Sunday 30 June – Evensong Sermon
There are two sides to every story.
We’ve been hearing recently in the sermons about stories. Narratives. The Greatest Story Ever Told. And each week we dip into three different parts of the Bible – to get a glimpse of life in various historical periods – but always with the same underlying viewpoint – what is creator God doing at this time and in this place and with these people? And from thinking about these texts, and trusting that God is still the same God, what does it mean for us here today?
No text is neutral. Every author puts their own spin on things, sees things from their own viewpoint. That goes for preachers as well of course. All the sermons you’ve every listened to have an underlying agenda.
Because, there are two sides to every story.
So, for Luke, the author of today’s Gospel reading, one of his agendas is to emphasise that the story of the incarnation is one of Jesus reaching out to ‘the other’. Jesus gets into a boat and travels to the other side. To another land. Where others live. This is about relationship, about God seeking out everyone. Even those who live in fear and shame, who feel they are so out of control that they need to be kept separate from other people.
Yes, the author of Luke’s gospel has an agenda. Has picked out this story and chosen this structure carefully. At the beginning of what we have called chapter 8, Jesus is seen travelling around his home area, preaching and teaching. And Luke says right from the start – there were the twelve disciples, but also “some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, including Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (v3). Hmmm. So, we know already that Jesus can heal people. That he has some kind of power over things which seem uncontrollable. Then Luke drops in the parable of the sower, and the light on the lampstand. It’s important that we perceive something, that we stop and take care. That it’s something that we are also asked to be part of. And just before the text we are considering this morning, Luke puts a startling, a really disturbing full stop. Jesus’ mother and brothers are there, waiting to see him, but Jesus seems to redefine his family as those “who hear the word of God and do it”. Ouch. Strong stuff.
So, we get to the introduction to our story, in which Luke tells us about Jesus sleeping in the boat on the way to Gerasenes, even though there is a huge storm. Leaving the disciples saying to each other – “Who is this then, that he commands even the winds and water, and they obey him?”
Yes, Luke has a lens through which he wants us to look.
And so, we do. By this point in the narrative we shouldn’t be at all surprised that Jesus heals the man.
But there are two sides to each story.
Because if you were one of the first people to hear this, it would be surprising. Shocking.
This man is the equivalent of the vilest, smelliest, wretch of a creature. Living among the dead in the ‘other’ land.
It’s hard as a first century Jewish person to get your head around this. Especially coming so soon after Jesus breaks all cultural norms of hospitality and fidelity to this own family. Really, Jesus is almost at the same base level as the afflicted man.
And Luke says, ‘yes’. This is Jesus. Who can control the weather and free people? All people. Jesus who is not just a human being but in some way God.
And Jesus frees the man from his torment – both mental and physical – and restores his dignity as someone made in the image of God. “clothed and in his right mind”.
What a great story.
Except – there are two sides to every story.
The people there are full of fear when they see what’s happened. They want rid of Jesus.
And its as though Luke, having lead us this far – turns directly to camera and says – so which side are you with?
Of course, I declared an interest at the beginning of this sermon. These events may seem weird, hard to explain, and perhaps make me fearful – but look at what’s happened. Look at how this man has been freed to be himself. I want that.
And of course, if I’m honest that’s also where I want the story to end. Jesus free me. Heal me. Make me whole. Let me be able to live an honest and open life, confident and trusting.
But it doesn’t end there. This healing, this freedom is not with the sole aim of making one person – me – happy.
This freedom is something much, much bigger. It’s something that becomes about reconciling humanity back to God through this Jesus. And for that we need to want others to become truly themselves. To not have to live metaphorically chained up, or physically naked, or in mental pain.
Luke has structured his narrative so that Jesus leads by example, then the healed man is sent off to continue the same work, and then again, the camera pans out and the author looks out to the audience.
Don’t you get it now? Just do it.
And you know, the amazing thing is that we do. In different ways and to varying degrees. Still. Two thousand years later, people are still being freed – with the help of the Holy Spirit now that Jesus is not here on earth. Free to be truly themselves. Free to join in with God’s work of reconciling all things through Christ. Free to go around with our own personal stories of how God has worked and is working in our lives.
But it’s your choice. Because of course, there are two sides to every story.
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