I am always amazed by the “what happens next” as God reveals for us a new way of being, both as individuals and as a community. That is what the story is for us today.
This morning’s bible passage is Holy Vision of transformation. An individual is restored to wholeness. But beyond that, there is great potential for Holy Revisioning for an entire community. But wait… how can that be? Because there in this morning’s reading, two thousand years ago among the Gerasenes, this community of Gentiles… those others… people who were not Jewish, we find ourselves with Jesus, but definitely not in familiar territory.
In fact, what was Jesus thinking? Why are we HERE? Why are we not where we “should” be, back in Galilee? Why are we in this place on the other side of the sea… the other side of what is familiar? Why are we here? Maybe an even better question is: Why is God HERE?
Geography is important in the book of Mark. One of the aspects of the book that I like is that it is full of “crossing-overs,” with the Sea of Galilee cast as a character in the plot. Subsequently, “where” we are situated today is important. Because before we crossed over into today’s territory, the author had us gathering with Jesus and his followers along the western shore. There, in Galilee (the west side of the sea) was Jesus’ home turf. There on the “other side,” the west coast, we find cities such as Tiberias, Magdala, and Capernaum. It is on THIS side, along the sea, in chapter 4 we read that Jesus “began to teach them many things in parables (Mark 4:2).”
Thus I ask you to hear these words to start our journey:
The kingdom of God is as if…
Before we even cross over to where we are today, Jesus spends time with his followers telling them a rapid-fire series of parables. Stories, words, parables… all sorts of new ideas about heaven on earth… God With Us… here… now… that amazed… and apparently confused… those around him.
There, comfortable, full of new possibilities, Jesus shifts the story. He immediately takes us across the Sea of Galilee “to that other side” of the Gerasenes (Mark 4:35). Now, there isn’t time today to go into that awful overnight boat trip, but you might remember the story. Do you remember the time when Jesus slept through the storm that scared the bejesus out even the most seasoned fishermen? Well, that is where we find ourselves the story today. Just past all of those parables, and just out of the storm.
But now we are HERE, in yet another unravely place. And it is HERE that we encounter God’s Holy Vision for the world today.
For the past 2 months, we have been questioning, and contemplating, and celebrating the ways in which the Holy weave into our lives at Memorial UCC. We have talked about our lives, as individual beings lovingly created by God. We have reflect on the ways in which we are a faith community who wildly weaved our diverse individual-ness-es into God’s beautiful tapestry of life. We have acknowledged life becomes unraveled, while at the same time we become woven together. This is our journey. That Divine “what happens next” through which God reveals for us a new way of being. This is our story today. As people who follow Jesus in the 21st century, this path can be both amazing… and complicating…
And now we find ourselves in uncharted territory, a place where it seems God SHOULD NOT BE—BUT IS, and this can come as a surprise. Here we encounter the man who had been labeled a demonic. We meet him in a place so personally disconcerting, that his only resort is to respond with verbal outbursts and self-harm. This is a place laced with institutions that lock away those who are unwanted. In all of the cracks and crevices of this place, there is lurking fear. Fear for ourselves. Fear for the other… and of the other.
But yet, the kin-dom of God is as if…
This is a place in which God’s vision suddenly becomes a living parable. This is an enacted Statement of Faith that arises out a rebellion rumbling the depths of a person’s soul. This being, this person, this man who had been pushed to the edge, beyond the edge, refused to be kept in shackles. This person who was shunned, declared unclean… this child of God who did not have a system of community support… broke free in Jesus’ presence. A moment of radical grace.
The kin-dom of God is as if…
In his article, Encountering the Gerasene Demoniac in an American Prison, Isaac Villegas writes about the maximum-security prison where he teaches. There, he finds a place “where lives are colonized by an oppression so overwhelming that the dehumanization becomes internal to a person’s psyche. Physical torments become ghostly voices.”
The kin-dom of God is as if…
Villegas sees Jesus’ arrival on the shore of Galilee as “an act of healing that involves restoration to his community. But… His city refuses to celebrate his freedom; the residents do not welcome him. They see him, clothed and in his right mind, and they are afraid (8:35)…”
But yet the kin-dom of God is as if…
Villegas goes on to note that for the Gerasenes: “The people fear this healed man, now that demons no longer possess him and chains no longer shackle him. The liberated man sees familiar faces on the streets, memories of juridical trauma, the inhospitable gaze of the public. Panic spreads through the population at the sight of the unbound prisoner. Their sense of safety is unsettled, their lawful order disturbed. What guarantees that he won’t relapse into delinquency? Once a demoniac, always a demoniac.”
The kingdom of God is as if…
The kingdom of God is as if God is showing us… asking us… telling us… imploring us… to be amazed and rethink what can happen next.
This is a living parable. A Statement of Faith that God can, and will continue to challenge us. And that the kin-dom of God is as if… as if we are all woven together.
I want to end by sharing with you the Affirmation of Faith that was included in the materials for our Unraveled sermon series. See if these words, these images of God, Jesus, Spirit, and Church, stir and amaze…
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
I believe in God, the Great Sewer—
Who weaves us together in community,
Collecting our loose ends and turning them into belonging.
I believe in the Holy Spirit—
Who hems us in before and behind,
Catching us when we fall and writing us into God’s holy narrative.
And I believe in Jesus Christ—
Who loved and claimed the people society had thrown out, refusing to disregard anyone as scrap.
I believe God has woven part of God’s self into the fiber of our being, making us inherently worthy of love and belonging.
I believe the fabric of my life is weak, that I am prone to error and need God’s handiwork to remind me of love.
I believe in the Church, and that like a quilt of different fabrics, She is designed to be as diverse and beautiful as God’s creation.
And I believe that when life unravels, God is there to stitch my wounds together, to hold me in the palm of God’s hand, to tell me of love, And to invite me into a new journey.
Reflection on Mark 5:1-20 offered November 17, 2019
 Villegas, Isaac S. “Encountering the Gerasene Demoniac in an American Prison.” The Christian Century, September 13, 2017. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/encountering-gerasene-demoniac-american-prison?reload=1573923241183.
 Affirmation of Faith from Words for Worship by Sarah Are | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org. pg 3.