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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 12, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
June 20, 2010

1 Kings 19:1-16; Luke 8:26-39

The demons that won’t let me go!’

The Gospel resonates in everything and in everyone. The past few days this has seemed especially so.

In the July issue of Mojo magazine, American singer-songwriter Joe Henry interviews one of his heroes, Harry Belafonte, a singer, an actor and activist (born in New York in 1927; raised by his grandmother in Jamaica) about whom I’d previously read/heard very little – described by Henry in stark prose. May 1968: “I remember the anger and the tears, the fear and confusion, and I remember a defiant man – a handsome African-American, with a pronounced widow’s peak – leading his friend [Martin Luther King Jr’s] casket through the streets, streaming tears but looking oddly serene, as if possessing some secret vision of things yet to unfold. His head was high and thrown back. He was singing.”

The author goes on to say: “Belafonte is using his humanity to bear witness, to illuminate and magnify, to do what all artists are called to do, I believe: to place his beating heart next to another’s. To walk and sing. To speak and rally, fight, win, lose and wonder. To survive. And then to continue.” It’s an image of an evangelist – and I can’t help but think of the person set free in today’s reading from Luke – head held high – set free to bear witness to the evangel, to the good news of freedom’s unfolding in the very place he is well known as possessed, as homeless and powerless, as weak and highly vulnerable – as one living “among the tombs”. At 83, Belafonte jokes about retiring to lead a quiet life. And yet? “It’s the demons that won’t let me go,” he says. For this evangelist at least, the demons have become objects of humour.

Inspired to seek out recordings by Harry Belafonte – edified by the account of his work and life – I opened the weekend paper. Amid good news of paid parental leave – good news for families – I came across accounts of Family First Senator Steve Fielding’s recent political stunts. Fielding was compelled, contrary to briefings on paid parental leave, to call attention to so-called “loop-holes” in the legislation – potential rorts on the part of women prisoners, prostitutes, drug addicts and welfare cheats (claiming paid leave on the basis of late-term abortions). The legislation, in fact, takes into account the tragic situation of a still-birth. In other words, it’s compassionate legislation. Something to be celebrated … surely. As one commentator remarks, the senator is guilty of using “every possible cliche to raise his own profile by demonising women”. Ah, this self-styled evangelist is, it seems, at home with the demons – and it’s no laughing matter.

I read on. Tens of thousands of mentally ill Indonesians bear an unimaginable torment, left to battle the demons of severe psychiatric disorders while chained and shackled for years on end. The Gospel resonance is striking. The photographs are shocking. Today’s Gospel heightens our sensitivity to the demonic – to forces that diminish and crush us – that it might lift our spirits to walk and sing – to speak and rally, fight, win, lose and wonder. To survive. And then to continue.

I think the last time we heard this text together one of us suffered a seizure here in the church. I want to say that this Gospel is not about epilepsy – it’s not amenable to the kind of reductive analysis that would see it chained to pre-modern ignorance. It’s about the forces that oppress and demonise – colonial, intolerant, greedy, violent, self-righteous, self-serving powers. Of course, these are powers often brought to bear on people living with epilepsy – all manner of mental and physical, social and cultural predicaments. Luke the evangelist is an astute and creative theologian. It’s not for nothing that Jesus is presented as one who exorcises the demons called “Legion”. Jesus entices these demons to name themselves: “Legion”. The term refers – and this most immediately in the context of first-century hearers/readers – to Roman military occupation. Cruel, manipulative, soul-destroying. The Gospel highlights the destructive nature of the many forces bent on control, exploitation, intimidation, domination.

Is Luke – Is Jesus? – trying to get us to name our demons and acknowledge their destructive power? Perhaps, as Brendan Byrne suggests, the parts of ourselves, our character or our experience of life (individually and in community), that most readily attract the freeing power of God are those where we are most inclined to say to the Saviour: “What do you want with me, Jesus, Only Begotten of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” Is Jesus trying to get us to name our demons and to acknowledge their destructive power? Consumerism, vanity, resentment, imperialism, racism, heterosexism, rivalry, addiction, xenophobia, chauvinism, jingoism, apathy …

What would it mean for us to be – alongside Harry Belafonte and every warm-hearted evangelist who bears witness to the good news of freedom’s unfolding – “sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed and of a right mind” or sent back to our “home” to proclaim “what Jesus had accomplished”?

May we be sensitive to God’s voice in the sound of sheer silence, and then let us complete the homily together. “So the one who had been made whole went off and proclaimed throughout the region what Jesus had accomplished.” It’s an image of an evangelist – someone who has known oppression, torment, the pity and fear of others – and then release, freedom, wholeness. Jesus trusts him with a ministry. Jesus simply trusts a changed life to change lives without worrying about much else (Art Barrett). What might we have to offer? You’re invited to place a “letter” on the green cloth on the floor. The letter or word you are called to speak and to bear. Perhaps we speak a word – made up of many letters – together? A mystical word? May we be sensitive to God’s voice in the sound of sheer silence, and then let us complete the homily together …