Worship Bulletin for August 2, 2020–Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

GREETING & WELCOME

L:         The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

All:     And also with you.

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS

L:         Blessed be the holy Trinity, ☩ one God, whose steadfast love is everlasting, whose faithfulness endures from generation to generation.

All:     Amen.

L:         Trusting in the mercy of God, let us confess our sin.

Silence is kept for reflection.

L:         Reconciling God,

All:     We confess that we do not trust your abundance, and we deny your presence in our lives. We place our hope in ourselves and rely on our own efforts. We fail to believe that you provide enough for all. We abuse your good creation for our own benefit. We fear difference and do not welcome others as you have welcomed us. We sin in thought, word, and deed. By your grace, forgive us; through your love, renew us; and in your Spirit, lead us; so that we may live and serve you in newness of life. Amen.

L:         Beloved of God, by the radical abundance of divine mercy we have peace with God through ☩ Christ Jesus, through whom we have obtained grace upon grace. Our sins are forgiven. Let us live now in hope. For hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

All:     Amen.

GATHERING HYMN           “All Who Hunger, Gather Gladly” ELW #461

PRAYER OF THE DAY

L:         Glorious God, your generosity waters the world with goodness, and you cover creation with abundance. Awaken in us a hunger for the food that satisfies both body and spirit, and with this food fill all the starving world; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. All:          Amen.

SCRIPTURE

Matthew 14:13-21

Word of God; Word of Life.

Thanks be to God.

MESSAGE

HYMN OF THE DAY           “By Your Hand You Feed Your People,” ELW #469

APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

PASSING THE PEACE

L:         The peace of Christ be with you always.

All:     And also with you.

HOLY COMMUNION

LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those

who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

forever and ever. Amen.

POST-COMMUNION BLESSING & PRAYER

L:         The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you and keep you in  his grace.

All:     Amen.

L:         God of the welcome table, in this meal we have feasted on your goodness and have been united by your presence among us. Empower us to go forth sustained by these gifts so that we may share your neighborly love with all, through Jesus Christ, the giver of abundant life.

All:     Amen.

BENEDICTION

L:         God, the creator, ☩ Jesus, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the comforter, bless you and keep you in eternal love.

All:     Amen.

SENDING HYMN    “We All Are One in Mission,” ELW #576

ANNOUNCEMENTS

DISMISSAL

L:         Go in peace. Serve the Lord.

All:     Thanks be to God.

POSTLUDE

“Food, not Fear”–Sermon for August 2, 2020

Matthew 14:13-21

Frederick Buechner once said, “Greed is the mathematical truism that the more you get, the more you have. The opposite of greed—the selfless love of God and neighbor—is based on the truth that the more you give away in love, the more you are.” The more you give in love, the more you ARE.

Let’s take a look at today’s story and its context. First, I’ve read that poverty was a huge problem in first century Israel. Many people were homeless and hungry. While the rich got richer, the poor got poorer. And though it starts to sound a lot like things today, the difference is that in Jesus’ day, there were no programs to help the downtrodden and hopeless. There was no SNAP and Medicaid and disability insurance. So, it’s highly possible that those who followed Jesus not only didn’t have homes to go back to; they may also not have had money to go into the towns to buy food for themselves. They are people that went in search of hope—and found it in Jesus.

The passage says that “when the crowds heard it.” It’s not clear whether that refers to hearing about Jesus going off by himself or hearing about John’s beheading. Perhaps they had been following John in search of hope and new life. When they heard about his death, they moved on to the one he baptized. Like lost sheep looking for a shepherd, they gravitated to those who weren’t satisfied by what the government was doing but pushed for justice. They gravitated to the trouble-makers and protesters because the way things were just wasn’t cutting it.

