Intro: Jesus and an extended group of disciples have been travelling through Galilee – this group included both men and women. This was a period of teaching, telling parables and explaining them. The crowds grew so big that when Jesus family came to visit – they could not get to him. It seems like Jesus wanted a break – so he asks his disciples to get a boat and sail him across the sea of Galilee to the other side:
Luke 8:26-39 : 26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes,[a] which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus[b] had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time 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 desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and 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 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed[c] man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from 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.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
A man has been chased out of his home because he seems to have become crazy.. perhaps today we might call him schizophrenic, or subject to psychotic episodes, or even a victim of dementia. But in the time of Jesus there was no such explanation: he was strange – and people explained it as demon possessed.
And he was driven out of his community, and eventually found himself in the graveyard of the town. And when you live with the dead you were considered unclean / literally cursed by both God and man. Here is someone who is alive, but considered dead by his community.
And Luke tells us that Jesus finds him: and Jesus heals him. And he is “clothed and in his right mind”…… So imagine that you had been part of this story: you had seen this man’s mental health deteriorate, you had seen him driven out of town, and watched his family take food to a place at the edge of the graveyard so that he did not starve – and then Jesus comes to town and this man is healed: you saw that he had his clothes back on and was talking rationally….. What would your response be:
Surely your first words would have been “Praise God”… probably followed by a great big celebration in Main Street.
But that is not what happened:
35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and 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.
The people were afraid! This made such an impression on Luke that he repeats it two verses later: . 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked (Jesus) to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.
Why is it such a fearful thing when madness is replaced by stillness?
And it is right here that I believe that this story has been remembered – and keeps nagging at us 2000 years later. It seems that we can cope with madness – but we will do everything to avoid stillness.
The stillness of our hearts contain all the things we do not want to think about – and so we cultivate madness in an effort to shut out our thoughts.
Let me unpack this a bit: summer is advertised as an opportunity for us to recover our souls: life has been busy – this is the time to …
• escape to the Black Hills and enjoy the stillness of nature
• Go out into the prairies and enjoy the stillness of a sunset
• Go to the Nature Park and walk in the stillness of an early morning
But this is really not true: We take our noise with us…. We turn up the volume of the music in our vehicles / we look for a television in the Black Hills / when we leave home – we madly fill our time with activities / even when out walking we talk incessantly with each other.
Allow me to be a bit more pointed:
Today contains a number of invitations to pause from our business and be still to remember:
Today June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Tex., to inform enslaved African Americans that the Civil War had ended and they were free. Today is a moment to sit with our thoughts and reflect on what we can do to continue to ensure the freedom of everyone who lives here….. but we so easily allow the political madness of this country to drown out the still small voice of reason.
Today is Father’s day: a happy day of barbeques, and socks, and family – but this can become a way of drowning out the opportunity to have a real conversation with our fathers. We make today busy – so that we do not have to go to that stillness where we tell them that we love them.
The reason that we keep the madness going is because we are afraid of the silence. Like the Gerasene villagers described in the Gospel of Luke: we discover that silence is frightening. Because when we stop our madness – we have to face our own thoughts. But we will only find healing for our troubled spirits when we do so.
Today – is an invitation: pause for a moment in your day – and make some space for silence: switch off the Television / stop the music / pause the talking – and listen for the Spirit of God. Perhaps you can make this the invitation for summer:
Watch a sunset / listen to the wind / discover the sound of a bird – and in this moment see if the Spirit of God will engage your troubles spirit – and you can find healing.
Jesus says these words in the week before his arrest “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now …. I almost can feel the anxiety of Jesus: he has so much still to say, and so little time to say it
Remember the world Jesus came to:
the faith of the people had become a matter of rules and obedience. Obey the rules – define the rules – clarify the rules – until there were codes explaining them and teachers of the law who had the professional task of teaching the rules. And the gatekeepers who would decide who was in and who was out – who could be allowed into the temple, and who had to be kept out.
And a whole class of people who were excluded: the am-haarez… poor people
And the faith of the children of Israel was governed by keeping the rules: Some have said that the people had to remember 613 rules.
And Jesus was aware of this. And there came a moment when he was asked: of all the commandments – what are the most important:
So here is his answer –“Love God and Love your neighbour”
Jesus said there is only one thing – love!
The disciples warmed to his message
The crowds flocked to hear him – because it was a refreshing message of hope. Here is someone who had Good News… the ability to be loved by God – despite the rules.
But the difficult realization that Jesus was not going to be around forever:
How would people remain hopeful – and not lapse back into the legal swamp that had persuaded people that God hated them.
And Jesus says – you will not be left alone: you will have my
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, . 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Do not worry – because you will keep hearing my message of God’s love: the Spirit of God will love you from the inside out.
Sadly – human nature being what it is: the followers of Jesus were tempted to fall back into the way of rules: 300 years after Jesus a Council of Nicaea was convened by the Emperor Constantine – gathered all the church leaders – guess what he wanted them to do? draw up rules to decide who is in and who is out – and he sent his soldiers to kill those who did not agree with his council’s rules….
