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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
June 19 2022
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
After several weeks of readings from John’s gospel, we are back in the gospel according to Luke – and we’ll stay with it until September. The part where we jump back in tells of Jesus going into Gentile territory.
Leading up to this, he had been moving from place to place; he had eaten in a Pharisee’s home, was anointed by a woman whose name we aren’t given, and healed many – gathering disciples along the way.
Then Jesus got into a boat with the disciples and took a nap – but then a windstorm swept in and he rebuked the wind and the waves and calmed all that down. And then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, opposite Galilee on the other side of the lake. Which is where our story begins.
Jesus had encountered demons and Gentiles before, but this story is more intense than the other experiences. There’s no crowd of people eagerly waiting to greet him. Only the man who had demons. And it appears that Jesus is by himself – the disciples aren’t mentioned apart from being in the boat with him.
And while he’s there, Jesus performs one of his most extraordinary miracles and fully heals an unlikely person.
But instead of being amazed at what had happened and celebrating it, everyone except the man who was healed was afraid, and they begged Jesus to leave. And when the man who was healed asked to go with Jesus, Jesus commands him, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
And he did. He became another disciple. He took his freedom and his dignity and told anyone who would listen about the work God was doing in Jesus. And he did it in his own voice.
On the surface, this seems like just another story of Jesus casting out demons and restoring a person to community. But on a deeper level, it invites us to think about what Jesus has to do with forces that occupy and control us. And that isn’t to minimize or deny the possibility of demon-possession or the miracle of healing. But it challenges us to think more broadly about Jesus’ power over the powers that destroy human life.
We know that the Bible begins and ends with life, and that God’s desire for humanity is life. But we also know that people do what they do, and that people’s actions and decisions don’t always foster the life that God intends. And we get caught up in the powers that destroy life instead.
So my question to you is, what are some of those powers? We can sum them all up as evil. But how does that evil take shape? What does it look like in our world?
If you’re worshiping with us from home, name those things in the chat. And in here, out loud, what are the powers that destroy human life? Examples: racism, sexism, homo- or transphobia, poverty, our criminal justice system, greed, jealousy, gun violence, capitalism, individualism, nationalism, etc.
Some of these powers are so blatant that they’re in our face and we have to acknowledge them. And some of them are the water we swim in, so to speak. They’re so engrained in our society and world that, in some cases, they’re the structural pieces that govern our lives and we just accept them as the way things are. And we often aren’t aware of the harm and death that they cause, or we just don’t pay attention.
But Jesus’ transformation of the man possessed by demons challenged those powers – the status quo and the way people handled situations that it sets up. It showed them a new way, a better way to live and to care for a person who didn’t “fit” or who made them uncomfortable. Despite that, they didn’t get it right.
And when I say “they” I’m not comparing Jews and Gentiles because one is not better than the other. Don’t get caught up in that trap. When I say “they” I mean people in general – they still kept doing what they had done in keeping people away or apart out of fear or lack of understanding.
That’s why Paul wrote what we read in Galatians. Jesus had already told everyone what it means to be one in him, and people still weren’t getting it right. So Paul reminded them again. And today, 2000 years later, we say that Paul didn’t do enough to dismantle the things he named in this book – and that’s true, but he named them. So that’s a start.
But 2000 years later, we’re still dealing with the same things that need to be dismantled, because humanity still hasn’t managed to get it right. We still keep people away or apart from us, or treat them as less than, because we’re afraid of them or don’t understand them. We still need these words, these seeds, to remind us of how Jesus calls us to live and the radical transformation that happens when we do.
Because when we do, we encounter Jesus, and an encounter with him is nothing to be afraid of because Jesus is freedom and dignity and authenticity. And if our readings today teach us anything, it’s that the freedom, dignity, and authenticity of Jesus are boundless. There is no place they can’t go, and no person they won’t transform.
These readings were chosen for this day long before Juneteenth became a national holiday, and even before the commemoration of the Emanuel Nine – which was just two days ago. And coming up a week from today is Seattle’s Pride celebration. So they’re timely.
We know that it isn’t enough to only be aware of the powers that destroy human life at certain times of year. Because there are still incidents of racism and racist violence in our world every day – not all of them make the news. There are still incidents of violence and discrimination against people because of their sexual or gender identity. Daily.
We are still bound by the powers that destroy human life. We are still bound by the powers that tell us that we don’t have enough, and to fear people who are different from us somehow. And when those powers get the best of us, which is a lot of the time, we chain up the people we fear and do our best to keep them apart from us. Living among the dead.
We are people in need of the freedom and dignity and authenticity of Jesus. And the good news is that he gives it to us freely. And it’s every bit as transformational as it has ever been.
Pastor Phil Ruge-Jones reminds us that the freedom, dignity, and authenticity of Jesus releases those who are oppressed by evil forces, gives peace of mind to the tormented, and replaces legions of slurs with our true name.
It gives us back our true voice. And allows us to declare not only what God has done for us but for all of humanity.
A few minutes ago, we named some of the powers that destroy life. What are the powers that foster it, that promote it? Same thing – at home, put it in the chat. In here, out loud, what are the powers that nurture and bring forth the life God desires for us?
Examples: love, dignity, caring, freedom, truth, repentance, forgiveness, encouragement, support, understanding, patience, kindness, compassion, etc.
When we receive the dignity, freedom, and authenticity that is Jesus we are transformed in such a way that we live into these powers – the ones we just named. They become the basis for our actions and our decisions. And the systems that destroy life are themselves destroyed one piece at a time.
Because the transformation that Jesus brings nurtures life for all people. All people. “All” means all, y’all. And he gives it to us freely. Thanks be to God! Amen.
 Rev. Phil Ruge-Jones, Early Sermon Seeds, June 12, 2022
 Rev. Phil Ruge-Jones, Early Sermon Seeds, June 12, 2022