Episcopal Priest and seminary colleague Renee Hill wrote, “Marriage Equality- Yes! Voting Rights-No?! And I'm still wondering in the words of the great Audre Lorde, "which 'me' will survive all of these liberations?"”
Here’s another appropriate quote from Audre Lorde: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of My Vision then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
I think if all of this as we enter into this Pride Sunday. How shall we make sense of these times? How shall we respond? I think today’s scripture reading is made for just such a time as this.
In this story, recorded in the first three gospels, Jesus heals an unnamed person who has been called the Gerasene Demoniac. He is described by his condition and his place of origin. We don’t know much about him, except that he is tormented. Jesus, so the story goes, healed the man of his demonic spirit and sent the spirits into pigs who proceeded to drown themselves. Now, since this is a symbolic story, we might ask what demonic spirits we would want Jesus to send into suicidal pigs. What individual and corporate sins might we like to never hear from again? Imagine if the sin of judgment or exclusion were to be banished. Imagine how we might repurpose the energy used to fight that corporate sin of exclusion.
This person from the area of the Gerasene lived among the tombs and was so afflicted by this demon that he howled and even hurt himself. My GLBT friends and family members tell me that compulsory heterosexism can feel like a demon. A closet can be like a tomb. And sadly people hurt themselves as they wrestle with the shackles of a society that fails to understand them. Jesus calls to the unclean spirit of the Gerasene demoniac and tells the spirit to “Come out of him.” He then asks the demon its name and the demon replies that its name is “Legion, for we are many.” On this Pride Sunday, think about the demons that might keep you tied to the tombs. Think about the Legions that prey on your soul. And remember that we follow one who tells those demonic spirits to come out and he calls them by name so that they can never afflict us in the same way again.
In today’s scripture, Jesus crosses over into a foreign land and even there the demons know who he is. “What have you to do with me Jesus, Son of the Most High God.” Which is a Greek way of saying “messiah”. You see, Jesus was in Greek territory. And when in Greece even the demons speak Greek.
Ched Myers wrote a commentary on the Gospel of Mark entitled “Binding the Strong Man”. The strong man is the demonic force that so controls our lives. The Gospel can’t break through until we exorcise the demon, bind the strong man.
This demon so possessed the man that he lived among the tombs, he broke the shackles and no one could restrain him. In order to set him free, Jesus had to bind the strong man. He had to set the man free from the demon. The strong man was the demon. But Jesus, we know, is the stronger one who can liberate even the most gruesome demon among us.
What demons control you? What so preoccupies your mind and your spirit that you cannot think about anything else? Is it a past hurt? Is it a grave injustice? Is it an abuse to which you have been a victim?
Many of us are stuck around the tombs. We are stuck like the Gerasene demoniac in the stench of past hurts, the place of hopelessness. We feel, many of us, that we are not in our right minds.
What keeps you amongst the tombs? That’s another way of saying full of gloom and doom, full of morbidity. What so holds you that you cannot be in community with anyone?
Demons control many of us. They sap our energy. They keep us cynical. They disguise themselves in the faces of practicality. They consume our energy, our soulforce.
The Gerasene demoniac was wild and uncontrollable. He was the crazy bugger in the street that everyone stayed away from. He was our shadow side, as the Jungians would say.
The demon was powerful, very powerful. In fact it had the name legion. When you think of legions, what do you think of? Remember, this was written when Roman legions occupied the land. And they ate pigs. Jews didn’t eat pigs. So when the demon is talking about a legion, an army of demons, it’s not hard to see what the writer might be referring to.
Governments can feel like legions, with their laws and their propensity for injustice and power-grabbing by the controlling elite.
Corporations can feel like legions as they snub their nose at laws and are too often in bed with political legions, all the while putting their profits above human rights.
Warmongers from whatever country feel like legions.
Sometimes the Christian right feels like a legion with all of their television stations, their radio shows, their voter guides, their hate-speech.
The Christian left can feel like a legion, too with their self-righteousness and seeming lack of spiritual depth.
Our own violence can seem like a legion of disaster and disgust.
Sometimes families feel like legions. They stick together and dare not let anyone or anything bring them down, especially if it means dealing with a hard truth about one of their own.
Compulsory heterosexism can seem like legion forcing people into legion-lined closets and too often living a lie in order to survive.
But the word of God today is that we follow one who is stronger than legion—stronger than any faction or lie. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” said Jesus. It will free the demon which eats you from the inside out.
And Jesus says to the legions that are possessing all of us, “Come out. Torment my sister, my brother, my child no longer.” Live in your own mind and live with pride.
We know what happened. Jesus called out the demon, sent it into a herd of pigs and they flew off the cliff. This gives new meaning to the phrase, “when pigs fly.” Pigs fly when they have our demons in their bones and we are set free from them. Like the legions of Egyptian armies being smothered by the Red Sea, the Legions of demons by Jesus’ power fly off into the sea. Great news.
