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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 19, 2016

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

‘How much Jesus has done for us’

Strange as many of its features are, the Gospel scene invites us to enter its drama. With which character or group should we identify? The disciples who simply observe? The local residents of the city who cannot cope and ask Jesus to go away? Or can we indeed find something of our story in the plight of the possessed person? God be with you ...

I wrote this lyric about an “outsider” artist who suffers for his faith and doubt, experiences the wilderness as loneliness and liberation, before returning home to bear witness and to be who he is called to be.

GOSPEL ROAD

My name is Norbert Kox
I was born in Wisconsin, in Green Bay
An Outlaw, I worked on custom cars and bikes
Made art from the rubbish I found and saved

Oh, the way they speak to me
The heat that rises in my eyes
Feeling like a fool to be
So green, still taken by surprise

Immersed myself in religion
And left the biker gang in my wake
But disbelieving the church’s doctrine
I joined the army, then taught myself to paint

Oh, the way they speak to me
The heat that rises in my eyes
Feeling like a fool to be
So green, still taken by surprise

Ten years a hermit in the wilderness
Of an outdoor chapel called Gospel Road
Went back to Green Bay, my visions to express
And the worship of false icons to expose

Oh, the way they speak to me
The heat that rises in my eyes
Feeling like a fool to be
So free, still taken by surprise

Each of us has demons that rend and tear at us and make us want to dwell “in the tombs” rather than in the house of life. Perhaps the parts of ourselves, our character or our experience of life, that most readily attract the freeing power of God are those where we are most inclined to say to Jesus: “What have you to do with me? Why have you come to torment me?”

Is Jesus trying to get us to name our demons and acknowledge their destructive power? What would it mean for us to be later “sitting at his feet, clothed and in our right mind” or sent back “to our home” to proclaim “how much Jesus has done for us”?

An interpretation along these lines [see Brendan Byrne] would seem compelling. It’s worth taking time for silent and prayerful listening to consider what Jesus might be saying to us as possessed people.

In the silence, like the silence experienced by Elijah the prophet, we might also consider other aspects to the story’s symbolism.

Jesus and the disciples travel beyond Galilee to Gerasa, Gentile country. There is no place Jesus won’t go, we might surmise. There is no place our God won’t go, no place our God won’t appear in order to challenge forces of manipulation, oppression. No place too extreme or terrible for liberation, for freedom.

Some scholars interpret the “city” as that culture unlike the culture of an incipient kindom of God. The power of the city, like the power of Empire, is adherence to the myth of redemptive violence – the idea that violence and evil can be purged by yet more violence.

According to this interpretation, the story reverses what usually happens when a crowd or mob scapegoats a victim – projecting all kinds of blame upon a victim and hurling the poor soul into the abyss (just as the angry congregants drove Jesus from Nazareth, leading him to the brow of a hill that they might throw him over the edge).

In our Gospel, the demons called Legion (ostensibly a reference to Roman military occupation) represent the crowd, and the victim is the one who is saved. Jesus does not simply exorcise a demon – from one soul that it might go on to possess another – but undoes a demonic mechanism, “a universal scheme of violence fundamental to all societies of the world” (Rene Girard), that we might no longer depend on victims to set ourselves over against.

Too often our victims play the game because there seems no way out. The poor being victimised by the Conservatives vote Conservative, listening to the lie of trickle-down economics and making the Empire great again. Many Australians, in an ancient and fragile land, vote for the rich owners of coal mines which pollute and destroy, while seeking their own scapegoats in refugees and Muslims.

One scholar, alluding to the sinking of the Titanic, writes: “We are often in denial of the biologically and ecologically obvious – most species that ever existed are now extinct – and in denial of the historically obvious – great empires and civilisations fall and disappear.”

“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance,” Donald Trump tweets, ignoring the obvious issue of guns and violence.

In our Gospel, the demons shuffle the deck chairs, seeking to trump Jesus by calling out his name, and by asking permission to enter the pigs to avoid annihilation. Legion is the lynch-mob, and the once-internalised crowd falls victim to its own designs, tumbling headlong into the lake.

Jesus did not do violence to the pigs/crowd/mob. It took itself over the edge. It was taken over by itself. It would not and could not do without its scapegoat. This is why the local residents ask Jesus to leave. “This total system is threatened by the cure of the possessed and the concomitant drowning of the Legion” (Gerard).

Elsewhere, Jesus says that when an unclean spirit is driven out, it returns and brings more unclean spirits with it, but in our Gospel the freed person sits at Jesus’ feet. The once-possessed soul allows Jesus in.

We are all possessed. And we are all, in some way, led into fuller being (made whole) via stories told about us and via stories we try to live out. The healed “human being” listens to Jesus’ story about healing and lives out Jesus’ story. Such an experience allows a person to be in his or her right mind.

How might we live this?

The healed person is sent back to the place where he was a victim. The healed person is made whole by telling what Jesus/God has done.

The scholar who alludes to the sinking of the Titanic, Andrew Prior, says: “So as we live in a sinking world where massive species extinction is more likely than not, where the USA is rapidly sinking as the controlling empire of the world, and where climate change may mean our entire civilisation collapses, even if we as a species survive, how do we live?

“We live without scapegoats. As Christians, we follow the way of Jesus by refusing the violence of scapegoating. We are neighbour to all. Having seen what the world has been doing to us, and what we have been a part of, we now, in our right minds, go back and live and tell what God has done for us. That is faith. That is our freedom.”

Strange as many of its features are, the Gospel scene invites us to enter its drama. With which character or group should we identify? The disciples who simply observe? The local residents of the city who cannot cope and ask Jesus to go away? Or can we indeed find something of our story in the plight of the possessed person? ... Amen.

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