And yes, this passage follows on the heels of John’s arrest and beheading. He was arrested in response to his challenge of Herod’s immorality and corruption. Herod was having relations with his sister-in-law. And the fact that her daughter—his niece—‘danced in such a way that deeply pleased him’ for his birthday holds its own connotations. So when he drunkenly and stupidly promised the girl anything because of her dancing, her mother suggested she ask for John’s head on a platter. Herod was a weak and fearful man. He feared the crowds when he arrested John. He feared his guests, meaning he had to follow through with his promise. He feared Jesus, thinking that he was John resurrected and holding even more power than before. And where fear reigns, violence isn’t far behind.

Our world is filled with fear—legitimate and real fears. We fear sending our kids to school and exposing them to COVID. We fear keeping them home and stalling their education and our own sanity. Black people fear cops. White people fear losing our hold on the status quo. Churches fear losing members. Many people fear losing their jobs. And now we get to fear the seeds being sent in the mail. And we fear riots and military presence and martial law. And we fear those liberals who will let all sorts of drug runners enter the country; and we fear those conservatives who have no compassion for children hurting and hopeless at the border. And we fear those who would allow abortions and those who would ban abortions. And we fear China and Russia and mail-in ballots and countries meddling in elections. And we fear that Trump will be elected and we fear that Biden will be elected.

And we fear trans people in bathrooms. And we fear the suicides of our kids who are trans or gay or queer. And we fear and we fear and we fear. We fear paying off the kitchen and we fear more changes in worship and we fear not being able to keep up with the needs of church members—and we fear.

But where fear reigns, violence is close behind.

I wonder what the disciples were thinking when Jesus told them that the mass of close to 15,000 people didn’t need to go away and find their own food. When he said, “You feed them.” And they looked at their meager bits of food, not even enough for themselves. They had already planned to ration, but this was ridiculous. “We have nothing here!” they cry. “We’re no better off than they are.”

And Jesus reminds them, “You have me.” “But we haven’t had time to prepare. How will this work? What will we do? Think of the logistics for all of these people. And don’t forget, we have nothing here!”

It’s not the right time. It’s not the right place. We have nothing to offer. How many times have we spoken similar words in fear of what God is asking us to do? How is this going to work? Where will we get the resources? What if…what if we run out? What if someone doesn’t like what we offer? What if we can’t get to everyone? And what about us? What are WE to eat and have? And what about tomorrow? And the next day?

These are all questions of fear. What about us? What about our security? What about our people? What about our jobs? What about our health? Why should we worry about people on the other side of the border? Why should we worry about people we don’t know—people of other faiths and religions—people of other colors and ethnicities—people who want to change themselves and change the country—people who don’t want to honor our history? Why should we worry about them when our ‘own’ people are struggling and hungry? Why should we worry about those in prison when they put themselves there with their behavior? Why should we worry about black people if all they need to do is obey the law? Why should we worry about hungry people when all they need to do is get a job? Why do they have to be our problem, Jesus?

What about us? We have nothing here. We don’t have enough for ourselves. Greed is the mathematical truism that the more you get, the more you have. The opposite of greed—the selfless love of God and neighbor—is based on the truth that the more you give away in love, the more you are. ‘Selfless love of God and neighbor.’

Jesus doesn’t give in on this. He doesn’t say, “Oh, I’m sorry. You’re right. They should take care of themselves. You don’t have enough. Take care of yourselves first, and give away anything YOU have left.” No. He says, “You feed them.” And then he takes the food, blesses it, breaks it, and only after the people have their fill do the disciples get to gather the leftovers. And with Jesus in charge, there is so much more left over than there was to start with.

He looked on the people with compassion. He looked on the disciples with compassion. He looks on us with compassion. And he tells us to go. Feed. Give. Let go. Trust him. Love others. For the more you give away in love, the more you are.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

“The Kingdom of Heaven”–Sermon for July 26, 2020

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The kingdom of heaven is like a microscopic virus that, once set loose, makes its way throughout nations and peoples, tirelessly and explosively, forever changing previous ways of life.

