Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Most weeks it might feel strange to stand up here and preach on a Gospel text that talks about demons.
But after the horrific event in Orlando last Sunday, and the week of media coverage…after imagining the pain inflicted on so many families by violent hatred, after remembering the anniversary of the nine who were killed in their Charleston church…maybe demons aren’t that far from your mind either.
I’m not talking about demons from a Halloween movie. I’m talking about the demons that possess someone to slaughter other people.
In our presiding bishop’s response to the tragedy she said, ‘we are killing ourselves.’ It’s true. When it comes to the human family, there is no ‘us and them,’ there is only ‘we.’ And we are killing ourselves.
Even deeper than the political implications of the shooting, what the presidential candidates may or may not be saying about it, beneath the issues of homophobia and terrorism, there is just a human possessed to destroy 50 of his own fellow humans.
That is demonic.
In Christ we are one body: with the victims and the perpetrators of violence, we are connected as one. But the demons make it very, very hard to see or believe that sometimes.
Jesus certainly encounters the demonic; he seems to bring out the worst in demons wherever he goes.
In today’s Gospel he encounters a man who is possessed by many demons. Like all demons, these ones distort the true identity of the person they live with. And this poor man they live with is driven away from safety (he doesn’t live in a house, but among the tombs) and he is driven away from his neighbors. He is a threat to himself and those around him (when possible, the townspeople have him locked up for safety, but he just breaks away anyways.) The man is cut off from living a real life.
Jesus seems to understand, though, that the demons do not define the man. Jesus literally separates the demons from the man they possess. Jesus sees the human — even if it is distorted by demons — Jesus sees the man. And in doing so, he is able to cast out the demons.
Our common humanity is also an important point of the incredible reading from Galatians that we heard today.
“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.” (Galatians 3.27–29 NRSV)
When Paul wrote these words, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female…” he wasn’t just spouting off an interesting thought experiment — you know, like something you’d hear in a Philosophy 101 class.
There is real life, real pain, real violence behind those words in Paul’s experience […]
Paul’s insight, after encountering Jesus, and realizing the violence he had committed in the name of religion, was that no division — however noble and important we may think it is — can define our relationship with God.
We are one in Christ.
This unity is not a perk of membership in our particular faith; it is a commandment, a responsibility; it is the calling of all followers of Christ to regard all others as fellow Children of God. No matter what.
Yes, of course, there are differences among us. We are not the same in Christ. We shouldn’t be.
But with regard to our belovedness by God, and our belongingness to God, we cannot make these distinctions. God does not make these distinctions. Our differences can be cherished, but our worth as humans is completely indifferent to every division that now separates us.
In Christ Jesus there is no longer Jew or Greek…
- people with disabilities / people without
- gay / straight
- cisgender / transgender
- republican / democrat
- black / white
Pick a label; it will not diminish your worth, or anyone else’s worth as a child of God.
These categories and ways of identifying ourselves do not go away. But they are no longer criteria for judgment. They can no longer be the cause for violence. They no longer make some better than others. They no longer make some holier than others. Only, only, only our belonging to God makes us or anyone holy.
So, if holiness is belonging to God, then the demonic is anything that works to separate us or others from God. The demonic is any force or ideology that elevates the value of some people over others.
The demonic is being convinced that folks attending a gay nightclub would be any less human, any less deserving of love, any less precious to God than someone else.
The demonic is being convinced that someone could be any less human because of who they worship or where they were born or the color of their skin.
The demonic is being told that you aren’t good enough for God, that the way God created you is wrong.
The demonic is the feeling that one half of our nation is unworthy because they voted for a different presidential candidate than I did.
The demonic lives in us whenever we turn differences into judgement about who is worthy and who isn’t.
It’s time for us to name our demons. It’s time for us to recognize all the ways that we are cut off from God, and all the ways that we cut others off.
Jesus recognized the demonic and he recognized the man before him…Jesus recognizes us.
No matter what the demon is, no matter how it has infected us to believe that we are, or anyone else is, less than deserving of God’s love: Jesus can separate us from that evil.
Jesus restores us to our belovedness, to our belongingness. He does it for all. In the human family, there is no ‘us and them.’ There is only ‘we.’