Sermon Archives

Sunday, June 19, 2016
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7, Year C)
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
What is Our Name

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Last week’s tragic shooting in Orlando. A gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 at a crowded gay nightclub in Florida.  This was not where I planned to begin my sermon a week ago. And that is where we are. 

Senseless violence has once again shattered lives, violating a sanctuary, the one sacred place for one of my tribes, the LGBT people who simply sought to enjoy themselves without judgment. The pain is indescribable.

If you listen to the overtones of the situation, you can hear Jesus asking us, “what is your name?” We, as a society, are exposed.  What is your name? How do we begin to describe the event – was it the result of mental illness? Was it a hate crime against Latino people? Was it violence against the queer community? Was it rejection of Disneyland, the happiest place on earth? Was it internalized homophobia acting out?  If you listen, you can hear Jesus crying out, “what is your name?” There is a lot of trouble in our world.  Is there a word from the Lord here?

Today’s Gospel message tells of a man in the country of the Gerasenes who offers a name to his pain, so that he can find healing.  

He was “other” to Jesus and his disciples:

  • He was from a land opposite Galilee, where they raised pigs (clearly not Jewish).
  • He wore unfamiliar attire – in fact, no clothes at all, which shamed and embarrassed everyone around him.
  • He did not live in a house – he lived in the tombs, a place of burial for the dead and shelter for very poor people.
  • He shouted at the top of his voice, falling down in an act of homage under the power of the demons, begging to be free.
  • He was ready for a change – a change that would transform his life, a change that only Jesus, Son of the Most High God, could bring.

Jesus knew this readiness even before the man asked. 

Tired of being possessed, the man sought a change: promise of a future different from the past, a change towards a new direction, a change triggered by exposure. 

What is your name? Jesus asked.  “Legion.” He replied, exposing all that degraded and demeaned his life. And Jesus permitted the demons (the many aspects of possession) to enter the herd of swine nearby.  Freed, the man was transformed, from being out of his mind to sitting at Jesus’ feet; from living in the tombs to preaching in the city; from being naked to being clothed.[1] Jesus transformed the man.

What is your name? Jesus asks our world full of senseless violence.  “Legion,” we lament, exposing all that degrades and demeans our lives, often based in fear of what is “other” than us. Our society is tired of being possessed, and in the news you can track the many ways that our common lives are being confronted. In the face of our own “Legion,” we are exposed.  And, in that discomfort, even pain, it is no wonder we choose to remain our places of stunned brokenness, possessed by trouble to which the world says “that’s just the way it is.” Perhaps it’s too painful for us, so we clam up.  Or we distance ourselves from the other.

Author James Norriss describes "othering[2]" as: “any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody's mind as 'not one of us'. Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it's sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are. If you're not "one of us", he writes, you can be dismissed and hated as an "other", the enemy.”

There is another way.  The way begins with the companionship of Jesus.  Thoughts and prayers begin the healing journey.  Naming our pain begins to bind our wounds.  Holding on to Jesus’ courage and conviction that we are one body, we can come out and we can claim our true identity, facing the deeper consequences of that fact:

  • when we come out – as a faith community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex and allies
  • when we come out – as a community of all ethnicities and races
  • when we come out – as a community blessed with all kinds of people who are different, then we offer our own vulnerable lives, then we are dispossessed of what binds us. then, we are transformed by love, then, we recognize that in Jesus, all that is degraded and demeaned in our life departs from us. 

Today, we come out. We come out as welcoming, transforming, trusting, loving, healing and grounded in a life that opens us up to more transformation. We cannot remain the same.  We are disciples, and we open our hearts to all the ways that God is changing us, freeing us from our possessions.

Even before we even fall to our knees, Jesus commands those demons that hold us back, individually, communally, and in our society, to come out of us. Jesus’ healing grace binds up what is broken, reconciles relationships that are divided, and drenches with love what is steeped in hate.

Today, in response to the unnamable pain, we come out.  We come out on the side of love.  We come out demanding a just society. We come out remembering the poor. We come out in response to this incident by using our educated minds and rights as citizens to contact our representatives and to express our opinions about legislation that supports civility among all people.  We come out against unjust laws.  We come out as faithful members of a community that yearns to be transformed.

What is our name?  Our name is One, in Christ Jesus. 

For as St. Paul begs[3] in his letter to the Ephesians, “we can lead a life worthy of the calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

For what is our name?  The name is ONE. One body and one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. This is our hope.  And it is enough.

May we know the grace given today, in the gift of Jesus Christ, for One is our name.

Amen


[1] Inspired by Karoline Lewis, Naked No More, posted on June 12, 2016 at https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=4678

[2] Cited in Peter Sawtell’s Eco-Justice Notes on June 17, 2016 and quoting from this blog: https://therearenoothers.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/othering-101-what-is-o...

[3] Ephesians 3.21-4.10