Sunday, July 14, 2019

5 Pentecost


Good Samaritan Sunday

July 14, 2019

Luke 10.25-37

+ For those of you who listen or read my sermons week in and week out, you know that my “themes” are pretty basic and consistent.  Yes, there might be variations on those “themes,” but, in their core, there is really only one main “theme” to everything I preach.

Love God. Love others. That’s pretty much it.

Which is why our Gospel reading this morning is an important reading.

No, I’m not being emphatic enough. It’s not just an important reading. It is, in my opinion, the single most important reading for us as Christians.

And, for those of you who have known for me for any period, you know how I feel about what is being said in today’s Gospel. For me, this is IT. This is the heart of our Christian faith. This is where the “rubber meets the road.”

When anyone has asked me, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” it is this scripture I direct them to.

When anyone asks me, must I do this or that to be “saved,” I direct them to this reading. This is what it is all about.

So, why do I feel this way? Well, let’s take a look this all-important reading.

We have two things going on.  First, we have this young lawyer. He comes, in all earnestness, to seek from Jesus THE answer.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What must I do to be saved?

This, after all, is the question we are ALL asking, isn’t it?

And, guess what? He—and all of us too—gets an answer. But, as always, Jesus flips it all around and gives it all a spin.  Jesus answers a question with a question. He asks the lawyer,

“what does the law say?”

The answer is a simple one.  And, in Jewish tradition, it is called the Shema. The Shema is heart of Jewish faith. It is so important that it is prayed twice a day, once in the morning, once at night.  Jesus himself would have prayed the Shema each morning upon awakening and again before he went to sleep at night.  It is important, because it is the heart of all faith in God.

So, what is the answer? The answer is,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, , and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and [love] your neighbor as yourself.”

Then, Jesus says this:

“do this, and you will live.”

I repeat it.

Do this—Love God, love your neighbor—and you will live.

This is what we must do to be saved.

Now that sounds easy. But Jesus then complicates it all with a parable.  And it’s a great story.  Everyone likes this story of the Good Samaritan.  We even commemorated it in our very first stained glass window.  After all, what isn’t there to like in this story?

Well…actually…in Jesus’ day, there were people who would not have liked this story.   In Jesus’s day, this story would have been RADICAL. The part of this story that most of us miss is the fact that when Jesus told this parable to his audience, he did so with a particular scheme in mind.

The term “Good Samaritan” would have been an oxymoron for those Jews listening to Jesus that day. Samaritans were, in fact,  quite hated.  They were viewed as heretics, as defilers, as unclean.  They were seen as betrayers of the Jewish faith.

So, when Jesus tells this tale of a Good Samaritan, it no doubt rankled a few nerves in the midst of that company.

With this in mind, we do need to ask ourselves some very hard questions. Hard questions we did not think we would be asked on this Good Samaritan Sunday.   You, of course, know where I am going with this. So, here goes:
Who are the Samaritans in our understanding of this story?

For us, the story only really hits home when we replace that term “Samaritan” with the name of someone we don’t like at all. Just think about who it is in your life, in your political understanding, in your own orbit of people who you absolutely despise. Think of that person or persons or movements that simply makes you writhe with anger.
Those are your Samaritans!
It’s not hard to find the names.
Now, try to put the word “good” in front of those names.  It’s hard for a good many of us to find anything “good” in any of these people. For us, to face the fact that these people we see as morally or inherently evil could be “good.”
We—good socially-conscious Christians that we are—are also guilty sometimes of being complacent. We too find ourselves sometimes feeling quite smug about our “advanced” or “educated” ways of thinking about society and God and the Church.  And we too demonize those we don’t agree with sometimes.
I, for one, am very guilty of this It is easy for me to imagine God living in me personally, despite all the shortcomings and negative things I know about myself.  I know that, sometimes, I am a despicable person and yet, I know that God is alive in me, and that God loves me.
So, why is it so hard for me to see that God is present even in those whom I dislike, despite those things that make them so dislikeable to me? For me, this is the hard part.  
The Gospel story today shows us that we must love and serve and see God alive in even those whom we demonize—even if those same people demonize us as well.  Being a follower of Jesus means loving even those we, under any other circumstance, simply can’t stand.   And this story is all about being jarred out of our complacent way of seeing things.

