A Sermon for 19 June 2015 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost
A reading from the gospel of Luke 8:26-39. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Amid all the disturbing news this week – not only the deaths that have occurred in this congregation, but also the tragic events in our nation and world; did you catch the clip about Phoebe? Phoebe is a dog from Fort Worth, Texas. In the past 18 months, Phoebe has logged 236 visitation hours at eight different hospitals in the Fort Worth area. Though it looks simple, her owner attests Phoebe received extensive training for a year and a half before being set loose in local hospitals. Phoebe is a golden retriever, known to be an extra sensitive dog bread. But she’s not entirely unique. It’s long been understood that dogs have incredible healing powers. Let one curl up near you for a little bit. As it settles in, possibly nudging your hand with its wet nose to ensure you will stroke its beautiful coat or pat its head right above those milky chocolate eyes, it’s likely your heart rate immediately will drop. Before you know it, any swirling anxieties within will calm. With such a beautiful creature relaxing at your side, most every human being will find their own cares melting away.
It’s the idea behind Phoebe and a dozen or so other dogs like her who are known across the country as the Comfort Dogs. A news clip shows Phoebe walking the halls of a hospital. Whether she chooses a patient to visit based on her intuitive senses, or if the nurses direct Phoebe and her owner to a particular room; before you know it the patient in the bed is smiling, laughing, and enjoying the consoling warmth of Phoebe who is surrounding the patient with her curative powers. Patient after patient attests: “You just forget about what’s wrong. It’s like your whole attention turns to them.” . . . Phoebe and others like her are trained by Lutheran Church Charities. The news clip went on to report that Phoebe and her owner were boarding a plane early the next morning to spend the week as a comfort in hospitals and counseling centers in Orlando, Florida. They’re heading to the very places that have been flooded with broken-bodied and broken-hearted people since last Sunday’s horrific mass shooting. The clip reported that Phoebe and the other Comfort Dogs have been present everywhere from Sandy Hook, to Boston after the marathon bombing, and now to Orlando. What they do is simple really, though so incredibly profound. In the midst of such intense, inexplicable pain; they show up. They calmly greet a grieving survivor. They sit as a loving presence at the person’s side for whatever pats and hugs the dogs may receive. What they offer is a calming, comforting presence in times where words will never be enough. Somehow they allow people who haven’t been able to breathe since the crisis, finally to exhale. It is as if the night terrors evaporate. The bottled-up emotions can flow. The pain – at least momentarily – disappears. Where humans have done the worst to one another, Comfort Dogs provide an oasis in the midst of heart wrenching despair. (www.wfaa.com/mb.life/phoebe-the-comfort-dog-helping-orlando-victims-243718287 and WFAA-TV, Tuesday 14 June 2016). Comfort Dogs come alongside us to help us heal.
Though I love dogs and can see how they would offer uniquely restorative powers, I find it kinda of disheartening that its dogs that end up in such places of mass destruction instead of us people. In the gospel of Luke especially, we learn of a Lord who went wherever he was needed to heal. In the story before us for today; it’s out of his homeland, Galilee. Beyond the set boundaries of his people. Off to the neighboring country of the Gerasenes he goes. There a man, hardly man-like anymore, has been left to live in the tombs. He’s out of his mind from all that has possessed him. Demons, the text reads. And we might understand such malevolent forces that can overtake us yet today. Commentators often translate ancient ideas of demonic powers as the kinds of maladies that leave us chronically ill today. Maybe the man has something akin to paranoid schizophrenia. Or could it be more like the turbulent inner turmoil in which many of us end up from living a lifetime wracked by incessant worry? Or self-hatred. Or debilitating fear. Maybe the demons that drive us today to live less human-like and more as shade-like dwellers in the land of the dead are arrogance or ignorance or greed. Whatever it is that takes us over so that we, in the language of the PCUSA’s “A Brief Statement of Faith,” “violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care” (PCUSA Book of Confessions, 2014, p. 303, line 35-38). . . . To one who has experienced this, our Lord goes.
It’s a great comfort to know that Jesus shows up in our greatest hour of need. But it’s even more important for us to realize that he went about such ministry so that we now will. It’s all over the gospels and the rest of the New Testament too. One of Jesus’ primary ministries was that of healing. And he passed that ministry right along to his first disciples. Luke chapter nine reads: “Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal . . . They departed,” verse six continues, “and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere” (Luke 9:1-2, 6). When they return a short time later, they fall all over each other telling Jesus about all they had done. Later in the New Testament, after Christ’s resurrection, we can read about the people they healed. Everywhere they went, they found a way to restore the bodies, minds, and spirits of those in need. To cure the dis-eases people experienced in the living of their days. That’s healing – making something whole once again. It’s a ministry entrusted to us too. As we look around the world today, we might just see it’s the primary ministry God is calling us to now – in the families and neighborhoods and nation in which we live. Even to those beyond our comfort zones – those outside the boundaries we tend to set.
I know, our rational minds might right away kick in, if not to question how Jesus and his friends so long ago actually healed all sorts of people, then perhaps to wonder how in the world we’re supposed to do the same kind of healing today. I wouldn’t dare advocate something other than the miracles we can experience due to modern medicine. Like, I’m not about to go home and stop taking the pills my doctor has prescribed me to take as I continue to heal after shoulder repair surgery. I’m still going to do the necessary exercises and follow the surgeon’s advice. And I suggest you all listen to your doctors as well. . . . But I just can’t get Phoebe out of my mind. The hugs she received in Orlando this week. The people whose physical, emotional, and spiritual pain was eased as the Comfort Dogs descended upon their hospital rooms and showed up at the trauma counseling center. Remember their simple, but o so profound gift? Presence. Calm. The comfort of just sitting with another when no words ever will be enough. We can do that. Every last one of us can get out of ourselves long enough to just be with another who feels like the whole world is falling apart. We can listen to the silence or the sobs that might arise. We can wait as an oasis until one who hasn’t been able to breathe since the crisis, finally finds themself able to exhale. We can help to heal, can’t we? Offering a powerful, curative peace wherever it is needed. After all, if Phoebe and her furry friends can do it, certainly we can too. Following the lead of our Lord as he goes outside his typical territory to heal the one who meets him there. . . . As Christ’s hands and feet in the world today – a world we know to be in such deep, deep need – it’s our turn to take up our Lord’s ministry of healing. May God’s Spirit guide us as we go to the side of whoever needs it!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2016 (All rights reserved.)