Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity Year C
23rd Jun 2019
Sermon for Trinity 1 (Year C)
The Healing of the Gerasine Demoniac
The casting out of demons from the man from Gerasa is dramatic for the casting of those demons into the pigs. This story reminds us of the persistence of evil in the life of the world. Our society unfortunately contains hard pockets of extreme violence and it has often revealed itself at times and in places once deemed to be local and friendly. The week marks the third anniversary of the stabbing and the gunning down of the young MP, Jo Cox, outside a public library in Birstall, West Yorkshire by a far-right extremist and psychotic.. 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, when manifested, is terribly unsettling.
In Jesus’ time, demon possession would have common place, and Jesus’ casting out of the demon-possessed man looks at first like an ordinary enough story. But it has greater significance than the one which simply establishes Jesus’ credentials as an exorcist. There was, then as now, a ready acknowledgement that dark forces were at work in the world and that they 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. Under the Romans, everyday life had become a kind of madness. God had apparently been dethroned and replaced by the Emperor. Jesus, coming from God, knows evil by name and he silences it, making its power null and void. In 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 Mark’s story and made plain that Christ is come to establish a new Kingdom in which the dark forces of the world, and particularly those of the oppressive Roman occupiers, are soon 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 Man which is being vanquished by Christ. It is also of course also a Roman army company; the ‘pigs’ represented in the common mind with the roman soldiers.
In our own time we are witnessing particular transatlantic upheavals, with the influence of Donald Trump for the Americans and 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 be readily associated, in many of their incarnations, with mental instability and demagogic pretentions. We need to recover something of the strong mind in Luke’s Gospel which invites such a critique. This is the one which recognises the demonic kind of power which manifests itself in a rigid mind set playing 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. It is vainglorious.
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 to include the one man who is most naturally excluded. Jesus reveals that God who combines unimaginable power with equally unimaginable love; a God who holds out his arms to people who never wanted him, and who never asked for him, but who faces down the self-destructive enemy. The words and works of Jesus are the clarion call to sanity and stability in a world which would tend toward the dethroning of God and the imposition of its own will. This is no better expressed than in St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians Chapter 13:
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 a 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 generous and patient counterpart 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 the 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.