Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Trinity
19th Jun 2016
Sermon for Trinity 4 (Year C)
The Healing of the Gerasine Demoniac
It has been a tumultuous and tragic week. A week in which we have learnt of the gunning down of 49 persons in a gay nightclub in Orlando and of the stabbing and gunning down of one of our young MPs, Jo Cox, outside the public library in Birstall, West Yorkshire. We have also learnt, that though these terrible acts were motivated perhaps by bigotry against gay people, or motivated by anger at the political status quo, they were committed by two men whose minds were radically unbalanced. It is a commonplace to hear people speaking informally about ‘their demons’, but the fact of the whole area of ‘mental health’ on the one hand, and the presence of severe psychological disturbance on the other makes the majority of us feel uneasy. Our tendency is then to place it at a distance, and we are shocked when these violent disturbances are acted out by people who had seemed so apparently ordinary and whose inner demons, which had once remained unacknowledged, suddenly burst forth with a violent vengeance.
In Jesus’ time, demon possession would have been common place, and Jesus’ casting out of the demon-possessed man looks like an ordinary story. But it has a much larger significance than the one which merely establishes Jesus’ credentials as an exorcist. There was in his own time a ready acknowledgement that dark forces were at work in the world and that they could/should be recognised and named. There was no apparent difference in Luke’s mind between the demon possessed man and the world held under the evil force of Emperor and Empire. Life had become a kind of madness. The God of Trust had been dethroned. Jesus is the One who, coming from God both knows this evil by name and nature and can silence it, making its power devoid. The whole gospel account we read this morning echoes the words of the Psalm 65.7:
You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves,
And the madness of the peoples.
Luke has borrowed/included Mark’s story in his Gospel and this is to make a point of Christian Teaching quite plain: that Christ is come to establish a new Kingdom for God in which the dark forces of the present world, and particularly those of the oppressive Roman occupiers, are to be vanquished. Gedara was a town which opposed the Roman occupiers and had their people cruelly cut down, the ‘legion’ Luke mentions is the host of evil power in the man which is being vanquished by Christ but also a Roman army company; the ‘pigs’ who fall off the cliff are the roman soldiers.
In our own time we are witnessing particular transatlantic upheavals, with the emerging influence of Donald Trump for the Americans and the threat of leaving Europe, or Brexit for we Brits. I am amazed at the way in which, two thousand years ago, there existed such a ready acknowledgement that the powers that be, the political order of the day, should not only display signs of disorder and corruption, but should also be readily associated, in its worst incarnations, with mental instability and demagogic pretentions. More than this, it was demonic. We need to recover something of the strong mind in Luke’s Gospel which invites psychological reflection. This is the one which recognises the demonic. It manifests itself in a rigid mind set which plays on popular fear, which includes and excludes at will, and which feeds the gullible listener with what he wants to hear. The demonic thrives in the realm of its own god-like status and within its own strongly demarcated social and psychic territory. It doesn’t listen except to its own voice. It prizes its own zones of safety and acceptability above anything else. But this safety is self-invented and camouflages a whole host of fears and insecurities, which it determines to cast aside. One day it will be prepared to unleash the pent up frustration, which, hitherto unacknowledged, will likely be expressed in inappropriate methods of control and even in violent destruction and the casting aside of the consensus fidelium.
In response to the fact of demonic possession as a means of personal and social control, Jesus heals in Gerasa - in the gentile, Decapolis region. He goes out of his way, literally, to include the one who is most naturally excluded. He takes the role of God Himself as an enactment of what God is really like : The God who combines his unimaginable power with an unimaginable, all-embracing love; a God who holds out his arms to people who never wanted him, never asked for him, but who recognise that he has the unique power to face down the self-destructive enemy. In this vein, the Christian teaching is the one which has enlarged upon and put into words that love for which Christ went out of his way to show. It is also the clarion call to sanity and stability in a world which would tend toward the dethroning of God and the imposition of its own selfish will. It is no better expressed than in St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians Chapter 13 and is the opposite of the tyrant’s vain posturing:
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
One of our former Vicars, Fr John Ball, was a paraplegic, a severely disabled man of small stature, who was loved by the Holy Cross parishoners, and whose life was fraught with difficulties and trials which were kept to himself,. He was a gifted poet and his inner life is etched out in a poem which appears on our website as our parish poem. It is not a poem designed to cheer, because it presents an astonishingly candid account of an inner life which reckons its own place within the order of good and evil, faith and despair, longing and fear…It is called ‘Orison’. ‘Orison’ literally means ‘communication with God’. In the poem, he instructs us that the Christian journey must involve traversing life’s territory as a kind of ‘holding together’ of all those things which pertain to God and to the emergence of the greater good. It is the counterpart to the emergence of the ‘disturbed person singular’. Here is the Jesus who has cast the devil into the sea whilst proclaiming the love which Father has for us all. Here is His and our own Orison, the communication of love (and sanity) from its one true source:
It is the holding together that is hard –
The resisting of the centrifugal forces
Acting on mind and heart
That break the tenuous links of thought and feeling.
And then there is the fear (which on black days
Transmutes itself into a dark seducer
Parodying hope) that the next revolution of the hand
Upon the sadly common clock
Will bring the final, the inoperable rupture,
and burst the dams of past
And future pains.
It is the holding you must help us in:
We cannot enter heaven in fragments
The gates will not allow of that.
And you must give the means to keep it
If you love us, as I fear you do.