I am so thankful to Pr. Cosmas for the invitation to be with you here at Reformation on this Sunday. Just a week ago you gathered to the sound of helicopters circling overhead and first responders clogging the streets less than a mile from where we are sitting, as hate once again reared its ugly head. The theme of our synod assembly that ended last Sunday morning just as this tragedy was unfolding was, “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters” from Amos 5:24, I have no doubt that God’s tears continue to roll down like a flood following our nation’s worst mass shooting in its history.
I am here to thank you for your witness to the cross in this community, and to remind you that we are church together. I am here to represent your brothers and sisters in the other 179 congregations of the Florida-Bahamas Synod who are praying for you and for Orlando. As Christians, we turn first to Jesus, who endured the agony of the cross to redeem and reconcile the world and who even now consoles and leads us as we walk in the shadow of that cross.
I am here to remind you that the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church in America stands with you this day, and in a special way I bring the prayers and the embrace of our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. Earlier this week, the Presiding Bishop reminded us in powerful words:
We live in an increasingly divided and polarized society. Too often we sort ourselves into likeminded groups and sort others out. It is a short distance from division to demonization. [last Sunday], we witnessed the tragic consequences of this.
As I thought about the readings the lectionary give us on this Sunday of mourning and lament in the Florida-Bahamas Synod, at the risk of really dating myself, a very old TV game show flashed through my mind. As a kid I remember watching Password with Allen Ludden. The premise of the game was that one person was given a word or phrase and would give hints to help the contestant guess what the password was. As a celebrity like Betty White was given the word or phrase, the deep voiced TV announcer would whisper to the audience, “and the password is….” Some of them were pretty tough.
I’ve always thought that preaching is sort of like password. The lectionary gives us the word each week, and the preacher’s job is to give some hints to help the people get it.
Well what words do we have today? In the Old Testament we have God so upset that there is smoke in the divine nostrils, and in our gospel we meet a wild demoniac and a heard of suicidal pigs.
In light of the last week, I think in these unusual passwords we find some profound insights, so I’ll do my best to give some good hints.
The word today, that is also all over the second reading from Galatians, is about bondage and freedom. Jesus is speaking directly to the demons which possessed the naked wild man, and Jesus appeals directly to those places in our lives and our communities which are captive to sin, hate, and destructive forces that separate or denigrate people made in the image of and loved by a gracious God.
The witness of the gospel is the authority of the one who proclaims the inbreaking of God’s reign and who has power over demonic forces and even death itself.
We are reminded that when asked by Jesus his name, the man replies, “Legion.” It means multitude or many. Like our society, he has lost himself in this cacophony of voices. We live in the din of institutional racism, of prejudice, of fear, of gun violence, of hatred of those who are different.
But Jesus breaks the power of all these demons just as he liberates this man from his. What I find really interesting is that rather than rejoicing that this man is restored to the community, the Gerasenes are seized with fear and beg Jesus to get out of town. I think that can be true of us as well: we have become so used to the social order, the mass shootings, the violence, the hate speech that has even characterized some of our presidential candidate’s remarks, that we become numb or complacent. We can’t even imagine it being different.
But that, dearly beloved, is where the saving work of Jesus Christ comes in. That is where the cross intersects with the world. Because of the cross, sin, death, destruction and evil do not have the final word in our lives or in our world. Paul reminds us this morning “that 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.” Just as the man of our gospel after his encounter with Jesus is found to be “clothed and his right mind,” in the waters of baptism so are we, “and there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ.
The grace of baptism is also a call. It is interesting to note that when the cured man wants to go off with Jesus, he is told to return to his home and declare how much God has done for him. So he went, and proclaimed throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. I think especially this week this is our call too.
Healed and restored by our baptism into Christ’s dying and rising, the time to follow our baptismal call to action is before us.
Our baptismal covenant summons every Christian to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. The time for action is here. We cannot keep voicing kind sentiments and kicking action down the road.
It’s time to be clear about honoring and speaking up for the basic human rights of the LGBTQ community and reasonable gun control in this country. It time to stand with mainstream Muslims who are equally horrified by this violence. Two of my own daughters have school connections with two of those who died. There is an entire generation that needs to hear a clear and uncompromising word from the church: Every human being shares in the image of God and therefore shares the same dignity without regard to racial or ethnic distinction, religion, family status, age, economic status, gender, sexual orientation, or differing abilities. Period. This senseless violence must end.
Again, the words of presiding Bishop Eaton:
There is another way. In Christ God has reconciled the world to God’s self. Jesus lived among us sharing our humanity. Jesus died for us to restore our humanity. God invites us into this reconciling work. This must be our witness as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America…. Our work begins now. We need to examine ourselves, individually and as a church, to acknowledge the ways we have divided and have been divided. We must stand with people who have been “othered”. We must speak peace and reconciliation into the cacophony of hatred and division. We must live the truth that all people are created in God’s image.
Sisters and brothers of Reformation Church. Thank you for your witness. It’s God’s work. Our hands. Fear not. Come to the table now and be fed with the presence, the love, the forgiveness, the grace of our crucified and risen Lord. Then go your way, proclaiming throughout the city how much god has done for you. Amen.