Pent 5C Lect 12: Listen. Cry. Love. Stand Up.

Readings

Sermon

I love this gospel story.  I just love it.

Not many people I know share that same opinion.

For all the love we, as a people, generally share for the stories of Jesus healing those around him, I’m not so sure people would add in the removal of demons to the same category of beloved healing stories.  For the most part, even in the scripture readings, people in the stories react favourably to stories of healing and favourably to those being healed.

Not so with the stories of exorcism.

“When Jesus released a people from whatever was tormenting them, those who witnessed it were afraid.  In this case, in fact, they begged him to leave them.”[1]  We tend to have a fear of the unknown.  At the very least, we have worry about the unknown.

And then we try to figure it out: “What exactly was Jesus doing with those ‘possessed by demons’”?  What does that even mean?

I don’t know.  I don’t think anyone but God knows what was going on there.  And I don’t think it helps us understand this story one iota.  Whatever it was that Jesus was doing with this exorcism, there was a purpose to his actions.  And that is where the story is interesting to me.

Allow me to take you on a sort of quick notes journey of this eighth chapter of Luke.

When last we left Jesus, he had just forgiven the sins of a woman and taught Simon the Pharisee a valuable lesson.  Jesus went on: preaching and proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom (Luke 8:1).

After some time, Jesus invites the disciples into a boat with him.
As if on a whim.

Luke 8:22 says: 22One day Jesus and his disciples boarded a boat. He said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” So they set sail.

It’s like the beginning of a children’s story.  One day….

They have an incredibly journey across a stormy lake which Jesus calms, and everyone’s reaction to that is fear and amazement.  Even after all that these people have seen and been a part of, the words of their reactions are: “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him!” (Luke 8:25b)

Who. Is. This.
He is the one who brought a young man back to life and returned him to his grieving widow mother.  He is the one who forgave the sins of an unclean and unwelcome and unloved woman.  He is the one who brought his disciples across the lake to an non-Jewish community, an unclean place, to meet a man possessed by an unclean spirit.

The only reason for the boat-ride across the lake seems to be to meet this one particular man.

Who, by all accounts, is as low and unclean as you can get:
Possessed.
Routinely captured.
Routinely bound in leg irons and chains.
Kept under guard.
For whose protection we might wonder.
Naked and homeless.
Living among the tombs.
Living among the dead.

I think many people feel that this is THE very last place these disciples should be.  It’s certainly the very last place Jesus should be.  This is absolutely the very last place God should be.
Right?

But, in truth, is exactly the kind of place we know God usually shows up in.

It was once said to me, and I often repeat it to others: It is in our moments of profound loss, deep grief, paralyzing fear, substantial doubts that we see God most clearly. Some of us look really hard for God in those moments, and God shows up.  Some of us want nothing to do with God in those moments, but God shows up.

I truly believe that God is in, through, under, and around everything in creation.  Everything.

Frankly, I don’t think there is a place where God isn’t.  Whether we see God there or not.  Whether we think it’s a place that God ought to be or not.

God.  Shows.  Up.

There is nowhere that God will not go to reach those who are bound, literally or figuratively to the places of the unclean, the unwelcome, the unloved, the dead.

There is no place that is God-forsaken.  There is no person that is God-forsaken.

“Unclean. Outcast. Abandoned. Unpopular. Incarcerated. Unbeliever. No one is left out.”[2]

And there are no conditions to being included.

None.

Very late Sunday night, I learned about the murder of at least 49 God-loved, God-created, human beings in Orlando.

Very late on Monday night, a very dear friend contacted me from Vancouver.  He was scared, and shocked that there were legitimately people becoming more violent to the LGBTQ community in the wake of the news coverage of Orlando.

And he was angry.  Because members of his Christian faith community were publicly decrying and denying his beautifully created place in the world.  They were telling him that he was God-forsaken.  Unclean. Outcast. Abandoned. Unpopular. Unbeliever.

Like so many people since Sunday, my friend discovered God within himself and in this deeply dark and unclean place and spoke these words, which I so desperately want to share with you:

“Don’t deny my visceral experience with your vicarious one. You haven’t thought more about being gay and Christian than I have, and you never will. You haven’t experienced coming to God as a gay man. I have lain everything bare to Him. You have no idea. I have left everything up to Him, and here I am–left a gay man, knowing this is how he created me. I am getting tired of explaining this, … stop preaching your VICARIOUS experience and listen to me when I tell you of my VISCERAL experience.”

We can utter all the words, however well-intentioned, about our thoughts and prayers with the people of Orlando.  We can change our Facebook pictures and post Pride flags and hearts and share other people’s blog posts and articles.

It doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t also live into the full understanding that there is no place that is God-forsaken; there is no person that is God-forsaken; there is no one left out.

We need to listen.
We need to cry.
We need to love.
We need to stand up.
We need to call out all those who use this Gospel story to platform the “whole idea that you can ‘pray away the gay’; that you can ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’ – as though sexuality and gender identity were things that possess us, rather than integral parts of who we are.”[3]

“The way Christians continue to use the words of the Bible to justify ourselves and pass judgment on others – to rip people apart, to dismiss parts of people’s identities, to appear to get Jesus on board with our hate – needs to be called out and stopped. We are not Jesus, speaking to the demons. We are the townspeople, too afraid to invite Jesus to stay with us and work healing among us; to afraid to admit we, too, might be possessed.”[4]

There is no place that is God-forsaken.  There is no person that is God-forsaken.

And there are no conditions to being included.  To getting God’s love.

You don’t have to be wealthy… or poor.
You don’t have to of a particular ethnic group… or another.
You don’t have to believe your whole life, only just have found a deep relationship with God, or even have any faith in God at all.[5]
You don’t have to be a Christian… or believe something else.
You don’t have to be straight… or identify as something else.
You don’t have to be categorized.
You don’t have to be bound.

God is in everything that is God’s creation.  God abides in, around, under, over, through everything.
God loves every one.
That list never ends.

So stand up.
Don’t be afraid.
God goes with you.

Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Alan Brehm. “Broken Chains.”  The Waking Dreamer.
  2. David Lose. “Pentecost 5C: God in the Shadow Lands.” Dear Partner, …in the Meantime.
  3. An Open Letter to Preachers.” Sermonizing: musings of a would-be theologian.

[1] Alan Brehm.  “Broken Chains.” The Waking Dreamer.  http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.ca/2013/06/broken-chains.html
[2] David Lose.  “Pentecost 5C: God in the Shadow Lands.” Dear Partner, …in the Meantime.  http://www.davidlose.net/2016/06/pentecost-5-c-god-in-the-shadow-lands/
[3] “An Open Letter to Preachers.” Sermonizing: musings of a would-be theologian.  https://sermonizing.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/an-open-letter-to-preachers/
[4] Ibid.
[5] David Lose.  “Pentecost 5C: God in the Shadow Lands.” Dear Partner, …in the Meantime.  http://www.davidlose.net/2016/06/pentecost-5-c-god-in-the-shadow-lands/


My heartfelt gratitude to my friend Jazz for allowing me to share a portion of his story alongside this sermon.  It takes courage to stand up when you feel like you are fighting harder than you ever have to be validated.  I admire this courage in the face of so much darkness.  Love you!


This week’s image is a modified detail of “The Wrestlers” by George Luks.  The original image is public domain.  Please go to this website and read the wonderful story about different and new perspectives that this painting represents.  You can find out more about this artist here.

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