Jesus was all over diversity in a time when no one else was. He actually believed God includes outcasts, sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, even some priests and church leaders. He’s a nonconformist. Now he’s opposite Galilee. Keep the word “opposite” in mind. That means he’s where he’s not supposed to be. He’s in the territory of unclean Gentiles.
They have a sign on the opposite side that reads, “Welcome to Gersa – a Fun, Semi-friendly, Gentile city. But watch out for our crazy naked guy.” He’s a clothing-optional chap, usually opts out of his clothes. He lives in a cemetery. He’s demon-possessed. The townspeople bought him an exorcism – didn’t work. They’ve called Orkin – didn’t work. Now they post a guard. They chain him, but he can break loose. So far, he just harmlessly runs into the wild. Maybe one day he won’t come back.
You know the story. Jesus calls out his demon, named Legion. A legion is a military unit of thousands. He’s home to thousands of demons. They prefer transferring their existence to a herd of pigs rather than returning to Satan for rehabilitation. Problem – the pigs would rather drown than live with demons. Pigs swim like they fly.
The pig farmers are unimpressed as they watch their livelihood dive into the lake, sink and drown. The farmers go round up a mob, return. Do you think they could feel a little happy for this poor man? He’s dressed now, sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening – like a regular disciple. Could we not get a little shout-out for God? No – the people fear Jesus’ power. “Go back where you belong.” Some people feel more at home with their demons than with God.
I realize talking about demons with you is a risk. We are Episcopalians, after all. We prefer medical terms, look it up in the DSM V – give him a diagnosis, some therapy and pills, and he’ll be fine in the morning. Indulge me. I am going to assume there are things we can’t fully explain – like evil or demons.
As I said earlier – Jesus attracts a diverse crowd. Sometimes he goes and finds them. Jesus sees what we don’t. He sees people dead before their time, held by forces they can’t control. This guy’s friends re-named him Demoniac. He’s a victim of identity theft. He’s no longer a human to his friends.
Do you ever hear demons? Here’s how they sound: “You’re not good enough; we wanted a boy, not another girl; you’re not our kind; you can never do anything right; you’ll never succeed.” Even some churches get demons, casting out people they label as sinners, evil, “God hates fags, so get out here – quit contaminating us; you’re from the wrong part of town.” Being at Gersa, I imagine Jesus knows how that feels.
Enter Jesus. Like he did at Gersa, as he does with us. He calls our demons out. He gives us back our true identity. He renames us – “Beloved of God.” He dresses us so we’ll look alike. He clothes us – in himself, Paul says – Christ’s love and forgiveness. If the clothes don’t fit yet, we believe we can grow into them. If you’re not sure you’re ready to try on Christ, you are most welcome to figure it out for yourself with us. We don’t have all the answers either. We just point to Jesus and try to love God and each other.
At St. Paul’s we celebrate hospitality. All are truly welcomed – especially sinners and seekers – because all of us are. All are truly welcomed. And that’s not always easy. I’m waiting to see a bumper sticker that reads: “I suspect God even loves people who hate – but I wouldn’t take my chances.” Someone once asked me if everyone agrees with each other here. I thought, “That’s interesting. I haven’t seriously thought about that. ” I seriously doubt all of us agree or think alike. We’d be pretty boring. I think we are here and together because we agree about Jesus. We strive to see each other as he sees us – God’s beloved children – and we want people to know they are, too. Just love God and each other, and God will do the rest.
That means we take Paul seriously – no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor, gay or straight, lay or ordained. That’s who we are – and you occasionally may be offered sweet tea and pimento cheese here. Diversity looks like that.
We’re diverse, not because of different colors, or accents, or places of origin, or life experiences – or we all have the same gender orientations. We’re diverse because God’s given us different gifts. All are welcomed, because all are needed. We bring our diversity of gifts to fulfill a common mission: to help others learn their real name, get real identity returned – “You are God’s beloved child. No kidding – that’s really who you are.”
This past week I received a copy of a letter written by Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, an organization he killed recently. You may have never heard of them. He tried to make gay people straight, using fear and threats in God’s name. He realizes it doesn’t work. Some clients left the god of anger he gave them – and God period, and the church. Some ended their lives – because they couldn’t conform to what Chambers said are God’s standards. This past week he got saved. Now he and his family get threats. God gave him a new calling, he says – to work for peace and the common good – creating civil conversations about gender and sex – partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope. He says from a faith perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we are all prodigal sons and daughters. That’s a resurrection of sorts – God raising to a new life. That’s healing. Chambers’ vision is healed. He can now see, not only that he was wrong, but that God loves everyone. That’s really quite miraculous. I read that, and thought – Jesus must be on the opposite side again, still casting out our demons.