Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Our name is Legion. A story of pain, anger, fear ... and love" - a sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 8 and 10 am on Sunday June 19, 2016.

Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"
What is your pain?

What is your anger?

What is your fear?

Notice I didn’t say “Are you hurting? Are you angry? Are you afraid?” That’s because pain, anger and fear are part of the human condition. Rene Descartes said “I think, therefore I am” but he could just as easily have said “I feel, therefore I am.” In fact, that might have been closer to the truth.

So what is your pain?

Your anger?

Your fear?

What are you doing to it?

What is it doing to you?

We are created in God’s image as creatures of deep feeling. Our feelings are so deep – not just pain, anger and fear, but love, pride, joy and more – that often those feelings are overwhelming… overpowering our rational selves and with them our illusions of security, of control over our lives.

There is a rawness to human emotion. There is a rawness to our pain, our anger, our fear. They can scare us in ourselves and they can scare us in each other. They are so scary that often, far too often, we try to pretend they aren’t there. We bury them deep, deep down inside. Shove them deep into a closet. Pretend that everything is just fine … and when we do that, we create a lie that imprisons all of us. Because we look at everyone else … and they seem to have it all together.

No pain.

No anger.

No fear.

We look at everyone else … and they seem to have it all together. And we begin to believe a lie … that something is wrong with us. That our pain. Our anger. Our fear. That we’re the only one who has them.

And we don’t want to be different.

We don’t want to be weak – which is what it feels like.

And so we pretend.

We pretend for each other and we pretend for ourselves.

We pretend that we’ve got it all together.

We pretend that the pain. The anger. The fear. We pretend that they aren’t there.

We pretend because we don’t want to be different.

We pretend because we don’t want to be cast out.

We try to bury them deep.

But they don’t go away.

They become the untreated wound that never heals.

The loneliness that never feels a loving touch.

The chasm between us that is never bridged.

The awful truth that is never told.

We try to bury them deep.

But they don’t go away.

And sometimes when we are too tired to keep them down, they burst out, attaching themselves to whatever has brought them out.

Sometimes when we are confronted with a person or action or situation that triggers that pain, that anger, that fear in us, those feelings burst out.

They burst out in ways that divide us one from another, building walls and casting out.

They burst out in ways that turn us against one another, preemptive strikes against these reminders of our own hidden humanity.

They can burst out in a sharp word or a caustic email.

They can burst out in fight, and they can burst out in flight.

In the extreme, the pain, the anger, the fear can burst out as they did at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando a week ago this morning.

And always, when they burst out, they divide and they multiply.

The outbursts, large and small. The demonizations and spewing of venom. They divide us one from other. They multiply the pain, the anger, the fear.

And they perpetuate the lie that we’re on our own, that we’re not all in this together. They perpetuate the lie that indeed we are not made for one another. That we do not need one another. That indeed we are not each other’s salvation.

What is our pain?

What is our anger?

What is our fear?

What are we doing to it?

What is it doing to us?

Do we dare to name it?

Do we dare to feel it?

Do we dare to believe that it could be healed?

This morning, we hear the story of Jesus meeting a man who had “many demons.” We are not told what they are, but it is clear from his cries that he is in deep, deep pain. It is clear from his broken shackles that he was incredibly angry. It is clear from how he had been cast out of his community – sent to live in the tombs -- that he was someone of whom everyone was very, very afraid.

And Jesus, God made human, the love of the divine come to be with us, to live with us, to feel with us, approaches him. And at first Jesus is too much for the man to bear. In the face of great pain, great anger, great fear, love or even the possibility of love is often too much for us to bear because love demands we look our pain, our anger, our fear full in the face. Love demands that we drag them out of their closet and pull them out of their depths. Love demands that we acknowledge them. That we feel them. That we give them their due.

Love demands that we confront the lies that our pain, our anger, and our fear so often convince us to believe. Terrible lies about our own unlovability. But lies that nonetheless have become the country we have grown so accustomed to inhabiting.

Jesus, the love of all loves, walks up to this man of pain, of anger, the man who inspires such great fear not because he is the only one with demons but because he reminds others of their own.

Jesus, the love of all loves, walks up to this man and asks him one question:

“What is your name?”

When Jesus walks up to the man and says “What is your name?” he is really asking:

What is your pain?

What is your anger?

What is your fear?

And the man says the name.



I have so much pain.

I have so much anger.

I have so much fear.

My name … is Legion.

In saying that one word, “Legion,” this naked, outcast man shows himself to be a person of deep courage.

For in saying that one word, “Legion,” he is owning and naming his pain, his anger and his fear.

In saying that one word, “Legion,” he allows the process of liberation to begin.

We are in a time of great changes – and we’ve been there for quite a while. The pace of technological, social and political change in our lifetimes has perhaps been greater than any time in human history.

