She was a free-thinker talking about perceived “energy” and looking to eastern practices. She was avoided by others because she had challenges within. Some said she could choose to be different; others had more empathy. No one completely trusted the woman with the challenges within that made her a little more than different.
And, so, she had few friends. Without a supportive network she embraced the marginal ideas of various faiths, living and thinking at the edge of town. In the fertile soil of rejection and avoidance, suspicion took hold of her. The challenges within took control.
He was attracted to the novel. He grew up in an era of change in a place that resisted the new. He was ridiculed in school because his hair was too long. Some said he must have drugs within; others had more empathy. Because their parents told them to avoid long-hairs, the boy with long hair and no drugs within was pushed to the edge of fifteen-year-old society.
Rejected by the faithful, the healthful, and the stable, he grew cynical, angry, and found that indeed a few drugs within could actually ease the pain. In the fertile soil of ostracism and judgmentalism, the drugs within took control.
Her mind was not as sharp as it used to be. Her family noticed her memory beginning to fade long before she could admit it to herself. Some said it was God’s mysterious ways; others were more empathetic. Because of her fading memories within she was pushed to the edge of her circle of friends.
Eventually, they stopped coming.
Rejected by all but her dutiful husband, she lived near the tombs and ruins at the edge of town. She lived locked up in a box to protect her as the memories within continued to fade. In the fertile soil of loneliness and unfamiliar surroundings, her memories within faded during her so-called golden years.
Needing certainty in her life, she steered clear of the questions. She found a church that provided absolute answers because having questions within tormented her too much. Some said she could be harsh as she excluded from Christianity those from churches that embraced the ambiguity of questioning; others were more empathetic.
Rejecting all but those whose answers were the same as hers, she lived on the edge of the community. She kept to those who thought like her and believed like her and lived like her. But the questions within never went away completely, they simply gnawed at her in the quiet hours before drifting off to sleep.
In the fertile soil of sameness and uniformity of opinion, the questions within took control and caused her to doubt her own worthiness.
He was running naked around the ruins. He was shunned by the townspeople because he had many monsters within. He had a legion of monsters. Some said the monsters were self-inflicted; others had more empathy. No one wanted the man with monsters within living within their community.
And, so, he was homeless. Without a safety net he barely survived, running naked among the tombs and ruins at the edge of town. In the fertile soil of rejection and oppression suspicion took hold of him. The monsters within took control.
Perhaps, Jesus perceived the monsters within the man as he gazed across the lake at sunset. Perhaps, the Holy Spirit lured the “carpenter’s son turned rabbi” to row across the lake. Perhaps, God’s extravagant love could no longer be contained within the promise YHWH, the god of the Hebrew people, the One we worship today, made so many centuries before.
Whatever the reason, in an act of expanding love, Jesus and his disciples crossed the lake. They crossed the lake that divided Jewish lands from Gentile lands. Rabbi Jesus and his ragged band of followers were accustomed to healing and teaching at the edges of polite society.
This time, Jesus and the disciples moved outside of Jewish society altogether to carry the Good News to the Gentiles.
Jesus’ feet had barely touched shore when the man who had monsters within accosted him. Recognizing God within Jesus, the monsters feared for their demise. The monsters within,
“shrieked and fell down before him. Then he shouted, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!’” (Luke 8:28b CEB)
The monsters were right to be afraid of Jesus. Jesus is the One who breathed in the Divine and breathed out God’s extravagant love. God’s relentless love does not abide monsters within anymore than God lets evil or hardship have the final say.
God’s relentless love overcomes even death! Love heals and teaches our monsters or sends them packing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean our monsters will make it easy on God or on us as we participate in the unfolding realm of God on earth.
Our love — God’s love — will be met with suspicion and hatred from those still battling monsters within themselves.
As happened to me this week, we may be told that our denomination — our church — is not Christian because we embrace divergent opinions on complex social issues and because we embrace our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We may be told that when we go to the margins of society that we ourselves are not Christian.
And, though it hurt me and disturbed me when I was told to my face that I and my church family are not Christian, I refuse to create a monster within me to respond to someone else’s monster. Rather, I will turn the other cheek, I will seek to have empathy for the threatened. I will seek to love as Jesus taught me.
Because I know from reading the biblical witness that our ancient kindred and especially our Lord and Savior Jesus, experienced the same and worse when they loved those on the edges of society. I know from the biblical witness that monsters within others may recognize the love within us as a threat.
But the love within us must not return anger to those who exclude and disdain us. Instead, we must allow the relentless love of God to guide us. We must listen to the still-speaking love and act as we are called. To do this, we must send our own monsters packing, allowing Jesus to heal us.
Healed of our own monsters (partially or fully), we must do as Jesus told the man he healed in today’s gospel lesson, we must
“tell the story of what God has done for [us].” [We must go] throughout the city proclaiming what Jesus ha[s] done for [us]. (Luke 8:39 CEB)
We must tell the story of what God has done for us to those who make us uncomfortable. We must go to where they live and think at the edge of town. We must love them and include them in our circles. We might even learn from them.
God’s relentless love may not only send their challenges within packing, God might heal some of our own challenges.
We must tell the story of what God has done for us to those who turned to drugs or to anger when they were ostracized and judged harshly by mainstream society. We may find that the church — as happens too often — participated in the sin of judgmentalism and ostracism.
We may find that some of what they are angry about are things that Jesus would be angry about, too. Perhaps, we need to apologize for what we or our church-kin have done. Maybe we need to love at the margins of society as Jesus did.
God’s relentless love may not only send their drugs within packing, God might send our monsters within, away.
We must tell the story of what God has done for us to those whose memories within are fading. We must be God’s loving presence with their caretakers as well as with those whose memories fade. We must visit those within our church community rather than waiting for the pastor to visit.
For I know this, fading memories within do not take away the essence of a person. That person’s soul is intact.
In our presence with those whose memories within are fading, lucidity often increases when we pray with them. I have been with those who seem so far away that I wonder “What’s the point?”… I have seen them become fully aware and cognizant while receiving Holy Communion or praying the Lord’s Prayer with me.
In those moments, I am blessed by the Love of God flowing through them.
God’s relentless love may not only temporarily restore their memories within, but God sends my preconceptions, my doubts about the importance of presence…God sends my monsters within packing.
We are called to be Christ’s healing love in this community. Rather than going to church, we’re called to be church. We are church when we get on the boat with Jesus and the disciples and cross over to the other side. When we get there, we may be greeted by a homeless man begging at Biggs Junction.
We may be greeted angrily by a man who lost his family after years of drug use.
We may be greeted by a man struggling with the care of his wife who has Alzheimer’s Disease.
We may be greeted by a woman who is too frightened to embrace the still-speaking love of God.
We may be greeted by a man with a legion of monsters within.
And we may even come face-to-face with our own monsters. The Good News is this: with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, love can send the monsters within away. That’s the story we should be telling. Everyday to everyone we meet, we should be telling people what God has done and continues to do for us.