We are one in Christ Jesus

Second Sunday after Pentecost: 1 Kings 19:1-15a; Psalm 42; Galations 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

All the other prophets have been killed, and Jezebel wants to kill Elijah. It’s not surprising that he runs and hides. An angel provides food and water for him, and tells him where to go. The word of the Lord tells him that the Lord is about to pass by. The Lord, the story says, was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. The Lord appears with the “sound of sheer silence”. The Lord tells Elijah to return home, but you know he is being protected.

The Gospel reading from Luke tells the story of the man of Gerasene who was possessed by demons – so many they called themselves “Legion”. This man was frightening: he was naked, he lived in caves and not in a house. Like many unhoused people now, he spoke erratically and his behavior was unpredictable. He would be locked up and then “break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds”. I see men and women like this in my city neighborhood: there are places where they camp, sometimes even in the alley behind my house.

I am struck by how calm and kind Luke’s story is. Jesus talks to the demons, and he is even kind to them: he allows them to take over the herd of swine rather than “return to the abyss”. (It’s not so kind to the herd of swine, but that’s another story!) And he’s kind to the man: there’s no drama, just a calm engagement with a problem. After the demons leave, the man is dressed, and “in his right mind”. And people are terrified!

Paul tells the Galatians that their relationships with each other are fundamentally changed by baptism: all the things that would divide them are erased: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” We do not live in a world without distinctions, and Christians (myself included) are often inclined to posit one idea or another as the mark of a “real” Christian. But that’s not what Paul tells us. We are one in Christ Jesus. Sometimes I think that is the hardest message in the Bible!

Today is Juneteenth, a new Federal holiday that marks the day enslaved people in Texas learned that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, issued more than two years earlier. The celebration, kept alive in Black communities particularly in the South, acknowledged how important freedom is. We celebrate that freedom, but also acknowledge the enslavement that made emancipation necessary. It is a good time to remember that in Christ, all boundaries are dissolved. The boundaries we police come not from Jesus, but from the world.

There’s so much here: the kindness and protection of the Lord, the breaking down of barriers and divisions. These stories challenge us to be kind, to simply do what is needed, and to avoid creating false distinctions. All of these are hard. What we need to do more often is to try to listen for God’s voice in the sound of sheer silence.

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