Becoming One or ManyProper 7C / Ordinary 12C / Pentecost +2
What is most important about our relationship with God and each other? We might say its faithfulness to the church. We might say it is living out the commandments. We might say it is treating one another as we want to be treated. We might say the most important part is to love God and love others.
In the Galatians passage we read today; Paul writes to the church at Galatia that was struggling with who could be a member of the Church established after Jesus’s death.
What was the most important moral question of the early church? The Jewish believers wanted Gentiles to become Jews first by following the laws of circumcision before they were allowed to become part of the church. Paul writes that the true heirs of Abraham are not those that keep the law but those that follow Christ.
Paul stresses that all are children of God in Christ, and all are clothed with Christ. No longer Jew nor Greek, no longer slave nor free, no longer male nor female; all are one in Christ.
The Jewish Christians knew the place of worship, the Temple, was a place of sharp distinctions. The temple was divided into a court of the Jews and an outer courtyard for Gentiles and other non-Jews. There were distinctions between males and females. Paul reminds the Galatian believers, “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed” Paul goes on to clarify that we were imprisoned and guarded by the law, as it was our disciplinarian. The Jewish people found security being bound by these rules. This is an image that will be repeated in the gospel story today.
This passage in Galatians that begins “we were in prison and guarded…” has a striking resemblance to the passage from Luke’s gospel.
Jesus left the Sea of Galilee and went through the land of the Gerasene’s. A man who lived in tombs outside the city and was demon possessed approached Jesus. The point of this story is not what is the emotional, psychosocial, or even spiritual component of what this man was dealing with. This man had lost his life. He had lost the ability to connect with the world. He was bombarded by a mass of challenges: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of him. The man is the ultimate outcast: naked, unpredictable, violent, and homeless; living as an outcast in a perpetual source of uncleanliness. “He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon, whether this is an image of the man being protected or the people protecting themselves, it paints a picture of people reacting to what they did not understand and feared.
When Jesus asked, “what is your name,” it was the many competing voices inside the man who spoke and said that they were legion, they were many. It is the synopsis of a person who doesn’t really know who he is. Who is speaking for him is the mass of confusion that is inside of him.
Jesus is about seeing the man as a whole person and helping him find his best self. We are deluded by so many voices, so many ends in themselves that we lose sight of God’s best in us. We are led astray by all those competing voices and purposes.
This story moves from the man and what Jesus did for him to the response of the townspeople. The townspeople find the man sitting at the feet of Jesus listening and learning and in his right mind. The people are filled with fear and want Jesus to leave. They had not been able to explain the demons, but now they cannot explain what happened to the man and don’t seem particularly interested in him.
We often prefer the insanity, disease, and disorder we know to the freedom we do not recognize. The collective challenge to us as the community of faith is that we often fail to see God’s best in each person because frankly it is easier to recognize the external labels which we attach to one another. The competing voices that try to identify us keep us from understanding God’s belovedness realized in us. It is your faith in Christ that distinguishes you.
How do we as the church live out this reality? G.K. Chesterton wrote, ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
In the midst of complex divisions, how do we live in unity as God’s beloved? In a society dramatically divided by income, “There is neither monied nor working class nor poor.” In a society polarized by race, “there are neither people of color nor people of no color.” In the season of elections “There is neither liberal nor conservative” In this land, we share, “there is neither native-born nor immigrant. There is neither male nor female” And to repeat Paul’s own words, For we are all one in Christ!