Who You Call When You Ain’t Got No Other Hope? A Sermon on Orlando, the Garasene Demoniac, and God’s Mercy

Who You Call When You Ain’t Got No Other Hope? A Sermon on Orlando, the Garasene Demoniac, and God’s Mercy June 20, 2016


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A reading from Beyonce’s visual album, Lemonade:

“How are we supposed to lead our children to the future? How do we lead them? Love. L.o.v.e. love. Halleluia, thank you Jesus. I just love the Lord. That’s all I got. period. When your back is against the wall and the wall is against your back who you call? Who you call? You gotta call him.  You gotta call Jesus, because you aint got no other hope.”

This Gospel according to Beyonce rang through my head all week as I was flummoxed and angry and maybe a little despondent that I had to YET AGAIN stand before you guys and find something to say after another mass shooting and hate crime and during the one year anniversary of a mass shooting and a hate crime.  Because I am out of things to say.  I am out of wisdom.  And I am out of patience.

And then a couple days ago our housemate Ty tagged me in a FB Post.  It was a 4 panel comic strip called Coffee With Jesus. A Pastor says “I don’t have answers for people right now, Jesus” to which Jesus responds “You don’t have to have answers for everyone, Joe” To which the pastor understandably says “But they’re looking to me” And Jesus just says “then make sure you get em to look to me, Joe”

We have a million ways to respond and reflect and react outside of this room to the victimization of already vulnerable communities (Hispanics, queer folks, African-Americans, Muslims etc) and we have been doing that. We’ve reached for what do – so we’ve gathered for vigils for Orlando and Charleston.  We’ve shared memes and articles on social media, we’ve contacted legislators and gathered with our friends and checked in on each other.  But here in this room, here is where we look to Jesus. Here is where we reach for the Prince of Peace like we aint got not other hope.

Fortunately our reading for today is a useful one. The Garasene Demoniac. A story about an outsider to whom Jesus drew close. A man who lived naked and raving mad in the tombs, alienated from the “townspeople”.

It’s perfect because I myself feel very much still in the tombs at the moment, as I imagine many of you do as well. Seemingly trapped in our feelings that nothing will change. And besides, you know, being among the tombs can come to feel safe, at least safer for some folks than being among the townspeople.  Yet, this week, as I reflected in my darkness, I kept seeing this very particular image.

I kept seeing an image of this madman from Garasene’s filthy, arm, scabbed over and wounded from shackles and indignity, reaching out from the tombs and reaching toward Jesus on the shore that day.  Maybe in his pain and alienation he didn’t feel ready. Maybe he didn’t feel hopeful yet….but he could see Jesus from where he stood and he reached out. And this evening, listening to our song, our prayers and our alleluias, I see us reaching our own dirty, injured arms out toward Jesus.

Because when your backs to the wall who you gonna call? You gotta call Jesus because we aint got no other hope.

And to be clear, the hope we see in the Garesene demoniac isn’t there because he reached out on the shore that day…the hope we find in this story  is that Jesus was already approaching him even before he reached out. Jesus was already in his boat approaching the tombs, because Jesus is familiar with exile.

I read a blog post this week by Ben Moberg that I shared with you all that is so perfect, part of it went like this:

“And this is what I love about God: The Church has driven out LGBTQ people for centuries, with an especially intense malice over the last several decades, and in response to this, God just says, okay, fine, we’re good out here. Where you chase my people, I will be with them. Where they gather, I will be there. Clubs. Conversations. Protests. In lament and anger and tears and laughter and way too many drinks. I will be with them and make this right for them. I will love them more fiercely for their wounds. I will draw them close. I will know them and they will know me. They will tell you my name.”

People of God, this is why it is both comfort and protest but never vapid religiosity to speak the name of Jesus in times such as these. Because he is who draws close to the vulnerable, the hurting and the exiled.

And as a Christian this is what I confess: that tombs are real but that they are not the most real thing.  As a Christian this is what I confess: that God comes close to those who are cast out. God comes close to mad men in graveyards. God comes close to Hagar cast out of Abraham’s house and gives her a well to nourish her child Ishmael from whom a great nation was promised. God comes close to the terrorized.  And despite what we think is best, God brings God’s terrible mercy to even the demons.  The most disturbing part of the story of the Garesene Demoniac is not his naked tomb living lifestyle, it’s the fact that when Jesus commanded the demons to leave this man, the demons begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss but into a herd of pigs instead. And Jesus agreed.  What the hell, Jesus? He was merciful TO THE DEMONS. To the demons!  That’s super disturbing to me.  And yet, if I’m honest I have to say that this is exactly the kind of saviour I need.

Because what I really want to do in moments like these is to hide a divide.  That’s my instinct.

But the poison that created the disease cannot also be the medicine that cures it. And dividing people up is what creates white supremacy and religious extremism and purity systems and homophobia and segregation and bathroom laws and yet what is  my reaction to all of this? Blame the bad people who vote differently.  Blame the bad people who think differently.  Blame the bad people who post on social media differently.  Blame allies who aren’t reacting in the perfect way they should. My instinct is to  immediately divide people up even further until I’m entirely alone.

I mean, I may want a vigilante saviour. But what I need is a saviour who brings a swift, terrible mercy.  What I want is a dividing saviour – who will draw the same lines I would draw…but what I need is a saviour who makes us one, a saviour, who lifted up, draws all people to himself.  Not just the worthy. Not just the lovely, the likely and the lucky. All people. I need a saviour who commands me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me – pray for those whose hate blinds them to their own goodness and the worth and dignity of others.  And I need a saviour this merciful because it is I who needs this much mercy.

Because while Tombs are real and Jesus knows this, he will also be the first to say that tombs are no place to stay.

Now, as your preacher I have to be honest. I don’t 100% feel hope yet…. I don’t.

I don’t 100% feel hope yet …..but I can see it from here.  I don’t feel forgiveness yet …..but I can see it from here.  I don’t want God to show mercy to my enemies yet ….but I can see it from here.  I don’t feel joy right now… but I can see it form here.  I can see it. It’s coming for me and for all of us. Drawing near to us as we reach for it.

Because resurrection is about the most stubborn thing in the world.

So, there is nothing wrong with being in the tombs for a bit.  I am there with you. But we are not meant to stay here.  Jesus is approaching us. Which sounds trite, but the thing is, he is not unfamiliar with tombs. He himself knows what it means to be afraid, to survive hate. I don’t think I could trust him otherwise. But he knows that hate may have won a battle but that love will win the war.

The image of an arm reaching out kept morphing for me all week until finally I saw Jesus. See, because God is not bound to the confines of linear time, I believe that in those three days after his crucifixion that Jesus was in the tomb, during those 3 days when, as the creed says, Jesus descended to the dead – he pulled them from their graves. Like that amazing icon of Easter where Jesus is pulling people out of their tombs and the troparion I love to quote – Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life.

So the image I finally saw this week was that of Jesus in his own tomb descending to the dead and reaching his pierce hand toward the hands of Simon Fernandez, Mercedez Flores, and Peter Gonzalez-Cruz and the others who died on the floor of the Pulse nightclub. I believe Jesus, when he descended to the dead, reached his merciful arm out to those who died on a blood soaked bathroom stall in Orlando last week and pulled them up to glory.

So How are we supposed to lead our children to the future? How do we lead them? Love. L.o.v.e. love. Halleluia, thank you Jesus. Amen.


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