Pastor Ingrid’s sermon from Sunday, June 19. Listen along here.
The gospel according to Luke, the eighth chapter:
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 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. 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”— 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.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 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. 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. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 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. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 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. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 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.
Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.
It was one year ago, almost to the day, that I stood in this pulpit and lamented the massacre at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina that claimed the lives of nine bible-reading, community-loving people of color. Today, I stand before you again and decry the massacre of forty-nine beloveds at a gay nightclub in Orlando. I’m relatively new to this whole preaching gig; why do I get the sense that I’m already repeating myself?
When we gathered for worship last Sunday morning, we had little knowledge about the events that had unfolded under the cover of night. In between services, Pastor Jay read a headline that indicated that something terrible had happened at the Pulse nightclub. The details were uncertain; the prayer petition that we quickly added as we processed up the aisle was vague: “We remember all those affected by the latest incident of gun violence in Orlando.”
We now know how insufficient that petition was. 50 people are dead. 49 of them had no idea when they showed up to the Pulse that they would encounter anything other than music and dancing and acceptance. In a gorgeous piece in the Washington Post, Justin Torres writes about Latin Night at the Queer Club, saying, “[W]hen you walk into the club, if you’re lucky, it feels expansive. “Safe space” is cliché, overused, and exhausted in our discourse, but the fact remains that a sense of safety transforms the body, transforms the spirit. So many of us walk through the world without it.” There, transfigured by disco light, Torres writes, “The only imperative is to be transformed…to lighten, loosen, see yourself reflected in the beauty of others.”[i] For those of us who feel bound by societal norms that we had no hand in creating, safe spaces like the club have the potential to feel like freedom.
The difference between being bound and being free is at the center of our gospel story this week.[ii] I actually think that the difference between being bound and being free is at the center of our gospel story most weeks. We don’t have to look back very far to see the pattern emerge: The man living in the graveyard in today’s reading. The unnamed woman who anointed Jesus’ feet last week. The mother next to her son’s casket the week before. And the Roman solider the week before that. Luke is filled with stories in which Jesus meets someone who is wrongfully bound by society’s chains and says “nope, I don’t think so, no more.” No more to the dominant culture’s expectations, no more to the isolation that comes from being termed “other.” Jesus has this wonderful ability to see the chains hanging from every single person he meets. I like to imagine that he chooses to remove them one link at a time with a big ol’ bolt cutter, so that his message of freedom cannot be misunderstood.
The truth is that all of us are bound—bound by fear, unforgiveness, anger, bitterness, disappointment, distractions, self-loathing, hate, revenge…[iii] It’s these chains that lead some of us to think that assault-style weapons should be freely traded on the streets; to think that violence ought to be enacted against the LGBTQ community; to think that woman are less worthy of society’s respect; to think that the color of one’s skin determines their value; to think that Muslim Americans for to blame for, well, just about everything. It’s these chains—that lest we try to fool ourselves, are wrapped around each one of us—that lead us to deny the image of God in the other with our words and actions or with our silence and inaction. It’s these chains that force me to preach sermons like this one more often than I would like.
But each time we open Luke’s gospel, there stands Jesus with the proverbial bolt-cutter. Nelson Mandela once said that “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s [own] chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” That’s what Jesus’ life makes so abundantly clear. From village to village, Jesus, who is freedom embodied, stands ready to liberate literally anyone he encounters.
And all along the way he’s teaching his followers to do the same—teaching them to cut the chains off of one another, because—Lord knows—it’s too hard to remove our own. To fear, he says “no more.” Unforgiveness [no more], anger [no more], bitterness [no more], disappointment [no more], distraction [no more], self-loathing [no more], hate [no more], revenge [no more]. With confidence and with tenderness, we remove them from each other link by link, y’all, because we know they keep us from living—really living.
Torres writes that “people talk about liberation as if it’ some kind of permanent state, as if you get liberated and that’s it, you get some rights and that’s it, you get some acknowledgment and that’s it.” But you and I know better. We know liberation is ongoing. We know that it will take years for the graveyard Geresene to learn to be in relationship once again. And for the woman anointing Jesus’ feet to learn how to exercise her voice now that people see and hear her. And for the Palestinian mama to learn to hold her resurrected son lightly even though she would prefer to grip him so tightly that she threatens to squeeze the life right back out of him. And for the solider to learn what the freedom he’s been given means for his life’s work. It will take years, but the gift of being reunited with their respective communities is that they don’t need to learn these things alone. The community is there to keep loving them into liberation.
Today, we baptize Jackson Norris Murray. We have the privilege of bearing witness to God’s “yes,” which my friend Marc says sounds like this: “You (the wet one there with all the water on you) are mine! I love you! I will not abandon or forsake you. You are part of my unending life—a life that includes and bears the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. A life that is poured out in abundance and joy. You belong to my vast and lovely family, which includes this sweet earth and its creatures. Together, we will love and heal the universe. This will include dark times and doubt and pain, but I will never leave you. We share a Spirit. All that I have is yours. This will not end.”[iv] This is God’s “yes.”
In baptism, there is also an implied “no” which we hear as good news. God and the community say “no” to anyone or anything that tells you, little babe, that you’re anything less than loved, exactly as you are. “No” to anyone or anything that tries to deny the indelible imprint that God has made on your tiny life. “No” to anyone or anything that tries to keep you from living—really living—the life to which he has been called. All around you, Jackson Norris, stand followers of Jesus Christ, who know there is a difference between being bound and being free. And, today, God, your family, and this community choose freedom for you.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] Please read Justin Torres’ gorgeous opinion piece in The Washington Post here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/in-praise-of-latin-night-at-the-queer-club/2016/06/13/e841867e-317b-11e6-95c0-2a6873031302_story.html
[ii] LaDonna Sanders Nkosi pointed to this distinction in her reflection on the lectionary in this week’s “Living by the Word” in The Christian Century.
[iii] Again, Sanders Nkosi offered a starter list of things that bind us to which I added throughout the week.
[iv] We’re working with Marc Olson to create a baptism booklet. These words come from that resource.