It’s also easy for some of us to immediately identify ourselves with the Good Samaritan.  We, of course, would help someone stranded on the road, even when it means making ourselves vulnerable to the robbers who might be lurking nearby.  
 Right?  
But I can tell you that as I hear and read this parable, I—quite uncomfortably—find myself sometimes identifying with the priest and the Levite.  I am the one, as much as I hate to admit it, who could very easily, out of fear or because of the social structure in which I live, find myself crossing over to the other side of the road and avoiding this person. And I hate the fact that my thoughts even go there.
See, this parable of Jesus is challenging and difficult.  
But… Something changes this whole story. Something disrupts this story completely.
Love changes this whole story.  
When we truly live out that commandment of Jesus to us that we must love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, we know full-well that those social and political and personal boundaries fall to the ground. Love always defeats our dislike of someone.  Love always defeats the political boundaries that divide us.  Love always softens our hearts and our stubborn wills and allows us see the goodness and love that exists in others, even when doing so is uncomfortable and painful for us.
Now I say that hoping I don’t come across as na├»ve.  I know that my love of the racist will not necessarily change the racist. I know that loving the homophobe will not necessarily change the homophone.  I know that loving the Nazi and the Fascist are definitely not going to change the Nazi and the Fascist.  
Trust me, I know that loving certain politicians (whose names I will not mention) is not going to change those politicians!
But you know what?  It does change me.   It does cause me to look—as much as I hate to do so—into the eyes of that person and see something more.   It does cause me to look at the person and realize that God does love this person despite their failings and their faults—just as God loves me despite my failings and my faults.
These are the boundaries Jesus came to break down in us.   And these are the boundaries Jesus commands us to break down within ourselves.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer asks Jesus.  And what’s the answer?
Love is the answer.   We must love—fully and completely.

“Do this,” Jesus says, “and you will live.”
It not only about our personal relationship with Jesus.  It not about accepting Jesus as our “personal Lord and Savior.”  That’s not what saves us.  He nowhere says that is what will save us.
What will save us?  Love will save us.  Love of God.  Love of one another.  Loving ourselves. Loving what God loves.  
Love will save us.  
Love will liberate us.  
Love will free us.  
Jesus doesn’t get much clearer than that.
Because let’s face it. We are the Samaritan in this story. We are—each of us—probably despised by someone in our lives. We, to someone, represent everything they hate.
The fact is, God is not expecting us to be perfect. God worked through the Samaritan—the person who represented so much of what everyone who was hearing that story represents as wrong. If God can work through him, let me tell God can work through you and me.
We do not have to be perfect. Trust me, we’re not perfect. And we will never be perfect.  But even despite this, God’s light and love can show through us.  
So let us reflect God’s love and light. Let us live out the Shema of God—this commandment of God to love—in all aspects of our lives.  
Let us love. Let us love fully and radically and completely.
Let us love God.  
Let us love each other.
Let us love ourselves.  
Let us love all that God loves.  
Let us love our neighbor.  Who is our neighbor?   Our neighbor is not just the one who is easy to love.  Our neighbor is also the one who is hardest to love.
Love them—God, our neighbor—and yes, even ourselves.  
And you and I—we too will live, as Jesus says.  And we will live a life full of the light we have reflected in our own lives.   And that light that will never be taken from us. 







Sunday, July 7, 2019

4 Pentecost


July 7, 2019

Luke 10.1-11, 16-20

+ Since I had a few days off this week, I was driving quite a bit. And, like many of you, when I drive, I think. I think a lot. And I was thinking about the fact that, for most of my entire career as a priest, I have always felt like an outsider. Outside the norm in the larger Church.

