Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, June 19, 2022

YEAR C 2022 pentecost 2

Pentecost 2, 2022
Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:18-27
Galatians 3:23-39
Luke 8:26-39
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This is really a perfect gospel story for today.  I mean, on Father’s Day, what could be better than demons flying out of a guy, landing in a herd of swine, and dozens of possessed pigs jumping off a cliff into the sea?  It’s like the ultimate first-century Monster Truck Rally!  The only thing missing is a pig roast and a keg of beer!  

But there are other reasons why this lesson is particularly good on this day, and it has to do with families, and relationships, and loving those nearest to us.  And in some ways, when we take the readings together as a whole, we get a more balanced view.  

Let’s start with that seemingly mild reading from Galatians.  First, we have to see the environment.  Paul is writing to people living in an oppressive system that only functions by keeping oppressed people separate.  Jews and Greeks and slaves were all oppressed people under the Roman occupation.  They were intentionally kept away from from one another, in order to diffuse their power.  The oppressor wants to keep them fighting with each other, rather than fighting the oppressors.  Paul suggests a radical (and subversive) idea, claiming there is no distinction between them, because the Roman system wants to keep them separate, wants the distinctions, wants to keep them fighting each other.  From a Roman perspective, to say there is no distinction between slave and free, Jew and Greek undermines the plan to stay in power.  If these people came together, they could topple the whole system!  

Today, Paul might say there’s no distinction between the poor black people and the poor white people, or between the gay and the straight, or dare I say between Canton steelworkers’ Bulldogs and Massillon steelworkers’ Tigers?  When the oppressed are distracted and convinced to fight amongst themselves, the people in power win.  When poor people are fighting each other on the poor side of town, there’s no need for the rich people to be concerned.  But to tell those people that they are actually one, that they are on the same side . . .

I mean, don’t get me wrong.  We lived in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots.  As long as the blacks and Koreans were fighting each other downtown, nobody much noticed.  But when riots suddenly started to move north . . . That was a wakeup call for those in power.

But all that Galatian stuff is just Paul, rocking the boat.  Let’s look at Jesus . . . rocking the boat, which is even MORE uncomfortable.

You heard the Father’s Day setup.  A guy who is called crazy has been chained to a rock in the tombs.  (Notice that location.)  He is naked and vulnerable and people have no idea what to do with him.  He has been cast off from society and is living among the dead.  “You’re crazy, and we don’t know what to do with you, so you go and live over there with the dead.”

It’s a system that works . . . you know, okay.  You keep your distance, and we’ll pretend you don’t exist.  That you aren’t a person.  That you don’t even have a name.  You shall be called, “A man of the city.”  And here comes Jesus.  And what’s the first thing Jesus asks?  “What is your name?”  Did anyone else ask that?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But it’s the first thing Jesus says.  What is your name?  What have you been called?

And then we come to the dramatic Father’s Day pyrotechnics of demons flying into a large herd of pigs who then jump off a cliff and hurl themselves into the sea.  Awesome!  But then what?  Well, here’s where things get tricky.  Because we’re about to look at relationships, like I mentioned earlier.  And there’s a whole bunch of interesting details and questions here.

First of all, what about the owners of the pigs?  We hear there are shepherds who were watching over the pigs, so maybe they’re the owners.  But more likely they are hired hands who watch over the pigs.  So, they’re responsible for these animals, and they have to answer to the owner of the pigs, and explain how some demons flew into the pigs and they just jumped off a cliff and were drowned.  Good luck with that, fellas.

But then they go and tell the people of the city what happened.  And the people come out to the scene and they see the man, “clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.”  Afraid!  Things have been set right, one who was lost has been found, a beloved child of God has been rescued, and they were afraid.  What were they afraid of?  Maybe that the status quo has been disturbed?  Maybe that they wouldn’t have this man to project all their hate onto?  Notice this is before they are told the story of what happened.  Just seeing this man “clothed and in his right mind,” that makes them afraid.

