we would be able to see God much more often, especially in the people we meet.

That we would see the gold in people.

And if God touched us, healed us, then we would be working for God, loving people; and people would see God in us, and see the gold in us, and not the fool’s gold we sometimes are.