Monday, June 25, 2007

Sermon for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today we hear the story of the Gerasene man. A man “who had demons.” Lots of demons it turns out. “Legion,” they tell Jesus. Or in another translation, “Mob.” The man has literally lost himself. He has no wholeness. He is fragmented. Tormented. A man so full of his demons that he no longer remembered his name. The community is so terrified of who they saw him to be that they no longer allowed him to be among them as their own, and have consigned this man to live in the tombs outside of town. He lives naked among the dead instead of clothed among the living outside the boundaries of human society.
That is until Jesus comes along. On the lake while crossing over to get to this place a storm threatened the boat. Jesus had stopped the wind. The disciples, as was often their way, had responded with fear, speculating over just who this Jesus might be. Who is this who has such power, what might he do with it next?
So it seems that it might be significant, after such a harrowing journey, when they arrive on land, Jesus immediately says to them, “Here is a person who is so dangerous he has been chained, so outcast he lives naked in the tombs. Let’s go spend some time with him and his demons.” And this is pretty much the last we hear of the disciples for the rest of the story. They are conspicuous by their absence, if you notice! After a brief negotiation with the demons, Jesus curiously does not destroy them, but rather acquiesces to their request to find a new home in a herd of nearby pigs! Which to the Jews of Luke’s time, would have gotten a chuckle, despised demons going off into unclean pigs, how appropriate! Then of course, in the next disconcerting event for the people of the town, Jesus sends the demons off into the pigs and the pigs go head first into the sea! The swineherds, rather disturbed by the turn events have taken, alert the townspeople, who arrive to find the man healed and calmly sitting at Jesus feet like a disciple. Centered once more in his deepest divine self, now fully clothed and in his right mind, he is restored to a new life of hope and possibility.
As for the man’s neighbors? “They were afraid,” we are told. A man who had been wild and out of control now looks and acts like them. Radical change had taken place in their social order and they had no context for it. This does tend to shake people up, then and now. Strangely, they become even more afraid of the man - they could deal with him as he was - raving and naked. Now he sits calmly at Jesus feet, but terrifying to them in this new incarnation. Change, even when it is positive, can throw people! The townspeople now are so afraid of Jesus and the changes he has brought to their world that that they demand that he leave! And because Jesus does not force Himself where He is not wanted, then or now, He does leave. And the healed man wants to go, too. Maybe, understandably, to get away, but certainly to be with this person who has changed his life. Have you ever had such an experience? Met someone who changed your life in some profound way? And then one day you find out they are moving away? And what is the impulse? Of course, "Pack me up, I’m coming along!” And no less for this man. Awestruck and grateful, he begs Jesus to let him come with Him. But, Jesus suggests another rather amazing possibility – he gives him a commission, a ministry -- he sends him home to declare the goodness of God and rebuild his life among the very people who rejected him and chained him and cast him away from their society during the very worst time of his life! Sends him to live among the ones he had acted so crazy right in front of for all that time and tell this holy story of redemption and restoration and healing. To be a disciple and take Jesus’ place, to tell the story He Himself could not stay to tell.
“Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” Sometimes the last place we want to take our changed self is home. Just thinking about it must have given that man great pause. It hadn’t been that long after all since he’d been naked, homeless and living in the tombs, with no control over even his own comings and goings, driven to writhing and shrieking and horrible behavior. He’d had no community. He’d had no name. He’d possessed nothing and was possessed by demons. And then he encountered Jesus. And for him, nothing was to be ever the same. But to witness among those who know you best, especially if they knew you at your worst is asking a lot. But something so powerful had transpired in him that he was willing to take the chance. This man’s transformation was so complete that he did stay and did witness. The people chased Jesus away, but he was able to stay among them and be a disciple. When he encountered Jesus he had experienced a freedom of mind and spirit that brought him to himself - the person he was born to be, created in the image of God. And that freedom was so profound that even in the face of their fear, he could stand in witness without catching it. Calm against their storms.
We are in "Ordinary time" in this season after Pentecost. This time, we are reminded by the church isn't only about "everydayness." Even though "ordinary" in this context comes from ordinal, which refers to the numbered weeks after Pentecost, it's a fitting description for a season that doesn't lead to preparing for Christmas or Easter or any high holy days; rather this is a quiet season, a time when we have the luxury of consciously noticing, attending to and seeking the sacredness and transforming moments in our lives. As writer Annie Dillard observed, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. It makes sense to attend to the ordinary—believing that if God is in the details, surely God also is in the broad strokes.”
Even if they are not as dramatic as the legions of demons in this story, every one of us is held in shackles by something. Every one of us needs to have called out of us the things that keep us from being whole, that keep us from being in full community with one another. This is the healing and transformation that Jesus offered the man in this morning’s Gospel and this is the same healing and transformation that He offers us.
Latina theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz calls an understanding of the sacred that is imbued with ordinariness as "lo cotidiano." Attending to the sacred through this ordinary time makes all of life a spiritual discipline that can bring us to a new awareness of how God’s still small voice that Elijah struggled to hear is above us, beneath us, and beside us. It can help us understand how God longs to heal us, to cast out all that is in each of us that keeps us from being whole and authentic, that keeps us wailing alone in the tombs instead of living among one another in the beloved community of the Kingdom where all may be one.
In the epistle, Paul names the deep divisions of his society and tells is that in Jesus these divisions are to be overcome. There are many such things that separate and divide us one from another, we could even call them demons, a thousand varieties of hardness of heart that shut out some people, and shut us in just as surely. In Jesus we are empowered to name and confront and heal and transform them. And as we follow Jesus, as we participate in his ministry of healing and reconciliation in the world, we find that the wailing and dispossessed outcast is not the only one saved. Like the Gerasene man, in our healing we too become ministers to one another. We were made for this unity with one another and with God that was Christ's mission. This is what God longs for. This is what God calls us to. Let us pray that it may be so. Lord, may your Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven. Amen.


Tandaina said...

Wow, thanks for posting this. I hadn't even thought of connecting Paul's words with this gospel story but it works, it makes sense. Great things to ponder here.

Jan said...

Thank you. In remembering who (whose)we are, which is the same as remembering God, we are made whole. Divisions are arbitrary; unity is holy. Together in community we help each other remember.

Diane said...

yes, I liked your Annie Dillard quote, and also it was great to connect to the reading from Paul.

RevDrKate said...

Jan, the phrase "remembering who and whose we are" is one I use often, in preaching, in my own spiritual life, almost as a mantra.

Jan said...

Thank you for including me on your list of "enjoyable" blogs. I like to read yours, too.