It seems my entire ministry, for the most part, has been a ministry under rebellion of some sort.

I know that might sound romantic and all. But it really isn’t.

I can say this: things are changing.  I can say that I am legitimately hopeful for our future here in the Diocese of North Dakota. I feel in my bones that a new age is about to dawn.  It’s a new era.

But…I still have to say this. I don’t really know how to be a priest in a new era. I have been THAT priest for so long—that rebel priest, that upstart priest, that priest who swam consistently against the stream.  That lone wolf priest.

It’s going to be strange and different to not be THAT priest anymore.  I’ll confess—and I am somewhat ashamed to do so—but I have gotten used to being the lone wolf. And not just me. All of us who do ministry here—all of you. All of us who do ministry here—and we are all doing ministry here at St. Stephen’s—might find ourselves susceptible to this “lone wolf” ministry.

Lone wolf ministry can be very dangerous behavior.  We really shouldn’t do ministry and be a lone wolf.  Doing ministry means doing it together.  And I know: my saying just that I am sounding kinda like a hypocrite here.

For any of you who know me and worked with me for any period of time, you know I’ve just done lone wolf behavior about many things.

Some may call it lone wolf.  I guess I always called it being independent.   Or maybe, sometimes, just impatient. Things have to get done after all.  And, when they do, you know, I’ll just do it. But, being a lone wolf is not a good thing.

In the Church it is never a good thing to be a lone wolf.  None of us can do ministry alone.  We all need to admit that we need each other to do effective ministry. And sometimes even the lone wolf admits that simple fact: I can’t do this alone.  The lone wolf sometimes has to seek help from others.

Ultimately, the lone wolf can be a bad thing for the church for another reason though.  Lone wolves can easily be led down that ugly, slippery slope of believing, at some point, that  it’s all about them. Now, I want to make clear: I never have believed that anything is about just me.  I despise that kind of thinking in myself.

For all my lone wolf tendencies, I have a pretty good support system around me—people who will very quickly tell me when they think I might be heading down that slippery egocentric slope.  And I have done the same with some of you who have done just that as well.

There is, after all, a difference, I have discovered between “lone wolf” behavior and ego-centric, it’s-all-about-me, I-don’t-need-anyone’s-help behavior.  And as you all know, I have no problem asking your advice and your opinions on anything before some of the things I’ve done as the priest of St. Stephen’s.  I might not necessarily heed those suggestions. But I appreciate them, and they are, for the most part, helpful.

But, I have known too many church leaders who have not had a support system like mine.  I have known too many church leaders who have  made it clear to me that it was because of them—because their winning personality, or their knowledge of church growth, or their years of expertise—that a particular congregation flourished.

It’s an unfortunate trap leaders in the Church fall into when they believe that a congregation’s success depends on them as individuals and their own abilities of ministry—and, mind you, I am not just talking about priests here. Lay leaders in the Church have fallen into this trap as well. I have known some of those lay leaders as well, trust me.   Maybe to some extent it’s true.  Maybe some people do have the personality and the winning combination in themselves to do it.  

But for those who may have that kind of natural personality, I still have to admit: it all  makes me wary.  It’s just too slippery of a slope. We are dealing with similar personalities in today’s Gospel.

In our Gospel reading for today, those seventy that Jesus chose and sent out come back amazed by the gift of blessing God had granted to them and their personalities.  They exclaim, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” In and of its self, that’s certainly not a bad thing to say.  It’s a simple expression of amazement.   

But Jesus—in that way that Jesus does—puts them very quickly in their place.   He tells them,

“do not rejoice in these gifts, but rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.”

Or to be more blunt, he is saying rejoice not in yourselves and the things you can do with God’s help, but rejoice rather in God.  The burden of bringing about the Kingdom of God shouldn’t be solely the individual responsibly of any one of us.  

Even Jesus made that clear for himself.  Just imagine that stress in having to bring that about.  

