Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C. Proper 7
June 19th, 2022
We come together this day, as we do each Sunday,
to praise God, to read and learn from scripture,
and to lift up our voices in prayer and song as a community of the faithful.
And yet this Sunday, even in the song and praise, there is a pall of sadness.
The unbelievable happened in an Episcopal parish this past week,
one not so different from our own, not very far away.
At St. Stephen’s Church in Birmingham last Thursday night,
a man who’d come to a potluck supper,
stood up and began shooting people, for reasons we will never really know. Three people died.
It is impossible to truly imagine what that must have been like.
I talked to a friend of mine at St. Stephen’s that night,
a boomer in fact and told her we were praying for them.
She said, we need it.
St. Stephen’s gathers for worship this morning too,
to share their courageous faith in God’s love
and to express their love for one another, tears and all.
This is what a faithful community does—
it holds one another together in terrible times and
rejoices with one another in good times.
I don’t suppose it is a coincidence
that our Gospel reading today speaks about community.
When I say, community, I mean a group of people living in the same place, sharing common experiences in life,
perhaps having a particular beliefs or characteristics in common.
We are a community of believers here at Saint Luke’s.
We live in a community of people, here in Scottsboro.
The Episcopal community is our diocese, here in Alabama.
If we drew it out, our communities would look like overlapping circles—
we humans interact in community, our actions affect one another.
Jesus traveled to the community of people called the Gerasenes.
We don’t know much about this community,
other than the fact that they lived across the Sea of Galilee,
on the other side from the community called Galilee.
We also know that the Gerasenes were not Jewish people, but Gentiles. And it was there that this odd thing happened—
in short, the story goes like this, a possessed man,
unclean according to Jewish law, living in an unclean place,
near unclean animals, … experiences the mercy of Jesus, a Jewish [teacher, healer,] prophet.”[i]
Jesus traveled and interacted with people not his own.
Not only interacted but touched and healed Gentiles.
This may not seem odd to us, but it must have been to his community.
What is odd to us is hearing stories about demon possession.
And very odd to hear about possessed pigs
running down a cliff to their death.
But none of these are really the oddest part of the story.
A man was healed.
His life was wholly changed; he was no longer tortured.
He became rational.
He was clothed and in his right mind when his community saw him,
and that scared the people. That’s odd.
Luke tells us, after seeing the man healed,
the people in the community were seized with fear.
So, they asked Jesus to leave.
Why is this, we have to wonder?
Why are the people so afraid of what Jesus has done…
Why do they beg him to leave?
Well, just so you know, I wrote a paper about this gospel story in seminary.
Therefore, you’re in trouble, especially because I got an A on the paper,
so I actually think I know what I’m talking about.
And what was so fascinating to me was learning
how in this story
Jesus connects the ills of the community to the healing of this man.
Let’s be clear, the Gerasenes were not bad people.
They were subsistence farmers, many of them.
No better off economically than the Jewish people
living on the other side of Galilee, who fished for a living.
All of them, Jews and Gentiles in the area,
were subjects of the Roman empire.
You and I cannot fully understand what that was like,
to be under Roman rule.
We are as unfamiliar with the brutality and totality of Roman imperialism
as we are with the world of unclean spirits.
We can only begin to imagine how peoples’ lives were wholly exploited, taxed on their earnings as much as 80%;
the weight of colonialism was heavy then,
just as it was too heavy to bear for African countries
and those in Latin America in the 20th century,
with awful, lingering consequences.
We also must try to see that the man who is healed in this story,
was also in a sense colonized, by demons,
and to make the matter worse, his community plays the part of collaborators. They knew how to deal with the man.
They put him in chains, and kept him under guard, in the tombs.
They told themselves, “That is what we do with demon possessed people.”
The reason they are so unhappy with Jesus’ healing this man,
is because they are confronted with what they’ve done and
don’t know how to handle these new circumstances.
The community had learned to live with the demonic forces,
by isolating and partially controlling them,
just as they were controlled by the empire.
But Jesus comes and heals this man, with some kind of unfamiliar power,
the power of God, and this disturbs what they had come to accept.
What had Jesus done?
He had restored this man to his community.
What do they do with him now?
This summer several of us have read Bishop Kee’s book, Prodigal.
It is the third of his semi-autobiographical books,
and one that deals with some difficult issues in the church
as the main character, Buddy, settles into a new position
as rector of an Episcopal parish.
One of the beloved characters in the book is Jojo,
who is a black friend of Buddy’s from Mississippi.
After Buddy and Beulah are there in Alabama for a few years,
Jojo comes to live in Alabama to manage a piece of property for Buddy.
We learn that Jojo grew up as the brother of a man
who is intellectually disabled.
Jojo, in fact, was treated as if he were disabled too, most of his life,
until Buddy met him and helped him realize
he was fully capable of reading, writing, arithmetic, holding a job, all of it.
By the time Jojo moved to Alabama, Buddy had already established
Special Session, a summer camp week for differently abled persons,
both intellectually and physically.
Buddy asks Jojo to come be on staff with him.
And yet, there is a twist. Buddy wants Jojo to begin camp
acting as if he were a camper.
Jojo was to pretend he was intellectually disabled,
then after a day or so, he would come to the counselor nighttime debrief
and tell the staff the truth, that he was not disabled.
Buddy wanted the counselors to hear—from a camper—
what it was like being a camper.
Kee admits this idea, which was not his own, was brilliant and terrifying.
He and the counselors would have to face the truth,
that they may not be treating the campers as fully human
they may not be treating them as they would treat their own friends.
More striking is that they would now have to interact with Jojo
as a counselor.
This would make them think long and hard about themselves.
Jesus told the man he’d healed, he could not go with him.
He must stay in his community and “proclaim what God has done for you.” Jesus needed this man to be an apostle, not a disciple,
to be part of the healing of this community, just as he’d been healed.
Stay and tell this story, Jesus says.
The man suffered in community.
The man was healed in and for this community.
Communities need healing.
Sometimes what communities need to heal is a shock to the system.
Jesus healing this man teaches us this lesson.
He calls us to look at ourselves honestly and see how we treat others—
to look at the norms we’ve set up
and see that they might be just a way we hold on to power,
how we keep things the way they are—comfortable for ourselves.
Jesus challenges his followers to see
that capitulating to oppression, to tolerate oppressive laws,
because that’s the way it’s always been, or
because it is hard to change, this makes us accomplices to oppression.
Communities need healing. Jesus challenges this community
to rejoice in the healing of this man, as hard as that might be for them.
Sometimes what communities need to realize
is that rejoicing with others is part of the healing—
today, for example is Juneteenth, a remarkable and terrible date for us,
the date celebrated as the end of slavery in this country
Part of the healing we are called to is rejoicing with one another.
Communities need healing.
Sometimes, in awful times, in the trauma of violence,
like what happened at St. Stephen’s last week,
we need to hold one another.
Hold one another in prayer, in words of love, expressing the loss of life,
Hold one another with word and example.
As faithful communities, called by the Prince of Peace,
We must speak out against the anger that infects our larger communities,
in which we live.
We are called, just as our Lord did for the Gerasenes,
to be agents of healing, as the community of the faithful.
[i] Bird, Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission, 109-110.