May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be fruitful in your sight, O Lord. Amen.
Take a minute to think about the times in your life when you were presented with situations that focused on either taking one side or the other, or a feeling of us versus them? Sometimes this may be a very small thing. I remember my aunt not letting my cousin date a boy because he was Catholic. Sometimes it is presented in a way that is meant to be funny such as calling a marriage between a Norwegian and a Swede a mixed marriage. Even in these things there is usually an underlying belief that one group is ‘better’ than the other group. In sports we cultivate the attitude that our team is better than your team. On even a national level there is this feeling that our country is better than your country. You might find it interesting to note that this notion that all of humanity is divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’ is not a new idea. It is an idea that pervaded the ancient world. That world was divided into Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, Greeks and Barbarians, male and female. And by looking at our lessons you can see that it is very much a part of the Old Testament culture too. In Isaiah God speaks of how the people ignored what God had to offer. Even so God promises to bring forth a select group, a chosen people who will inherit what God has to offer. The rest of the world will suffer as a result. Interestingly, the prophet Isaiah, does not end there but if you go on to read the rest of chapter 65 you discover that there will be “…new heavens and a new earth: the former things shall not be remembered.” Even in the Old Testament we read that God is promising a new world and a new creation where “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together.” We have a foretaste of a world that does not follow the ‘us and them’ model. Isaiah is also echoing another theme that is present throughout the Old Testament. Out of despair comes hope. Our Psalm for today provides an example of this perspective. We last used this Psalm on Good Friday. The Psalmist reminds us of Jesus’ cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Truly a cry of despair and lost hope. This format of complaint followed by a petition to God for help is often found in the Psalms. Equally common is the assurance that the Psalmist has in the hope that God will hear and answer. As is written in the Psalm we heard today, there is a movement from petition to praise. Why will God save the Psalmist? Because God has promised to hear him. And because he knows that God will hear him, he has hope and his response will be one of praise and thanksgiving.
Looking to the Gospel for today, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the man who was possessed by demons was living a life of despair. Individuals who were suffering from a physical or mental illness were sometimes thought to be possessed by a demon and therefore needed to be separated from society for reasons of safety. Today, individuals often choose to live a life that separates them because they have embraced their own demons. These demons may cause chaos or disorder in their lives, because by nature demons can be self-destructive.re. Consider those who work too hard, who take risks that may endanger their lives or the lives of others, who choose economic profit over being good stewards of creation, who choose economic profits over providing a fair living wage for their employees. These individuals may be so focused on living the American dream that they are totally unaware of the impact their life has on others. Their actions may cause disorder and chaos in the lives of the others because of the choices they make. When individuals are forced to look at their actions, asked to change their way of living, it can be scary. They fear giving up the power that they have accumulated. They may have become used to living a disordered life. They have learned to compensate and often may not even see the chains that they have bound themselves with. It is hard to move from living a disordered to an ordered life. But that is what Jesus wants for us. To admit that, we first have to acknowledge the power of Jesus and the Gospel message. When Jesus sent the demons out of the man into the swineherd, the response of the people was fear. They were afraid of his power. They recognized that here was someone who is powerful enough that even demons obey him. Changing how one lives, moving to an ordered life may be costly. The people of the town were upset that some of them had lost their livelihood. The swineherd was gone—drowned. Jesus and his disciples wisely removed themselves from the situation, but not before Jesus commanded the man who had been healed to stay and tell others what had happened. It is important to note here that this story supports one of Luke’s theme, that the Gospel message is not just for the Jew, but for the Gentile too. This story takes place in a town where mostly Gentiles lived. This whole story takes place in a section of Luke that began with the calling of the disciples in chapter 6 and ends with Jesus sending them out to heal and proclaim in chapter 9. At the beginning of chapter 8 Luke also reminds us that in addition to the twelve that were with Jesus there were several women, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. Already Jesus is breaking down the old barriers between Jew and Gentile, male and female.
Lastly let us look at the Galatians reading and what our texts mean for our lives today. Paul writes, “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.” While it is easy to understand what it means to be baptized into Christ, what does it mean to clothe yourself with Christ? How does this affect the choices that we make about how we should live? We can start by changing our focus. Thomas W. Gillespie in the Lectionary Commentary: The Second Readings writes, “[Division] will continue so long as we locate our identity in and derive our sense of personal value from the things that make us different from other people. Paul’s point is that where there is a deep and controlling sense of ‘belonging to Christ’ (v 29) there will be a concomitant sense of being ‘one in Christ Jesus’ (v28).” When we model our actions on Jesus’ actions we can begin to clothe ourselves in Christ. When we begin to look at what unites us instead of what divides us we begin to clothe ourselves with Christ. Even as baptized children of God we are constantly choosing whether we want to live an ordered or disordered life. The Holy Spirit can help us choose to live clothed in Christ, but because we have free will we can choose to live in ways that may move us away from Christ to a more disordered life. It will not be easy to move beyond our built-in biases or prejudices towards others. It will not be easy to realize that all of creation, including the rocks, the water, the trees, the insects and animals are to be treated with care. It is challenging to accept that ‘we are all related,’ and until we see that we are to live in relationship with creation and all parts of it, human and non-human, we will continue to live a disordered life. The choices that we make about how we interact with others and creation will determine whether our world continues to move forward in its current chaotic form. If we do not clothe ourselves with Christ we will continue to look down on those who do not look like us, or dress differently, or worship differently. We will continue to devestate God’s creation with our plastic waste, hastening the devastating effects of climate change with our dependence on fossil fuels and a diet that is unsustainable. Fortunately, like the Psalmist we can cry out for help, remembering that our God is a God of hope.
Dear Lord, Thank you for the example of your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to live a life of hope rather than despair, a life of order rather than disorder, a life of unity rather than divisiveness. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.