5 C Pentecost 19 June 2016 Proper 7
The summer Olympics will soon be here, amid social and financial upheaval in Brazil and the very recent ban of the Russian track and field team. Despite that, there is still a sense of awe and wonder when I watch those young athletes compete. As Paul would say, they have their eyes on the prize. I know I could never have that degree of dedication. I am having enough trouble getting ready for RAGBRAI; not once of the several times I have participated have I trained as much as I could or should. I do suspect that each of us at some point has decided to challenge ourselves to do something we don’t know if we can do. Maybe you are a quilter trying a new complex pattern, a woodworker attempting to make a piece of fine furniture, a cook with a new recipe. Or maybe you decided to try something you had never done before. One of my most challenging experiences was when I did Outward Bound in the winter in Minnesota. But the biggest decision to challenge myself was to become a parent. Nothing exceeds that in effort or duration!! Think for a moment about a challenge you decided to take. Maybe the challenge you chose or faced was daunting, such as a soldier learning to walk again after a battle injury. In the end I don’t think any of them compare with the challenge Jesus undertook when he went to Gerasanes. This place was just about as far from home as he ever went. It was not a Jewish enclave, but Gentile. The swine should be a very good clue that it was not exactly kosher. How did he decide to come to that place, of all places, where apparently there were no Jews? The preceding verses give us only a slight clue: One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side of the lake." So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, "Where is your faith?" They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, "Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?" NRSV I would like to think that he chose to go there, to a land of Gentiles and therefore unclean, but maybe he was told that this was where he was to go. The startling thing about the story, or perhaps one of the startling things about the story, is that this was an entirely Gentile encounter. Jesus had crossed a rather large boundary to get to where he was. Think for a moment about the man possessed. His life is nothing but torment; there is really no good or meaningful purpose to it. I sometimes wonder if, in some ways, we are all that man possessed. Are we possessed by an obsession for something? Do we desire wealth? Do we crave power, be it not as a corporate CEO or politician, but do we want to rule our house or our work? Is it pleasure that holds on to us? I think I easily fall into that form of bondage. I see it; I want it; I buy it. If you look at yourself really closely you will find those places where you are seduced and possessed by a demon. Perhaps you are repulsed by the image of the naked and insane man running among the tombs, but Luke needs to let us know just how complete the possession of our very selves can be. Jesus has crossed the Sea of Galilee, sure of his own faith, for the salvation of one person; that person is you and me. The man is freed and starts spreading the news of what God has done for him. Now what about us? Have we been freed, and if so what do we do with that freedom? I think I ask this question every homily I give: why are you here? I am here to thank God for what has been done for me, and I do not mean power, pleasure, or possessions. God’s favor has nothing to do with what I have or, for that matter, what I do not have. God has done for us by revealing the Good News of Jesus. That Good News is not substitutionary atonement and has really nothing to do with the afterlife, although we now have no reason to fear death. Jesus was a very radical person, to use modern parlance. He gave us teachings that, if practiced, would transform the world. He tells us God desires nothing more than justice and mercy and he told us how to practice that. Love God and your neighbor. That does not mean only those who can love you in return; it means unconditional love. The kind of love he showed the Gerasane demoniac. It means sharing what we have, for whatever we have is not really ours. We are stewards of our possessions. We are called to a way of love known as agape, the kind of love that gives and nurtures. We are called to be peacemakers and that does not mean peace by war, for that is what Rome did and that is what Jesus railed against. Peace by justice. If everyone practiced peace the way Quakers and Mennonites do, there would be no wars. No one would go fight. Is that what God is trying to tell us? I pray for those who chose to go in to the military, both my parents made that decision, but what if we started to visualize an alternative to killing and violence? There is no ultimate peace that has ever resulted from war. What about food security? Why do we continue to support a system that enriches corporations and impoverishes millions? I think we need to quit worrying about worshipping Jesus. Jesus did not come to start a new religion, but to focus on radical social change. (No, I do not think he was just a great rabbi; I do believe he was God incarnate.) I found in interesting that for the first 1000 years of the church the main symbols were the fish and depictions of the young Jesus. No crucifix!! When the church was still an underground movement it was more fixated on a radical form of social justice than who went to heaven. From what, then, was the demoniac freed? We can all answer that in our own way, but I believe he was freed from his own inner demons that held him in bondage to the world. Now he can be free to go and be and do what God intends for all of us: to be joyful, loving human beings who have no fear and who instinctively praise God and serve all their fellow human beings.