In our nation and around the world, the past decade and particularly the past several years have seen movements of liberation that are blessedly taking structures of society that have long imprisoned people underprivileged because of skin color, gender, sexual orientation and countless other categories and breaking those structures apart … but not without backlashes that in their pain, anger and fear try to refasten those chains even more tightly.

Not only in this Cathedral but throughout mainline American Christianity, so much of what we have held dear for our entire lives is changing as well. Changing as it becomes unsustainable in a world that no longer flocks to church on Sunday mornings, and as beautiful buildings and huge institutions erected a century ago to the glory of God begin to crumble under their own weight.

And the truth is we are hurting. And we are angry. And we are afraid.

And it is not unreasonable. We have legitimately done things to wound and anger each other. The massacre of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender siblings in a place that was supposed to be a sanctuary has wounded and angered us. I know some of you feel wounded by me and by some of the changes that are happening here at Christ Church Cathedral. There’s nothing I can say to change that, and the last thing I want to do is tell you that you shouldn’t feel that way. That’s the opposite of what I want to tell you this morning.

The change before us is deeply unsettling and fear is not unexpected. The pain. The anger. The fear….They are incredibly natural. They are incredibly human. We feel therefore we are. The last thing I want to do is tell you that you shouldn’t feel. For if I have learned one thing from our time together, it’s that we have to feel to heal.

But I do know that feeling is hard. I do know that we feel so deeply that it sometimes is too much. So deeply that we are tempted to pretend we don’t feel at all and hope that the feelings just go away. So deeply that we are tempted to turn against one another. So deeply that we are tempted to build walls and fire arrows – hoping that if we can cast out or defeat an enemy that the pain, the anger and the fear will depart as well. And that road leads nowhere good. That road leads to the tombs where the man with his demons raged and moaned. That road leads to nothing but death.

But there is good news. Because as much as we are tempted to shrink away or lash out, in the midst of our pain, our anger and our fear, Jesus does not shrink away from or lash out at us. Jesus walks right up to us – seeing the pain, the anger and the fear, impervious to our attempts to conceal it from one another, from Jesus and even from ourselves. Jesus walks right up to us and asks us a question that is three in one.

What is your name?

What is your pain? Your anger? Your fear?

Can we name it? Can we have the courage of the man who had been relegated to the place of the dead? Can we have the courage to name our pain? To name our anger? To name our fear?

Can we have the courage to look not just Jesus but one another full in the face and instead of building walls and firing arrows to say:

I’m hurting.

I’m angry.

I’m afraid.

And I’m wondering if maybe you are, too.

The pain, the anger, the fear can be so overpowering. But in Christ, can we meet in that place and feel them together? Not shrinking away from feeling deeply ourselves but also holding each other gently as we each do the same? Not turning against each other but turning toward each other? In Christ and through Christ, can we have that grace, that power, that courage?

Today’s Gospel tells us … yes, we can.

There were so many responses to the massacre at Pulse that moved my heart this week, but among them were two I want to share with you because they each speak to how much we struggle with the rawness and depth of what we are feeling right now and how hard it is to live together in the midst of it.

One was from Jarek Steele, a beautiful transgender man and co-owner of Left Bank Books. Jarek wrote:

“It's as if every human in every group is screaming "recognize my pain" right now. And it's so hard to recognize and care for someone else's pain when you're in it too. Let's all be gentle and patient with each other, and when we're not able to be patient and gentle let's recognize that as a reaction to pain - not an indictment of our character.”

In my language of faith, I hear the word Jarek describing as “grace” … it is holding one another with unmerited love. Loving whether or not that love is returned. And with that on my heart, I read these words from the Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, Dorsey McConnell, that reminded me that the grace of which Jarek sings is not something we need to wish for … it is already ours in Jesus. Bishop McConnell writes:

We would understand that The Problem is this: We fear our own death more than we love the lives of others. 

Because we fear, we put our sins on someone else’s head. We push them away. We kill in the hope we will finally find peace.

But the saints, in their silence, know what we can only believe: the peace we are looking for has been won in the Cross of Christ. No further sacrifice is needed or allowed. No scapegoat. No enemy.

(Read Bishop McConnell's whole reflection piece here)

This morning’s Gospel reading is not a story about some poor soul. It is not a story of “there but for the grace of God go I.” The story of the Gerasene demoniac is our story. Each of us and all of us.

What is our name?

Our name is Legion.

And this story is the story of our pain.

Our anger.

Our fear.

It is the story of the power of that pain, anger and fear to tear us apart inside and to rip us apart from one another.

But ultimately, it is the story of how Jesus, the love beyond all love, meets us in the midst of it, invites us to name it, stands with us as we feel it, turns us not away from each other but draws us toward each other and meets all of us together in a loving, healing embrace.

What is our pain?

What is our anger?

What is our fear?

What are you doing to it?

What is it doing to you?

Do we dare to name it?

Do we dare to feel it?

Do we dare to believe that, in Christ, it – and all of us -- can be healed? Amen.

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