And then, "all the people of the surrounding country” ask Jesus to leave because they are afraid.  Everyone is filled with fear, and they ask Jesus to leave.  And now this man who has been healed, the man who is clothed and in his right mind, wants to go with Jesus, and well . . . can you blame him?  Put yourself in his position.  You’ve been chained to a rock among the tombs—naked—by your neighbors.  Kept under armed guard.  You are the literal definition of outcast.  Left for dead among the tombs.  And then, Jesus turns everything around.  Brings you back to life.  Restores you to who you are meant to be.  Are you going to go back to the people who left you for dead?  Who saw you at your absolute worst?  Of course he wants to get in the boat with Jesus!

Get in the boat with Jesus and go on the rock star P.T. Barnum tour, telling strangers what Jesus has done.  If I were Jesus, that’s what I would do with this man.  Put him in the boat with me and go on a PR tour.  “Hey everybody, check out this dramatic story from a guy who was left for dead among the tombs, and then I pulled demons out of him and sent them into fifty feral hogs who jumped into the sea on their own!”  And then move on to the next town and do it all again.  What a marketing opportunity!  But a marketing opportunity for what?  There’s the question.

It’s easy to go town to town visiting a bunch of strangers and giving them your best performance.  I mean, I used to play in a band, alright?  And I can also tell you that my four years doing supply work between calls were the easiest preaching gigs of my entire life.  I’d waltz into a random parish, deliver a sermon I’d had weeks to work on, to a group of appreciative strangers, and waltz back out.  Never had to make any connections, never had to deal with any fallout if I said something controversial.  Just show up, lead the service, preach a sermon, eat a couple cookies, and head back home.  

In this story today, everybody would like nothing better than for that formally naked crazy guy to get in the boat with Jesus and leave town.  “Just hop in the boat with the healing guy and we’ll all pretend none of this ever happened, okay?”  Everybody wants that.  Everybody except for Jesus.  He says to the man, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”  Home?  Return to your home?  You remember how this story started?  We heard that this man “did not live in a house but in the tombs.”  How can he return to his home?  Where is his home?  Who are his family?  His friends?  

We don’t know the answer to that.  Maybe he has family and friends from before.  Maybe he doesn’t.  But Jesus tells him to return to his home, and to “declare how much God has done for you.”  And that’s what he does.  Is it uncomfortable?  Oh heck yes.  Is it a powerful story?  Yes it is.  And you know what makes it even more powerful?  The fact that they know him.  When he declares how much God has done for him, he doesn’t need to start with, “You see, I used to be chained to a rock among the tombs,” because everybody knows that.  They’re quite aware of the scariest guy in town.  Though the strangers in some other city would not know that, his neighbors sure would.

He has seen the power of God in his life, and so have they.  And though he wants to climb into the boat with Jesus and proclaim it to the ends of the earth, Jesus tells him to stay with those who know him.  Jesus is usually telling people to go somewhere.  Not sit and tell.  Go and tell!  But here’s a perfect example that we’re not all called to do the same thing.  Some are called to be missionaries, sure.  But not everyone is.  In fact, it seems most people are called to be staionaries.  Stay in your place and proclaim what God has done and is doing in your life to the people who know you.  Warts and all.

Remaining with the people you know, and who know you, that is where the power of God in your life can be proclaimed.  The people who know you best are the ones who can witness the power of God in what you do and say.  

Just as in the case of the healed man, we are not all called to do the same thing.  People are different.  Circumstances are different; families are different.  And we are all called to live out our different lives as best we know how, in the places where we are right now.  And that calling is different for each of us.

But the one calling we all have in common is the call to gather at the altar of God, to share in this meal, and then to go out and proclaim what God has done in our lives, in the places where we live.  And when we leave here today, we will go forth rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, to love and serve God, bearing witness to the One who has done great things for us.


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