[On this day, when we welcome Mateo into the body of Christ; let us think about our lives as disciples of Jesus, how we are called to love in the midst of fear…]
How can I love my neighbor as myself
When I need him as my enemy –
When I see in him the self I fear to own
And cannot love?
How can there be peace on earth
While our hostilities are our most
Cherished possessions –
Defining our identity,
Confirming our innocence?
-Eric Symes Abbott
These lines written in 1989, remind us that the command to love others by Jesus is difficult, especially as we consider those we fear, the enemy all around us and even inside of us, for fear drives out love. And yet, that is what Jesus calls us to do, to love one another and to live in peace.
And yet, too often they know we are Christians not by our love, but by our fear. Fear that seems to control us and make us judgmental, critical, that sees enemies all around us, even in our friends. Instead of the liberating, freeing Gospel, we live in fear with an oppressive religiosity, and we forget that God given grace & love that is always with us and we need to share.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus entered the area of the Gerasenes outside the Decapolis, a gentile region, he is confronted with a man filled with demons. He lived alone among the tombs, naked, separated from his home & community. In a symbolic way, this man whose demons are known as “Legion” – a Latin term for a unit of the Roman army comprising of 3000 to 6000 soldiers, is not only possessed personally, but the whole region with the Roman occupation is possessed. The demons know who Jesus is, and Jesus having compassion for the man, casts out the demons into swine (unclean animals to Jews!), who plunge into the lake, and the man comes to his right mind.
But the people are very afraid. Jesus heals the possessed, casts out the demons, confronts the power of Rome. The people are not ready for such an act, and they ask Jesus to leave. Jesus sends the man home and tells him to proclaim all that God has done for him. He becomes the evangelist to the people living in fear in that community. Again God acts in the midst of fear, reminding us that God is in charge, no demon, no legion, will stop that. But we have to believe that or our own fears will take charge.
I think of a poem: The Peace of Wild Things (Wendell Berry)
When despair for the world grows in meWe are called to be free of our fears. To rest in the beauty & grace of God’s creation. And to respond out of love. [in baptism we renounce Satan and sin, and turn to God & Jesus…]
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For the time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
In light of the tragedy in Orlando last Sunday early morning – there have been many moving stories about the Pulse & those nationwide reaching out to any community affected, but a story that I missed the first time through (thanks Dick!) – is about a Washington DC Orthodox Jewish community that visited a local Gay bar. Here is their story told by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld.
When our synagogue heard about the horrific tragedy that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it was at the same time that we were celebrating our festival of Shavuot, which celebrates God’s giving of the Torah. As Orthodox Jews, we don’t travel or use the Internet on the Sabbath or on holidays, such as Shavuot. But on Sunday night, as we heard the news, I announced from the pulpit that as soon as the holiday ended at 9:17 p.m. Monday, we would travel from our synagogue in Northwest Washington to a gay bar as an act of solidarity.We all need each other. And when some are suffering, living in fear, struggling with pain, then we become Christ to them & bring love and hope. Today, may we trust in God to guide us so that we can overcome our fears with faith, and be the Christians that God needs us to be in our world today. As Thomas Merton put it
We just wanted to share the message that we were all in tremendous pain and that our lives were not going on as normal. Even though the holiday is a joyous occasion, I felt tears in my eyes as I recited our sacred prayers.
I had not been to a bar in more than 20 years. And I had never been to a gay bar. Someone in the congregation told me about a bar called the Fireplace, so I announced that as our destination. Afterward, I found out it was predominantly frequented by gay African Americans.
Approximately a dozen of us, wearing our kippot went down as soon as the holiday ended. Some of the members of our group are gay, but most are not. We did not know what to expect… but it turned out that we had so much in common. We met everyone in the bar. One of the patrons told me that his stepchildren were actually bar-mitzvahed in our congregation. The bartender shut off all of the music in the room, and the crowd became silent as we offered words of prayer and healing.
As we were singing, I looked over at some members of our congregation and saw tears flowing down their faces. I felt the reality that we are living in a time of enormous pain. But I also felt that the night was a tremendous learning experience for me. I learned that when a rabbi and members of an Orthodox synagogue walk into a gay African American bar, it is not the opening line of a joke but an opportunity to connect; it is an opportunity to break down barriers and come together as one; it is an opportunity to learn that if we are going to survive, we all need each other. [https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/06/15/what-happened-when-an-orthodox-jewish-congregation-went-to-a-gay-bar-to-mourn-orlando/]
“My Lord God, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Amen.