Sunday, June 19, 2016

Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

Love is love

You may have figured out by now that I am a child of the 1960s. When I watch and listen to the music of the 60s today, I realize how much I was influenced by the lyrics of the protest songs and their demand that justice prevail against the evil powers that be.

Marvin Gaye, What’s going on
Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today, oh oh oh

John Lennon, Imagine
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the wind
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind

Joan Baez, We shall overcome
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.

These songs and many more echo in my mind and heart over and over as the theme songs of my life. These songs speak Jesus’ language to me. Love is from God, and we receive it unconditionally so we can share it unconditionally. There is no room in Jesus’ reign for hatred, for disrespect, for abuse of others because of what they look like, where they come from, how they worship, or how they express their sexuality. Love is love.

One day, Jesus told the disciples he wanted to cross the Sea of Galilee, to the other side, which is where a lot of Gentiles live. Probably today, it is the country of Jordan. While crossing the sea, Jesus stilled a storm which had the disciples quaking in fear. Now, they are wondering who this Jesus really is. He seems to be much more than a prophet.

Once on the other side of the sea, Jesus is approached by a man who is controlled by countless demons. Because the demons are in charge, the man doesn’t want to be healed. The demons prefer that the man rages and fights. The demons prefer that the man lives in the tombs, wearing nothing, except perhaps a loin cloth. The demons prefer that the man is so strong because of their power that he breaks the chains the people of the town put on him. 

The demons call out to Jesus, “Leave us alone.”
Jesus speaks to the man, “What is your name?”
The man replies, “Legion, because I am controlled by a legion of demons.”
The demons figure out that Jesus is going to cast them out of the man, so they beg him, “Don’t send us into the abyss where we will be powerless. Send us instead into the pigs over there.”
Jesus gladly does just this. The pigs are so overcome by the demons that they rush down the hill into the sea, where they drown. This action, ironically, sends the demons straight into the abyss.
The swineherds are afraid of Jesus’ power, wondering what else he might do, so they ask him to leave. 

The man is healed and in his right mind once again. I find myself wondering what his real name is. Jesus sends the man into the nearby towns to tell of God’s power over the demons in his life. Jesus and the disciples get back in the boat and return to Galilee.

It seems Jesus crossed the sea for the sole purpose of reaching out to this man. Rabbi Jesus, who knows what is clean and unclean, walked in the unclean place of tombs to cleanse a man living in unclean nakedness of unclean spirits. There is no place Jesus won’t go, no one he won’t touch and cleanse. There is no one Jesus doesn’t love.

In Orlando last week a sociopath, a man driven by demons, took out the demons’ evil on a group of people he believed God hated. Fifty people died, including the man possessed by the demons of hatred; many were injured. Many more grieved and wept.

Where was Jesus while this was happening? He was on the floor with those who were injured or dying. He was showing the exit to a few who helped many escape. He was receiving with love those who died. He was with the paramedics and surgeons and nurses and technicians as they worked to heal the injured. And he was even with the man with the gun, trying to cast out the demons who held him in their power.

I am struck by Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut who left the House Floor in protest over yet another moment of silence for a massacre with no action on gun control.

I, too, am weary of praying with no action coming as a result. I, too, am weary of one group of people criticizing and brutalizing another because of the color of their skin, or the place where they were born, or the way they worship, or the sexuality God gave them.

It is time for us to stand up together and say “Enough!” “Enough hatred, enough violence, enough inequality, enough, enough, enough!”

As the Apostle Paul wrote to the people in Galatia, he too was saying, Enough!” He was saying “God has had enough of the way some of you treat others. In God’s eyes, there is no difference among you. It doesn’t matter if you are wealthy or poor, if you are Jewish or another faith, if you are male or female. You are all children of God. Nothing else matters! God’s love is God’s love, and it is for all people, without exception.”

Today, we still are guilty of treating others poorly. If they look different from us, if they come from another place, if they worship the Divine differently, if they love differently, we don’t always welcome them as we welcome those who look and speak and believe and love like us.

In my first congregation I learned quickly to be careful how I said some sensitive things. I said the word “homosexual” in a sermon, reflecting on something in the local news. The parents of several young people confronted me, insisting that they had to explain to their children what the word meant. And to never say it again.

I usually speak carefully, giving balanced messages so I don’t offend someone. Goodness knows, Hope can’t afford to lose any more people because I take an unpopular stand from the pulpit.

But, I am weary of not saying what I mean. So, on this day, we pause to remember those who were killed by a man filled with demons. We pray for him, and for his victims and their families, and for survivors and their search for forgiveness that they lived when others perished. We pray that something good will happen in this country as a result of these senseless deaths.

The message that God loves everyone has no exceptions. I pray that we would become a congregation where all are welcome. God loves everyone, including people of every color, every country of origin, every faith, and every sexuality.

God loves everyone in the LGBTQ family as much as God loves each one of us. They do not need forgiveness for their sexuality because they are as God made them, in the same way as God made some of us tall or short, white or black or brown.

The only way we will ever stop the violence caused by the demon of hatred is by learning to love as God loves, without exception.

Please join me in prayer. This is a line from the sonnet Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote as his thank-you speech the night of the Tony Awards. It is a new protest song echoing in my heart and my life.

 And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside. Amen