Tag Archives: threat

Gerasene demoniac dialogue (Pentecost 5c)

Some years ago I developed the idea of scripted dialogue in place of a monologue sermon.  It has some advantages – a conversational style, encouraging the idea of talking about scripture and its application, emphasising the relevance of text to contemporary Christian life etc.  This is a dialogue, for two readers in place of a sermon, which I “translated” from a sermon written previously, on the gospel passage Luke 8:26-39.  Comments welcome:

A It’s been quite a week: an MP has been killed, apparently while doing her job and doing it well; at the same time we are looking forward to an important referendum next Thursday

B and there’s a football competition, too!

A Indeed. You might wonder if that reading about the man Jesus healed in the cemetery has any relevance.

B It seems to me typical of Jesus that he is concerned about somebody that everybody else has given up on. There is no suggestion that anyone is looking after this man, keeping an eye out for him, leaving him food or clothing, but Jesus doesn’t bypass him and go to the “important” people.

A Yes, and that links with the MP’s murder. Jesus is reminding us that everybody matters to God, and should to us. All the groups Jo Cox was involved with, including minorities and refugees, but also Thomas Mair, however sad or mad he may be. We have to think about caring for all, not just the ones like us, or the easy ones. Jesus wasn’t afraid of dealing with someone demon possessed.

B Now that’s a question! Was he mentally ill, or did he really have spirits in him?

A Christians would have different answers to that. There’s no doubt that mental illness is real, and thankfully we are learning how to treat it successfully. If you know people affected, encourage them to consult their doctor, take their advice – and then make sure you don’t avoid them. Mental illness will affect a fair proportion of this congregation at one time or another. For me, after some years leading a Diocesan Healing and Deliverance Team, I am also confident that demon possession is real – but it has been uncommon in this part of the world. The team that clergy can consult is there to help, and some will need that help.

B So you are saying that mental illness is real, and demon possession can be, too?

A Yes. But let’s go on. Jesus’ concern for this man is not the only point here. What about the reaction of the local people to the event?

B They don’t seem very happy to have a local “problem” solved. I suppose the drowning of the pigs has something to do with it, which doesn’t say much about their values. I wonder if they also found the whole thing – well, frightening. Too challenging to their assumptions, and the accepted order of things.

A I think you’re right, though it is sad. They actually ask Jesus to go away because they are afraid – afraid of someone who has just restored a man they had given up on! I don’t know if there is something there about the Referendum – and no, I am not going to tell you how to vote. But fear is a bad motivation (and seems to have been used on both sides). It is also bad to think that, as Christians, we are allowed to cut ourselves off from other people. How best to move forward, for the good of all, that is the question.

B and we can’t make up your minds how that works out. Think, pray, and vote carefully. So, we’ve talked about Jesus attitude to this man, and then about the community’s attitude to Jesus. What about the ending; doesn’t Jesus usually tell people not to talk about their healing?

A Yes. When he is among Jewish people, he worries that he will be seen as a revolutionary leader – a “Messiah” in political and military terms, leading an army against the Romans – but here he is among Gentiles. He wants this man to be a reminder of the power and love of God, a testimony if you like. He is to live in the community that told Jesus to leave, a reminder of what happened, and how life might be different.

B So he is to do the things we are being encouraged to do now – live as a follower of Jesus, imitating his attitudes and actions out of gratitude, and ready to explain when people asked things like “What happened?” and “Why have you changed?”. I suppose that would have been quite challenging for him, as it is for us, but it certainly gave him something to do!

A – and it gave the people of that community a second chance. With the man living there, and staying in his right mind, they were going to have time to think again

B about the relative value of people and pigs?

A and about what Jesus could do, or what God’s plan for them was. I’m sure they didn’t think they were bad people, but they missed out in a big way that day, and Jesus finds a way to leave them a signpost, if they wanted to look for a better road. It would be sad to think nobody did.

B even sadder than losing the football?

A much more. Some of us believe in life after football, after all!
B Well, that’s our dialogue sketch on this gospel. It’s a bit of an experiment, and its not going to replace sermons, but let us know after the service if you found it helpful as a different way to reflect from time to time – and perhaps even as something to start you talking about scripture and how to apply it.