Bringing the Kingdom of God into our midst is the responsibility of all of us together.   It is the responsibility of those who have the personality to bring people on board and it is the responsibility of those of us who do not have that winning personality.

For those of us who do not have that kind of personality, it is our responsibility to bring the Kingdom about in our own ways.  We do so simply by living out our Christian commitment.

As baptized followers of Jesus, we bring the Kingdom into our midst simply: By Love.  We do it by loving God and loving each other as God loves us in whatever ways we can in our lives.  Bringing the Kingdom of God about in our midst involves more than just preaching from a pulpit or attending church on Sunday.  Spreading the Kingdom of God is more than just preaching on street corners or knocking on the doors. 

It means living it out in our actions as well.  It means living out our faith in our every day life.  It means loving God and each other as completely as we can.

But it does not mean loving ourselves to the exclusion of everything of else.  It means using whatever gifts we have received from God to bring the Kingdom a bit closer.  

These gifts—of our personality, of our vision of the world around us, of our convictions and beliefs on certain issues—are what we can use.  It means not letting our personalities—no matter how magnetic and appealing they might be—to get in the way of following Jesus.

Our eyes need to be on God.

We can’t be doing that when we’re busy preening in the mirror, praising ourselves for all God does to us and through us.    The Church does not exist for own our personal use.   If we think the Church is there so we can get some nice little pat on the back for all  the good we’re doing, or as an easy way to get us into heaven when we die, then we’re in the wrong place.  And we’re doing good for the wrong intention. The Church exists for God AND us.   

The Church is ideally-at its very best—the conduit through which the Kingdom of God comes into our midst. And it will come into our midst, with or without me as individual.

But it will comes into our midst through as us.

All of us.

Together.  

The Church is our way of coming alongside Jesus in his ministry to the world.

In a very real sense, the Church is our way to be the hands, the feet, the voice, the compassion, the love of God to this world and to each other.  But it’s all of us.

Not just me.

Not just you as an individual.

It’s all of us.

Together.

Working together.

Loving together.

Serving together.

And giving God the ultimate credit again and again.

Hopefully, in doing that, we do receive some consolation ourselves.   Hopefully in doing that, we in turn receive the compassion and love of God in our own lives as well.

But if we are here purely for our own well-being and not for the well-being of others, than it is does become only about us and not about God.   And in those moments, we are sounding very much like those 70 who come back to Jesus exclaiming, “look at what we have done!”

The message of today’s Gospel is that it must always be about God.  It must always be about helping that Kingdom of God break through into this selfish world of huge egos. It means realizing that when we are not doing it for God, we have lost track of what we’re doing. We have lost sight of who we are following.

So, let us—together—be the hands, the feet, the voice, the compassion and the love of God in the world around us. Like those 70, let us be amazed at what we can do in Jesus’ name.

But more importantly let us rejoice!

Rejoice!

Rejoice this morning!

Rejoice in the fact that your name, that my name—that our names are written at this moment in heaven.




Sunday, June 30, 2019

3 Pentecost


June 30, 2019

1 Kings 19.15-16,19-21; Galatians 5.1,13-25; .Luke 9:51-62


+ As you know, this past Friday, we got our tower for our bell. When I first saw that tower at the NDSU Newman Center, I wasn’t certain how this would all come to be. But, here we are. And it, weirdly, all fell into place in a very nice way. At least, so far.

Dinah Stephens, who donated the bell in memory of her children, Jada and Scott,  and I were discussing it on Friday, and she wrote me this note:

“Without your persistence the Newman Tower would not be St. Stephens. And of course you drove by it every day. The light went off in your head....hey!!! We could use this!”

Well, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but for any of you who have 
worked with me, at least on the Vestry level, I am not one to let grass grow under my feet. When I focus on something, I will work on it until either I succeed at it, or I have admit failure on it. And even, in those times when I have to admit failure, I still kind of find myself gnawing on the failure. Because it’s hard for me to give something up I’ve forced on. 