Too soon? That’s pretty much what Jesus is saying—at least in the first two parables. You see, mustard was illegal for the Jewish people to plant. It flew in the face of the orderly design the Jewish people considered God’s plan in the midst of the chaos and disorder of the world. That one little seed would grow an ugly, unmanageable bush that would corrupt the whole field—and probably neighboring fields—kind of like dandelion seeds blowing in the wind.

Leaven—the way in which we use yeast for bread—was also considered a corruption, a mystery to which only women knew the secret. It was believed that their oversight of bread-making would include hiding leaven within the dough, causing it to rise mysteriously. And even a little leaven would change the nature of the whole batch—even 60 pounds of flour, as pointed out by Jesus’ parable.

Like corruption—like a virus—just a miniscule amount can effect everything that comes near it. But this how the kingdom works. It can infect everything it touches. It can go viral. It can leaven everyone who gets near it. It can grow into something absolutely unmanageable—wild and disheveled, providing nooks and crannies for a myriad of wildlife to find refuge in the storm, but not something to be cultivated or controlled.

The kingdom of heaven is like the promise of equitable treatment, pay, and rights being just beyond reach. When those who lack it see how close it is, they will sacrifice all they have—safety, family, friends, employment, and even life itself—to obtain it for themselves and future generations.

We see this in parades and protests, videos and blogs. People of color challenging assumptions about who they are and what they are about. People in the LGBTQ spectrum challenging accusations of immorality and lack of faith. All of them putting themselves and their wellbeing at risk so that those who come after them might have what they still do not. Respect. Recognition. That which is an assumption for those of us with privileges but what is essential and precious for those who are not afforded it.

This is what the kingdom of heaven is like—a priceless treasure worth even one’s own life in order to hold it in one’s heart. Or, perhaps, worth the life of one who loves us more than we can even love ourselves.

The kingdom of heaven is like a nation seeking to establish peace through war, power, military might, high walls, federal agents, imprisonment, punishment, and fear; and on discovering how compassion, assistance, interdependence, and support establishes a stronger foundation for peace, that nation changes its ways and develops international cooperation and support.

The kingdom of heaven is like one who collects and hoards and holds onto the various treasures of this world that eventually rot and rust and fade into the past. When that one, in search of more in order to feel whole, finally discovers their own worth is far more precious than the things they have, will give it all up in order to focus on the quality of their life rather than the quantity of their things.

Like one in search of fine pearls, when one finds the pearl that surpasses all others, that one will give up the search and use all the capital to invest in the pearl or the peace or the wholeness that proves itself instead of the many things that only barely pass for the real thing. The things that we often seek out and put our trust in will never bring about what we hope for. Our security is not settled by amassing an arsenal in our home. It is brought about by meeting the needs of those who would otherwise turn to violence in order to obtain it. Our soul is not made whole by sentimental collecting of those things and memories and ways that hearken to a time we remember as rosier than reality. Our soul is made whole through the real presence of love for one another and those in our midst.

The kingdom of heaven is like inviting people to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. And some days we will embrace the message and its bearer, and some days we will find it goes too far and will return to the world where we contribute to the weeping and gnashing of teeth because we don’t want the good news to be true for those we don’t accept.

Whether comparing it to the corruption of a mustard bush or the seeking of what we assume is valuable, the stories Jesus uses to describe the kingdom are supposed to be subversive, edgy, and a bit scandalous. It’s like saying, the kingdom of heaven is like a microscopic virus that, once set loose, makes its way throughout nations and peoples, tirelessly and explosively, forever changing previous ways of life.

Instead of thinking of the kingdom as some far-off place we go when we die, what if saw the kingdom the way Jesus describes it? It impacts our lives here and now. Like a virus, we can only take so many precautions. If we aren’t super careful—masks over noses, sanitizer within reach, wipes and bleach and disinfectant at every table—we just might catch it.

If we aren’t super careful—maintaining emotional distance from each other, sanitizing our love with platitudes, looking to bleach diversity so that everything and everyone is washed out, disinfecting all that is different so that everyone is as pure and holy as ‘we’ are—we just might catch the kingdom. If we don’t protect ourselves from the leaven mysteriously hidden in the flour, we may just rise up against injustice and speak out against corruption.