Commanded to love (Easter 5c)

It is funny how easily we avoid some of the most important bits of the gospel.  In John 13:31-34 Jesus commands his followers to love as he loves.  Wonderful!  We are to be loved, understood and forgiven – but how easily we forget that we must (yes, must) love, understand and forgive.

CS Lewis usefully made the point that if you try to love someone you don’t like, the best thing is to ask yourself what you would do if you did like them, and see if you can do that.  Sadly, we are good at making it difficult.  The linked passage from Acts 11:1-18 helps explain.  Peter had to face up to great barriers in going to a Gentile (the centurion Cornelius), baptising the family, and staying there.  He has some explaining to do to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem – and the issue will come back.

Not an issue for us without a background in Jewish faith?  But it is.  Every Church sets up barriers to belonging to the core group.  Even when newcomers are welcomed at the door, there are so many things to learn – a new set of words, a unique style of music, strange activities, – we could go on.  Not that we are nasty about it, or even that we understand what it is like for newcomers very often.  But this is a strange way to love the hesitant, or even the needy and hurting.  We need our Christian culture to guide us, and we need to sit lightly to it to love those outside the present group.

We’re stuck.  We can’t say, “I wish Jesus hadn’t commanded us to love”, because we would lose so much that is wonderful.  But to accept the command and try to practise it, is difficult!

Suffering and Repentance (Lent 3c)

Is it reassuring or sad to know that Jesus was asked about disasters and human suffering? This week’s gospel (Luke 13:1-9, and for once I could not get to Bible Study and have to think for myself) begins with a denial that the people who suffer deserve it.

It is strange how often people having a bad time ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” – and Christians can answer “It may be nothing you have done, just the fact that we live in a damaged world”. And even for those who are responsible, there is hope in repentance.

Repentance is an often misunderstood “religious” word. It is not about producing a big enough feeling of sorrow or remorse. And it is certainly not about adding to our feelings of guilt. Isaiah 55 (the Old Testament reading) tells us of a generous God, who welcomes and provides for less-than-perfect people. We are invited to enjoy God’s goodness and love – and repentance is a response to that.

As we find out what God is like, and what it is like to be forgiven and sorted out, we “turn away from” what is evil – and the “turning away” is repentance. It is not just “attitude” or “opinion”, but behaviour, priorities and motivation.

In verse 5, Jesus is not threatening, but rather giving a warning of danger. (Those living in Jerusalem would suffer terribly in the siege and destruction of 70 AD – the Christians remembered Jesus words, and escaped in time). It still applies. Repentance is part of Christianity, both when we first come to faith, and as we go on learning more of God. Like fruit trees, Christians are expected to produce fruit, reflecting God’s generosity and care. If instead they live selfish and unproductive lives, we wonder if they have recognised the source of their life, the soil and water that make life possible. If not, the risks are great, and repentance more urgent.

Who is threatened? (Lent 2c)

Lent 2c gospel – Luke 13:31-35

We had a good look at this in Bible Study, and found plenty to think about.

Is the warning friendly, or a veiled threat? It is not clear, but Jesus’ in response suggests he is confronting evil constantly, and will not be put off that. (In the parallel passage in Matthew, 23:29ff, there is open criticism of the Pharisees, and a fuller explanation of the fate of prophets).

At the same time, Jesus’ ministry is not standing still, but moving on to a climax, and a climax in Jerusalem!

What is his concern for “Jerusalem”? I think it unlikely he is sentimental about the place. He speaks of concern for the people, and I wonder if he also laments the culture dominant in both the religious and political life of the city. If only they would hear, and take the way of peace! This is very much a Lenten concern. If only we would hear!

But hearing has to lead to more, to practical application over time and where possible in wider society. Jesus looks forward to Palm Sunday, the (“Benedictus”) shouts of the crowd as he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (quotes from Ps 118: v26, v25 is Hosanna, while v22 will become important to Christians and quoted several times in the New Testament). That enthusiasm will be short lived, and not avoid his betrayal and death. Can we do better, without acting like Peter? (Luke 22:31-34 and parallels).

Is this passage tragedy playing out to it ending? Or does it speak of the need for reality – and if so, did Jesus have it? Certainly there is much here about human frailty and the ugly side of power struggles.