PROPER #7…Series C
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (June 19th, 2016)
Title: Disarming Compassion!!
Text: Luke 8: 26-39
There is a drug/alcohol rehabilitation center in New Orleans, LA called the Bridge House. It is called the Bridge House for two reasons: first, because it is located under a bridge and, secondly (and more importantly) because the programs which are offered provide people with a BRIDGE between the world of addiction to the world of freedom and sobriety. The Bridge House is a three story building located in the skid row section of New Orleans. On the bottom floor there is a lobby/reception area where two secretaries welcome visitors and clients. One morning a large and imposing man about thirty years old and wearing a baseball cap on backwards, stormed into the lobby like a man possessed…he was shouting filthy obscenities and slamming a baseball bat on the reception desk. The two receptionists were terrified and dove under the reception desk. Three recovering alcoholics who were in the lobby witnessed the entire episode, and ran to safety outside the building (one of them had the presence of mind to call 911 from the payphone at the corner). Up on the second floor, Maureen O’Malley (ED of The Bridge House) heard the commotion, walked down the stairs and saw the young man out of his mind with rage, swinging the baseball bat and screaming. Maureen calmly walked over to the man, reached under his elbows, embraced him and said, “Oh, you poor man…you poor, poor man”. They stood there in a kind of weird embrace for a minute and then the wildman began to sob uncontrollably. Maureen gently guided him to a chair in the lobby where they sat together and waited for the police to arrive…
I noticed something on Thursday morning as I read, once again, this astonishing story of the exorcism of the man from Gerasa tormented by a legion of demons (our Gospel reading for this 5th Sunday after the great feast of Pentecost)…I noticed (in verse 29 of chapter 8 of the Gospel of Luke) that the good citizens of Gerasa kept this man “under guard”. In other words, they kept him in a kind of prison in the cemetery…thy bound him, hand and foot, like you would a common criminal…they thought that if they hired a guard and kept this unfortunate man isolated from any meaningful interaction with the community, that they could protect themselves from the reality of evil which possessed this unfortunate man and fueled his disruptive and violent behavior. They, naively thought that they could manage…control…and prevent the incarnation of evil from wreaking havoc and chaos in the community…so they “kept him under guard” in the cemetery!
For many of us, our instinctive response to mental illness is fear and anxiety which cause us to do what the good citizens of Gerasa tried to do…to protect ourselves and our communities by trying to isolate people who are mentally ill. Did you know that today…in the United States of America, there are more mentally ill in jails and prisons than there are in hospitals!
Friends, here, I think, is the point of the story…here is what makes this story as relevant for us today as it was when it happened more than 2k years ago…the story of the healing of the man possessed by an evil spirit is a powerful reminder of destructive…debilitating and dehumanizing power of evil when in infiltrates and takes control of a human being or a community. The hideous and unspeakable act of violence which unfolded in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12th at the Pulse nightclub in Orland Florida is yet another painful illustration of that truth, and a reminder that evil is alive and well and it is present in our world. But, my friends, here is the great Good News that we celebrate today…the power of love embodied in Jesus, the Christ, is more powerful…more potent than the power of evil. Let me say that again…the power of Love, embodied and incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth is more powerful…more potent than the power of Evil.
My friends, as our Eucharistic celebration continues this morning…as we prepare, once again, to approach the table of Grace…to receive into our hands the most precious things we will ever hold or handle in this life (the Body and Blood of our Lord) let us remember that the Disarming Compassion of Christ is as powerfully present in our world as it was in the first century when Jesus walked the dusty roads of Palestine, and let us also remember that there is no force so powerful…no life so distorted by sin…no heart so hardened… that the Disarming Compassion of Jesus cannot penetrate to bring healing and wholeness…forgiveness…life…and salvation…and finally, let us remember…let us never forget that we are never more Christ like…never more in harmony with the heart and minds and spirit of Jesus…never more closely aligned with Jesus’ word and his will and his way than when we are choked with disarming compassion for the brokenness…the suffering…the grief of our fellow human beings and our compassion…moves us to action on their behalf…
God bless you…Amen!!