Monday, June 20, 2016

Chains and Shackles

This is a weekend for celebrating milestones.
Many of us had some type of graduation party to go to this weekend.
Many of us had children, grandchildren that were moving up a grade.
I had my week wrapped around my daughter Phoebe having her last day of elementary school.
Next year she will go to the middle school here in Concord.
On Thursday we went to a small ceremony at her school for the fifth grade.
The principle of the school got up and gave a speech celebrating all the great things that have happened to the students since starting elementary school.
They learned to read, to do math and science, to write, to make friends, to run, to sing, to draw.
Indeed much of my daughter’s time at elementary school was really great.
But I was also thinking about all the unpleasant things that happened to her, the things that we don’t talk about at graduations.
I thought about the times that other students treated her meanly.
I thought about those nights when she would sit at the dining room table crying because someone did something that was insensitive.
How she would come in last every year at the mile run.
How she never got selected to sing a solo at the chorus concert.
How hard it was for her to learn to read.
I thought about how hard it was for us as parents to know when to comfort her and when to push her.
My wife put up these pictures of Phoebe’s first day of kindergarten and her last day of fifth grade.
I love the picture of me walking Phoebe to school on her first day as a kindergarten student.
I think about that picture of me walking her to school and all the excitement of that moment, but also of all the worry of the moment.
Would she be ok?
Would others love her the way that I do as her father?
I wonder if other parents thought that this weekend as they watched their children graduate.
How hard it was.
How worried we were and are for our children as they go off into the world?
I was thinking that this is just the start of it for us.
My kids still have to go to middle school and high school.
They still have to go to college and get jobs.
And I am excited for the ways they will learn and grow, but I am also worried for them, and the evil they will experience in the world.

And that is why I would like to be able to take all the bad things in the world and keep it away from them.
I would like to put it someplace that won’t hurt them.
That is what is happening in our Gospel this morning.
And it is happening on multiple levels.
First, the very idea that Jesus would cross the sea of Galilee and go to the country of Gerasenes is crazy.
Jesus is going to gentile country.
The place is unholy, unclean; no Jewish person would ever go there.
In that place there are demonic spirits and herds of swine.
There are people who are unfit to come in contact with the people of God.
Jesus is risking life and limb to even step foot in that country.
People had done a good job of separating themselves from those they deemed bad.
And then there is the man possessed by demons.
He too is separated from the community.
He is off in the cemetery naked and out of his mind.
He is unsettling to the good folks of Gerasene.
And so in order to contain him they keep him under guard and bound with chains and shackles.
That is exactly what I want to do with evil I want to bind it with chains and shackles.
I want to put it someplace I can see it, and some place I can contain it.
I want to keep it with “those people”.
It is over there, and I don’t have to worry about it.

We once again were confronted this week with evil.
I feel that this is happening more and more.
We are confronted with someone not in their right mind.
Someone filled with hate, filled with self loathing that kills and injures lots of people.

I spent lots of this week thinking about what happened in a nightclub in Orlando.
I participated in a vigil with the Greater Concord Interfaith Council.
And I heard testimony of the pain that this shooting caused so many people.
Pain because it brings up what happens when we hate each other.
I have to tell you this is the third such vigil I have been at since becoming your pastor 7 years ago.
I am tired of going to vigils and reading names of people being killed by guns.
I am tired of going to vigils and reading names of people who are killed because someone doesn’t like the color of someone’s skin, or their sexual orientation, or whatever.

I know that we all want it to stop.
But the answer for me is not to retreat.
It is not to stop trying to be engaged in the world.
It is not to separate out “those people”.

Jesus has gone to Gerasene.
Jesus has confronted the demons, which are many and powerful.
And Jesus has defeated them.
Jesus is not afraid of what he will find among the tombs.
He is not afraid of a man that others have to chain and shackle.
Jesus knows that something else is better for them.

I am afraid for my children.
Because I read the names of the victims this Tuesday and the people killed where young.
They had their whole lives ahead of them.
They had parents who now have to grieve because their child was senselessly killed by someone filled with enough hate to do this.
I am afraid for my children on days like that.
I want to take them and keep them safe.
I want to try and keep the evil of the world in the tombs guarded and chained and shackled.
But I know that is not possible.
I’ve learned that in those six years that Phoebe was in elementary school.
I know that I can’t always protect them.

What I can do as their father is tell them about Jesus.
I can give them something that the world cannot, Jesus.
I can tell them that it is Jesus that goes into the scary places and makes them safe again.
Because we all know that even within ourselves we too have demons.
We have demons that we don’t talk about, or want other to know about.
We all here in this room today have someone we hate, if that word is too much for you, then someone we dislike.
We all have demons.
My children have them because their father passed on his insecurities to them.
And the only way I know to fight those demons is through Jesus.
I can’t keep them out.
I can’t lock them up.
They always come out.
But I know Jesus can do what I cannot.

And the best thing I can do for my kids, and for the world, is to declare how much God has done for me.
How God has helped me time and again fight my demons.
How God has helped me to work my way through the demons of others to find the good in them.
How God has given me the strength to see love even through the hate.
God has helped me have hope when everything seems hopeless.
How God has given me everything I have ever needed to overcome the powers of this world.

Today may Jesus fight your demons.
May Jesus help us all find our way to love and away from hate.
May we be in our right mind, like the man from Gerasene at the end of our Gospel this morning, so we can declare how much God has done for us!

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