If we aren’t careful, we might just plant a seed of chaos with the sole purpose of offering shelter to those in need. If we don’t watch where we’re going, we just might stumble over the treasure of the good news and be compelled to let go of everything else we used to value in order to hold tightly to it. If we aren’t savvy, we may just invest our whole lives, the whole church, into mission and service and lose focus on taking care of ourselves.

If we don’t shield ourselves, we may just get caught in our own net and find ourselves hauled into the bold proclamation of Christ and the cross and lose ourselves in the message of good news meant for the whole world.

So, take care. Protect yourself from the salacious news of Christ. Because if we’re not careful, it will go viral, capturing everyone in its path and drawing us all into abundant life. And we all know what will mean—life will never be the same.

Well, maybe that’s what you want. But the rest of us are going to protect ourselves from that kind of chaos. After all, you know as well as I do that no one likes change. J (Let the reader hear the sarcasm.)

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

July 26, 2020 Worship Service

PARKING LOT WORSHIP LITURGY

July 26, 2020

GREETING & WELCOME

L:         The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

All:     And also with you.

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS

L:         Blessed be the holy Trinity, ☩ one God, whose steadfast love is everlasting, whose faithfulness endures from generation to generation.

All:     Amen.

L:         Trusting in the mercy of God, let us confess our sin.

Silence is kept for reflection.

L:         Reconciling God,

All:     We confess that we do not trust your abundance, and we deny your presence in our lives. We place our hope in ourselves and rely on our own efforts. We fail to believe that you provide enough for all. We abuse your good creation for our own benefit. We fear difference and do not welcome others as you have welcomed us. We sin in thought, word, and deed. By your grace, forgive us; through your love, renew us; and in your Spirit, lead us; so that we may live and serve you in newness of life. Amen.

L:         Beloved of God, by the radical abundance of divine mercy we have peace with God through ☩ Christ Jesus, through whom we have obtained grace upon grace. Our sins are forgiven. Let us live now in hope. For hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

All:     Amen.

GATHERING HYMN           “God of Grace, and God of Glory” ELW #705, vs. 1, 3, 4

PRAYER OF THE DAY

L:         Beloved and sovereign God, through the death and resurrection of your Son you bring us into your kingdom of justice and mercy. By your Spirit, give us your wisdom, that we may treasure the life that comes from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

All:     Amen.

SCRIPTURE

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

L: Word of God; Word of Life.

All: Thanks be to God.

MESSAGE

HYMN OF THE DAY           “That Priceless Grace,” ELW #592

APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father,

and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

L:         …Hear us, O God

All:     Your mercy is great.

PASSING THE PEACE

L:         The peace of Christ be with you always.

All:     And also with you.

HOLY COMMUNION

LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those

who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

forever and ever. Amen.

POST-COMMUNION BLESSING & PRAYER

L:         The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you and keep you in  his grace.

All:     Amen.

L:         God of the welcome table, in this meal we have feasted on your goodness and have been united by your presence among us. Empower us to go forth sustained by these gifts so that we may share your neighborly love with all, through Jesus Christ, the giver of abundant life.

All:     Amen.

BENEDICTION

L:         God, the creator, ☩ Jesus, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the comforter, bless you and keep you in eternal love.

All:     Amen.

SENDING HYMN    “The Lord Now Sends Us Forth,” ELW #538 (twice through)

ANNOUNCEMENTS

DISMISSAL

L:         Go in peace. Serve the Lord.

All:     Thanks be to God.

POSTLUDE

July 19, 2020 Evening Prayer Service

GATHERING

L1        The Lord be with you

All:     And also with you.

L2:      Let us pray…

            O God, we call. O God, we call.

            From deep inside we yearn.

            From deep inside we yearn.

            From deep inside we yearn for you.

All:     Amen.

