Sunday, June 19, 2022
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: A Day in the Life Becomes a Life of Days
Last week we asked the question: “Who is God?”. This morning, the green on the altar signals the start of the long season of Sundays after Pentecost in which we take a deep dive into the question of: Who are we? Who are we in light of the completeness of God made known in creation, made known in the life, death and resurrection of God made known in Jesus the Christ? Who are we as disciples of Jesus ignited and animated by the abiding presence and power of the Holy Spirit? Good thing the liturgical and lectionary calendar give us a long time to explore these questions. Keeping in mind that, like our incomplete answer last week to the “Who is God” question, defining ourselves as the baptized people of God, disciples of Christ, and instruments of the Holy Spirit is not simply done nor is the answer ever complete. Thus, we call it the journey of faith.
However, a day in the life of Jesus gives us a great start to this year’s green Sunday excursion of exploring this question of meaning and mission in word and worship.
This morning’s assigned gospel reading is part of a day that Luke begins describing a few verses back. Chapter 8, verse 22 begins: “One day Jesus got into a boat…” and in those four short verses that precede the portion of chapter 8 that we just heard read, a storm blows up on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples panic, Jesus asks them “Where is your faith?” And he proceeds to calm the storm causing them to ask the question: “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” Well, disciples, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The day progresses into the episode of this poor man who has been possessed by demons for a long time, running around naked in a cemetery. It important to note that this man and the community from which he was cut off, were Gerasenes, which means they were not Jewish. This was a Gentile area (thus the presence of a herd of pigs) that Jesus, a Jew, should not have been going too. Jewish law was clear on this. But, not only does Jesus go there, but he heals this man. Heals one who is different from himself, from a different tribe, a different faith. And when the people come out to see what is going on, they find that one who had been cut off from even his own community, who has had no purpose or meaning, is now healed and sitting at the feet of Jesus. He has found community in Jesus, he has taken the place of a disciple.
And then there are the people of the region; ah, the people. We can be sure that they wanted change. Wanted that crazy man in the graveyard to stop being so scary. But when it finally happens in a way that cannot be explained, they freak out and tell Jesus to move along. For a disciple, witnessing storms stopped and demon’s cast out, faith is born or renewed. But in the thinking of the world, there is confusion, fear, and avoidance. Ourselves, being both saint and sinner, in the world but striving to not be of the world, we most likely experience both.
This part of the day ends with the newest disciple (the man who was cured) doing the work of an evangelist, proclaiming the good news of what God had done for him.
A less eventful boat ride back across the Sea of Galilee follows and, upon arrival, Jesus is greeted by the hometown crowd. Stepping out of the crowd, a man of influence, and a leader of the local synagogue begs, Jesus to come and heal his daughter who is nearing death. As Jesus proceeds to the house, the crowd must have been thinking: Well of course one so righteous should get Jesus’ attention. (Obviously, they hadn’t seen the twitter feed from earlier that day regarding events among the Gentiles.)
Well, maybe one woman had been watching her phone. Because, like the poor man in the tombs, she also knew all too well what it meant to be cut off from the community. Her bleeding disorder made her ritually unclean and untouchable. She doesn’t even try to speak to Jesus. She thinks that if she can just touch the hem of his clothing, she’ll be healed. She does touch and she is healed. Jesus senses what has happened and asks who touched him. The healed woman admits to it and then, like the man healed of demons, witnesses to her own healing. Jesus tells her that her faith has made her well.
As he is saying this, someone brings word that the young daughter of the leader has died. “Don’t trouble Jesus any further,” they suggest. Overhearing this exchange, Jesus says to the distraught father, “Do not fear, only believe and she will be saved.” They go and Jesus interrupts the funeral. He takes her by the hand – touching a dead body, which you are not supposed to do according to the law – and restores her life. Restores her family. Restores her to the community that only saw her as dead and cut off.
So, how do you end a day like that? Jesus ends it by sending out his disciples. As Luke writes it: Jesus “gave them power and authority over demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” (9:1b-2) Only after witnessing what they had seen, even if just in that one day, could they now go out and do what Jesus was calling them to do. They had been challenged to be faithful even in the midst the storms. They had witnessed Jesus’ power to heal and restore life. They had learned that God’s community leaves no one out, leaves no one cut off by the law, by worldly labels and divisions, or by communal fear.
Saint Paul, while never seeing a day like this for himself, certainly heard the witness of those first disciples and so came to the same understanding that, in Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek (read that as Gentile, and thus perfectly inclusive) there is no longer slave or free (expand that to the haves and the have nots, the powerful and the oppressed), there is no longer male and female (read that as no differences that define or discriminate). Through the grace of God made known in Christ Jesus, we of the new covenant are joined to the people of the first covenant – offspring of Abraham, our Jewish siblings.
I take the liberty of expanding our gospel reading beyond our assigned text for today because this day in the life of Jesus that I have summed up so wonderfully and profoundly defines and celebrates the ministry of St. John’s, a ministry that I have been so privileged to be a part of for these 11 years.
Storms have raged in our community. It was a pretty bad storm when I first got on this boat. Storms have raged beyond our walls. Wars and pandemics, slaughters of innocents and slaughter of values, have challenged our peace and our hope, but we continue to listen to the calming words of Christ and sail on in faith.
Together we follow Christ’s example and answer Christ’s call to confront the demons of our own times that tear apart our communities and would condemn us to lifeless living among the tombs. Those demons being: racism and white supremacy, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, xenophobia and hyper-nationalism, Christian elitism and other heresies du jour.
We are building a community where those who have been told that they do not belong in the family of God or the church of Christ for one reason or another, who have been cut off from families or groups, and we have proclaimed the good news that they are welcome here in the name of Christ who lived many a day like the one described by Luke. Welcomed here not to become more like us, but to become more of who they are as cherished children of God.
We do all this not from a place of superiority, but because we ourselves have been frightened and short of faith, we ourselves have been cut off, we ourselves continue to seek healing, we have been raised from the dead through the waters of baptism. We have been welcomed unconditional to the table of Jesus the feeds the community of faith. We know first hand what God has done and is doing though the healing presence of Christ, and so we, like that healed man, can do nothing else by rise from the feet of Jesus and go and tell, in word and deed, what God in Christ has done for us. Because the witness of our healing – individual and communal – is one of the ways that we, along with that man of the tombs, do the work of an evangelist. In the witness of our rising from the dead to new life, we say to the world: do not fear.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, live each day in the fullness of Jesus the Christ that filled that day so long ago, bearing witness to our God of love who continues to shout to us and through us: Here I am! Here I am!
The Rev. Mark Erson,