Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
I have to confess that I hate the ending of our Gospel reading today. After all that happens to this poor man, I want him to get a rest and ride off into the sunset with Jesus. This man has practically been through hell. He is possessed by not one, but an entire legion of demons. His family and friends are utterly afraid that he will hurt others and himself. They don’t know what to do with him and the best they can do to “care” for him is to chain him up like a wild animal and even that doesn’t hold him. He is homeless. He lives in a cemetery by himself. He is naked. He is a man who is absolutely feared by his neighbors, and he is alone and hurting because of it.
Jesus encounters this man in his darkest hour and heals him. He casts out the demons who enter into the pigs that jump off a cliff into the water and drown. The man is free from the demons. He has his life back. He is in his right mind, fully clothed, and sitting next to Jesus listening to him speak.
Then, the folks from his hometown catch up with him. They see the man free and clothed and they are afraid again. Why are they afraid? I am not completely sure, but I have a couple of ideas. First, they may be afraid because the healing of this man destroyed the economic livelihood of someone’s herd of pigs. They aren’t too happy about being financially inconvenienced and do not care that it was the consequence of a fellow child of God being saved from a legion of demons. That sounds pretty familiar- valuing financial gain over the livelihood of human beings. Second, the people may be afraid simply because the man is free. They have spent so much time living with the reality that when this man is not chained up, people get hurt. Now he is no longer chained. Maybe they are afraid that this exorcism won’t take and he will be back to his demon-possessed ways.
With his neighbors afraid of him and probably pretty angry with him, it is no wonder that the man begs Jesus to let him travel with him. But Jesus says no. He tells the man to go back home and proclaim all that God has done for him to those people who are afraid and angry after their first taste of what God has done for him.
And it isn’t fair. The man has practically been through hell and he deserves to be away from the fearful, angry people who once locked him away like an animal. They saw what God had done for this man and they didn’t like it one bit. Now Jesus says, “Stay here at home and tell them about it some more.”
I want this man to have a happy ending. I want everyone who experiences tragedy and then healing to have a happy ending. I want everyone to be able to stop and rest after finally receiving their healing. I want my LGBT friends and family to have that kind of rest. In the wake of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, they have received a painful reminder that there are still many people who would hurt LGBT women and men. They received a reminder of how vulnerable they are just because of who they are. I want these loved ones to find peace and courage from God and to know that they are deeply loved by God and many others despite the hatred of some. After they find peace, I want to them to be able to rest in that. I do not want them to have to relive that horror and be charged with the exhausting work of battling homophobia in legislation, homes, and churches. I want them to be able to ride off into the sunset with Jesus and take a rest- not to have to remind fearful and angry people that in Christ there is no longer Greek or Jew, slave or free, male and female. I want them to know that they are deeply loved by God, to know the power of the resurrection, and to rest on that. Period.
But Jesus calls us to something different. He calls us to share the abundant love of God we have received with the world that hungers for that love. This week was the one year anniversary of the shooting of the Charleston 9. After that horrific event when Dlyann Roof, fueled by his hatred of African-Americans and his false belief in white supremacy, attended a Bible study at Emmanuel AME church and then shot and murdered nine women and men, the young man was apprehended. At one point, the families of the victims were given an opportunity to publically address Dylann Roof. Some of the family expressed their deep pain, but also breathed a word of forgiveness.
Incredibly, these people of deep faith were able to offer forgiveness to the man who had wounded them so grievously. They proclaimed what God has done for them. They have received the incredible forgiveness of God and then shared that forgiveness with Dylann Roof. Their faith has already inspired many around this country to see the power of forgiveness.
Christ calls us to proclaim what God has done so others might hear and believe what we have come to believe when others did the same for us. When we were at our lowest, darkest moments in our lives, by the grace of God, someone was there to offer a word or a deed of hope and compassion from God. Christ calls us to proclaim in word and deed God’s abundant love and care. To proclaim to the fearful, angry, and hurting, “You are not abandoned.” “You are accepted.” “You are loved.” We are called to proclaim this radical, transforming message of what God has done for us at murder sites throughout our city. We are called to proclaim that death will be no more and God’s peace will reign. We are called to proclaim God’s justice and provision- what God has done for us- in our words and in our deeds to those who are homeless and those who have the power to offer shelter, food, and care. We are called to proclaim the words of Galatians to those who fear for their safety simply because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, or status. We are called to proclaim what God has done for us that in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female.
In the midst of this hard work, we can be confident that our strength and consolation comes from God even while proclaiming what God has done. What we proclaim to others becomes a proclamation to ourselves. In telling the story of what God has done for us, we deliver the hope and saving work of God to others, but we also receive that hope and saving work ourselves.
Christ came to the man possessed by Legion and he came to us when we were broken, lost, and alone. He even ventured into the land of death to come to us, to heal us, and to save us from the power of sin and death. That is what we proclaim. That is our strength and hope and it is the strength and hope of the world. Christ saved us, Christ saves the world.