Message from Our Pastor
Then, an hour and a half later, it showed up in our pericope study as one of the Sunday readings.
In Paul’s day there was a lot of emphasis on the division between the Christian Jews and the Christian Greeks. There was a group of Christian Jews who expected the Greeks to become not only believers in Christ, but also to become Jews in the flesh. And Paul is saying, “Look you guys, you’ve got this all backwards. It’s not about what you were, Jew or Greek, but what you are, a Christian. Christ is what matters.”
Today, especially today, there is a lot of emphasis on the division between slave and free. Or more broadly, black and white, or more broadly still, persons of color and white. Today is Juneteenth, the day set aside to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. We might not enslave people the way we did in the 1800s, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still treat people (usually people of color) as less than, other than, undeserving, unfairly, or unjustly.
All last week, there were stories about people who have torn down walls, expanded boundaries, surpassed expectations, and succeeded where others failed: Jackie Robinson, Amanda Gorman, Opal Lee, Katherine Johnson, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Louis Armstrong, Maya Angelou. All are people of color. All of the stories saying the same thing, “Some of you got it all wrong.” It’s not about the color of your skin, but that all of us have skin, and are human beings created by God, all of us, children of God.
I think back to Foster’s granddaughter, who said we should get to know their names, and we could all be friends. I don’t know how many times someone has asked me, “Why can’t we all just be friends, or be nice to each other?”
Perhaps the gospel lesson holds a clue: “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.” Here was a man that was so out of sorts they had to bind and chain him, and keep him under guard, to keep him and them safe. From the sounds of it, the bounds and chains were rather unsuccessful. Then, Jesus comes by, casts out the demons, and fixes the problem for the man and the people. But instead of throwing a party, like the woman who found her coin, or the father whose son had returned, the town’s people were afraid.
This was no simple, “I don’t like spiders” fear. Those who saw what took place told everyone gathered there how the man possessed by demons was healed. “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.”
“All the people of the surrounding country asked Jesus to leave for they were seized with great fear.”
Fear. This is truly our biggest enemy. There’s a reason why the phrase “Do not be afraid” occurs more than 60 times in the Bible. They are the first words out of almost every angel’s mouth. And, of what are we most afraid? That which is different, or unknown. The people in the gospel had come to know and understand the man possessed by demons.
Demons they understood. But sanity, calm, and clothed, not so much. They knew what to expect from the demons. Now, everything was unknown, because, certainly, this man’s sanity could not be like theirs. He was not like them, no matter how normal he now looked and acted. He could not be one of them. That was too much to accept.
No, this would not do. And, Jesus was the cause of this change. Jesus, they decided, was the reason for their fear. So they cast him out of town, as he had cast out the demons.
That’s what we do. We place the blame of our fear on the other. We place blame on the one who makes us uncomfortable, the one who causes the change. Then we cast them out, or cast them aside. Instead of rejoicing in the good that unites us, we focus on the differences that divide us: our race, our politics, our religion, our gender (assigned or chosen), our partner preferences, our birthplace, our income (and whether we earn our money at an office job or on a street corner).
What am I missing?
At the council retreat yesterday, we talked a good bit about fear. We talked about our fear of reaching out to those we don’t know, those that are not like us. We talked about the fears that may keep others from stepping across our threshold. We talked about the fear of doing new things and the fear associated with just doing the same old things.
Fear is real, it is palpable. It is, as we noted on one of the pieces of paper stuck to the windows out there, an obstacle to our ministry. We need to be honest about that. We also talked about love, and loving, and how that is the essential building block on which our ministry should be built. In his first epistle, John tells us there is no fear in love, and perfect love cast out fear.
If love, and life, and ministry to others, is based on who we are (all of us are children of God) and not what we are not (this color, that religion, this smart, that rich, or any other this or that), there is nothing to fear other than fear itself.
As we go forth in ministry and mission, let us be mindful of our fears, but let us cling more tightly to the truth. In Christ Jesus we are all children of God. And, it is the truth that will set us free.
Let it be so. Amen