This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, March 1, 2015. Throughout the Lenten Season, we will be reading through the Gospel of Mark. To find our 40 day reading plan, click here.
Reading: Mark 5:1-20
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
Friday, Lee Memorial had the distinct pleasure of hosting Mayor Deb Hinchey and Senator Cathy Osten, representing Governor Dannel Malloy. At the request of Ms. Cindy Fisch and the students of Stoneview Academy, the Montessori School that shares space with us here at Lee Memorial, Governor Malloy has named the week of February 22-28, 2015 as Montessori education week. The mayor, senator, students and parents gathered to celebrate the occasion: honored guests were introduced, senator Osten read the proclamation, and the students did a ribbon dance.
When I returned back to the office, Sue and Lynda, the church’s music director and secretary were talking, huddled around Sue’s phone. “The real question,” Sue asked, “is: what color is it?
That question was all the rage on social media this past week, so much so that it became a notable item on the Today Show and the local news. It trended on Twitter as #dressgate. It was a picture of a dress and people could not agree on its color. Some saw white and gold, others blue and gold, and still others black and gold. The disagreement is so strong that it’s hard to describe the dress. Joe, the church custodian was also in the building. I called an impromptu staff meeting and we couldn’t come to a clearer consensus than the millions of people on the internet. We couldn’t agree on the color either.
In an interview with Channel 3, WFSB, “Dr. Laura Saunders, a psychologist from the Institute of Living in Hartford, said that everyone’s interpretation of colors is unique. ‘Perception is really based on experience, people’s experiences influence how they see things,’ Sanders said.”
Don’t worry this sermon isn’t so much about a dress that took the internet by storm. “It’s about the way that humans see the world, and how until we have a way to describe something, even something so fundamental as a color, we may not even notice that it’s there.” Interesting enough, our ability to name blue as blue is a relatively modern innovation. “Ancient languages didn’t have a word for blue—not Greek, not Chinese, not Japanese, not Hebrew. And without a word for the color, there’s evidence that they may not have seen it at all.”
A researcher by the name of Jules Davidoff investigated this in an experiment on the Himba tribe in Namibia. The Himba people speak a language that makes no distinction between blue and green. They don’t have a word for blue.
When shown a circle with 11 green squares and one blue, they couldn’t pick out which one was different from the others—or those who could see a difference took much longer and made more mistakes than would make sense to us, who can clearly spot the blue square.
But the Himba have more words for types of green than we do in English.
When looking at a circle of green squares with only one slightly different shade, they could immediately spot the different one…
Davidoff says that without a word for a color, without a way of identifying it as different, it’s much harder for us to notice what’s unique about it—even though our eyes are physically seeing the blocks…in the same way.
So before blue became a common concept, maybe humans saw it. But it seems they didn’t know they were seeing it.
Why is all this important?
I think God’s love is a lot like the color blue. Many in this world experience God’s love, but they don’t know what they’re experiencing because they don’t have the words to describe it; and, without the words to describe it, they can’t fully enjoy it nor be completely healed.
In our reading for today, Jesus travels to the other side of the lake, expanding his ministry beyond “these” people to “those” people. Upon landing on shore, Jesus is approached by a man possessed by an evil spirit. You know how the story goes by now, the man’s name was Legion—a Roman military term for 6,000 soldiers. The demons in the man immediately recognize Jesus and ask that he spare them. Jesus casts them into a nearby herd of pigs. As a devout Jew, Jesus didn’t care too much for pigs. They were considered unclean by Jewish law; so the request must have seemed OK. I mean Jesus wasn’t eating bacon for breakfast. He wasn’t enjoying that Midwestern delicacy of a fried pork loin sandwich. He cast them into the pigs and “the heard of about two thousand pigs rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned. Those who tended the pigs ran away and told the story in the city and in the country side. People came to see what had happened” (Mark 5:13b-14, Common English Bible).
The farmers were furious. All they knew—all they could see—was that their herd of two thousand pigs—4,000 prized hams—had been lost in the sea because of a stranger named Jesus. They couldn’t see past what was lost; they didn’t recognize the life that had been restored. They couldn’t understand the impact God’s love had had on the now demon-less man because he had not yet told his story. As the farmers were running Jesus out of town, the man asked to come along but Jesus refused to let him follow. “Go home to your own people,” Jesus said, “and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how he has shown you mercy” (Mark 5:19, Common English Bible). If you’ve been reading through the Gospel with us this Lent you’ll notice something peculiar about Jesus’ command. This is, it seems to me, the first person Jesus commands to tell his story. Up to this point in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has given strict orders for people (and demons) not to reveal who he was. But in our story for today, the man is commanded to stay and tell his story to his friends, family and neighbors.
This is a strange command. One that hasn’t been given up to this point in the Gospel and one that won’t be given again for a while; in fact, in the healing story immediately following this one, Jesus tells the young woman and her father not to tell a word to anyone about the things that have happened. So why is this now demon-less man given permission to tell?
I think it goes back to that blue and black dress that most people saw as white and gold. Jesus knew that if the man never told his story those farmers would never know of God’s love and the mercy he was shown. Jesus knew that if the man stayed silent people would continue to see the wrong colors: they’d only notice the missing pigs and not a life transformed.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we live in a culture that does not yet know the healing, restorative love of God found in Jesus Christ. And, the reason I think they don’t know, is because we’re not taking Jesus’ command to the demon-less man seriously. We’re not doing a good job of telling “our people” the difference God’s love has made in our lives.
Dear friends, God’s love is freely offered to all. God’s love reaches out to all. The problem is that most people don’t see it and fully experience it because they don’t know what they’re seeing and experiencing. They don’t have the words to fully understand what’s going on and the only way they’ll begin to comprehend is by the people of God telling their stories.
You have a story to tell: a story of how God’s love has made a difference in your life. And, if you’re struggling to recall a story, keep opening yourself up to God’s love through faithful acts of worship, Christian community, prayer, and service to neighbor.
Dear friends, know this. God loves you. As soon as you understand that you will be healed and have a glorious story to tell: a story that will leave everyone amazed; a story that will help others see that God loves them too. Amen.
 “The Dress Divide” as seen on The Today Show <http://www.today.com/video/today/57046057#57046057> Accessed February 28, 2015.
 “CT doctors explain online dress debate” by Maggie Lohmiller, WFSB.com <http://www.wfsb.com/story/28222612/ct-doctors-explain-online-dress-debate> Accessed February 27, 2015.
 “No one could see the color blue until modern time” by Kevin Loria, Business Insider, February 27, 2015 <http://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-blue-and-how-do-we-see-color-2015-2> Accessed February 27, 2015.