Set Free

On June 19, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Set Free Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin Today I want to talk about 3 different stories. There is of course our gospel reading, and then I want to talk about a gospel of our past and then the gospel of our present. Each of these gospel stories points to good news and have an aspect of […]

Set Free
Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin

Today I want to talk about 3 different stories. There is of course our gospel reading, and then I want to talk about a gospel of our past and then the gospel of our present. Each of these gospel stories points to good news and have an aspect of being set free.

Today’s gospel is about a man who also was different from everyone else. He was so different that scripture says for a long time he wore no clothes. So different that he was put out of the city and forced to live out in the cemetery. So different that he could not function as a normal part of society. He was so different that many times, whatever was wrong with him just took over his body.

It was so bad that sometimes he had to be kept under guard, bound in chains, and hand to foot. But this particular time, he broke his chains and fled into the desert.

With all the ups and downs in his life, no true medical attention, with all the distractions that he must have had going on internally, he just wanted to get away. So he fled.

But on the day he decides to get away, he has an encounter with Jesus. When he saw Jesus he cried out and fell down before him. The man said with a loud voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus…?

Why does he sound fearful? He might have been afraid that Jesus was there to punish him. If Jesus had the nerves of steel to stand up to religious and government authorities, what might he do with some miserable guy with a mental disorder?

Or, maybe the poor man was worried what the good town’s people had said about him and he felt that since they couldn’t handle him in town that they had sent Jesus to deal with him. Maybe he wanted Jesus to like him, but was afraid that gossip had already poisoned Jesus against him.

But with all of his problems, he somehow broke out of his internal dialogue enough just to ask Jesus, “What do you want?”

Despite the fact of what Jesus might have heard about the man, despite his appearances, Jesus engages him simply by asking, “What is your name?” He didn’t ask him what folks had said about him; he didn’t ask him why was he in the state that he was in. Jesus just asks, what is your name? Instead of prejudging him, Jesus says, “tell me about yourself.”

The man answered that his name was “Legion.” Scripture says his name was “Legion” because many demons were in him. Now Legion is really a number, not a name. Or stated differently, in this moment it is a name that conveys the number and power of demons, or problems, that possessed the man. At this period of time, a Roman legion would be composed of five to six thousand men. The Roman legions ruled with an iron fist. Sometimes people are so overwhelmed by their problems they think that they could never overcome them. A legion of problems would suggest insurmountable problems.

The man is saying: “Jesus I have too many problems to even name. Look I am hurting, I’m a social outcast, they lock me in chains…I’m too much of a mess for people to deal with. The demons, the problems, the disappointments, the pains…they are legion. They have ruined me. They seem to control me. I no longer see myself as separate from my difficulties.”

But I believe that by simply asking the man his name, something about his brokenness began to shift. To ask someone their name is to see them. To ask someone their name means, you are worth my getting to know you. Asking someone their name, even if we have to ask it again and again, means that there is something there. Something interesting or good that we see, something we want to know more about and connect with. Whatever the barrier maybe, we want to break it down so that we can understand each other better.

So when Jesus said, what is your name, I believe something internally began to happen in this man’s life. Jesus wanted to see him, for who he was, not what others had said about him. He didn’t just want to know what was wrong, he wanted to know what was good, what was possible, what he hoped for, what was strong or kind or generous or smart or loving about him.

The man was more than his problems, more than is pain, more than what had happened to him. And Jesus reminded him of that, and when he started to believe it, the so-called demons couldn’t stay…the self-hatred had to go, the hopelessness had to go, the fear that he was unlovable had to go. One by one, the legion of problems had to start getting better.

The old folks when I was growing up used to say, “Something had happened, and something had to be did.” Something happened to this man to make him lonely and afraid and hopeless. Something had happened, and something had to be did!

And Jesus did it! He saw him. He recognized his dignity. He affirmed it. He did what no one had done in ages…he asked him his name. He asked him to share his story. And in that moment of compassion, the broken man started to his journey back to wholeness.

See, once we are healed of the idea of a punishing God, or once we are healed of the notion that we are not loved by God because of who we love, or once we are healed of the idea that God is not out to get us or that we deserve to be miserable or that there is no hope for us…once we are healed from any or all of those legions of demons…they got to go and they got to stay gone!

The man who had been suffering, when treated with dignity and love and care, was set free.

The second story is a story of our past. In fact it takes us back to the year 1862.

On September 22 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, in which he declared that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

But sadly, there was this one little town, I am sure that there were probably others, but there was this one town, in the great state of Texas called in Galveston. Word of freedom didn’t reach the African-American slaves of Galveston, Texas, until June 19, 1865 — 2 and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when a force of two-thousand Union soldiers arrived and informed them of their freedom. Although news indeed did travel slowly in those days, two and a half years is a long time; historians suspect Texas slaveholders knew of the proclamation and chose not to free their slaves until they were forced to.
Folks, who had been set free, remained in slavery for 2 1/2 years after being set free. Sometimes hope, wholeness, strength, peace, abundance…they are there for us and we just don’t know it.

On June 19, 1865, 151 years ago—known today as Juneteenth— is when Union troops entered Galveston, the last city on record, to enforce the liberation of enslaved people.

The legion, the many years of slavery had not gone willingly, hanging on through a war of rebellion that cost more lives than any other in our national saga.. But with the new order, however long it took to reach Galveston, TX, people were finally free, and they celebrated their new awareness of their freedom, and we continue to celebrate today. People being set free.

Our third story this morning is taken right from the headlines of the day.

It is daunting to think that at this time of year for every year going forward we will remember the Charleston 9 and now, the Orlando 49. All of whom were killed by hatred, bigotry and fear. We promise we will never forget and we will continue to diligently pray and work for a better world.

There seems to be a new awakening to something that many of us have known for a very long time. That is the realization that all over world, thousands and thousands of people have died because of their sexual or gender identity – we must say enough is enough.

Some are waking up to the notion that many have died and continue to die because of the color of their skin or religious belief – we must say enough is enough.

Religious bigotry and hatred the world over is piercing the hearts and souls of our families and we must say enough is enough.

The shooting at the gay club Pulse in Orlando overwhelmed us and yet we must remain vigilant and hopeful because at the end of the day we live in the hope that love will win.

It is not a time to go back into our closet. It is not a time to pull back from places that we enjoy. It is a time to live out loud and proud, time to say: here I stand, I am proud to be who God has created me to be.

We must remember that we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

One side of me asks, why are we shocked that this happened? The reality is that we have been here before. Sandy Hook Elementary School, (CT), San Bernardino, (CA); Fort Hood, (TX), the Washington DC Navy Yard, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. — just to name a few places.

But most recently, the violence that impacts us all occurred in Orlando. And we must add our voices to the voices of survivors, and we must be the voice of those who had their voice taken from them.

Those voices that were silenced were of friends and family, gay and straight, lovers, spouses…the voices of two men who were to be married but who instead are now buried together.

We can’t wait for a Legion of issues to go away before we have gun law reform.
We can’t wait another 2 1/2 years of wondering when the good news will come.
We can’t wait for another 49 lives to be taken by hatred, bigotry and fear.

Who will stand and help set others free as a witness to the good news?
Who will stand and help set others free?

Who will stand with me as a witness in saying enough and enough?

The gospel call of today is to do the work of Justice until all are set free. Because ultimately, love always wins.


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