Year C 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, 19 June 2022
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no 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 Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Picture you are captured, unable to break free. No matter how much you struggle, or put up a fight, there is nothing you can do to be free.
The Gerasene demoniac was such a person. He was held by powers and entities beyond our comprehension or sensibilities. In our modern minds you may ascribe these to mental health issues, but whatever you see these to be, he was bound and controlled by a “Legion” of things holding him in horrible conditions.
Naked. Living amongst the tombs. Enchained and shackled, then tortured to wreck his body escaping to wreak havoc on his heart, and mind, and soul. He was enslaved to a life beyond our worst nightmares.
We would not wish this on our worst enemy. And yet, here he was. And Jesus arrives, and the powers that control him urge him to confront him and his “Legion.”
This one, enslaved to these powers, is horrifying and sad, but for me, the saddest part of the story are the Gerasenes, the ones living in this land. They knew the one possessed, and they knew that he was changed completely and set free.
Listen to their response to this miraculous act of freedom.
The people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.
Friends, Jesus is about freedom, and inviting people to health and wholeness. He was two thousand years ago, and he is today. Still, to this day, Jesus is about setting us free.
He heals the broken-hearted and the damaged.
He empowers those ensnared by addiction, and hate, and bigotry, and provides a path to love and grace and wholeness.
He can rid us of a Legion of demons if we would only let him.
I have quoted this before, but it still speaks so profoundly to my soul. A simple poem from the 17th Century.
The Best of Rooms by English poet Robert Herrick
Christ, He requires still, wheresoe’er He comes,
To feed, or lodge, to have the best of rooms:
Give Him the choice; grant Him the nobler part
Of all the house: the best of all’s the heart.
We are all inviting Jesus in, or sending him away each and every day. If he comes in, do we, like Herrick says in his poem, give him the Best of Rooms? Or do we set him in the corner? If we invite him in and give him the charge of the house, then he has his way and everything, absolutely everything is in his sway.
We are seeking freedom for those ensnared and enslaved, or we are not. “For freedom Christ has set us free,”[Galatians 5:1] and that is not only in the spiritual realm.
Today is a day of the celebration of physical freedom in our country, declared a national holiday last year. July 4th is our independence, politically speaking, and worthy of honor and celebration. Today is a newly established holiday. Some of you may have even heard of it. Today is Juneteenth. I will read from the PresidentBiden’s proclamation last year…
On June 19, 1865 — nearly nine decades after our Nation’s founding, and more than 2 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received word that they were free from bondage. As those who were formerly enslaved were recognized for the first time as citizens, Black Americans came to commemorate Juneteenth with celebrations across the country, building new lives and a new tradition that we honor today. In its celebration of freedom, Juneteenth is a day that should be recognized by all Americans. And that is why I am proud to have consecrated Juneteenth as our newest national holiday.
Juneteenth is a day of profound weight and power.
A day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country –- what I’ve long called America’s original sin. A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity.
But it is a day that also reminds us of our incredible capacity to heal, hope, and emerge from our darkest moments with purpose and resolve.
As I said on the 100th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, great nations don’t ignore the most painful chapters of their past. Great nations confront them. We come to terms with them.
On Juneteenth, we recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice. And, we celebrate the centuries of struggle, courage, and hope that have brought us to this time of progress and possibility. That work has been led throughout our history by abolitionists and educators, civil rights advocates and lawyers, courageous activists and trade unionists, public officials, and everyday Americans who have helped make real the ideals of our founding documents for all.
There is still more work to do. As we emerge from the long, dark winter of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, racial equity remains at the heart of our efforts to vaccinate the Nation and beat the virus. We must recognize that Black Americans, among other people of color, have shouldered a disproportionate burden of loss — while also carrying us through disproportionately as essential workers and health care providers on the front lines of the crisis.
Psalm 30 proclaims that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and discrimination, and the promise of a brighter morning to come. My Administration is committed to building an economy — and a Nation — that brings everyone along, and finally delivers our Nation’s founding promise to Black Americans. Together, we will lay the roots of real and lasting justice, so that we can become the extraordinary country that was promised to all Americans.
Juneteenth not only commemorates the past. It calls us to action today.
Those were the words of President Biden last year.
Any differences we see between ourselves and ANYONE else is gone in Christ. As we read this morning:
There is no 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 Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
We are all one in Christ. All those old lines, and any new ones, are erased in Christ.
Friends, I also see a lot of parallels to Juneteenth and our Gospel reading today. While most of us are not the demoniac, enslaved and tormented, we have a choice in how we respond when God is at work.
Do we celebrate and revel in the work of God bringing all God’s children to freedom and hope?
Or do we ask Jesus, however politely, to go away and let us delude ourselves in the status quo? Do we mourn the economic loss of the swine, and put our personal loss over the freedom of another soul? Is Jesus in charge of our house, or is he a mute image adorning our home, giving us comfort instead of true freedom?
This country is still plagued by demons. Just read the front page of the paper most any day of the week. But we think that our way is better than God’s way. We, like the Gerasenes, ask Jesus to mind his own business and send him away.
It terrifies me what is done in Jesus’ name, and proclaimed as the way of Jesus so often. It bears no resemblance to the Jesus of the Gospels or his message.
A friend of the church gave us this Juneteenth flag so that we can remember this act of liberation and freedom, which we celebrate in our faith as well as in our country.
The red, white, and blue represents our nation. The arc along the red is curving like a new horizon; it is not a straight line. The star is from the Texas flag, where the enslaved of Galveston finally learned two years late of their freedom. The 12 pointed star burst around it is a nova, a new star of freedom being born. The date is when freedom was fully and finally declared. I wrote a long thank you for this gift, and it helps us be ever mindful of full and complete freedom for all God’s children.
Friends, it is often uncomfortable when we bring up hard issues from our past. I recognize and honor it. Growing up, I often ignored anything about the Civil War, because of my discomfort with the issues of slavery and war. I avoided “The Blue and the Gray” miniseries. In my married life, it took me decades after its premiere to finally watch Ken Burn’s The Civil War. But avoiding it did not make it go away. I knew nothing, and if history has taught us anything. If we do not learn our history we are doomed to repeat it.
Today, I celebrate that chattel slavery was finally ended in our nation on June 19th, 1865. Today I grieve that it took 2 ½ years for them to get the news. That is a contradiction, and most big things are, in some way. Step into the hard truths, hold Christ’s hand as he leads us to a better place.
In my travels, exploring and learning about the past through the Triangle of Hope pilgrimages, I learned of this symbol from the Ashanti Tribe of Ghana. Sankofa. It is a goose, reaching back and getting an egg from its back. That is what it is. But what it means is to keep moving forward, but do not let go of the treasures of your past.
And that is what I see us doing with Juneteenth. Honoring the glorious day of liberty, and committing ourselves to getting to a better place, the place which God intended.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, you rescued your people from slavery in Egypt, and throughout the ages you have never failed to hear the cries of the captives; We remember before you our sisters and brothers in Galveston, Texas who on this day received the glad tidings of their emancipation; Forgive us for the many grave sins that delayed that liberating word; Anoint us with your Spirit to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.