Sermon; 2 Pentecost/Proper 7C; Luke 8:26-39
With the close of the Easter season, the day of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday behind us, we are now officially in the long, green season of Ordinary Time, the Season after Pentecost. Whereas the liturgical seasons have a specific focus – penance and forgiveness in Lent, resurrection in Easter, etc. – Ordinary Time moves from focusing on the major events of Jesus' life to focusing on the life of Christ. This is the time and season when we spend our time walking with Christ on a daily basis as we develop into faithful disciples.
And today we get the perfect text to begin that journey.
Jesus and his disciples are on the road. They cross over the water to the country of the Gerasenes, Gentile country, where they encounter a demoniac. This particular demoniac lives in the tombs. He knows who Jesus is. He is possessed by demons. And he is kept under guard by the town so that they can control and monitor his activities.
How do we see this story of the demoniac, the wary townsfolk, the demons, the healing, and the sending? Today I want us to look at this maybe a little differently than we've looked at it before.
Today I want us to see the demoniac as the Church.
Like it or not, or as uncomfortable as you may get, we are engaged in spiritual warfare. We, the Church, are battling a legion of demons. Everything from greed and hypocrisy, pride and envy, hatred and malice, lack of love and charity, murmurings and lies, racism and classism, hatreds of all kinds and an unwillingness to respect the dignity of others or to see the face of Christ in them, are just some of the sins and demons we deal with on an everyday basis. These are the sins of humanity. And because the Church is made up of humans, these are also the sins of the Church.
We the Church are living in the tombs. That is, the Church has been relegated to a place outside the boundaries of everyday life. The Church has been moved to a place not lived daily by most people. And like the tombs, people will come on special occasions to pay their respects or to remember how things were; but for the most part, the Church is outside the boundaries of daily life.
I would wager that even for us, the Church is outside the boundaries of daily life. How many of us keep the cares and concerns of the Church first and foremost in our lives? How many of us make daily prayers a priority, or do they get pushed back to whenever we have a few extra minutes to squeeze them in? How many of us make it a priority to read and study scripture? Even for us, the Church has been pushed to the tombs and outside the boundaries of daily life.
And speaking of being outside the boundaries of daily life . . . this is where the world wants the Church. The world wants the Church pushed out into the tombs. The world wants a Church it can control. The world wants a Church that can be ignored. The world wants a Church that doesn't threaten it. The world wants a Church it can declare as out of its mind.
If the Church listens to Jesus, however, things will be much different. The first thing we need to do is allow Christ to heal us. Like the demoniac knew Jesus but didn't follow Jesus, there are many in the Church who know Jesus but don't follow him. Those who know to love their neighbors but work to persecute them instead. Those who know to welcome the stranger, but work to keep them away. Those who know to feed the hungry, but work to close down support programs. Knowing Christ doesn't equate to being a disciple.
We must allow Jesus to exorcise the demons of fear, exclusion, lust, hate, pride, greed, and more. Because if we don't, then we will continue to live in the tombs.
Notice what happens when the demoniac is healed – the people of the town become afraid.
The people of the town were quite content to deal with a madman living in the tombs. They were quite content to ignore or explain away his ravings. They were quite content to have him living on the margins. The world is content to ignore or explain away the teaching of the Church. The world is quite content to keep the Church on the margins, out in the tombs, where they pay scant attention.
But imagine a time when the Church, like the man, is healed of its demons. Imagine a time when the Church has its demons of pride, arrogance, lust, hatred, exclusion, greed, fear, etc. driven out. We would no longer be an institution to be ignored. We would be completely dedicated to following Christ in all we do. Instead of random rants and ravings, we would present a clear picture of why discipleship and life in the Church is so vitally important. And all the world would be seized with great fear.
Once upon a time, Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Today we have met the demoniac and he is us.
This story challenges us to revisit who we are. It challenges us to confront our own demons. It challenges us to see that we are living in the tombs. And it challenges us to discover what we could accomplish when we are in our right minds.
Discipleship should move us from living on the edges out in the tombs where we can keep a controlling eye on our faith, not letting it get too close to our daily lives, to living a faith-based life that is the center of our being. On this first Sunday of our journey with Jesus, let us remember that we are not called to live out in the tombs but that we are called to live faithfully out in the open of everyday life.
Faith isn't something to keep a watchful eye on, something to be chained up and controlled, something to visit occasionally. Our faith is to be lived into daily. Our faith calls us to daily discipleship. Our faith should be released from its chains and allowed to escape from the tombs so that we live daily into the freedom faith brings in the midst of our everyday lives.
It is in that freedom where we proclaim to the world how much Jesus has done for us. And it is also in that freedom and daily discipleship that will frighten the world.
For that to happen, though, we must be willing to first purge ourselves and the Church of the demons that control us; and second we must be willing to follow Christ daily. Today is the first day of the long, green Season after Pentecost where daily discipleship is the overall focus. What better way to begin this journey than to let Christ purge us of our demons.