But that is not the end of the story. It is not the end of the story when one side wins, no matter how noble the cause. We all know of revolutionary societies who are victorious over a tyrant, only to become tyrannical a few years after taking control. Just look at the Arab Spring two summers later. The Gospel writers knew the reality of the world. So they told us about the aftermath of the war with the legions and the pigs. This is the story behind the story: the real story. It’s the story about the formerly demon-possessed one amongst his own people. Do you think the town of Geresa would have just accepted him into the community? Back into the family? Of course not. They had made up stories about him. They had called him names. He was not Tom or Bill or Chloe or Karen. He was the Gerasene demoniac, the “G.D.”. He was the one who was always to be feared. He was the one about whom folks used to say, “I may have it bad, but at least I’m not like G.D.” He was the scapegoat. The pariah. He was the outcast. Prejudice? You bet they were.
Now, we all know people like that. We know people possessed with demons. We know what that’s like. But when someone is healed from a demon, we deal with them like they are still a bit of a demon, don’t we? We might forgive, but we seldom forget, and for good reason in many cases. That’s why ex-cons can’t get hired. That’s why we register sex offenders.
And we still hold our own prejudice against them. We don’t trust that they are truly in their right mind. We expect the demon to reemerge. We have learned not to trust the demon-possessed. The problem is that we are all demon-possessed and no one seems to trust anyone else.
Just before the Supreme Court ruled, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, apologized for hocking reparative therapy. He admitted that he and his organization had done great harm to many people. They agreed to shut their doors. It’s as though they came into their right mind. Would we welcome them back into the community, knowing what harm they had done, however misguided and however sincere the apology?
The people were shocked and horrified by this person, the G. D. in his right mind. It distorted their way of looking at the world. No longer could they pretend that they were better than that crazy bugger in the street. No longer could they cast all of their sins upon him and call him the scapegoat. He was a person in his right mind. Someone they had to deal with. Someone they had to for once in their lives treat like an equal. He held a mirror to their prejudices. He messed with their sense of pride—pride in themselves, pride that they weren’t sinners like the G.D.
The man sensed the anxiety of the people. Jesus had upset their way of looking at the world. If there is no enemy, then what do we rally around? Who is right anymore? Who is wrong? The people began to run Jesus out of town.
What would we do if Fred Phelps and his church were in their right mind? Would we simply create another enemy?
This is where Jesus really makes a case for creating the beloved community. And this is the hard part of the gospel.
The former demoniac wanted Jesus to save him from the angry mobs. He wanted to go with Jesus back across the sea of Galilee and face an unknown people, for he knew that they were safer than his own people. The man begged Jesus to let him go with him. “Save me from my own kind, for an unknown enemy is better than the enemy I know in my own family.” Many of us have pleaded that same prayer to Jesus.
And here’s the rub. Jesus said, no. He said go home. The Gospel of Mark adds, to your “friends.” Tell them how much God has done for you. Jesus called the people who had demeaned and hated him as his friends—his family, his kin, his own kind. He said in essence; “make your former enemies your friends.” That is what the gospel is all about.
The genius of the work of Minnesotans United for All Families was that they sought to have conversations with people about what marriage, fidelity and love meant to them. When we did that, we started the work of transforming enemies into friends. We found common ground and we ended up working together for the greater good.
Don’t you see, Jesus did not say make the people pay for what they did to you. He did not say let the legions win. He did not say be healed and run away. He said go home and tell your story. Make them recognize you as a member of the community. Make them into your friends. When you do that, you hold up a mirror. You expose the blind-spots of people. You make them deal with you in your right mind.
But I still have demons that control me. I still have hurts that I hang on to. Don’t you?
We can’t do the work of reconciliation until we name the demons and trust the one who tells those legions to come out. On this Pride Sunday, I invite you to prayerfully think about the demons that might possess you. Think about the legions that hem you in, that control you. Think about those strong ones that hold you back from being all you are meant to be.
Eleven years ago, I preached on this story and invited people to write down their demons on a pig-shaped piece of paper and we burned them. We don’t need to do that again. Instead, imagine the most demon-possessed person as transformed into a person who is in their right mind. Think of your deepest enemy as a person of worth and integrity.
A colleague from San Francisco Karen Oliveto said in a speech in the Castro this week, “May we commit our lives and our love to continuing the course of love and justice. Even as we celebrate, may we not get so drunk on the new wine of liberation that we overlook the chains of discrimination and fear put on others. Great harm and threats to justice continue in this country.”
One of our demons is self-interest. Jesus was all about creating the beloved community. Transforming enemies into friends and never settling for discrimination. Live your lives with pride and recognize that pride is your power unleashed for the good of the larger community.
The ailing Nelson Mandela said it best in his inaugural speech:
Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.