And many Christian leaders fled into the deserts of North Africa and Syria. The Holy Spirit reminded these Desert Fathers and Mothers that they needed to rediscover the two basic commandments – Love God and Love One Another.
Again in the 1500’s the church of Jesus found itself debating who was saved – and the Pope ruled that those who paid money to the church could be saved.
Again the Holy Spirit raised up a courageous priest called Martin Luther who said: the only thing required was faith in the love of God.
And in the 1800’s, when the church in England was drowning in rules, the Holy Spirit warmed the heart of a courageous Priest called John Wesley:
and he began a revival movement which became known as “The Methodists”. Central to their teachings was this one idea: all people could know the love of God: whether you knew the church rules or not – your heart could be warmed by the Holy Spirit, reminding you that you are a beloved chid of God.
This Methodist movement has avoided writing its own Creed – or emphasising its own set of rules: Instead we have Three Simple Rules:
Being a Methodist means:
Do No Harm
Stay in Love with God
Have just come back from our Dakotas Annual Conference:
I am grateful for the way the Holy Spirit raised up leaders in our conference who continue to remind us that the best rules are the rules of love.
I point to Pastor Howard Grinager – who models love to everyone
I think of Pastor Clay Lundberg – who was given an award by the youth leaders in the Conference for the love and support he shows to young people
I am grateful for the Bishops: Bishop Ough and Bishop Deb – who could have enforced rules – but chose instead to lead the Conference with love and compassionate
And so today I remind us that the Holy Spirit keeps reminding us that we only need two rules – love God and Love our neighbour. And it is my hope that this church would continue this tradition: that we become known as a place of welcome and acceptance.
Let me pull this together: I want to offer Good News, a Challenge, and a Promise
Good News: everyone is welcome to worship in our family. You do not need to achieve a level of holiness before you enter the doors:
Open hearts, Open Minds Open doors.
Challenge: The same welcome you receive is extended to anyone else who walks through the door – and sometimes this is difficult – because people might walk through the door we do not like / or agree with.
The Promise: that the Spirit of God is with us - He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
We receive the love of God – but God’s Spirit does not leave it there – we are changed
Our hearts are softened
We learn compassion and kindness – and this overflows into the way we treat other people.
The promise is that the Love of God holds us all:
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Intro: Today’s reading from the Bible tells the story of a bunch of losers hiding in a room: these were the disciples who had run away and left Jesus alone to face torture and death. These were Jesus best friends – and they had failed him… They knew what was right – but failed to do it.
Now here is the amazing thing: Despite their failure: Jesus comes to find them. And he tells them that God still has faith in them, and that they can continue to be his disciples: 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
They were not disciples because they had managed to earn a special place – clearly they had failed – they were disciples because Jesus loved them.
Here is the Good News for today: Just like those disciples - We are not left alone. Today’s Bible reading reminds us that God understands our failures and that even when we fail, God does not give up on us….
Brennan Manning is a Christian author who has thought deeply about the unconditional love of God: he writes that our Christian Faith “is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games, or pop psychology. It is an act of faith in the grace of God.”
Instead of condemning his disciples, Jesus said to them – I will give you strength to get back on your feet. Jesus looks at his broken, failed disciples and these are the words he says to them:
.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
Following Jesus offers us a different way of understanding our lives. We do not earn God’s love by trying to become better people / or gritting our teeth and attempting to improve ourselves We are not blessed by God only when we never make mistakes. Success as a Christian is not a case of faking it until we make it. Our Scripture passage speaks of a God who does not give up on us - even when we fail.
=== (move to the stool)
For me this is such a relief. I speak out of my own personal experience – I know the kind of person that I should be. I would like to be someone who is kind and loving and brave – and just when I think that I have it all together - I fail to be that person:
• I make mistakes
• I say words that I instantly wish that I could take back
• I get irritated and impatient
I think of a moment when I said something that hurt a friend of mine – and I realized that I had just damaged the friendship – and failed to be the person that I want to be. I also know that I am not alone in this:
St Paul complained about this: Romans 7: 19…. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.
I recently saw a quote on a coffee mug: “Be the person your dog thinks you are”…and sometimes it is only our dog who could love us…
And I am going to assume that you know what it is to fail – and to be disappointed in yourself.
Allow me to repeat the Good News for today: God does not give up on us: Like with those disciples in the upper room: he comes to us and breathes on us and blesses us with strength to get up and live another day.
Here is the invitation: to wake up each morning – say these words: “O God: today is your day – use me”.
At this moment - No matter how imperfect you might feel - it is no longer about you: it is about surrendering your day to God….and being curious about what God will do with it. Ours is a faith that speaks of surrender: we surrender our struggling spirits to God – and allow the Spirit of God to use us…. Allow the Spirit of God to guide our living and speaking. Be open to surrendering our frail, broken spirits to the Spirit of God – and letting God live through us.
Today is Pentecost Sunday We are reminded that God’s Holy Spirit can touch our lives:
Every time we share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion – the Spirit of God is particularly available – come today as an act of faith – ask God to touch you.