Sunday, June 23, 2019
Lectionary 12, Year C
Prayer of the Day
O Lord God, we bring before you the cries of a sorrowing world. In your mercy set us free from the chains that bind us, and defend us from everything that is evil, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 65:1-9 The prophet sent to a rebellious people
Galatians 3:23-29 In baptism, clothed with Christ; no longer Jew or Greek
Luke 8:26-39 Jesus casts out demons possessing a man of the Gerasenes
Title: Sending In, Reaching Out
Usually, the question to be asked with a Bible story rich in characters and scenes, imagery and symbols, is: Where do you enter this story? Where do you see yourself in this story? But I don’t know. Today’s gospel story is begging a different question. Maybe it is the festive atmosphere that has ignited and is quickly growing (not just here in the village, but all around the city) that has me stepping back from the usual question of entry. Maybe it is my own stuff that is keeping this story at arms-length. But, this morning, I find myself more ready to answer the question: what doesn’t repel me in this story? I’m really having a hard time with this story that I have heard so many times. And that I have appreciated in the past.
And it is not just an increased sensitivity with those poor innocent bystander pigs who became the carnage of this miracle. I don’t know. What is it? Maybe it is because my nephew, who is being brought up in an conservative church whose approach to God and faith is very different from my own, and who keeps bringing the talk of “spiritual warfare” more and more into his conversation, and I have always been uncomfortable with that. I don’t want to think or be confronted with this idea of unseen battles raging, and yet there is this demon-possessed man that Jesus has encountered.
We can certainly dismiss that talk with the approach that we moderns usual take with these demon-possession stories from the gospels and explain it that this is mental illness being described by a pre-scientific people. And with my wondering mind wondering a bit more than usual with all the activities of the month, I am quickly reminded that it was not that long ago that we who do not find our identity on that hetero-normative scale were added to the long list of mental disorders. Another reason to stay away, stay far away.
Then there are the many manifestations of actual mental illness that I encounter daily in my work in this setting. And I am reminded how utterly unprepared and confused I am, seeming to be so ineffective when challenged by someone in need.
Yes, there is a lot that is causing me to want to set this story to the side and get on with the marches and the parties, the happy gatherings and the concerts, the joy of celebrating how far things have come in 50 years (albeit, there is still much work to be done, but 50 years of movement can sure give you hope for further progress in the future).
How about you? What, if anything, is repelling you? The real kicker about growing in faith and trust is that usually it is the very things that are repelling us are the things we should really sit with in earnest, because that repulsion is a good indicator of where growth is needed.
So, let’s sit with it a little while. Let’s travel with Jesus to this foreign land. It is a land that for him as a faithful Jew is considered off limits, unclean, just by getting out of the boat and setting foot on that soil he is doing some that would have repelled his fellow Jews of his time. But he goes. Using the language of a few weeks ago, he busts in. And he finds a man there, sitting in the cemetery, existing in a cemetery (I don’t saying living because his was not a life) – there because he is so sick that he cannot be a part of the community. Clothes don’t stay on him. Chains won’t subdue him. Of all those that Jesus encounters who are labeled possessed; this man could be considered the worst off. And he doesn’t just have one demon to be evicted, he has a host of demons such that they call themselves Legion.
And maybe that is the most repellant part of the story of all. Because when I look at myself, it isn’t just one defect or flaw that I need to examine and work on. There isn’t just one challenge to faith that keeps from living into the fullness of my identity as a baptized child of God. There isn’t just one form of abuse that I inflict on others causing them hurt. There is a whole host of things that I am challenged by, that I wrestle with, that I battle against. And left to my own weaknesses, I would find myself, like the man in the story, sitting among the dead, unable to function, to live, unable to join the community.
But we are not left to our own brokenness. We are not left to sit among that which is dead and lifeless. Jesus is sent into this world of death and defeats that which is killing us, that which is holding us hostage, that which is terrorizing us. He resurrects us, restores us, and renews us.
And like that young man in the story, we cannot help but respond with wanting to sit at the feet of the one who saves us and listen to his every word. We cannot help but want to go with him and continue to feast on this new life that he has given us. And we do – rejoicing at the font, listen to God’s word, feasting at Christ’s table.
But Jesus also is sent in to restore community. And so, he tells that young man to go back to the people that had put him out there in the tombs. Go back to the ones who had rejected him. Go back to the ones who had given him up for dead. And tell them what God had done for him. He had a new role in that old community. He was to be an evangelist – the teller of good news.
Like that young man, we are called to tell what God has done for us. To reach out and tell it in word and deed. Reach out to the very ones who gave us up for dead, and tell them what God has done for us, that in Christ we are alive, and that the Spirit is alive and working in us.
And if you need help telling that message (or believing it for yourself), Paul describes it beautifully for the people of Galatia. He tells them that, yes, there is that law that people used to try to get right with God. But everyone failed at following it. Everyone.
No one has the right to sit in judgement. And because of that failure, by the grace of God, Jesus was sent in and now we live by faith. Because it is only through the grace that is revealed in Jesus that anyone is brought out of the land of death and into the presence of new life. And now, to be Christ’s presence, we are joined together in the waters of baptism for the sake of being sent out as his body in the world, telling the good news. There are no barriers to divide, no labels to separate, no identity that is not included. Whether it be cultural group, socio-economic status, not even gender identity. Everyone is a part of the body of Christ. We all need Christ. We all have Christ. We are all to be Christ to one another.
Do not let any of those flaws or demons or family members or follow church goers or tele-preachers or self-proclaimed prophets or spouses tell you any different.
To be clear – Christ Jesus was sent to us, setting foot in our most unholy and unclean life, because God, in love, saw us chained and sitting among the dead – all of us. And now, freed from all that had us bound, we are baptized into Christ, we are all one him, and we are sent to declare what God has done for us. No need to be repelled from any part of that story. Embrace it. Every part of it. And live, and march, and work for justice, and make peace, and love in the name of Jesus.
The Rev. Mark Erson,