June 23, 2019
Good morning! I’m so glad that you came this morning — many had the blessing of the beloved community last night as Trevor and Joanne were honored with the annual Spirit award. It was a holy evening — a feast, prayers, testimonies and all were blessed. That sounds like Eucharist to me. The hall looked like Easter with all the trimmings, Joanne’s quilts, like liturgical banners and boats — Trevor’s boats, a reminder that this space is called the nave.
I only wish the gospel reading for the day was a bit more fitting — the healing of the Gerasene demonic would not have been my first choice. But that is the challenge and gift of the lectionary, we don’t just pick and choose what we want. And that’s also the gift of scripture, there is often more than meets the eye.
Perhaps this might be an interesting place to start. Then people came out to see what had happened and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.
And so, let us begin. Or let me begin with a story. It was 1986, I was ordained a deacon and awaiting my ordination to the priesthood, serving Resurrection parish in Austin, Texas. It was early afternoon and I was in my office when I heard and felt a great pounding. I got up and ran into the nave toward the sound, thinking a car might have careened into the church. What I saw was a disheveled young man, long, wild, curly blond hair. He was holding a very large piece of concrete curbing and pounding it against the faceted glass window in the sanctuary. He had broken through from the outside, the glass was everywhere, the destruction shocking, and as I watched, he tossed the curb and started kicking the altar.
By this time, the rector came in and in a commanding voice said, “Stop that! Stop that now!” And he did. In a few minutes, he was sitting in the front pew. There was a surreal calm in the midst of the chaos. Soon the police arrived, and he was taken away.
This is a true story, the details are accurate, the damage was significant, the young man was arrested, and I hope, received treatment.
The important thing to note is this: my story is just that, it is a recitation of a factual incident. A man out of his mind, destructive behavior, the command to cease, the calm in the aftermath and the resolution to a logical conclusion. What it is not is the gospel and in fact, as we begin this long season of Pentecost and dive deeply into Luke’s Gospel, it is important to remember that the telling of the story of Jesus by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is a unique genre of literature. It is not simply a collection of stories and events in the life of Jesus.
The word gospel means good news, or more completely, good news from the battlefield, and, although it can be simply read and received like my story— a recitation of events— our gospels are infinitely more complex, more revealing and an endless source of unfolding mystery — the revealing of a universe that is christened from the very beginning of creation and the disclosure of the fullness of life that is found in this human form. Through the eyes of Jesus, we experience the whole scope of being — birth, life, death and resurrection — reminding us that nothing is ever lost in the universe — fulfilling the whole arc of our existence.
And from this greater perspective, Jesus, the Word of God, the Christ becomes the archetype for humanity — the holographic image of the fullness of our humanity, who shows us the power of sacrificial love and who shows us the full potential of our humanity, liberated from the fear of death.
In the case of Luke, Luke is an apologetic historian, he is writing to the Christian community to defend the word and work of God in history through the lens of the anointed one, Jesus.
It is tempting to simply read this curious story and dismiss it as curious and strange, and wonder about those poor pigs and their swineherds. But this particular story is placed in the context of the parable of the sower and set alongside the story of Jesus in the boat and the stilling of the storm. And we know that Luke is very intentional in the sequence and order of his gospel. One big parable and two miracles.
And finally, we know that this strange story is found in all three synoptic gospels — Mark, Matthew and Luke each tell it. It is an important story and each time it is set within the context of the Parable of the Sower, the first parable of the Kingdom of God.
So what we have here is a healing, with the dramatic interplay between Jesus, the man and the demons plus the crowd, the people from the city and the country and the swineherds. Most of all what we encounter is the remarkable failure of anyone, except the man who was possessed, to see a new reality — a reality Jesus called the Kingdom of God, a reality that embraces the lost, the least, the lonely and the little; a reality that recognized the deepest human need to love and be loved, a power so great even a madman possessed of a legion of demons can be saved. The crowd’s response is fear — the collective madness that seizes us in the face of our own complacency. The madman was less threatening while ranting and raving in the tombs, than in this state of wholeness —this is the state of systemic insanity and underlies our own reluctance to embrace real change when the cost is perceived to be to high. Better to find a scapegoat to bear our own madness that to confront it.
Jesus stands in the midst of it all and, for us all, and takes it all through the portal of death pulling us into the wild realm that includes us all, it a realm that is mysterious, already present and calls us to respond — this reality undergirds today’s story. It is the very realm of the holy that holds the secret to sanity.
In a slight shift in perspective, the madman sees hope in the face of Jesus and is set free. The crowd sees transformation in the man once out of his mind and they are afraid. The gospel of Jesus confronts not just the demons but our own complacency — we would rather tolerate the madness of our neighbor, than the transformation and challenge of confronting our own demons.
The good news from the battlefield is that we have already been saved — all of us. It is a gift to us all — freely offered, freely given, and even our choice to believe, to trust, that, too, is ours.
We often feel at the end of this story, when the healed man begs to follow Jesus, that Jesus is rejecting him, but I see it differently: the healed man is truly free, no longer in bondage, he does not have to bind himself to Jesus, instead, he is free to return to his life and to share his story of liberation, salvation and transformation.
And that is true for all of us. By grace we have all been saved. For those of us who have been baptized into Christ, we who have clothed ourselves with Christ — we abide in the shelter of Christ’s love for all creation — it is especially fitting here in this place, where we are reminded each day that even in the company of strangers, love is here. And remember, this is the greatest story ever told!
Thank you again, for letting me come to this place of grace, where we often get a glimpse of the kingdom of God in the faces of those we meet.