God is reaching out to free all God’s children, declare them clean, and clothe them in mercy and love. When you see this, experience this – tell someone!
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 12 C
Texts: Luke 8:26-39; Galatians 3:23-29
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
This was the first time they’d seen him clothed in years.
That’s how his friends and neighbors knew he was better. He wasn’t naked anymore. They chained him up for his own safety – he’d throw himself against the rocks to injure himself – but he broke the chains. He took shelter in the tombs outside the city, naked, frightening, destructive.
But not anymore. Now he was clothed and in his right mind. And because of a truly unlikely person.
Jesus went everywhere a respectable Jewish rabbi shouldn’t go: into the territory of unclean foreigners, among unclean tombs, with an unclean possessed person, around unclean pigs. He crossed all those boundaries, broke this man free of the inner chains that bound him, and washed and clothed him.
Paul understands the power of what Jesus did here.
Paul proclaims to his Galatian congregations – made of Jewish and Gentile Christians – that they have been freed and washed in baptism and clothed in Christ and that makes them one people, beloved children of God. No boundaries exist between them anymore. No barriers of culture, of ethnicity or wealth or gender or social class, all are one in Christ.
Imagine if Paul’s right. What if God in Christ really is capable of breaking the chains that bind you, and me, and this world, and making clean what was unclean, and clothing you, and me, and all people with garments that make us one with each other, all offspring and heirs of God’s love and mercy?
Now, it might be hard to see your need for this, if you’re not in the dire straits of this man.
This man was obviously troubled, so troubled that it’s possible his friends and neighbors in the city thought he was the only one who had need of freeing. But all do. God came in Christ to break all God’s children free of whatever binds them, whether it’s obvious to outsiders or not.
God wants to break the chains that are those ways of thinking that lead us into repeating the same harmful behaviors, or hamper every attempt to make things right with another person. The chains that are those prejudices and biases we wish we could sweep away but keep cropping up and harming.
God wants to break the chains that bind our whole world with systemic evil that grips our culture now, an evil that goes beyond bad individual choices and simple answers, and is ingrained in the very bones of our society.
God wants to break the chains of our inability to see every human being as a beloved sibling and as divinely blessed.
And God wants to break the same chains as this man had, mental illness that binds so many today who deal with anxiety, depression, and other mental diseases that just seem to embed ever deeper.
You don’t have to be naked and living in caves to need the healing grace of God in Christ breaking you free. Everyone has chains to be broken, freedom and new life to find.
But Christ doesn’t seem to act as immediately anymore.
This man suffered for a long time, but the moment he met Christ, he found healing and wholeness.
That doesn’t happen in our day, not that rapidly, not that noticeably. Our inner chains can bind us for years. Our society seems to be taking five steps back for every one forward. Those celebrating the emancipation of Juneteenth today see ever stronger chains of racism and oppression binding God’s children and our society. All these chains that bind seem to be stronger than God can handle.
But look from a different perspective. Look back on your life. Can you see a thread of God’s healing hand over time? Where were you a year ago, or ten? Can you see that God has been at work breaking some of those chains already?
And in this world, we can look at the pain and suffering we see repeatedly and despair that anything is happening. But we can also look for signs that chains are being broken and life from God is emerging. There are signs of hope today, if only we can look for them, and tell each other when we see them.
And Paul’s witness is that, while we’re being freed, we’re already clean and clothed.
Paul’s Galatians were in a lot of difficulty. Deep division between Jewish and Gentile Christians caused a lot of stress and emotional anguish, even to Paul.
But Paul didn’t say “one day you’ll be one in Christ.” He said, “all of you are one in Christ Jesus. These things that seem to divide you, ethnicity, gender, class, privilege, these are not your deepest truth. You are one.”
Jesus crossed the sea and clothed a foreigner, a non-Jew, with the same healing he offered Jewish people. Paul created communities of multiple cultures and backgrounds, proclaiming their oneness in Christ. That’s the clothing that you already have. You, and I, and all the baptized, and Oren today, are already clean and clothed as God’s beloved children, our true identity, even while we are being freed. And God’s reign in Christ is for all God’s children, regardless of what they do or don’t believe. God sees no boundaries of any kind to reaching people and freeing them. God’s love in Christ declares all clean, clothed with love and mercy and wholeness.
If you do start to see this, experience this, what can you do?
This man, freed, washed, clothed, wants to go along with Jesus on the road and be with the one who saved his life. But Jesus says not everyone is sent away to serve God. He’s told to go home, free, and clean, and clothed, and do one thing: declare how much God has done for him.
For most of us, most of you, that’s our call, too. Return to your home, your life, and tell someone how much God has done for you and the world. So they can hope. So they themselves can start seeing chains breaking. And so all can live in the joy of being clothed in God’s mercy, and one with each other as beloved children of God.
In the name of Jesus. Amen