That’s not always a good thing, let me you. It’s actually weirdly obsessive.

But being at kind of person means I really have issues with what Jesus is telling the young man in our Gospel reading for today.  

We hear Jesus say, Let the dead bury their own dead.

It’s  an unusual statement.   It almost boggles the mind when you think about it. And yet….there is beautiful poetry in that phrase.

We hear this saying of Jesus referenced occasionally in our secular society.  It conveys a sense of resignation and putting behind oneself insignificant aspects of our lives.

Still, it is a strange image to wrap our minds around.

Let the dead bury their own dead.

What could Jesus possibly mean by this reference? Does it means we shouldn’t bury our loved ones?  Not at all.

This statement from him, as always, has a deeper meaning—and really only starts to make sense when we put it in the context of his time and who his followers were.  When we find this man talking about having to go and bury his father, and Jesus’ response of “let the dead bury their own dead,” we might instantly think that Jesus is being callous.   It would seem, at least from our modern perspective, that this man is mourning, having just lost his father.

The fact is, his father actually probably died a year or more before.   What happened in the Jewish culture at that time is that when a person died, they were anointed, wrapped in a cloth shroud and placed in a tomb. There would have been an actually formal burial rite at that times. And of course, Jesus himself would later be buried exactly like this.

This initial tomb burial was actually a temporary interment.  They were probably placed on a stone shelf near the entrance of the tomb.

About a year or so after their death, the family gathered again at which time the tomb was re-opened.  By that time, the body would, of course,  have been reduced to bones.  The bones would then be collected, placed in a small stone box and buried with the other relatives, probably further back in the tomb.

A remnant of this tradition still exists in Judaism, when, on the first anniversary of the death of a loved one, the family often gathers to unveil the gravestone in the cemetery.

There’s a wonderful liturgy in the New Zealand Prayer Book that I’ve used many times for the blessing and unveiling of a gravestone.

Which I think a very cool tradition personally. 

We actually oftentimes do a similar tradition in our own culture.  More and more, we find that often, there is a cremation and a memorial service within the week of death, but the burial or disposition of the remains takes place much later.

When my mother died, that’s exactly what happened. It was over four months between the time of her death and time we buried her ashes.

So, when we encounter this man in today’s Gospel, we are not necessarily finding a man mourning his recently deceased father.  What we are actually finding is a man who is waiting to go to the tomb where his father’s bones now lie so he can bury the bones.  When we see it from this perspective, we can understand why Jesus makes such a seemingly strange comment—and we realize it isn’t quite the callous comment we thought it was.  

As far as Jesus is concerned, the father has been buried.  Whatever this man does is merely an excuse to not go out and proclaim the kingdom of God, as Jesus commands him to do.

Now to be fair to the man, he could just be making an excuse, which really under any other circumstances, would have been a perfectly valid excuse.  Or he could really have felt that his duty as his father’s son took precedence over this calling from Jesus.  Certainly, in Jewish culture, this would be an acceptable way of living out the commandment of respecting one’s parents.

It doesn’t seem as though he doesn’t want to follow Jesus or proclaim the Kingdom.  He doesn’t flat-out say no.  He simply says, not now.  In a sense, he is given the choice between the dead and dried bones of his father or the living Jesus who stands before him.

Jesus’ response, which may sound strange to our modern, Western ears, is actually a very clear statement to this man.  He is saying, in a sense: “You are attached to these bones.  Don’t worry about bones.  Break your attachment, follow me, proclaim the goodness and love of God and you will have life.

Follow me

TODAY.

NOW.”

How many times have we been in the same place in our lives?  How many times have we looked for excuses to get out of following Jesus, at least right now?

We all have our own “bones” that we feel we must bury before we can go and proclaim the Kingdom of God in our midst by following Jesus.  We all have our own attachments that we simply cannot break so we can go forward unhindered to follow and to serve. And they’re easy to find.  It’s easy to be led astray by attachments—to let these attachments fill our lives and give us a false sense of fulfillment.  It is easy for us to despair when the bad things of life happen to us.

