Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sermon for Proper 7, Year C, Sunday, June 23, 2013

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a, Psalm 42, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39
Beloved sisters and brothers, let us look to the Lord.
May only God’s word be spoken,
May God’s word be heard.
In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

Funny thing, this business of translating the Bible …

In our reading from Luke, in verse 36, we have a word that is translated in a way that doesn’t quite get us to the meaning intended by the language of the New Testament that was the Greek dialect of the time, and that is known as Koiné, or common, Greek. Koiné was a mixture of the four main Ancient Greek dialects and was spoken and written in much of the Mediterranean region and the Middle East during Jesus’ time. Most biblical scholars are of the opinion that the Greek text of the New Testament is the original version in which our New Testament was written.

So, what we hear proclaimed in the translation of the Gospel reading for today is

“Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.”

… the literal translation from the Greek is

“and those also having seen [it], told them how the demoniac was saved.”

In Luke 8:36 the word in Greek is σώθη (e–sō′-thē) which means "was saved" or "to save."

"Healed" is true, of course, but it seems to me that it doesn't tell the story nearly as well.

“and those also having seen [it], told them how the demoniac was saved.”

"Saved." When Jesus found him, the man had been "for a long time" not in the city in a house with family or among friends. Rather, he had been among the tombs, with the dead, shut out from among the living.

He was vulnerable to all kinds of dangers -- to the elements, from which he lacked clothes or a house to protect him, and vulnerable to all the predators shut out by the city gates at night… and apparently someone, maybe family, tried to help him, but they were unable and just gave up. For a long time, he'd been dead to the world; and living among the dead.

It's natural to want to shut out someone like this man. I think that he’s probably as frightening as he is frightened, and not just because of the yelling, the antisocial behavior, or his unnatural strength. It's his vulnerability. He is vulnerable to the elements of sun and cold, wind and rain, which we understand. But even more frightening is his vulnerability to countless other forces beyond our ability to understand or control.

The Legion that speaks from him reminds us of the other legions out there; the forces that can tear someone from family, from safety, from community, from everything that seems to provide any comfort or make any sense.

Of course, we know – deep down – that shutting out the person who reminds us of what we fear, doesn't work. If anything it intensifies fear, by exaggerating those things that divide us. The Legion that attacked this man, among the tombs, doesn't pay much attention to city walls or gates, and neither do the legions that plague many others.

Jesus paid attention, though. Throughout the Gospels we hear of how Jesus pays particular attention to those shut out, literally and figuratively – those who had nothing and so sat outside the gates to beg, those considered 'unclean' because of leprosy or excessive bleeding, women who the culture turned its back on after they were rejected by their husbands and their fathers.

When Jesus did heal a person, he wasn't merely restoring someone with a physical disease to physical health. He was healing a community, restoring to that community someone who had been shut out from them. Giving them hope for their own restoration and salvation. Over and over again, Jesus confronts every power that tears us from wholeness, from one another, from knowing the love of God in loving community.

These powers are destructive and they are legion. In the ancient Mediterranean world, people believed that knowing and using a spirit's name could give you power over it. The Legion oppressing the Gerasene demoniac tries, in effect, to gain power over Jesus by naming him, shouting out…

"Jesus, Son of the Most High God."

Jesus then turns the tables by demanding to know the spirit's name. Belief in demons has fallen out of favor in many circles these days, but naming remains a powerful tool in confronting the powers that oppress and divide us.

In today’s epistle from Galatians, St. Paul names the deep divisions of his society – between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female – and then names the truth, that in Christ these divisions are overcome. Today many divisions remain including… Poverty. Racism. Sexism. Hunger. Religious Bigotry.

There are many such divisive powers in this world, a thousand varieties of hardness of heart that shut out some people, and can shut us in just as surely. But in Christ we are all children of God through faith – each person on this fragile earth, our island home, is none less worthy of good food and clean water; shelter, medicine, or education; of love and hope.

In Christ, we are empowered to name that truth. We are called to name and confront the powers that obscure it. As we follow Jesus, as we participate in his ministry of healing and reconciliation in the world; we find that the outcast people who are restored, are not the only ones who are saved.

All of us are made to be in unity with one another, and with God. That was and is Christ's mission. The healing of a conflict with a sister or brother is restoration for the whole Body…

Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever caught a glimpse of what it might be like for each one of us when all of us live as God's children? Declare how much God has done for you. Declare what Jesus is doing for the poor and outcast. If you find yourself feared as they were – as Jesus was in the city after he healed the Gerasene demoniac – name that too, as we continue to pray and work for reconciliation.

We are the Body of Christ, sharing in Christ's power to heal and save; sharing in Christ's mission and Christ's wholeness. Faith has come; and with it the hope and love that sees every one of God’s children, each one of us, as a child of promise.

Thanks be to God!
Amen! Alleluia!