“Doing a New Thing” (Luke 8:26-39) 6/19/22

            So last Monday I flew back to Dayton from Boston. The day started out with my first flight from Boston to Charlotte getting delayed. I was afraid I’d miss my connection to Dayton, so I thankfully was able to switch to another flight going through DC and all was well.  But then when the second flight was about 30 minutes from landing, we were told to secure the cabin early and prepare for some turbulence. The pilot told us there was a weather system over Dayton, but he was going to go around it and then come into the airport from the far side. A few minutes later I looked out the window and there it was. A nice big weather system that looked really cool from up in the sky. The cloud formations were amazingly dark gray and ominous-looking and I could even see streaks of lightening. But sure enough, we went around it with a few bumps and landed safely.

            But then just as we got to the gate and were ready to stand up and get our bags and get off the plane, the pilot told us to stay seated because there was some kind of emergency. Right away my ears perked up! Was it someone on the plane? Was there something happening in the terminal? What was it? I put my book down and tried to look up front to see what was going on.

            I bet you can relate to that sense of wanting to see and know what’s going on when you sense something out of the ordinary is happening. Things that are new and different get our attention quickly. First we are intrigued, but then fear can set in if we don’t know what’s going on and how it might affect us. Or else the sense of needing to know fades fast and we go back to business as usual, which is where we prefer to be. Things that are out of the ordinary are challenging, even if they are good things. Becoming a father is a good thing, but it’s also stressful. Graduating is a good thing, but it’s also stressful. Honor the experience of the black community by recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday is a very good thing. And yet evil and racism still make themselves known in horrible, life-shattering ways all around our country.  

            Let’s turn for a moment to the story about the demon-possessed man. It’s strange that’s for sure. But what helps to understand it is first of all to remember that back then, nobody knew what caused mental illness. Demons were much more real to people than any other explanation they could come up with for when someone’s behavior was out of the ordinary. And because they often didn’t know how to manage people with upsetting behavior, they would banish them and make them live outside the town, like this man who lived in the tombs, in other words the cemetery. The man knows who Jesus is. He calls him “Son of the Most High God.” Jesus asks him what his name is, and he says, “Legion” which interestingly is what a very large group of Roman soldiers was called. These demons then ask Jesus if instead of going over the cliff, he’ll send them into the pigs. They’re goners either way though, because the pigs rush over the cliff and drown in the lake. Strange story!

            But here’s the part we can relate to. It’s how the people react to the man once the demons are gone, and he is acting a bit more civilized. “They found the man sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.” Wow! Why are they afraid? What do they have to be afraid of? Not the man. Now he's just an ordinary guy. Are they afraid of Jesus? They hear the story about the demons and the pigs, and then what do they do? They ask Jesus to leave. Wow! That’s interesting. What’s going on here?

            Here’s what I think. Jesus was doing a new thing when he sent those demons into the pigs. He did something nobody else could have done. He cured the man. That’s amazing! What happens sometimes when God is doing a new thing in your life, in my life, or right here in our midst? Do we embrace it wholeheartedly? Or are we a bit skeptical? Are we tempted to choose the old ways over the new, even if the old ways aren’t so great? What do they say are the seven most popular words in the church? “But we’ve always done it this way!” Those townspeople had gotten used to the man with the demons. They put him in his place among the tombs and let him stay there. They’d always done it that way. They managed him pretty well. He was just part of the furniture at this point as far as the town was concerned. But then along comes Jesus and he shakes things up. He may have shaken them up in a good way for the man, but the people are overcome with fear and they ask Jesus to leave. As somebody put it, “some­times the terror we know is more tolerable than the peace we cannot imagine.”

            Today we are celebrating three occasions where God is doing a new thing. First, we wish all our fathers and grandfathers, Happy Father’s Day!  Being a father means always being ready to do a new thing, because your children are changing every day, and so the way you relate to them has to change. You can’t treat a teenager like a 5-year-old, and you can’t treat a young adult like a teenager. Personally, from a mother’s point of view, I think it gets harder as they get older.

In the reading from Galatians, there’s that idea about being under a guardian. That’s kind of like what a dad does. One of the roles of a dad is to keep his children safe until they’re old enough to be out on their own and make their own decisions. It’s kind of like what Paul writes in Galatians about having faith versus following the law. When you have faith, you don’t have to keep track of things so much because you trust that it will all work out. It’s kind of like the two different apps I’ve used on my phone to keep track of what I’m eating. The first one wants you to record everything single you eat so it can count every calorie you put in your mouth. That’s like following the letter of the law. With the second one, you don’t count calories at all. You just take a picture of your meal, and then you decide if you’re on the right track or not.

Fathers know that as their children get older, they have to learn to figure their lives out for themselves and trust their own decisions. Again, it’s kind of like what Galatians says:  “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.” When we’re young, somebody else sets the rules for us. But then we set off on our own paths, hopefully with faith that we are doing the right thing. So we are all children of God through faith and not through following a set of laws.

And that idea led to the very innovative (for that time) statement that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, our identity in Christ is more important than anything else that could divide us. Today we celebrate Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday last year. But it has been celebrated, especially in Texas, since at least 1866. On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order No. 3, informing the people of Texas that all enslaved people were now free. People celebrate Juneteenth with family gatherings and holiday meals and special community events like the virtual fireside chat with Ruby Bridges that was held in Troy on Friday night.

I believe God is always trying to do a new thing in the world and God is always trying and trying to get us on board with that new thing. And yet we resist. Again, some­times the terror we know is more tolerable than the peace we cannot imagine. And yet we have to keep trying to get on board with what God is doing, in our own lives, our neighborhoods, the church, our world. Let’s keep our eyes and ears open to the movement of God’s Spirit, or else we’re going to be like a deflated balloon. You can’t do much with a balloon when it’s like this. But blow it up and it will go far. When we let God fill us with the Spirit we can get through so much.

I hope our graduates celebrated with some balloons! Dottie’s granddaughter Erica Jenks, Maria’s grandson Aaron Ticknor, Dan Brown, and Zachary Sturgill have all graduated or will graduate in some capacity and so they are moving from one stage of life to another. Graduations are a big deal. They force us to acknowledge that life is all about change. When you have to hand in your dorm key or clean out your locker, you can’t help but realize that you’re not going back to that familiar campus or classroom. Instead you have to forge out on your own. But thanks be to God for the gift of faith, that our graduates and all of us too, can be confident that God is with us at all times, in all circumstances, and that we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Let’s end with this quote from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You'll Go!  “Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away!” What if we all took that to heart? Not just our graduates but all of us? That today is just as important as the day we last graduated. Because today God is doing a new thing and God wants us to get on board; to see the world with a fresh vision, filled with the Holy Spirit and ready for whatever lies ahead. Amen.