The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - June 19, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 8:26-39  Sermon Title: ďWhat is your NameĒ

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     This was not a familiar scripture we read this morning.  When I choose what to preach on every week, I look first to the lectionary.  There are normally 4 scriptures each week, I read all 4 and think about which one is speaking to me.  I then do some research and choose one, or some weeks two to focus on.  Honestly when I read this the first time, I thought ďOh, I donít know what to do with that?Ē  But then I went back to it.  A version of this story is in all 3 synoptic gospels, so I really donít know why I donít ever remember hearing it before.

     It is a hard scripture to deal with.  Most mainline churches tend to shy away from the texts of Jesus healing.  I think it is because we donít really understand it.  On the surface it is a strange story.  Jesus visits this man, in a foreign country, Gerasenes (Ger a Seens) on the Eastern side of the sea of Galilee.  Gerasenes is a gentile area, someplace where good rabbis would not bother to go.  There he meets a man who is possessed by many demons.  Jesus bargains with the demons, rather than being sent back into the abyss, the demons ask to be sent to the pigs feeding nearby.  Jesus agrees, the demons leave him, enter the heard of swine.  Then all the pigs run down into the sea and drown.  Remember that this is a different time, the Jewish did not eat pork, and animal sacrifices were common.  So donít get too caught up in animal rights.  And then this man, now cured, wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus tells him no, stay here where you are, and tell others about me. 

     But I wanted to focus on this man.  This man is the bottom of the bottom.  Wandering around this town with no clothes, sleeping in tombs, with some obvious mental problems.  Some kind of seizures, probably other things going on.  Jesus approaches him and asks him his name.  His only reply is Legion, because of the legion of demons that possess him.  Legion is the way that the Roman army was organized, one legion of the Roman army was about 6,000 men.  So this man didnít have one problem, he has many, many problems. 

     But that is the saddest part of the story for me.  You see, he didnít have a name, he was named only by his problems.  He was not Abraham, or John, or David, or anything else, just Legion, for we are many.  And I realized that in many ways that is how we name ourselves.  We donít want to brag, or boast, so we are taught to focus more on our lack, our failures, our setbacks.

     And advertisers know this and pray on it.  If I can find an area in your life that is lacking in any way, or can make you think that it is lacking, I can sell you my product.  And my pill, or car, or anything else will make your life complete.  Of course, academically we know that Cialis will not put my wife and I into two bathtubs on a porch with a beautiful view where we can watch the sunset.  We know that even driving a Mazda, Zoom, zoom, zoom will not allow us to drive along the coastline on a deserted road at a high rate of speed.  And even those new sneakers will not allow us to suddenly develop the ability to perform a dunk shot on a basketball court.  But we buy those products to fill those perceived needs.  Just look around your house when you get home.  Do you have any medicines in your cabinet that you bought because it would fix something that you perceive is wrong with you?  I do.  Do you own anything that you saw advertised, and even though you didnít think it would work, you bought it to try anyway?  I do.  Do any of you have a treadmill, or stair climber, or stationary bike, or other piece of exercise equipment sitting in a corner unused? 

     I have been thinking a lot about labels this week, as so many labels have been thrown around.  I have to wonder how the ways we label people can affect both events and our reactions to events. 

     Just before I walked over to church last Sunday I read on my phone ďbreaking newsĒ about a shooting at a nightclub in Orlando.  I had a few minutes so I flipped on the TV.  I believe my phone had said that it happened at a gay bar, but the TV was not reporting that, just that it was a nightclub.  And, at that point, they were saying about 20 people had been shot. 

     As the stories came in during the afternoon, it was confirmed that it was a gay bar, so the immediate thought both by myself and supported by early news casts was that it was a hate crime against our GLBT brothers and sisters.  But then additional stories started to come in, saying that shooter had apparently called 911 and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.  This changed it from a hate crime to a terrorist act. 

     One thing has become clear to me is that the lowest on the totem pole are the most vulnerable.  We all remember that kid in school, the one who was different.  Today, in many towns and cities, those in the GLBT community are the ones who are different.  I admit that I have not always understood this community.  When I was in High School and early college, we didnít talk about this group.  We were more concerned at that point about the race of our student body, and things that were said about black students. 

     I went to a conference once from the University of Maine, strangely to New Hampshire.  I think this was one of the first places that I encountered openly Gay, Lesbian and Bi-sexual students.  They talked about the awkwardness of their lives.  Many of us have pictures of loved ones in our wallets, in our purses, perhaps sitting on our desks in our offices.  For the GLB community, until they make it public who they are attracted to, come out of the closet, they do not have these they can show.  While most of us would think nothing of putting a picture of your husband or wife on your desk at work, or your living room wall, for this group, they felt the need to hide this, and many still do.  Even with the passage of Gay marriage and the much greater acceptance of the GLB community, individuals still do not feel comfortable coming out to their friends and family and places of work. 