But the fact is, even when awful things happen, even then, we need to realize, it is not the end.   Despite these bad things, the kingdom of God still needs to be proclaimed.

Now.  And not later. Not after everything has been restored. Not when everything is good and right in the world.  Not after we have calmed down.

The Kingdom needs to be proclaimed NOW.

Now.

Even in the midst of chaos.  

Even when those crappy things happen, we still need to follow Jesus.

Right now.

Right here.

Our faith in God, our following of Jesus and our striving to love and serve others doesn’t change just because we have setbacks.

Rather, when the setbacks arise, we need to deal with them and move on.   But if those setbacks become an excuse not to follow Jesus, then they too become a case for  letting these dead bury their own dead.

So, in a sense, we find ourselves confronted with that very important question: what are we, in our own lives, attached to?

What are the “bones” of our life?  What are the attachments in our life that cause us to look for excuses for not following Jesus and serving others?

For not loving, fully and completely.

What things in our lives prevent us  from proclaiming the Kingdom of God?

Whatever they might be, just let them be.

Let the dead bury their own dead.

Let’s not become attached to the dead objects of our lives that keep us from serving our living God.  Let’s  not allow those dead things lead us astray and prevent us from living and loving fully.  Let us not become bogged down with all the attachments we have in this life as we are called to follow Jesus. Let us not let them become the yoke of slavery we hear Paul discussing in his letter to the Galatians.

Rather, let us take this yoke, break it and burn it as Elisha did, as an offering to our living God.  But let us remember that this is not some sweet, nice, gentle suggestion from Jesus.   It is a command from him.

“Let the dead bury their own dead. But as for you, go, and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

We proclaim the kingdom, as we all know, by loving God and loving each other. You can’t proclaim the kingdom—you can’t love—when you are busy obsessing about the dead, loveless things of your life.  

We who are following Jesus have all put our hands to the plow.  We put our hands to that plow when were baptized, when we set out on that path of following Jesus.

Now, with our hands on that plow, let us not look back.

Let us not be led astray by the attachments we have in this life that lead us wandering about aimlessly.

But, let us focus.

Let us look forward.  

Let us push on.

Let us proclaim by word and example the love we have for God and one another.  

And when we do, we are doing exactly what Jesus commands us to do.

Now is the time.  

Let us proclaim that Kingdom and making it a reality in our midst. Amen.



Sunday, June 23, 2019

2 Pentecost


June 23, 2019

Galatians 3.23-29;Luke 8.26-39

+ I had an interesting discussion with someone this past week about the sermon I preached last Sunday. Last Sunday, I preached, in passing, that I was a Christian Universalist. In other words, I do not believe in an eternal hell.  I do not believe that the God that I believe in and love would send anyone to a metaphysical hell for all eternity.

This person had an issue with that belief of mine.  She even quoted to me several passages of scripture that she felt showed she was right. Which actually helped my position, especially when we examined early Jewish understanding of the afterlife at that  time.

And then she made an assumption. She said, “well, since you don’t believe in evil…”

Oh. I said. Nope. I never said I didn’t believe in evil.

I say it emphatically:

Evil DOES exist.

Now I’m not saying I believe in actual supernatural devils or demons.  But, the fact remains, whether we believe in actual demons or nor not, whether we believe in Satan as a goat-like horned figure with a forked tail or not, what we all must believe in is the presence of actual evil in this world. Whether that evil is natural or supernatural, or both, the fact is, there is evil.   Even good rational people know that!

Just look at the news, depending on what news source you follow.

And those of us who are followers of Jesus have promised that we must turn away from evil again and again, in whatever way we encounter it.   Whenever we are confronted with evil, we must resist it, we must stand up to it.

In our Baptismal service, these questions are asked of the person being baptized (or their sponsors):

“Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?”

