June 23, 2019

Proper 7

Luke 8:26-39

The Rev. Genevieve Razim

Preached at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, The Heights, Houston.

“Hey, those were my pigs!”

These words are not in the gospel. But it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that someone probably said them. 

Hey, Jesus — those were my pigs.

Immediately prior to this (Luke 8:26-39), Jesus stilled the storm. You know the story: Jesus and his disciples got into a boat to cross the lake. As they sailed, Jesus fell asleep and a storm overcame them. The fear-stricken disciples shouted at Jesus, and “…he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was calm.”

Once they arrive at the other side of the lake, Jesus steps out of the boat into Gentile territory and is greeted by this unfortunate man who is demon-possessed, naked, and living in tombs. This poor man has three, no – actually four, strikes against him in the “unclean” category before the pigs are even mentioned.

Note that Jesus doesn’t avoid the man for purity reasons. He doesn’t consult the locals. He doesn’t go into town and check out this man’s story. God’s kingdom values light the way and Jesus heals him on the spot. 

After Jesus gave permission for the demons to enter the swine and the herd ran off a cliff and drowned, the news of this event spread quickly. 

When the townspeople came out to see for themselves, did they rejoice to see this once deranged man clothed and in his right mind? Did they fetch other folks who needed healing? Did they host a dinner party in honor of this compassionate and powerful guest? No, they didn’t. They were afraid. They were filled with great fear and asked Jesus to leave.

Fear is an appropriate feeling for being in the presence of the divine. For this reason, when angels — God’s messengers — appear in holy scripture, they often begin by saying: do not be afraid! So, yes, fear is an appropriate response to the divine.

But was that the only fear? Or was it mingled with other fears? 

Fear of change. Fear of loss. Fear of Jesus disrupting life as they knew it? “Khalil lost his whole herd of pigs when that Jesus fellah showed up.”

What will he do next … and how will it affect me?

Those are fair questions, and as it turns out, “the gospel often offends people who profit from” the way things presently are.

This tension is notable because today’s healing (and the townspeople’s reaction) foreshadows events in Acts of the Apostles where economic interests face-off with kingdom purposes, kingdom values.

For example, the enslaved girl whose fortune-telling abilities brought her captors a great deal of money. Paul ordered the spirit out of her … and it landed him in jail, along with Silas. They were accused of “disturbing our city.”

Silversmiths felt threatened because Gentile Christian converts were no longer purchasing idols and silver shrines of Artemis. As a result, a riot broke out in Ephesus. 1st and 2nd century Roman documents record intermittent and localized persecutions of Christians which were stirred up by the complaints of silversmiths and others with economic motives. 

When Jesus kicked-off his ministry by reading from the scroll of Isaiah, one of the promised actions named was “release to the captives.” Today’s gospel witnesses to the power of Jesus and this un-named man being released from spiritual, physical, mental, and social captivity. All of it! 

So, the wind and the water obeyed Jesus, and now the demonic powers possessing this man obey as well. As powerful as Jesus is, we see in the townspeople’s response, it is the human heart held captive by fear that remains Jesus’ challenge. 

He stepped out of the boat that day and brought change to that Gentile city. Holy, life-giving change. And yet it was a change that filled them with fear, and they told him to leave! Jesus and his disciples honored their request. 

So how might we respond differently? How might we allow Christ to set us free from the captivity of our fears? How can we faithfully respond to God’s call in our day and time?

First, do what Jesus told the healed man to do: declare how much God has done for you. We encourage one another by sharing our faith experiences. And for those who have not yet received Christ, sharing what God has done for you gives them hope. It reveals another way to live, a better way. The way of love, the way of Jesus.

Second, follow Jesus in his example of letting the values of God’s kingdom light the way for his actions. When he saw suffering, he responded. We can too. We know right from wrong. Allow God’s empowering grace give you the courage to live out the values shown by Jesus in the gospels and stated in our baptismal vows.

And finally, remember that you are never alone. God promises to be with us through the Holy Spirit and in community. God has given us one another to face challenges together, sacrifice together for the common good. Banding together in Christian community to weather the storms of change and loss, economic or otherwise. Responding and adapting to challenges with creativity, compassion, and the mind of Christ. 

It is heart-breaking to imagine the Gerasene community gathered on the lakeshore, sending Jesus away after this dramatic experience of his saving grace. So much potential and promise for this community, but no. 

It brings to mind a scene from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In an exchange between Susan and Mr. Beaver, Susan prepares to meet Aslan for the first time. Susan says: “Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion” … “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver … “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Here’s the thing: loss is at the heart of the Christian story, and so is resurrection. A seed must fall to the ground for it to rise. There’s something dangerous about the gospel, but not as dangerous as living without it.

If our response to the healing of the Gerasene demoniac is: “hey, those were my pigs”, then we have some soul-searching to do. Are we willing to allow fear to rule and harden our hearts to the suffering and injustices of our time? What will we choose?

I will close with the words of St. Paul from his letter to the Ephesians — the Christian community in Ephesus, where the silversmith riot took place … “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.” AMEN.