Preached at North Reading Union Congregational Church, UCC
June 23, 2019
Rev. Reebee Kavich Girash
“God loves us through all our blemishes, and we respond by grabbing on to hope.” – UCC Mental Health Network liturgy for Mental Health Sunday 2019
3:26 …In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
8:26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
8:27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.
8:28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”–
8:29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)
8:30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.
8:31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
8:32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.
8:33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
8:34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
8:35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.
8:36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.
8:37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.
8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying,
8:39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
I know this man. When I first sat with today’s text, I had a flash of recognition. I know him, and I wonder if you do, too.
I wonder if you know someone bound up by a Legion of crises.
It’s no easy thing when a Bible story brings to mind the face of someone we love, or someone for whom our hearts break, or hardest of all, someone we can’t look at anymore. Someone we’ve sent away.
I read this text and thought of a modern Gerasene, occupied by a Legion of troubles, that I saw on our local bike path last month. I rode past him, tucked into his sleeping bag. All his possessions were in a shopping cart he had dragged up onto the ledge. He lay precariously on that narrow place at the top of a concrete slope, under the bridge near Alewife.
I looked for him a few days later but he was not there anymore. In his place were new No Trespassing signs.
I read this text again and recognized someone I love, a family friend, bound for years by the chains of alcohol addiction, who could not find his way into an AA meeting, could not take the first of twelve steps.
And again as I pondered Luke’s words, I remembered a phone call, late at night, from a parishioner struggling so mightily to get her mental illness under control but that night she was driven into the wilds and she called, needing to get to the Emergency Room, fast.
One more time I read the Gospel, this time as I waited in a courthouse lobby, next to a woman who cannot go home, whose worries for herself and her children are more than Legion if she goes home. Yet, she is told, she cannot stay here. She has neither clothes nor country.
He could be any of them, that’s the way the Gospel works. This man could be any of us.
This man is naked, alone, exiled, unclean, bound in chains, occupied, out of control, homeless, sleeping in the place of the dead.
And hardest of all,
he is without identity and without community.
Jesus asks him his name and the troubles in his soul come forth and name themselves Legion.
Legion, something with the power of 6000 Roman soldiers occupying the land, occupying his life.
Legion, binding up not only this man, but occupying the community that once loved him, just the way it happens, when our loved ones’ suffering binds us up.
Thankfully, Jesus shows up.
Jesus crosses a sea to get to him.
Jesus walks miles from the shore to see this brother.
Jesus – for the only time in Luke’s Gospel – travels into Gentile territory to find him.
Jesus asks the man, what is your name? Because Jesus knows he has a name that transcends nakedness, homelessness, and disease. God has not forgotten him.
Jesus wants to know his name, the name of this beloved child of God.
The good news for this brother is that nothing can separate him from the love of God and on that day in Gerasa, Jesus does not call him Legion, he calls him beloved and the man is freed. Jesus calls all of us beloved, and in that there is liberation.
Frederick Buechner once said, “Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.” Legion does not have the last word, love has the last word, that is the good news for this brother. He is not his illness or his crisis, he is a whole and dignified soul.
None of us are defined by the Legions of crises within us, and oh my that is good news.
But, there is also a challenge in this morning’s Gospel. When they see him healed, this brother’s community is afraid.
If any of these people came into your mind,
sister, or brother, or friend,
If someone who is addicted, homeless, incarcerated, or struggling with mental illness,
Came into your mind,
This is a hard Gospel.
We are not Jesus. We cannot simply cast Legion off the cliff, no matter how much we love our brother. We are not Jesus – we can only walk the journey the best we can. It may even be hard for us to imagine restoration. And we really don’t know what to do with someone who is healing.
If we recognize the Gerasene demoniac in our own lives,
Then we have to know that the Gospel, the Good News, is not just about this naked, bound, occupied one being healed.
It’s about us, their community.
And Luke doesn’t tell us how things turn out in Gerasa, nor how it will turn out here.
At the end of the text, Luke leaves the story unfinished.
He writes that the people are afraid, and rather than throwing a party for the return of their beloved, they ask Jesus to leave.
