“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most high God?” The demons plaguing the man possessed know who has come into their presence and they are scared. And well they should be. They know that their fate isn’t a good one; Jesus has come and Jesus means business; and just incase it isn’t clear, Jesus has EVERYTHING to do with these demons and with the man who has served as their host.
We don’t like to talk about demons in our denomination; we tend to be people of science who explain away possession; today we might say that the man has severe mental illness; and perhaps that is true; however, no matter what we believe about this man and what has ruined his life, Jesus has come into the picture and nothing is the same again.
Beloved, I am convinced that there is evil in the world. A war in Ukraine where innocent people are being murdered is just one example. Mass shootings involving the deaths of young children, people at Bible study, a church potluck, people going grocery shopping… there is no way to really explain away any of that without recognizing that somewhere, somehow there is evil that has been allowed to persist while most of us sit by parilyzed by our fear to do anything. Prayer is good. Prayer is very good. But prayer is only as good as the actions that it leads us to. Whether the issue is gun violence, war, poverty… our prayers must move us in some way to do something to help erase the evil around us, or our prayers are empty and meaningless. We have spoken so much about how God is love, and when we say that we mean a love that never ceases to act on our behalf. As those who are created in the image of God, who have God’s very Spirit moving in our being, we are called to love in the same kind of ways that Jesus loved; ways that are active and that make the world a better place. Love, as Jesus shows us in this story today, is active and can be difficult. He went into Gentile territory and healed someone who was suffering. It was a bold move for a Jewish man – and it was an important lesson that the kingdom of God is for everyone… in the end, the man who was healed became a disciple and everyone else ran for the hills wanting this healer and exorcist to leave them and their herds of swine alone. The healed man was given the commandment to go out and tell others what God had done for him, and so he also became an evangelist in a territory that wasn’t exactly friendly toward the good news.
That’s how it goes sometimes. Systems, no matter how dysfunctional they might be, will always try for stability even when that’s not what’s best for them. It’s true in families as well as in society. In a family when there is someone who suffers from addiction or mental health issues, the family does what is necessary to keep things going even if it means enabling the main patient to continue to be sick. If the sick person decides to get well, then the system rebels and falls apart because they cannot figure out how to live in the new reality of the health of the healed member. All the family secrets are now out in the open and other members of the family may not look as virtuous as everyone once assumed. It’s the same with issues in our culture. We resist right action because the health brought to bear by such action reveals the truth about who the rest of us are. Truth and light WILL find those dark places no matter what kind of smoke screen we throw up, whether we are talking about racism, gun violence, poverty, insurrection… all of these kinds of systemic issues keep all of us sick and unable to fully act in the love of Christ…and like the people who kept the demoniac chained up, taking the action to heal is difficult and painful and it might mean that everything about us changes as it did for him. I remember when I was a newly recovering alcoholic and I was told if I wanted to get well, I had to change everything about who I was… it was incredibly frightening; I had to come to terms with who I was and who I wanted to be; and I lost some people I loved. The path to wholeness was not and some days still is not an easy one; but it is one that is filled with light and God’s love.
Whether we believe in demons or not, there are forces of evil out there both in our personal lives and in our world at large; and I think they are always close at hand ready to tempt us away from love and right action by playing on our fears, on our need to be accepted by our associates, and maybe even by playing on our own faults like laziness. Evil is out there, waiting for us to make a mistake, or its out there masquerading as something that looks good or fun or even safe… What have you to do with me, Jesus the Son of the Most High God? Jesus has everything to do with us and with the decisions and actions we take. May we take actions that are based in the love of God; actions that bring the kingdom of God here to earth, even though we might be asked to leave comfortable places. Today we are being asked to declare how much God has done for us. What is it that we are being asked to do for God? How are we fighting against evil today? What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most high God?”
When I was in highschool, I was a music kid and a social sciences kid. I tried to run as fast as I could from math class, even though some of my favorite teachers were in the math department. When my guidance counselor told me I only had to take two years of highschool math, believe me when I say, that is all I took. So math is not my strong suit. Trinity Sunday is that Sunday feared by many because we all know that anything we say is probably wrong, and how do you explain three persons equals one God if you’re not good at math?
Well, the good news is that there probably isn’t an algebraic equation that will help. Perhaps this is where the social science geeks among us can shine. Or not.
One of the things that I *think* I would say to someone who asked me about this whole Trinity business is that it’s not about math but really about relationship. When we read the gospel of John, or John’s letters in the New Testament, we hear Jesus talk about abiding. Jesus abides in the Father, who will send the Spirit who will abide in us. What’s important here is that you and I have been brought into God’s internal life and into the relationship that the Trinity has. That’s a big deal. We are part of God’s life just as God is part of ours. There is no where that we can go where God is not. Bill said something the other day that really struck a spiritual cord inside me. We were talking about anointing, and how when we are baptized we are anointed with sacred oil called chrism. Kings are anointed with oil in the Old Testament. Kings are anointed to symbolize that they have been chosen by God. Jesus was anointed and prepared for his death as God’s chosen, we are anointed in baptism and sealed by the Holy Spirit as Christ’s own forever… what Bill said, that I had never thought of before, is that as we are anointed with oil outwardly, we are also anointed inwardly by God’s Holy Spirit, an “inward oiling” if you will. I found myself moved by that imagery. It felt to me as though there was this eternal spring of life pouring over and through us. In Romans, Paul tells us that this Spirit prays within us, sighing too deep for words – and you and I know that place where our prayers no longer have words, but just a longing to know Jesus and to feel God’s presence with us. And it is there… within us, as temples of the Holy Spirit where God’s very love is poured into our hearts through the presence of the Spirit.
Like the kings of old, we are chosen; chosen by God to be in relationship with God purely out of love. We were created because God’s love was so powerful and overflowing, creation happened and we were loved so much that God’s very image was placed on us… then in baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit is freely given to us so that you and I will never be separated from God again.
The life of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is one that is rooted in all truth and all love. The world around us will try to keep us from hearing and acting in that truth and love by promising all sorts of tempting things; wealth, power, esteem… and some of those false promises will come in small, personal ways as well, like addiction, lust, fear. None of this is news to any of us; all we have to do is watch the news or drive around our neighborhoods. We belong to Jesus whose Spirit lives within us in the love and creation of the Father. Every day is Trinity day for us; every day is a day where we are called to live into the truth and love of the Trinity as beloved, adopted children of God. While that love and truth are freely given, they are not cheap; God’s love and truth must compel us to act in the world as God has acted in the life of Jesus. His life was freely given, as our lives are given to his service.
I pray that each of us will find ways to bring God’s love and truth into the world. There is so much that needs to be done; if we each do at least a little, God will empower us to do what God has asked us to do. I would like to close with the motto of the Order of the Daughters of the King. I have always been very moved by this prayer, and I think it sums up our life as disciples pretty well.
For His Sake…
I am but one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
What I can do, I ought to do.
What I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do.
Lord, what will you have me do?