A sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7
June 19, 2022
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
There’s some part of us that likes to be scared. I’m not talking about the innocent Halloween type of scared. I’m talking about something darker, something buried deep down in secret places. The type of darkness that would drive people to flock to roadside shows to see people trapped in cages, dressed in tatters--the outcasts of society, the sick, the scary ones. Deep down, in some dark place, we like to be scared.
There’s something reminiscent of that in the man from the gospel today. Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee into Gentile country. Once there, he meets a man. Possessed by demons, this man would run naked through the city streets and lived in a graveyard. It’s not a stretch to imagine the social ridicule he would have faced. Kids daring one another, betting how close they could get to the man. “I dare you to go inside the graveyard where that man lives. I double dog dare you to go touch the fence of the graveyard. I’ll give you five dollars if you poke that man with this stick.” Perhaps parents would warn their children using this man as a sort of boogeyman. “You’d better eat your green beans or the graveyard man will eat you. Don’t run off or you might be taken by the graveyard man. You’d better be good or you’ll end up like him.”
I can’t help but wonder how long it had been since anyone actually talked to him before Jesus today. How long since someone had looked him in the eye?
You know the story. Jesus shows up and sees this graveyard man, running naked among the tombs. Jesus asks the demons their name. “Legion,” they answer. The name is no accident. A legion was a unit of about 5,000 Roman soldiers, and that the demons answer to that name is suggestive of the Empire’s demonic sway, of the evil powers and principalities of this world that rebel against God even now. Jesus casts Legion out into a herd of pigs and they drown themselves in the sea.
The man is dressed, restored, renewed, and healed. The people of the town see him healed, dressed, talking with Jesus. They see a man liberated from the power of hell and sin. And they rejoice! Right? They celebrate and throw a party! Right? No. The gospel tells us, “And they were afraid.” And they ask Jesus to leave.
And they were afraid. Not like before, when they would point at the man, ridicule him, ignore his suffering for a good laugh or just blame it all on his own choices. No, this is a different kind of fear. The fear of being found out.
Now they see this man healed. Their scapegoat is gone. Their boogeyman is history. And maybe they were confronted with that dark place in themselves that had so often turned a blind eye, or worse, added to his suffering. Maybe they were confronted with their own need for healing. Maybe they were afraid that just as Jesus saw through the demoniac, he could see through them, too. They may not be running through the city naked and living in a graveyard, but they needed healing, too. They needed a messiah, too. Faced with the power of God to heal and save, they turn away, afraid. Go away, Jesus.
There’s an old story about St. Augustine of Hippo. He prayed that God would reach down and pull him out of his sin and misery. He would pray earnestly, “Please, God, make me good, but not just yet.” Go away, Jesus. I can see that I need healing, just like this man. But not just yet.
We live in a world that is not so different from the one in today’s gospel. The world needs the healing power of Jesus to lift us out of sin and death and into the life of God. But like today’s gospel reading, our world is one in which people shrink from the saving help of God. Too often, we ask Jesus to leave town, to circle back at a later time, to make us good--but not just yet.
Our job as the Church in such a world is to keep bringing Jesus–to keep showing up with his promise of love, healing, redemption, and grace. And when Jesus and his way of radical and accepting love for all are pushed to the side and ignored, we keep bringing Jesus anyway. Because that is what our world needs more than ever before: a loving Savior who can heal us all and bring us all into the light.
As for you and me, may we never ask Jesus to go away. For when Jesus shows up in our lives with his love and mercy and grace, we may be like those townspeople in today’s gospel, afraid of being found out. My message today is this: Let Jesus find us out. He already knows anyway. And what he wants more than anything else is for us to be transformed, changed to be more like him–day by day, to embody and show what it means to follow him and walk his way of love. May our prayer, today and everyday, be this: God, make me good. Change me to be more like you. And do it right now.
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