Isaiah 65:1-9 Psalm 22:18-27 Galatians 3:23-29
A man hated his wife’s cat, Mr. Peepers, so he drove the cat to a park and left him. When the man got back, Mr. Peepers was walking up the driveway. The next day, he drove Mr. Peepers to another town and booted him out. The man arrived home to find Mr. Peepers asleep in his chair. Finally, the man drove 20 miles away, turned right, then left, over a mountain, down into a valley, through a river, into a thick forest, and dumped the troublesome cat. Hours later, he called home to his wife: “Jen, is Mr. Peepers there?” “Yes,” said his wife. “Why?” “I’m lost, and I need him to give me directions home.”
What happens to us when we get lost on our faith journey? The church year offers us opportunities to refocus and reaffirm our faith. The season after Pentecost is not actually a season with a single common focus, but is simply the weeks between the Day of Pentecost and the First Sunday of Advent. These Sundays are sometimes called “Green Sundays” or “ordinary time.” Joan Chittister says that “ordinary time translates the life of Jesus into the very marrow of life itself.” These weeks hold the slower pace and peaceful quality of the summer months and the quicker pace and flurry of activity of the early fall. These are our “ordinary” days in which we live the Christian faith in our daily lives. Nora Gallagher says, “In Ordinary Time we are in our lives living out the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.” Living out the gift of the Holy Spirit….
Since the days of the early church, if not already in the life of Jesus himself, this passionate lament stained with human suffering has been interpreted as the prayer of the suffering Messiah. Like the story of the Messiah, the psalm moves from misery and suffering to assurance and thanksgiving, from abandonment and isolation to fulfillment and acknowledgement. The confidence in God displayed throughout the psalm
reminds the worshiper that tears and pain will be replaced by songs and celebration. Most of us will never know the shame and suffering of being penniless and virtually naked in a public place, as many of people of color who had been enslaved for years. We celebrate Juneteenth tomorrow as a national holiday for the first time.
Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas, a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. It’s growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Becoming aware of the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.
The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation did not act as a switch being flipped. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, freeing the enslaved people in Texas and all the rebellious parts of Southern states of the Confederacy. Enforcement of the Proclamation generally relied upon the advance of Union troops. Although the Emancipation Proclamation declared an end to slavery in the Confederate States, it did not end slavery in states that remained in the Union. For a short while after the fall of the Confederacy, slavery remained legal in two of the Union border states – Delaware and Kentucky. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when General Robert S. Granger, who had command of the Military District of Texas, issued a proclamation notifying the Negroes of Texas that they were free. People of color observe June 19th as the official day for the celebration of Emancipation from slavery- their Independence Day. This has not been a part of our American history taught in the past. I have heard it said that history is written by the victors not the victims. That is so true as we learn more and more of what our ancestors did for the sake of money and power. Just because we didn’t learn it back in our childhood, does not mean it isn’t true. Like most things in life, the stories of people of color are ever evolving. I encourage you to read about some of Juneteenth’s history and embrace the Spirit of Juneteenth. "All Americans can feel the power of this day, and learn from our history.” President Biden “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." -Desmond Tutu.
In this final section of Paul’s letter to the Church in Galicia, Paul concludes his argument for justification by faith. Life under the Law had been a life of constraint, a form of imprisonment. In a sense, the law served as a disciplinarian, a guardian of customs and a caretaker of traditions. With the coming of Christ, the faith-principle was established as the basis for justification. Like Abraham, Christ has demonstrated unqualified faith in God and became the one whom the divine promise was renewed. Thus, it is in Christ that all who live in faith are able to become God’s children, the true heirs of the promise.
The implication of this is that God’s original promise is firmly established; by being Christ’s children, we experience solidarity with Abraham, who was saved by faith. This text provides one of the clearest statements of Paul’s vision of a new humanity where all distinctions are removed. In Paul’s lifetime, as the debate in Galatians and Romans attest, it was the Jew-Gentile question that came up and Paul became the champion for a form of religious community in which faith was the fundamental requirement for all members. We begin to see the removal of sexual and social distinctions as an unrealized vision of the church emerges.
In Luke’s Gospel we hear the second in a series of four episodes in which Jesus works wonders: stilling the storm, healing a demoniac, healing a sick woman, and raising a dead girl. Jesus is in Gentile territory. He is now among Gentiles, among swine keepers (recall the swine in the far country in the parable of the prodigal). This account is of an exorcism, and although the demon possession is an extreme case, the usual pattern for an exorcism is practiced: the confrontation, the identification by name, the command for the demons to leave, the condition of the one freed of the demon, the effect on the observers. The demons didn’t want to return to Satan’s prison, and perhaps they think going into the animals and into the sea will put them beyond Jesus’ power. But, we remember Jesus’ power over the sea. The message is clear – there is no place beyond Jesus’ power to set free.
However, the story has a negative fallout: the people of the area ask Jesus to leave. Two reasons are in play here – fear and economic loss. The fear is prompted by the presence of the power greater than that of demonic spirits. The people had isolated the man with the demon and had given time and expense to guarding and controlling him. They had met the situation with tolerance and management of the demoniac among them. Now the power of God comes to their community and disturbs that way of life. Even when it is for good, power that can neither be calculated nor managed is frightening. What will God do next in the community? We are reminded of the fear created by Good Friday.
As for economic loss, it remains the case that the impact of Jesus Christ affects a community’s economy. The embrace of the gospel influences patterns of getting and spending. The Gerasenes aren’t praising God that a man is healed; they are counting the cost and find it to be too much. The healed man wants to continue with Jesus, but the behavior of his fellow citizens makes it clear he is needed in that area. Jesus asks him to remain and make his witness: “declare how much God has done for you.” The man did so, except he spoke of what Jesus had done for him. Given his experience, that is understandable, but Luke wants it clear that God is the source of all power and grace, Jesus bringing it to life.
So in thinking about how we live out our life of faith, what if we take up our cross and follow Jesus and let that set us apart from others. Christ calls us to a higher mission than to find comfort and tranquility in life. Love of family is a law of God, and love of country lives out that expression by loving others. We are called to remember that our commitment to God is more important. God should be our first priority. We are Jesus - to be present for the joys and sorrows. We are Jesus - to be there to learn, and stretch, and grow and love and be all that God is calling us to be.
We celebrate Father’s Day today. Our fathers give us life, and guidance and strength. In the last six months of my father’s life, I interviewed him using questions from a little book, For our children’s children. I remember there were so many questions I never would have thought to ask. What did you do on dates when you were a teenager? What music did you listen to? Did you have a pet? My father grew up on a farm and had a pet goat. He talked about pulling the goat around in a little red wagon. It is an image that stays with me to this date. Those questions, that time set aside for the two of us, helped me know my father better and helped me to begin the grieving process for this man I loved. We remember our fathers and grandfathers today.