September 5, 2021
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
Beloved, sometimes our calling is to return to our people, and together to follow the Holy’s call on our lives. Other times, the still small voice calls us to go, to follow Jesus where the Spirit is leading. We join a new band of travelers on our spiritual journey.
This morning, I can’t tell you how much I love and treasure being back with you all after a month away on Bereavement leave. Yesterday, my heart overflowed with joy working alongside so many of you, as we prepared our sanctuary to gather again inside. It feels so good to be back among you, after having time away to grieve and dive deep into therapy and family matters. I am filled with deep gratitude that, after that experience, I get to return, to be with you all, enjoying the changing seasons as I walk alongside you as I continue to heal.
In my life, so often when I have found healing, a deeper wholeness, I’ve also found myself on the move. When I came to terms with my father’s addiction to alcohol, when I came out, when Eric and I moved here from Philly, these were all times where being faithful meant leaving. But now, for this chapter of my life, following Spirit means being with you all, even as I am changed.
And yet, as I return, I’m so sad that Leigh is being called away from being my partner in ministry here at MPC. To be clear, she and Sam and the kids will continue to be a part of this beautiful messy family of faith. But Leigh’s time on our staff team has come to an end, as she’s been called to serve North Avenue Mission’s Red Shed Village. She will be journeying alongside folks who have experienced being unhoused, walking with them as they move into micro shelters, and building community as folks move towards permanent housing. It’s beautiful to me to watch as Leigh has found new wholeness among us, and now goes to bless our neighbors through her loving, fearless presence with others, following Jesus as God turns this weary world upside down through justice and love.
When Leigh came to us, she and her family were realizing they needed to leave the Faith tradition they grew up in among our Evangelical siblings. Leigh found wholeness through her study of theology and questioning. Jesus said “go.” So, she and Sam showed up among us. They found wholeness, and that meant making a change. I like to think that while serving here, we were a place where you encountered moving more wholly into who you are and encountered Jesus in new ways. Today, as we send you with our blessings and gratitude for your ministry among us, I see just how much you’ve grown and transformed, how the new wholeness you’ve stepped into has prepared you to love our neighbors on North Ave so well.
Sending and receiving, staying and leaving, it’s all messy and hard and full of such beauty. Because when we individually experience transformation, healing, new wholeness, our relationships, families, place in community, they all change. Sometimes that means we stay, or return, and other times we’re called to head out on new adventures, into new chosen families of Jesus’ siblings.
That’s why our scripture reading from this morning gives me such comfort. This is an odd story for so many reasons, not the least of which is Jesus’ confusing commissioning of the man healed of a legion of torments. He’s set free, both from all that haunts him, but also from the painful rejection and shackling of his neighbors. For this man, if Jesus had accepted his invitation to have him leave to journey with the Disciples and Jesus, life would have been so much easier. For his neighbors, it would have been so much simpler; they could send him on his wag, and life could go back to normal, back to the way things were. Instead, he returns to his people, transformed, liberated, and the community has to come face to face with how they treated this Beloved Child of God. And just in case this wasn’t uncomfortable enough, Jesus makes it especially awkward; no one’s going to mention the couple thousand dead pigs? Jesus shakes up the community. Jesus sees that the community that once shackled this man, had some work to do. And so, the healed man is commissioned to teach them about what this new wholeness he has found is all about, to be a reminder in their midst of God’s liberation and making of all things new. It’s a different turn of events; we’re so used to hearing stories of Jesus disrupting people’s lives and calling them to come and follow. It would be easy to miss that sometimes Jesus calls folks to stay and shake up their communities.
Beloved, sometimes Jesus is going to call you to change it all up and go. And other times, you’re going to experience transformation, and your very presence will amaze those who used to think they knew you.
None of us are the same people we were when this pandemic began, least of all me. As we begin to regather inside, we may notice that some people are folks we don’t remember from the before times; new friends who have joined us. Others might continue to join us from home. And still others, may be called away to different churches or practices. And it can be hard to say goodbye or take it personally if we don’t see our friends as much as we might have thought we would. For some of us, wholeness is going to mean being physically present in this community more than we have been able to. For others though, worshipping from home is going to be a way to be closer to Jesus, the way for us to be where Jesus is transforming our lives. There’s no right way, just the way the Holy is calling you. And for some of you, that might mean that it’s time for you to journey on, to a new faith community or new spiritual practices that call you from our fellowship. For others, we might be seeing you a lot more, or you may be involved in new and surprising ways.
That’s what I find so inspiring about my friend here, Leigh. We get to send you into this new call, while staying your family of faith. You get to go, and stay, sharing with us what Jesus is up to. You have loved us so well, and I am so thankful that the folks at Red Shed Village are blessed with your presence. Now, we get to minister to you, supporting you as you love and serve the Lord. You’ll be doing hard work, coming face to face with a Legion of systemic injustice. We’re here to hear your stories, to care for you, as you’ve so faithfully cared for us. You’ve found wholeness from the systems that oppressed you as a woman so clearly called to lead in the Church, and to continue to confront systems of oppression. May we be a blessing to you, as you have been to us.