This brother wants to go away with Jesus, the nexus of his healing.
Seriously, you know you would want the same thing. You would cling to your liberator, hide in the safety of his wings.
But Jesus will not let him leave home. Jesus sends him back to the community where he could not live while bound and occupied by Legion. Jesus sends him back to the city where his healing has terrified folks.
Jesus commissions him to ministry, saying: “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And Luke says, “he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”
Jesus sends this man, healed, and whole, back home, to tell his good news.
Does anyone welcome him at the city’s gate and do they listen to him?
Luke does not tell us if dozens are reconciled or thousands are saved or hundreds more healed. Luke does not tell us if this man is welcomed home. We just don’t know.
But we know this.
The good news for Christian communities in this Gospel is a charge to welcome our brothers and sisters home. We are called to set aside labels and offer hospitality.
We can see their face as we listen to this text, and here’s the thing:
We may not be able to heal him or unbind her, but we can be part of a community of many hands and hearts that offers welcome, support, grace and companionship on the journey of healing.
It may take more than we have individually. It may take a hospital stay, it may take medication, it may take therapy we are not trained to offer, it may take a shelter or a social worker, it may take time and it may have to be repeated over and over again. We may even wonder if healing will ever be complete, but the Gospel invites us to imagine that the worst thing may not be the last thing.
To imagine that healing may be possible.
To imagine restoration.
The Gospel tells us not to be afraid to stand, watching the horizon, for the prodigal one’s return.
The late Rachel Held Evans, in her final book, wrote: “The miracles of Jesus aren’t magic tricks designed to awe prospective converts, nor are they tests from the past, meant to sort true believers from doubters. They are instructions, challenges. They show us what to do and how to hope.” ( Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2018) Kindle Edition, 248.)
I don’t know what happened to the man under the bridge, or any of his dozen companions, but I know officers and social workers who are walking around Alewife looking for them, and I know people of faith and folks moved by compassion are asking themselves how to help.
I do know what happened to my dad’s dear friend: he took that first step and spend years walking the eleven more, and then he found a church that called him beloved, and listened to his testimony and learned from him.
The woman on the phone has been back teaching Sunday School for years now, and the kids love her because she is silly and real at the same time.
And the woman in the courtroom is still waiting, but she is not waiting alone.
We can grab hope and hold on to it.
We can see this brother, this sister, as beloved,
We can watch for them and
Welcome them home.
We can whisper to them,
You are beloved.
If we forget how to do it, maybe we can turn to Paul’s words from Galatians. I think he offers the same good news and the same invitation.
At the church at Galatia, you see, Paul witnesses people being bound by labels and separated from one another.
Paul sees a community where one piece of your story, one label, determines your worthiness.
Slave, female, Greek? They tell you to stand outside the gate.
Free, male, or Jew? They offer you a place at the banquet.
No, says Paul, those distinctions do not matter to God, nor should they in the church. Every one of you is clothed with Christ, every one of you is God’s beloved child, every one of you is an heir to the promise of God’s infinite love.
He’s talking about everyone who would follow Jesus, but I hear our Gerasene brother’s story in Paul’s words.
Naked, alone, exiled, occupied – all of that is gone now and as Paul puts it, he is clothed with Christ.
Paul envisions a time, already-but-not-yet, when labels are less important than community, when there is no longer outsider and insider, worthy and unworthy, rich or poor, well or disturbed but one family of God’s children, heirs according to the promise of Gods’ love, compassion and justice.
And that is good news, my friends, because there is nothing that separates a single one of us from God’s love. Nothing.
In Christ you are neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,
Not bound or labeled by experiencing mental illness or homelessness, or nakedness either – you are clothed with Christ.
In Christ’s community you are no longer a label,
No longer unnamed,
You are valued, known, and seen.
The Gerasene brother came home on a mission, to share what Jesus had done for him.
These missionaries in our midst, these witnesses to redemption, these strangers and angels and prophets have a good word, a challenging invitation for us.
Jesus sends them to tell what God has done for them,
To tell of God’s love for all of us.
Will we listen?