Dealing with demons, by Pastor Noel

June 23, 2019    Proper 7, C


      Three years ago I started my sermon by saying that a friend didn’t want to be a priest because she didn’t want to have to preach every week.

      Sometimes it is hard. Inspiration has taken a vacation somewhere else. But the Scriptures are living words and we can hear them differently each time we read—if we take the time to hear.

      Another friend shared that one of the symbols of a Roman legion of soldiers was a boar. Jesus sent the demons, who called themselves legion, into pigs and then into the sea.

      He was healing the man, and he was protesting military might.

      So that could be a sermon theme, especially with imminent possibility of war.

      But there are other recent events that spoke to me as I was pondering what to say—the 50th anniversary of the raid on the Stonewall Inn; and the 30th anniversary of the event now called “The Central Park Five;” Juneteenth; and I can barely talk about the disgusting and sinful conditions of the children in squalid camps on the border. And, you know, that’s just the tip of the news ice berg.

      The police have apologized for the Stonewall raid. American Psychoanalytic Association apologized for saying homosexuality is an illness.

      Unfortunately, those apologies won’t stop violence against gays.

      The young men of the Central Park Five have been released from prison and exonerated by DNA.

      But they still spent time in prison that will change the rest of their lives.

      The children in the camps—will they ever be reunited with family? How did they deserve this?

      This may sound political, but these are issues of God’s justice and mercy.

      Here’s how they connect with our readings.

      The man in the tombs at Gerasa has demons. That may sound like a fairy tale, but we still have our demons today.

      And we still have those we demonize, because they are different from us.

      We demonize others so that they will be different from us.

      Then we can feel superior. Then we can ignore them and pretend we don’t share their same problems.

      This is also called scapegoating.

      Anyone who has worked hard to give up the demon of alcohol, or drugs, or anything, can tell you that the hardest work may be going home.

      Family has become used to the addict, the victim, and has lived their lives around this person. Having that person to blame, to criticize, to laugh at, sets the rest of the family apart. Better.

      They may even enable the addiction to keep the victim from getting healed. Once the victim is no longer a victim, the family has to look at their own behavior. What are their demons?

      To get to the man at Gerasa, the disciples had to face the demons of going to the other side of the lake.

      The other side was different, non Jewish. The people there worshiped other gods, ate other foods.

      The demons we all live with are based on fear. Fear of having to deal with things and people we don’t understand, or don’t want to understand.   

      We make them the enemy, and keep away so we don’t have to get close enough to understand.

      Our fear may convince us that God is on our side. We may think that the Bible condemns gay folks, but it doesn’t, And it says nothing against committed relationships.

      We may fear people who are different, and not want them as neighbors.

      If we look to the Bible for help, we find that God calls us to welcome the stranger, the alien. Over and over the Jews are reminded that they were aliens and God rescued them. They are to share God’s compassion with everyone who lives with them.

      In Galatia Paul is confronting another fear that most of us share—fear of change. This is also tied to the fear of difference.

      The church in Galatia held that to follow Christ, one had to also follow Jewish laws. (dietary laws, circumcision…) The church was becoming divided and conflicted by those who felt that their way (either one!) was more pure and holy.

      Paul is angry about this unhealthy way of following Christ. None of you is any better or any different in God’s eyes, he is telling them and us.             We are all one, all the same, as we live into being “clothed with Christ” by our baptism.

      “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

      Jesus lived to show us God’s love for the outcast, the “untouchable,” the demon possessed.

      That is love that we are called—urged! to share.

      On Pentecost, Hayes ended his sermon with a theologians easy to understand guide to living as follower of Jesus. “Compassion matters most.” “Caring matters most.”

      I could add a few more. Feeding the hungry matters most. Welcoming the stranger matters most. Seeing everyone as a beloved child of God matters most. Not putting kids in cages matters most. Listening matters most. Being generous matters most. Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves matters most. Forgiving matters most. Respecting the dignity of every human being matters most.

      I know. They can’t all be “most.”

      But they, and lots of other loving ways of living, are how we show God’s mercy and loving kindness.      

      These are how we show that we heard Jesus and are following the ways he lived. No outcasts, no alien, no “other”— just all of us trying to make God’s kingdom visible and real.

      A world where we know that we all are God’s beloved children. I think that’s what matters most.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details