6.22.2016

Choose Love

Sermon Preached at St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Sunday, June  19, 2016
Proper 7C / Luke 8:26-39



Many of the stories from Luke’s gospel that we have heard in the past few weeks and that we will hear throughout the summer are stories of healing.  But this Sunday’s is perhaps the most challenging of the bunch. Because rather than naming a health concern – for example, the centurion who was ill,[1] the man who has died,[2] or the man who has been beaten by robbers and left on the side of the road[3] - today’s text instead, labels the underlying condition as “demon possession.”  And while the core message of healing is Good News, the ways in which this passage has been used by some in the church has been dangerously violent.
For example, Bert Farias, revivalist and founder of Holy Fire Ministries, proclaimed in a recent sermon that “Homosexuality is actually a demon spirit. It is such a putrid-smelling demon that other demons don’t even like to hang around it.”[4]  He then uses this morning’s Gospel message to explain that when Jesus sends the demons into the herd of swine, “the pigs didn’t want them, so they ran down a steep hill and were drowned in the sea [because] pigs have more sense than some humans. . . the pigs would rather die than be possessed with demons.”[5]  Most preachers do not use such offensive language – at least not publically – when speaking about the LGBTQI community; however, the logic behind the “pray away the gay” and the “love the sinner and hate the sin” movements are not much different than the messed up logic being used by Bert Farias.  And our church has been complicit in this message as well.  Today we must ask for forgiveness and healing and we must be clear that we have been wrong.
So, I want to be clear this morning.  “Sexuality and gender identity are not things that possess us, rather . . . [they are] integral parts of who we are.”[6]  The LGBTQI community of which I am a proud member is not possessed by some gay-demon.  We are not ill with a homosexual virus.  And we do not need to be cured of our love for another human being.  What we are, is susceptible to the same demonic forces that every human being in our society falls prey to – demonic forces like racism, Islamophobia, homophobia.  Those are the demons we need to ask Jesus to cast out.  Those are the systemic ailments of our time that we must offer up to God’s healing grace.   As a UCC pastor wrote in his blog this week, if we are looking for our place in this reading from Luke’s gospel, we need to be clear:  We are not Jesus, speaking to the demons. We are the townspeople, too afraid to invite Jesus to stay with us and work healing among us; too afraid to admit [that] we, too, might be possessed.”[7]
This week has been an emotionally raw week for members of the LGBTQI community.  Gatherings have been a mixture of tears, anger, and loneliness.  The attacks at Pulse, a popular gay venue in Orlando, Florida a week ago this morning, shook us to our core.  Because it amplified something that we already deal with on a daily basis – FEAR.  Perhaps the two most well-known events up until last Sunday that have led the gay community to this place of fear are Stonewall and the brutal murder of Matthew Shepherd.
  • On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village and the rioting and violence which ensued lasted for three days. 
  • On October 7, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was brutally attacked and tied to a fence in a field outside of Laramie, Wyoming and left to die. On October 12, Matt succumbed to his wounds in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Matt was gay.
But it is not only the LGBTQI community who are hurting.  Last Sunday’s incidents have been painful for our Muslim brothers and sisters as well because once again the actions of an individual are being placed on the community as a whole suggesting that if one Muslim carried out this crime, then all Muslims must be to blame. 
Last Sunday’s incidents have also been painful for our brothers and sisters of color because it was Latino night at Pulse and most of the victims were Hispanic.  And this weekend, of course, marks the one year anniversary of the murders of nine worshippers at Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. 
Between that event and last Sundays, we have a trifecta of demons with which to contend homophobia, Islamophobia, and racism.  And Jesus stands among us demanding the unclean spirits to come out of us.  And you and I have a choice – we, like the townspeople in Luke’s gospel, can choose to live with our great fear or we can be like the one who is healed and proclaim throughout the city how much the love of Jesus has done for us.  Because love trumps fear every time.  Love always wins.  How might we proclaim this love? What are some concrete steps we might take?
  • Some members of our congregation are taking steps – literally – right now as they participate in the YWCA’s Annual Race Against Hate.  This race honors the legacy of Ricky Byrdsong, former Northwestern University Men’s Basketball Coach who was murdered by a white supremacist in 1999. It is a race that brings together thousands of people to run and walk in unity against racial hatred and violence.  And it is a race that raises much needed funds to further the mission of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore particularly in their efforts in the areas of racial justice and violence prevention. 

What else can we do?
  • Many of us can donate blood.  Gay and bi men and trans women are unscientifically yet legally prohibited from donating blood; but many of us can do so on their behalf. Lifesource locations around the Chicagoland area – including the one in Evanston – are sending blood to Orlando, Florida to help those injured last Sunday.[8] 
  • We can speak out. Be vocal about our position of inclusion and affirmation – be vocal about our baptismal commitment to strive for justice and peace among all people and our promise to respect the dignity of every human being. 
  •  We can reach out to our LGBTQI neighbors and to our Muslim neighbors and ask how they are doing.  Let them know you support them and that you care.  
  •  And finally, next Sunday, June 26, you can join the Diocese of Chicago and march in Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade.  As event coordinator, Matthew Zaradich writes, “this is an amazing opportunity to deliver our message of hope in Christ, of complete love and acceptance in God, and of changing the world through the Holy Spirit. . . to show our Church on the affirming side of inclusive love.”[9]
Let us not be like the townspeople in Luke’s gospel, cowering in fear; let us instead open ourselves to the healing love of Christ; and let us be that healing love of Christ in a world that so desperately yearns for it.  In the name of all that is Holy, I beg of you choose Love. For love always wins.


[1] Luke 7:1-10
[2] Luke 7:11-17
[3] Luke 10:25-37

[4] Bert M. Farias, “The Raw, Naked Truth About Homosexuality,” The Flaming Herald, July 22, 2014 accessed on June 17, 2016, http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/the-flaming-herald/44730-the-raw-naked-truth-about-homosexuality

[5] Ibid.
[6]An Open Letter to Preachers,” Sermonizing: Musings of a Would-be Theologian, June 15, 2016 accessed on June 17, 2016.
[7] Ibid.
[8] To find a Lifesource donor center near you, visit http://www.lifesource.org/
[9] Matty Zaradich, “Pride Parade – March with the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago”, Facebook event accessed June 17, 2016.