June 19, 2016
Luke 8:26-39, I Kings 19:1-15a
What a week! Last week, I heard the news of the shooting in Orlando as I was heading out the door to come to church. I couldn’t even process it. The next forty-eight hours focused on getting ready for a service for the community where we would name those who had died, break bread, light candles, and ring a bell for each person. Every day someone dies tragically and a beautiful life is lost. But we don’t lose fifty people to a targeted murder every day. How do we even begin to take that in? I’ve been thinking a lot about sanctuary this week. I spent hours in this space praying and preparing for the service. Our speakers on Tuesday evening talked about sanctuary, but they were not speaking of a space like this. They talked about bars as the only safe place they knew when they came out. Churches and public gatherings weren’t safe, but bars were places where they could be themselves.
Last Sunday morning, I gathered here with you. I didn’t know what to say or even how to be in the face of such devastation, but I knew I needed to gather here with you. Sunday evening, my family went to Morningside Park and gathered with the larger community for a candlelight vigil. I still wasn’t sure where the ground was, but I knew we needed to be with the community. Tuesday evening, members of the community gathered here. Again, the only thing I knew for sure was the need to be here in this sanctuary with you all and others who came seeking the same assurance. We needed each other. We still need each other.
This morning, we have two powerful narratives that may seem to be completely unrelated, but there are some threads that ask us to pay attention.
Elijah is a prophet who has made queen Jezebel angry enough to threaten to kill him. He is on the run in the reading today. God comes looking for him and asks why he is hiding. He explains that he has been faithful, but his life is in danger. He says, “I alone am left.”
Luke tells of Jesus crossing into Gentile territory. That was unheard of, but Jesus often crossed over into places that others refused to go. He encountered a man possessed by demons. That is language we often hear in scripture. It likely refers to mental illness. The text tells us that the man is alone among the tombs. He was naked and homeless. He had been cast out to the most unclean place of all.
Both the man in Luke’s story and Elijah are alone. The man in Luke had been cast out and Elijah was running for his life. God crossed over to find each of these men and after a profound story of healing in Luke and a powerful encounter in I Kings, the men are given a task.
What kind of God is this who will cross barriers – physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational barriers to get to us? What kind of God comes and stands with us in our greatest vulnerability and our deepest pain? I believe God stood in the Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning with the terrified victims. I believe God is here with us now. God does not wait for us to get it together to show up, but meets us in our suffering. How sad that when Jesus asked the man’s name, he answered, “Legion”. He identified with his brokenness. But Jesus found him there alone and reached out to set him free.
The speakers Tuesday evening, Vangie Chavez, Ken Cuthbertson, and Rusty Smith are all openly gay clergy leaders in this community. Each had a powerful story to tell and each had to deal with a God that would not take away their call. They had to find a way to reconcile their sexuality and their vocation and stay engaged in the world. In doing so, they had to come to terms with a God who cares for all of us and reaches as far as necessary to love those on the margins and beyond. Rusty Smith described God welcoming each one who died. Then he said that God welcomed Omar Mateen with loving arms. John Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ prayed for the victims of the shooting and prayed for Omar Mateen as well. It was a powerful reminder to me that NO ONE escapes God’s loving embrace.
I think both of these stories call us to follow the example of God and Jesus who walk into places of vulnerability and pour out love and compassion on those who are suffering.
During the Bosnian war, a reporter was covering the conflict in the middle of Sarajevo when he saw a little girl shot by a sniper. The reporter threw down his pad and pencil, rushed to the man holding the child and helped them both into his car. As the reporter stepped on the accelerator, racing to the hospital, the man holding the bleeding child said, “Hurry, my friend, my child is still alive.” A few moments later, “Hurry, my friend, my child is still breathing.” A moment later, “Hurry my friend, my child is still warm.” Finally, “Hurry, Oh God, my child is getting cold.”
When they got to the hospital, the little girl was dead. As the two men washed the blood off their hands and their clothes, the man turned to the reporter and said, “This is a terrible task for me. I must go tell her father that his child is dead. He will be heartbroken.”
The reporter was amazed. He looked at the grieving man and said, “I thought she was your child.”
The man looked back and said, “No, but aren’t they all our children?”
The answer is, “Yes, they are ALL our children. They are all beautiful beloved children of God.” Somehow, we have to see each human being as God’s child. We don’t have to agree about every issue, but we have to make room in the community for the ones that God loves. That is the first step…seeing each person with the loving eyes of God. The second step is given to us in both stories. After lovingly caring for the man in Luke and Elijah in Kings, Jesus and God send them back to the community. Restoring the community is always at the top of God’s agenda and it must be on ours. I sat in a room this week where a difficult conversation was taking place. The events of this last week have unleashed pain, anger, fear, and a host of other feelings. A part of me would have preferred to be sitting on a park bench licking an ice cream cone, but I knew I needed to be in that room – we all did. Being the body of Christ involves showing up for one another, even when it is painful to do so.
I read an interesting commentary this week that suggested that Jesus sent the man back to the community because the community needed the living testimony of one healed and restored. If the man left to follow Jesus, the community could easily return to the status quo. With him among them, they had to reckon with proof of God’s healing power. (Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3 p. 171)
Each week we have the opportunity to be the community that makes room for God’s beautiful beloved children. Making room allows God to move among us in powerful ways. Rolf Jacobson tells about losing a leg to bone cancer in high school. He was at home for two years as he battled the disease and became very isolated. He lost his second leg to cancer and was terrified to return to church after such a long absence. His sister decided one day that they were going and she accompanied him to a tearful reunion at church. God’s healing power became evident as Rolf was restored to the community.
Jesus shows us that no one is beyond the reach of his healing love. He will cross any boundary necessary to bring that love to us. As we live with the aftermath of this horrific shooting, let us not forget Jesus’ boundless love. Let us make room for all to be restored to the community. We must keep showing up and caring for each other. We must keep showing up and caring for our world. We must be willing to cross boundaries to reach those who most need to be restored. God is in front of us showing us the way.