THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Nearly seventy-five years ago, a great darkness fell upon Western Europe and slowly the world as Adolf Hitler and the Nazi political party spread their campaign of fear, tyranny, and death across Europe. Anyone who has studied World War II history knows that Hitler’s bloodthirst was not limited to just those of Jewish descent, but extended to virtually any person who did not fit into his prescribed Aryan construct of human perfection.
Gypsies, homosexuals, the severely ill, the developmentally disabled – all these people, and more, were victim’s of Hitler’s “final solution.” Why? Years ago I visited the National Holocaust Musuem in Washington, DC. At the end of my visit, I had no words to say. The pain I felt was gripping and claustrophobic. There is one picture that haunts me to this day. It is photograph taken of a naked developmentally disabled child being prepared for a gas chamber. As a human being, as a priest, as a father of a child on the Autism spectrum, the picture mocks everything I stand for. It will not leave my mind, remains today an icon of hell.
It was during this time, one of the darkest in recent human history (though there have certainly been others since), that a person unknown to any of us fled from terror and death in the city of Cologne, Germany. For an unspecified period of time, this person hid in a cellar of home. We know nothing of this person, except that they hid there because of what some American soldiers found written on a wall of the cellar in which this person was hiding: Underneath a star of David on the wall, the American soldiers found three handwritten sentences, comprising a poem which reads: “I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God, even when God is silent.”
I did not know this poem existed until several days ago when I heard a choir sing them at a vigil for the forty-nine victims murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. As the choir sang the words of this poem, a flood of emotions filled me, the emotions that all of us have all felt this week. I wept as I listened to this powerful statement of faith sung so beautifully. I was not the only one. It was there at the vigil where I found myself thinking about the Gospel story we hear this morning. A story in which Jesus reaches out to a man possessed in the land of the Gerasenes. Scripture calls this man the Gerasense demoniac – a man possessed by unclean spirits. He was clearly an outcast, a scapegoat, someone people kept away from as he was naked and lived in an unclean area where bodies were buried. No one wanted to reach out to him, to learn his story.
Contemporary interpretations of this story favor a reading that the man was not possessed by unclean spirits, but was rather mentally unstable, schizophrenic, bi-polar, autistic, or whatever. Who knows. What the story confirms is that this person who was cast out by the Pharisees and the religiously uptight, was embraced by Jesus. The man everyone avoided because of their fear, Jesus healed. Here’s the message of the Gospel: we are made whole not by clinging to our piety, not by going to church, not by clean living. We are made whole by reaching out as Jesus did. By extending our hand to Gerasane demoniac in our life.
We have so many in our world today. All of us are informed – daily – about who the demons in our lives should be. Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump. The Islamic State. Liberals. Conservatives. Gays. Lesbians. Blacks. Queers. Whites. Transgenders. Rednecks. Priests. Athiests. Racists. Bigots. Addicts. Who is yours?
The central tenet of Christianity is that Jesus died on the cross. And in his death, Jesus became our demoniac whom we crucified. Jesus became our scapegoat, the victim, on our behalf. Jesus went to the cross carrying all our hatred, all our prejudice, all our hypocrisy, and bore it all. He did this not because he had no choice – he did it out of love, and out of humility. Jesus became the victim, the demoniac for all of us – for one reason: in his dying, in his becoming the victim on our behalf, there would never be a need for us to create a new victim. Jesus became that for us.
That means for the Christian, there is no longer a need for a demoniac. There is no longer need to demonize a person or group of people, political party, other people’s religious beliefs, race, sexual orientation, class. We forget this so easily. Which is why we are here this morning, to retell the story of Christ’s death, and final meal with his disciples.
Today we break bread together in a church where every person is included, where no one is left out. We also leave today with a choice. We can leave with our prejudice, our hostility, our bigotry intact and we can walk right out that door back out into the world unchanged. And we will easily find another group or person that will became our Gerasene Demoniac. The one we avoid. Or we can reaffirm our life in Christ again, render to God all our brokenness, our failures, our need to point the finger at a Demoniac. We can leave all that in God’s hands (and God will freely take it!) and we can walk out the door changed. And we will know that God is truly within us when we roll down our window on a street corner to acknowledge the humanity of the person standing on the street corner begging for money. We will know we are changed when we hold the hand of a person crying, trying to understand the senseless killing of forty-nine people last week. We will know we are changed when we can look into the eyes of the Demoniac in our life – and see God’s face, God’s eyes, staring back at us. AMEN.