Musician chants: “O God, We Call” (SP 30)

L1:      We gather to hear the promises of God, to pray for healing and for one another, to give and to receive the anointing of oil and the laying on of hands, and to be sent into the world as wounded healers and bearers of Christ’s love.

L2:      During the liturgy, the space will become dark, inviting silence and stillness. Our prayer is woven of scripture, silence, and song.

WORD

Mark 5:24-28

            Chant

Mark 5:29-32

            Chant

Mark 5:33-34

L1:      Word of God, Word of Life.

All:     Thanks be to God.

L2:      We are gathered to cry out together for healing.

L1:      We gather, as the crowd pressed in, to glimpse this Jesus.

L2:      We wait to touch the fringe of his clothing, to be made well, for in him is our only hope.

L1:      We come to this place, around this cross, to pray with and for one another. In the simple act of extending our hearts to one another, we find Christ Jesus reaching toward us and toward all who suffer, and making us whole.

Chant: “O God, We Call”

ANOINTING AND PRAYER AROUND THE CROSS

As the following is read, musician or another leader can light a candle and place in sand. Stand.

L1:      Come, you who yearn for hope and healing in the world.

L2:      Come kneel at the cross, you who wait to see justice and truth.

L1:      Come, you who yearn for the well-being of your body or soul.

L2:      Come, you who yearn for the health of a loved one.

L1:      With your praise and petitions, come.

L2:      When the music begins, we create a circle of healing around the cross. Our bodies, our hearts, all become part of our longing for wholeness.

L1:      Those who desire can come to place a candle in the sand and stand to pray at the cross. Take as much time as you need. If you lack words to pray for yourself, pray over those at the cross. When you are ready, write a prayer

L2:      At regular intervals, we will lift up the healing prayer together. As you pray, wherever you are, use your oil to anoint yourself or those who are praying as a reminder of the baptismal grace that heals and frees us every day.

Musician begins with simple healing songs in background.

            “Help Us See Your Tears” (SP 15)

            “Healer of Our Every Ill” (ELW 612)

In between songs, we will lift up the healing prayer written on the cards.

Silence after prayers and music have ended.

UNBINDING PRAYER

L1:      Please take the fabric that you have in your baggie. As you hold it, name your burden. What makes you feel sad, anxious, powerless, or trapped? Breathe into this question as you discern what’s weighing you down.

L2:      Now, write your burden on the fabric and wrap it around your hand. Pray for God’s help to let it go.

L1:      When you’re ready, unbind the cloth, tie it to the tapestry framework, and leave your burden behind — a symbol of your faith in God’s grace to help you live unbound.

CLOSING PRAYER

L2:      Let us pray.

We give thanks, O God, that you have come to heal us, and have called us to bring your healing to one another. Fill us with your Spirit, that we may be faithful to your call and grateful for your power. Send us into the world as healers in Christ’s name.

All:     Amen.

July 19, 2020 Service

Featured

PRELUDE

GREETING AND WELCOME

L:         The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

All:     And also with you.

            (a few words of welcome and introduction)

CALL TO WORSHIP

L:         Gracious God, we bring you the broken parts of ourselves.

All:      Hem us in before and behind.

L:         Creator God, we bring you the joyful parts of ourselves.

All:      Weave us together in hope and praise.

L:         God of new life, we bring you doubt and faith knotted up in our hearts.

All:      Unravel our doubt. Weave faith into our hearts. Draw us together and point us toward you.

L:         In hope and faith we pray. In hope and faith we worship.

All:      Amen.

OPENING HYMN—“O Sing to the Lord,” ELW #822, vs. 1, 2, 4, 5

PRAYER OF CONFESSION (from Unraveled)

L:         Let us pray.

All:     Gracious God, we admit that there are things we sweep under the rug— shame, self-doubt, mental health struggles, and our own insecurities. We know that is not what you want for us, for Jesus loved the healthy and the sick parts of everyone. With Jesus, there was no stigma, fear, or bias. God of creation, help us to love and live in the same way. Forgive us when we hate ourselves or distance ourselves from others, simply for being human. You long for better, and we long for you. Gratefully we pray, Amen.

PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION (from Unraveled)

L:         God of unending surprises, this life is a tapestry of moments woven together, and we long to be weavers of love. Today we gather and pray that you would unravel our bias. Unravel our assumptions. Unravel whatever it is that keeps us from you. And as you do, clear space in our hearts for your Word. We are listening. We are praying.

All:     Amen.

READING—Luke 8:26-39

MESSAGE

HYMN OF THE DAY—“You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore ELW #817, vs. 1, 2, 4

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (from Unraveled)

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.

Amen.

PRAYER OF THE PEOPLE

SHARING GOD’S PEACE

L: The peace of the Lord be with you always.

All: And also with you.

INVITATION TO THE EUCHARIST

LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father, who art in heaven,hallowed be thy name,thy kingdom come,thy will be done,on earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread;and forgive us our trespasses,as we forgive thosewho trespass against us;and lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil.For thine is the kingdom,and the power, and the glory,forever and ever. Amen.

POST-COMMUNION PRAYER

L:         The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you and keep you in his grace.

BLESSING

L:         God, the creator, ☩ Jesus, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the comforter, bless you and keep you in eternal love.

All:     Amen.

CLOSING HYMN—“Send Me, Jesus,” ELW #809, repeat each verse twice

DISMISSAL

L:         Go in peace. Serve the Lord!

All:     Thanks be to God.

POSTLUDE

“The Demons of our Lives”–Sermon for July 19, 2020

jesus-heals-a-demon-possessed-man

Luke 8:26-39

During WWII, Hitler captured France and kept the citizens from leaving the country. With one exception. A small French town on the border with another country kept losing more and more people. As Nazi soldiers investigated, it seemed that the local cemetery straddled the border. The people there had opened an ancient gate and held frequent ‘funerals,’ after which no one returned. Instead, they left through the gate and entered their freedom.

For this community, freedom was found among the tombs—among the dead. This is where we meet the man possessed by demons in the Gentile community on the other side of the sea. Just the very fact that Jesus crossed the sea to Gentile territory tells us something about where this story is going. It’s going places that should make us uncomfortable. Jesus is, once again, crossing boundaries. And, once again, those boundaries are social and political ones that, if we look too deeply, will get many of us worked up—ready to challenge and argue and defend. It’s a place where transformation happens, if we have the courage to go there.

So, let’s go there together. The first thing to note is that we miss a great deal of nuance with our 21st-century ears. During the time that Mark’s audience is encountering these stories, Roman armies have arrested a number of Christ-followers; they have destroyed the Temple and are destroying the people. After a number of years of quiet unrest, it all has blown up.

So, when the demons name themselves, they call themselves Legion. First century Christians would hear this in a particular way because a legion refers to an army of nearly 6,000 Roman soldiers, sent to occupy a country, dominate a people, and destroy a faith.

When first century Christians heard that the man was possessed with an unclean spirit, they would hear ‘occupied.’ Just as the Romans had occupied Israel, just as the Greeks before them and the Persians before them and the Babylonians before them and so on. And though Legion bowed before Jesus, they also confronted Jesus—a term of battle.

The man had been bound by shackles and chains—like the ones used to imprison the Apostles in Acts. He had been bound by his own people in order to manage and control his condition—to keep them (and perhaps him) safe from the demons that raged within him.

