The Noise of It All
This passage is noisy. Look at it again; The Sabbath is rarely quiet as we all gather and enter our place of worship. Jesus was teaching, and suddenly a man is crying out (the literal translation is squawking like a loud bird). After that we have rebuking, convulsing, and more crying out followed by amazement which was surely noisy and everyone talking to one another. Finally, the noise of gossip as news spreads about Jesus.
That is the way of things isn’t it? Once something is out in the open, everyone has a commentary, everyone is surprised. Here is God breaking into our world again in no silent and gentle way, but like his birth with angels singing and animals living, like the noise of kings arriving with camels and companions, like the wedding at Cana when water is turned into wine of the best quality and like a baptism where the heavens are ripped apart, here is God, in the Son, breaking into our world noisily and everyone is noticing. It is noisy, it is awkward, and it is scary. But then, isn’t it always noisy when the way of things gets upset?
#MeToo is noisy
I had no intention to preach about this again so soon but here we are and #metoo has not gone away. It seems that what started as upheaval in the entertainment industry has shifted to the political, the sports realm, and even now into the church; our church. And just like the people who witnessed Jesus confronting the demon who was in this man, it is scary to behold and the leaves us wondering what all of this means. It’s frightening and we wonder if this will come home to rest among our friends, among our family, among our people. And so it has.
Recently our church narrowly missed an accusation of clergy misconduct by a previous pastor. It turned out it was neither one of our pastors nor our church. However, for a period of time our executive committee was distressed, frightened, and devastated at the idea that something like this could have happened at Hope, even if it was far in the past. I wondered when the time would be for me to share that this had happened especially since it was a false alarm.
And then I got an email this week; many of you know that I was a seminary candidate of Metro New York Synod for my entire seminary career. In fact my membership change to become your pastor had me sending a letter to my church in Metro New York. The email I received shared the devastating news that my Bishop, Robert Rimbo, had resigned not only as bishop but he also resigned from the roster of ordained persons in the ELCA following allegations and charges of clergy sexual misconduct. While those who know Bishop Rimbo are most stunned, and while all of Metro New York synod is grieving this circumstance, we cannot ignore that the #metoo movement has come home to roost in the ELCA as well. There is no place where persons can trespass upon the spirit and body of another without being held accountable. And the response is noisy, scary, and awkward because the way of things have been upset.
Spirits and Demons insist to exist
It’s easy when we read this gospel lesson to dismiss many parts of it. We are no longer in the dark ages and we are far past the Renaissance and the age of Enlightenment. We are in an age where science rules, where are things must be seen or explainable in order to be believed. We believe in proof and if it cannot be proved it is dismissed as fantasy or psychological phenomena. It’s easy then to explain away the demon as schizophrenia or some other psychological diagnoses.
The church seems to have moved away from acknowledging the reality of the spiritual realm which exists and may not always be visible. But just because we cannot see something doesn’t mean it does not exist. I cannot see the biting mechanism of a black widow but that does not mean that it’s bite is any less deadly. Ignorance and ignoring are not bliss. If you sit down with folks and listen long enough almost everyone has a story of the inexplicable spiritual nature that sounds unbelievable. And we wonder why they don’t speak about it. And we wonder why the women of than me to movement didn’t speak up earlier. Well it’s because they didn’t think anyone would believe them. But whether we believe them or not they exist. And the only way to overcome the awkward, scary, and traumatic of the spiritual realm and the #metoo movement pain is to name it, to face it, and to call it out. This is what Christ is doing here. Naming the pain, naming the trespass, and offering healing to all involved.
Even Demons Know God (Right)
Before I go further I want to take a moment and define what I mean buy a trespasser in this sermon. A trespasser is one who has crossed the line whether by an inch or by a mile. they have violated the spiritual or physical space of someone else without their permission. This is trespass. I am not making a statement that rapist are the same as a man who catcalls women. However trespass is trespass. And so for the sake of today’s message that term will mean anyone who has violated the rights of another in any sexual manner. I also want to clarify that I am not calling trespassers demons nor am I declaring whether or not they are demon possessed. However the two situations deal with similar circumstances.
The demon knew Jesus. The moment he saw Jesus, the moment he heard him, he knew who he was. He was shocked and he was afraid because he was finally being held accountable. And I cannot wonder if he also drew attention to himself because he knew that Jesus would set him free.
And trespassers know what right looks like. They know how they are supposed to behave. We know this because part of the story always ends up being about how surprised everyone else is about their behavior. If they didn’t “know any better” this would be their daily presentation. Instead, they know the behavior is wrong and they hide out of fear and pain, even as I believe they crave freedom from it. The fact is in this story there is a man and a demon and in every #metoo story there is a man and his behavior. And it is important for us to separate the two. I am not excusing sexual misconduct. But, it does not define the person anymore then the demon defined the man that he was in. Everyone is worth saving, everyone is worth loving, everyone is worth forgiving. Yes, there needs to be accountability first. Yes, the behavior must discontinue. And yes, to move on there needs to be forgiveness and new boundaries. All of this is found in Christ. All of this is found by naming and claiming the circumstance and the Savior.
Me, TOO and I Believe will Set Us Free
You see the fact is Christ came to set every one free; the man the demon the woman and the trespasser. And it begins with naming; by saying #metoo and we move toward healing and salvation when we say I believe. Me too and I believe Will set us free. They will set our community free.
Our First Corinthians reading today speaks of what it is to be in community with one another. It explains how our behavior can inform, strengthen, or weaken the behavior of those around us. Paul emphasizes the power of community to encourage sin, reveal sin, or heal sin. It is our job as community then to attend to the ones around us who are hurting and who have been hurt, because the two are not always the same person. Our job is to believe, to name, to heal, and to love. It is difficult work. It is the work of prophets and disciples. We are to love both the one who has been harmed and the one who harms them. We are to help create healthy boundaries and healthy communities where victims are believed and where opportunities to victimize are decreased.
This is love. This is the ministry of Christ in this world. It is upsetting, it is noisy, it is scary, and it requires belief. But we are not on our own. We are never alone. Our God is a God of relationship, our God is a god of redemption, our God is the god of salvation and hope. And our promise that God is with us is made true and evident in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ who came to be in the same skin as us. Who came to suffer with us, to love with us, to live with us, and to die with us so that we might have eternal life together. Christ shows us once again that naming it and claiming it will set us free, and when we are free in Christ we are truly free indeed.