The Rev. Josephine Robertson
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Kirkland
It has been a tough week in our world, a week full of the power of the sword and unexorcised demons. As often happens our scriptures this week, stories of fear, broken communities, evil, and death eerily reflect our world right now. Fifty people died and at least fifty three were wounded last Sunday morning. A place of celebration, a place of sanctuary for many, became a place of violence and death. There are other things we could talk about today, but we are Christians and it isn’t OK for us to stay silent, or to turn away in the face of evil. Especially because Christianity, sometimes willfully and sometimes due to our silence, has brought suffering, and pain, and yes death to so many.
The root of it is fear, we are all afraid; we human beings. Two of my favorite theologians have a lot to say about fear. Frank Herbert called it the “mind killer.” But you might be more familiar with the oft quoted: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Yoda might have been small, green, and obtuse, but he was also right. Fear, unexamined and unchecked turns eventually to evil and causes suffering to everyone nearby. We live immersed in fear. From the time we are tiny we are snatched away by our mothers from those who are different. We are hissed at not to talk to strangers or something horrible will happen (never mind the statistics say it almost certainly won’t). We get a little older and are told that they are going to come and take our jobs, overrun our neighborhoods, change our way of life. We are told that they are a threat to our family values, are just waiting to assault our children and wives. We did it to ourselves. We’ve made everything about money, and fear sells newspapers, and TV ad spots. But the boogie man gets bigger and louder every year.
Ironically, we in the church, the place God has been saying “do not be afraid!” for longer than anyone can remember can be the most fearful. We’re afraid of everything from modern life, to the church dying. We’re still afraid to say the word sex in church. Ah, I said it, did that make you feel weird? Sex. God made it, apparently God wants us to enjoy it, it’s a basic part of life. But damn we’re afraid of it. We (Christians) burned women at the stake for liking it (not an exaggeration). And for a very, very long time we taught that those who were attracted to someone of the same sex were degenerate, evil, literally sub-human. And I’d like to say the Episcopal church is beyond all that, but we know we’re not. We might have inclusive marriage liturgies now (still not allowed for use by some bishops mind you) but we’ve never actually formally repented of the damage we did to so many for so long. It was home grown, often Christian seeded fear and dehumanization of our LGBTQ siblings that led to anger, and to hatred, and to 50 dead and another 53 in the hospital. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.
Lament isn’t strong enough anymore. Today’s psalm might have been written by the poor demoniac from Luke, or the dancers at Pulse in the moments when the bullets were flying. “Save me from the sword, my life from the power of the dog.” The Gerasenes you see, were afraid. So afraid they banished a vulnerable man to a graveyard. Maybe they were afraid his differentness would contaminate them. Whatever reason they threw him away, locked him up. They are so afraid he is chained. By the time Jesus comes around the man possessed by demons is so lost to fear and anger that it spills over, and lives are lost before the whole thing is over.
Here’s the thing about Jesus. Everyone one of his miracles is about relieving that suffering that Yoda talked about, the suffering our world is filled with. Every one of his miracles is about putting back together broken communities. About putting back together broken lives. About extending love and belonging to the people everyone else is afraid to have around. The sick, the poor, the dying, the dirty, the crazy, the prostitute. What our fear and anger has broken Jesus picks up and puts back together. And then he sends the man, now healed of his demons, back to his community to tell them what happened to him. Jesus sends him back for reconciliation. He sends him back to warn them of what all that fear and anger and hatred wrought, and to build something new.
It’s all wound together. You see those folks in Isaiah were just folk. Folk whose fear of hunger led them to starve others as they amassed wealth for themselves, folks whose fear led to an Israel so broken by violence God could save only a handful. The Gerasenes weren’t evil people, they were just folk who were faced with someone different, frightening. Evil, hatred those words are so big we usually apply them only to our larger than life villains. But fear infects every human heart, and anger that can be righteous when turned against oppressive systems, when turned against other human beings grows into the subtle hatred we don’t even recognize. Until it’s too late and people die. Real people.
The God of Israel whispers into every human heart: do not be afraid. And when we listen to that voice of God, wherever we hear it, change is possible. Healing is possible. Hearts change, and with the love of God communities can be rebuilt. I like to think that the man freed from his demons by Jesus went back to his city and his neighbors wept at his story, that they fell down at his feet and asked his forgiveness for their hardness heart, for their fear that left him alone and in danger. I like to think community was restored.
It can happen, in the real world it can happen. The Lt. Governor or Utah stood up in front of a grieving LGBTQ community this week and repented of the ways he had in the past failed to love, failed to treat every person he encountered (especially them) with dignity and love. And he acknowledged that same community, had loved him while he was unworthy of it.
A congregation of Orthodox Jews in Washington DC this week ended their Shabbat service and went, still in their prayer garb, to a gay bar called the Fireplace where they listened. Where they embraced those who were grieving and grieved with them. Where they repented, and prayed, and said with their actions: we see you, we love you. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is love in the face of fear.
We seem hard wired by our society to fear what is different. But we also contain within our souls a sliver of the diverse Creator, that sliver is our inheritance as children of God and it is love.
It is the only thing that can heal broken communities. It is the only thing that can close up our wounds. It is the only thing that can end fear, anger, hatred, suffering. It is what gives the Geresenes back the man they had cast away and abandoned to demons. It is what gave Israel back to their God. It is what saved the psalmist. If fear is the mind killer, love raises our minds from death and gives us back to one another. Our world is filled with evil, but at it’s root lies fear in the hearts of every day folk, you and I. All of our hearts contain the seeds for suffering, and the seeds for love.
We are Christians, we try (and often fail) to follow a God who was willing to become human, but not just human: a human being without power or position to protect him. Who was willing to die rather than let fear of death turn into violence and suffering for others. That is the God we follow. Who in all things sought to heal the wounds of human suffering and who told his disciples to go forth and love as he had loved them.
Fear keeps us apart. But it is long, long past time for us to come together in love. There are hurting, isolated people, afraid to live their lives because of violence, right here in our community. I don’t have all the answers for what healing, reconciliation and love look like for us here in Kirkland. But I do have Jesus. And Jesus went where the hurting was, Jesus went into the midst of pain and suffering and isolation and fear and he sowed love and healing.
The diocese of Olympia marches in the Seattle Pride Parade next Sunday. Perhaps those of us who might not go to such a thing (it’s hot, and long, and noisy and crowded) need to show up, to say “we see you, we love you, and we repent of the fear and violence that has been sown in Christ’s name.”
Perhaps you know someone who is LGBTQ, or their parent or sibling or loved one who needs to hear that you see them, you love them right now. Pick up the phone.
Perfect love casts out fear. We may not be perfect, but we have been given love and forgiveness. We have been knit into the very body of God. We must go where there is fear, and heartache, and brokenness and there share the love that we have been given. For the sake of Christ, who suffers with our brothers and sisters.