Pastor Linda Anderson-Little says, “Historical records show that in this region of Gerasa, Roman soldiers killed young men, imprisoned their families, and attacked and burned their cities and villages. Many of those buried in the Gerasene tombs, the home of this tormented and demon-possessed man, had been slaughtered by Roman legions.”[1]

There’s no getting around the issue—what the original audience of Mark’s gospel account would hear is an account of political and social annihilation. They would hear their own story in the story of this unnamed Gentile man. This man becomes, even for us, the occupied, the imprisoned, the turned away, the hated and feared. He is the terrifying voice of one that brings the possibility of loss far too close to home. He is the black trans woman who is beaten and left for dead; he is the addicted and the addiction; he is the prisoner released with almost no money, no housing, no transportation, and no job and yet expected to behave in an orderly and respectful manner; he is the hopeless longing for death. He is all the things we fear and all the things we cannot control, breaking his shackles and chains and wandering back into our communities, seeming to drag the dead with him.

He is death, itself. He resides among the tombs, naked and senseless—he is literally ‘in your face’ with shame and horror. He has the audacity to approach Jesus. And Jesus has the nerve to let him—to engage in conversation—to even show mercy to the demons, for what it’s worth. Because Jesus doesn’t shy away from death. He doesn’t shy away from the things we don’t understand and the things we fear and the things we try to hide and the things we try to beat out of people. He doesn’t hide from shame and nakedness. He isn’t afraid to face the horror of all that we hope to ignore, deny, and avoid.

Jesus doesn’t hide from you or me, either—from all of the ways in which we, too, embody Legion and all that its name represents. Jesus doesn’t shy away from our sin and shame, as if we are too far gone to be reached by the hands of love. Instead, he comes to us. Literally comes among us—Emmanuel—God with us. God chooses to reside in the midst of the mess we have created and walk with us through it—getting his hands and feet dirty. God walks with us into sin and death, holding our hands, speaking words of kindness and hope and healing, protecting us from the teeth of the monster, though not shielding us from the mirrors that show us just how monstrous we, ourselves, have become.

So, when you hear this story, whom do you connect with the most? Are you the man, so overwhelmed and bound by demons that you have forgotten who you are? Are you the disciples, standing on the sidelines, watching curiously and, perhaps, with a bit of scorn, as Jesus approaches yet another person he has no business dealing with, let alone healing and commissioning as a disciple? Are you one of the townspeople who, as soon as someone finds a healthier way of being, fight back in fear because you don’t know how to live in this new reality? Because a healthy demoniac leaves you without purpose and meaning once the scapegoat is no longer available? Are you Legion who, when given mercy by the gospel of Jesus the Christ, still self-destruct because you can’t imagine another way?

No matter who you are in the story, Jesus has come for your sake. He has come to heal your wounds, mend your heart, give you identity, and free you from that which imprisons you. He has crossed boundaries so that you no longer need to fear what or who is on the other side of those boundaries—whether a boundary of nation, of politics, of race, of sexual orientation, of religious belief, of addiction, or even of death. But he doesn’t stop there.

Jesus also sends you out to the places from which you came. He sends you back to your beginning so that you, too, can tell everyone what God has done for you. Imagine what that must have been like for this man—returning to his community, to his friends, to his family—to those who feared him and sent him away when they could no longer live with him. Imagine what it must be like for so many who are feared or have been sent away from their own beginnings because of who they are or what they did. Imagine them coming home to the ostracism and shame to try to tell the ones they had loved about how God transformed their hearts.

Imagine the courage it takes for someone to finally accept their identity and ‘come out’ to their family and friends. Imagine the courage it takes for a parent to send their children into an unknown country without being able to comfort them. Imagine the courage it takes to walk into volatile situations every day, hoping and praying you don’t have to draw your weapon. Imagine the courage it takes to get out of bed and face the day when your mind and body race each other for claim on your energy and your sanity. Imagine the courage it takes to make decisions on behalf of a community when, no matter what you decide, you know there will be unimaginable consequences.

But perhaps you don’t have to imagine. This is what it means to be truly human—vulnerable, open, and hope-filled. This is what it means to be a child of God—loved in spite of yourself, accepted even in our shame and nakedness, and sent as witness to a people often unprepared to hear the message of good news—good news for all people, even you.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

[1] https://soulstorywriter.net/196-regardless-of-politics-death-is-not-a-jesus-approved-immigration-strategy#!/ccomment