Sermon–A Political Gospel Story? June 23, 2019


2 Pentecost—Year C–Proper 7

June 23, 2019 + William Bradbury

Isaiah 65:1-9, Psalm 22:18-27, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

For reasons that I hope become clear, I can’t help but think of the 2008 book, The Hunger Games, when I read today’s story of Jesus healing the demoniac. As one reviewer describes the book: “In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capital and 12 districts. Each year, two teen age representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch.” Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Public Library, AK

The heroine of the stories is Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl who must fight her way out of the games and lead her people against the Capital and its demented president, played brilliantly by Donald Sutherland.

The power of the Capital makes those being oppressed sick, hungry, and crazy. But the practice of destroying families by separating kids from their parents and turning torture into entertainment also corrodes the souls of the citizens of the Capital, who cover their hardheartedness with sentimentality and flamboyance. The oppressors lose contact with their souls, their true selves.  This is the dark world of living under the oppression of a nation that has lost its heart to care for the least, the last, and the last. The man Jesus encounters is filled with demons with the name of Legion. You’ll recall a Legion is the name for a unit of 4000 Roman Soldiers. The Legion occupying Palestine is the 10th Legion whose banner has the picture of a boar, a wild pig on it.

So this poor man living under Roman oppression, instead of turning his anger and hatred onto the Roman soldiers, internalizes it by turning it on himself thus losing his mind.

Jesus frees this sick man of his demons, so that he ends up clothed and in his right mind.

And the people who know the man rejoice that their friend man is returned to them sane and healed?

Not at all—they are terrified that the Legion will retaliate and destroy their town, which is exactly what the Capital does to those Districts that try to rebel.

We read The Hunger Games as fiction, but unfortunately it is truth put in a form we can tolerate.

New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, and Sarah, his photographer wife, were in Greece a few years ago traveling to churches that contained Icons of the  Resurrection, when their taxi driver humbly asks them if he might show them his church. They readily agree so they go 10 kilometers to a hill overlooking the town of Distomo: which has a tragic but not unique story to tell: On Saturday June 10, 1944 (four days after D-Day) in reprisal for an anti-German ambush by local partisans, the 4th Armored Police Division of the Waffen SS entered Distomo. Its commander, 26 year old Fritz Lautenbach, allows his men three days of murderous savagery. Five days later when the Red Cross arrives hundreds of dead bodies of people of all ages, even infants and pregnant mothers, are found strewn across the destroyed village.

Crossan quotes from A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright who notes: “From the first chipped stone to the first smelted iron took nearly 3 million years; from the first iron to the hydrogen bomb took only 3000 years

He concludes by saying, “Now is our last chance to get the future right.” Resurrecting Easter pp.181-183

The foundational image of the people of Israel is the Exodus, the story of God’s liberation through Moses from a violent and oppressive Egyptian empire.  God liberates the slaves and brings them through the sea that drowns the army of Pharaoh, just as the Sea drowns the pigs filled with the demons of Legion after Jesus casts them out of the man.

The central image of the New Testament is the Crucifixion, which takes place during Passover, the celebration of the Exodus. The cross is God’s response not only to the oppression of empires but also the oppression of the cultural forces under the impact of the fear of death and its acolyte sin, that destroys the humanity of both oppressed and oppressor. Jesus allows the powers to destroy him on Good Friday, so that on Easter Sunday God can reveal the overthrowing of death and sin by Mercy, Life and Love.

This Resurrection power liberates the scared disciples from their fears and empowers them through the Spirit to create communities that Crossan says join in a process of divine and human collaboration over time to make  manifest the Kingdom of God in a community of ordinary women and men who love God and love their neighbor more than they love the power of to control those who are different and threatening.

One such community birthed by the Resurrection Spirit of Christ is the church in Galatia.

Their human founder Paul reminds them their community is incorporated into Christ and therefore is not run by the divisions, jealousies, and power politics that run all the cultures and governments of the world.

Their church is not run by the power of men over women, the power of the rich over poor, of the power of the favored over the stranger, for he says, are all one in  Christ.

This is political and cultural resistance at its best. The church, says Paul, is to live the good news by embodying it, so people everywhere can see an alternative society to the one that maintains its power through creating fear and hatred of the stranger—the stranger in other countries as well as the strangers in their own backyard.

God knows, however, too often the Church has not resisted the State but become an acolyte of it. The Church joined the Roman Empire in the 4th century, and ever since has often succumbed to the same temptation to serve the Nation in order to protect its own power.  They do this by fusing worship of the Nation with the worship of god.  So the Church created slaveholding religion, anti-woman religion, anti-gay religion, and anti-immigrant religion to please its national Masters and avoid being cut out of the fruit of being friends with those in power.

The man who is now clothed and in his right mind wants to go with Jesus and leave his fearful hometown far behind.

But Jesus sends the man to tell the village everything God has done for him. He is now an evangelist, telling everyone that God is doing a new thing, dethroning the Caesars of this world through sacrificial healing and love.

So the man does what Jesus says with one change: Instead of telling everyone what God has done for him, he proclaims what Jesus has done for him.

Our culture continues to make us crazy, as you know, so the question becomes how do we respond as church: Katniss Everdeen destroys the Capital and its evil President through a violent revolutionary movement. Jesus does it by taking the violence of the World into himself, metabolizing its poison, thus freeing us to live and love as Jesus lives and loves, so both oppressed and oppressor can be set free to reflect into the world the embrace of the eternal, infinite, unconditional Love who creates us all.