Jesus Will Have The Last Word: Pentecost 2

Jesus Will Have The Last Word: Pentecost 2

Year C, The Second Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 7: June 19, 2022

Year C: 1 Kings 19:1-7;  Psalm 42 and 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:51-62

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I struggled a bit with my choice of where I would go with the sermon for this morning.

There are the classic lines from Galatians: “…for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…there is now longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ.”[1]

And I hope you hold on to those lines because they bring us much hope in these difficult times.

And for the new few minutes, I want to look at the story of the Gerasene demoniac; it’s a story that doesn’t get a lot of attention in preaching, and I think you can see why. But, it is appropriate to have it coupled with Paul’s words in Galatians.

First, let’s look at the issue that seems to get in the way of an engaging story about the demons in the present. It is somewhat fantastical and unbelievable by our standards. The whole scene is bizarre. You’ve got a person with no clothes on, extra chatty demons, pigs doing swan dives, tombs, chains, shackles, and a bunch of onlookers.

Perhaps if we understand the overall arc of the Gospel of Luke, the focus on demons makes more sense. The story told by Luke unfolds in a deliberate and seemingly logical way. After his birth and his undergoing temptations by the devil, Jesus ministers in Galilee, provoking controversy, calling disciples, preaching, working miracles, and dealing compassionately with people in need of healing.

The fact is that the New Testament world had a different way of seeing reality than we do, or than the 10th century did, or than the 17th century did. And I’m confident that in the not too distant future, there will still be a different way of seeing the world – different ways of naming and organizing the stuff we experience. One thing we can be sure of – as much as we like or don’t like it – change happens.

The folks who first heard this story must have loved it. In addition to the great action and dialogue, there was an ancient regional rivalry.

What could be more fun for the good Jewish folks of Galilee than to hear a story about how their non-kosher counterparts on the other side of the lake were; and how all those unclean pigs came to a well-deserved and hilarious end.

Then there’s the political subtext. Everybody would have known instantly that it was no accident that the demons called themselves a “Legion” after the famous and feared Roman legions or that pigs were a staple of the Roman army and the Roman economy. Caesar’s legions and Caesar’s rations – they provided great fodder for Jesus. And best of all – most Romans who heard the story probably wouldn’t even understand this.[2]

But as fun as all that may seem, this is much more than a comic interlude in Jesus’ Galilean ministry. It’s really good news, and it’s good news about a particular sort of power. Our gospel story for today appears just after the more familiar account of Jesus calming the storm on the lake and before the healing of Jairus’ daughter.

These accounts are part of Luke’s run-up to the big question Jesus asks his disciples in the next chapter: “Who do you say that I am?” All these stories are hints about the answer: not so much stories of what Jesus did, but who he is, his identity, a fundamental theme that runs throughout the Gospel of Luke,

And who Jesus is has to do with power. It has to do with which of all the powers in the universe is the strongest and which power will have the last word.

There are a lot of powers in the world that can and do hurt, isolate, and torment.

We live in a world that can be exciting and frightening at the best of times. But in the worst of times, we live in a dangerous and scary world. We live in a world that often doesn’t seem to care about us or our pain. Unfortunately, we know this all too well.

Most of you know that a man killed three people at a potluck supper at St. Stephen’s Chuch in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. I don’t know about you, but what happened at St. Stephen’s cut me to the core. Potlucks are part of the DNA of Episcopalians. I’ve been looking forward to when we could restart our potlucks. And, we will.

The plague of gun violence in the United States affects us all, and now it has affected a congregation in the Episcopal Church. We grieve for our Episcopal brothers and sisters. We grieve for all people who die violently. We grieve for the inability to listen to one another in love.

How does this relate to our Gospel story? Like the story of the calming of the sea, like so many other stories about what Jesus did and who Jesus is, this is a way of saying that all of those powers out there – none of them has or will have the last word. Jesus will have the last word. And the power that Jesus brings, the power of love, the power we most clearly see on the cross, that power will prevail.

It doesn’t matter who or what lines up against us. The man in today’s Gospel had more to worry about than his demons. He was cut off from family, friends, community, relationships, and all those connections that are the fabric of our community. Still, by the time Jesus got through with him, he was on the other side of those as well. He was in his right mind, dressed appropriately, and on top of it all, Jesus told him to go to his home, a home he didn’t have when our story began. He was given the fullness of his life back.

The fullness of life and the power of Christ.

This is part of what Paul is talking about when he insists that, in Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.” Paul is saying that these distinctions, and others, these powers of the social, economic, ecclesiastical, and political structures as ancient, hallowed, destructive, and potent as they were – these powers will fall and have fallen before Jesus. But, in Jesus, the power of love and the power of the world lies on.

What if we free ourselves to live for God and love our neighbors, be helpful and do good to all people, and free ourselves to focus on Christ-like behavior. That kind of freedom challenges us to a faith that ensures that there is no Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no male and female. It challenges us to a faith where we are one in Christ Jesus. It challenges us to come to meet our Lord, forgiven, loved and free. It challenges us to accept everyone as beloved children of God, especially those who will be hated because of who they are by others.

In short, it challenges us to live into our Christian faith and identity.

As requested by Presiding Bishop Curry, I invite you to join me in prayer.

“Eternal God of love, we know that you do not willing inflict pain upon or grieve your children, and your dream for all is life abundant.

We come to you now in sorrow and sadness at the death and violence inflicted on our siblings of St. Stephen’s Church in Vestavia Hills. Receive the souls of those who died. Grant them peace in the arms of your love. Be with those who are injured and suffer, those who are grieving, and those who are frightened and dispirited. Help us as a nation to find ways to bring an end to this scourge of violence, which hurts your children and our human family. Give us the strength we need, the courage we must have, and the faith in you that will see us through. All this we pray and ask in the name of the prince of peace – your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

[1] Cf. Galatians 3:26; 28, New Revised Standard Version,
[2] James Liggett, “Let’s Look For A Minute”, Sermons that Work, June 20, 2010. Published by the Office of Communication of The Episcopal Church, 815 Second Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017 © 2019 The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. All rights reserved.