And…

“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”

And, as our Baptismal Covenant asks us asks us:

“Do you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”

Evil is something we must stand up against however we encounter it.  Whether we encounter it as a spiritual force, or whether we encounter it in other forms, such as racism, sexism, war,  or homophobia,  as followers of Jesus, must stand up against evil and say no to it.

And let me be really blunt here:

Treating migrant children like animals is EVIL.


Allowing children to sleep on floors, under tin foil sheets, in col, dirty conditions is evil.

Separating children from their parents and families is evil.

I can’t believe I even have to say it in this day and age, and in this country.
And if you don’t think it’s evil, if you don’t think it’s anti-Christian, I, as your priest, invite you to take a long, hard look at your soul. And repent.

And maybe make an appointment with me this week for confession.

In a sense, what we are being asked to do is what Jesus did in this morning’s Gospel.   We are being compelled, again and again, to cast out the evil in our midst, to send it away from us.  This is not easy thing to do.   It is not easy to look long and hard at the evil that exists in the world, and in our very midst. But it is very easy to believe that evil wins.

The story of Jesus is clear: good always defeats evil ultimately.  Again and again.

It might not seem like it sometimes. Often times, evil wins the battle. But, be assured, evil never wins the war.  

Christ, as we heard in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians today, breaks down the boundaries evil in its various forms sets up.

In Christ, we hear, there are no distinctions.

In Christ, all those things that divide us and allow the seeds of evil to flower are done away with—those issue of sex, and social status and nationality and race are essentially erased in Christ.

And we, as followers of Jesus, so prone at times to get nitpicky and self-righteous and hypocritical and divide ourselves into camps of “us” versus “them,” are told in no uncertain terms that those boundaries, in Jesus, cannot exist among us.

Those boundaries, those distinctions, only lead to more evil.  To less love.

But even then, even when evil does seem to win out, even when there are moments of despair and fear at the future, there’s no real need to despair.

Even in those moments when evil seems to triumph, we know that those moments of triumph are always, always short-lived.   Good will always defeat evil ultimately.

Yes, we find the premise of good versus evil  in every popular movie and book we encounter.  This is the essence of conflict that we find in all popular culture.  

Good versus evil—and good always wins.

But, for us, as followers of Jesus, this is not fiction.  That is not a fairy tale or wishful thinking.  It is the basis on which our faith lies.

When confronted with those spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, we must renounce them and move on. And what are those spiritual forces of wickedness in our lives?  What are those forces that divide us and cause conflict among us?  What are the legion of demons we find in our midst?

Those spiritual forces of wickedness are those forces that destroy that basic tenant of love of God and love of each other.  Those spiritual forces of wickedness drive us apart from each other and divide us. They harden our hearts and kill love within us.

When that happens in us, when we allow that to happen, we cannot be followers of Jesus anymore.  We cannot call ourselves children of a loving God.  When that happens our faith in God and our love for each other dies and we are left barren and empty. We become like the demoniac in today’s Gospel.  We become tormented by God and all the forces of goodness.  We wander about in the tombs and the wastelands of our lives.   And we find ourselves living in fear—fear of the unknown, fear of that dark abyss of hopelessness that lies before us.

It would be easy to feel like that in the wake of the violence and terror we experience in this world.  It is early to feel that way when confronted with the reality of detention camps on our borders.

But when we turn from evil, we are able to carry out what Jesus commands of the demoniac.   We are able to return from those moments to our homes and to proclaim the goodness that God does for us.

That’s what good does.  That’s what God’s goodness does to us and for us.  That is what turning away from evil—in whatever form we experience evil—does for us.

So, let us do just that.  Let us proclaim all that God has done for us.   Let us choose good and let us resist evil. Let us love—and love fully and completely, without barriers.  Let us love each other. Let us love peace and nonviolence.  Let us cast off whatever dark forces there are that kills love within us.

And let us sit at the feet of Jesus, “clothed in and in our right mind,” freed of fear and hatred and violence and filled instead with joy and hope and love.