     The Transgendered community face many of these same issues, but also different ones.  Despite all the recent discussion, the transgendered do not take this decision lightly.  It is not about one day a man feeling like a woman and going into a different restroom.  For many they start to express feelings of being in the wrong body at a very early age.  And most go through a lot of counseling before deciding to transition.  After they make that decision, the costs are great.  Many, even today, get fired or are forced to leave their work.  Most, if married, end up divorced.  If you decide to just proceed with hormone treatment, they are very expensive and often not covered by insurance.  If you decide to have operations, you are looking at much higher costs.  And this is assuming that you have the support of friends and family.  Overall 40% of transgendered people have tried suicide.  If you are rejected by your family, you are 13 times more likely to try to take your own life.   

     But this man in Gerasenes didnít have any friends.  But after Jesus heals this man, he sails away again.  That is all we know that he did, came to Gerasenes, heals one possessed man, and sails away again.  Which might mean that Jesusí journey into this unfamiliar place was just to heal this man of his demons and transform him from being Legion into being a human being again, a human who is also a beloved child of God. 


     As I started to put together the first draft of this sermon, I started to wonder how Jesus works in the world today.  I donít want to suggest that anyone in the GLBT community needs to be healed, but I would suggest that the world needs to be healed.  Just over a week ago, a man walked into a nightclub and shot over 100 people, 49 of those people died.  There is the whole issue of GLBT, were they targeted because of their sexual orientation and gender expression, probably.  There is the whole issue of gun control.  Should a man who was investigated by the FBI for possible links to terrorism be allowed to walk into a gun shop and purchase an assault rifle and a handgun.  There is the whole issue of terrorism.  Are we, as a society doing enough to protect each other, not just one group, but all groups, those who are first graders in a school, or gathering for Bible study in a church basement, or enjoying a night of dancing at a night club.  There is the whole issue of religion.  Muslims are not all terrorists any more than Christians are all members of the KKK.  Yes, there is a small number of Muslims who believe that terrorism is the right way to honor God.  And there are a small number of Christians who believe that they are in some way superior to everyone else, both need to be condemned.  And there is the whole issue of mental health.  I would argue that anyone who can, for no reason, walk into a building and kill other humans is mentally ill. 


     Jesus is still crossing boundaries to heal. Jesus is still coming into the strange and unfamiliar world of our failure-ridden, lack-driven and fear driven lives to cast out our demons.  If we look to Jesus as our guide, we are called to go to those who need any healing we can do, with the help of God.  I believe that we are called to stand with our GLBT brothers and sisters and say that what happened is wrong, and that as a country, we need to be healed.  We need to stand with those are in the roll of protecting, the police and military and admit that the country is sick and needs healing.  I believe that we need to talk to our politicians about sensible gun control.  I am not talking about taking away anyoneís guns, but I am talking about taking steps to make sure that anyone who could commit a crime like occurred last weekend is, at the very least, hindered in purchasing a gun.  I think we need to talk to our politicians about the mental health crisis in our country.  Rather than shutting down mental health clinics, we need to be opening them up.   


     Jesus says to us again and again we are Godís beloved children, forgiven of our sins, healed of our disappointments, and blessed with an open future. I would argue that the whole point of Jesusí ministry and mission is to tell us -- or, rather, show us -- just how much God loves us.


     Today, and every day, we have the opportunity to do something.  This morning we rang our bell.  I wanted to do something to recognize the loss of life last weekend.  I understand that we were joined by hundreds of other churches this morning, also ringing their bells as a sign of support.  I am sure that many of you saw, when a moment of silence was held in Washington DC this past week, people walked out.  Prayer, thoughts are important, but to sit by and watch it happen again and again is wrong.  I thought about having candles, but that would mean something to those who are here this morning.  I thought the bell would send a sign to at least Marlborough that we recognize what has happened, we are saddened, but we want to do something. 

     I want to end this morning by suggesting that we start a conversation about how we can become more welcoming in our church.  In many ways we have already done this.  We put in an elevator, so that anyone who has problems with walking can fully participate in the life of the church.  But how can we be welcoming to anyone who walks through our doors, or even that we meet outside of these walls. 

     Specifically, our GLBTQIA brothers and sisters.  If you donít know that language, we can at least learn that.  But then how do we really reach out to all of Godís children, provide a safe space where we can be ourselves.  There are several things that we can explore together.  In the United Church of Christ, those churches that have publically made known that they welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation and gender expression are known as Open and Affirming.  In the United Methodist Church it is known as Reconciling Ministries.  I looked into the Unitarian Universalist Association to find what the equivalent term was, and found that almost all Unitarian Universalist Churches already hold those beliefs. 

     This is not something that can happen today or even this week.  But I think that the events of last weekend call us to really examine our own stances, and say that we are already welcoming, or that we want to be more welcoming in a public way to all of Godís children.  And maybe, in any steps we take, help heal this world we are living in.