Sermon preached by Fr John Pritchard
on Sunday 23rd June 2019 (First Sunday after Trinity)
Isaiah 65.1–9; Psalm 22.19–28; Galatians 3.23–end; Luke 8.26–39
Perhaps our Gospel reflects the politics of my generation and what has been encouraged in our society more than we might first imagine or even want to think – where the value of the individual is lessened because of their inability to contribute to society.
So the demons are cast into the swine and the swine in throwing themselves off the cliff diminish the herdsmen’s property and, in doing so, anger them. This is hardly surprising given in Mark’s Gospel the author refers to 2,000 demons contained within this one man who is out of his mind amongst the tombs. It’s clear that in this story the numbers are meant to be overwhelming, the trauma this man has encountered is deeper we can ever imagine, and the loss to the herdsmen is meant to be felt in the community. The people haven’t felt the loss of this man amongst the graves, they only feel it when it affects their livelihood.
Here is someone in the community (wherever that might be) who is out of his mind: but to the community, the only way to cope with him is to chain him up, and leave him be amongst the graves – for the wellbeing of an individual cannot compare to getting on with daily life, or allow them to put their needs second.
Now I know I am a romantic, and perhaps sometimes even an idealist, but we hear in St Matthew’s Gospel, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” And also you are of more worth than the swine on the hillside.
It takes God to remind us, even his church, that those who suffer in our society are of immense importance and value to the Kingdom of God, even if they don’t serve well the kingdom of these islands.
When I was the Assistant Priest at All Saints, Margaret Street, I recall coming out of my house one Saturday morning and from quite a way down the street, a man started running towards me, holding aloft an empty wine bottle, shouting, “I’m gonna kill you, I’m gonna kill you!” A rare moment of grace and calmness fell upon me, and I shouted to him, ‘I’m an Anglican priest’, at which point he stopped, lowered the bottle and said, ‘Oh sorry, mate, I thought…’ Amazingly we went for a coffee and of course out of him poured out the sins of a thousand Catholic priests against this child – the sins which put him out of his mind.
How is it that we can mourn the loss of property over the suffering of one made in the image of God? It is in God’s DNA to care for this man, to heal him and to restore him. Yet it is in saving this one man that a whole community turned against Jesus and his mission. It is in saving this one man that we understand what “So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” means, especially as it seems at one level the demon has had the last laugh. One man saved, yes, but an entire community will now not come close to God through the incarnate Son.
Yet the Son has been faithful to his calling and irrespective of what the world might make of him, he does what only he can do: save the one, so the one who is lost to the community is saved to Christ. Jesus ultimately wins, for although he is forced to leave the area, he leaves the healed man as a witness to the love and care God has towards his creation.
It seems too often we have lost our way… income, work, benefits of a good life more important than the individual. Of course a mad man running naked amongst the tombs is going to get on all of our nerves eventually… but we should recall that his or her importance is primarily more significant than gain, and even our livelihood – and it’s not surprising that our communities are scattered with people like this. Survivors of trauma and abuse who have been neglected because of the need to save the institution or the wealth of a system have historically been more important than an individual.
These next couple of weeks we are focusing the food bank collection on sanitary products for girls and women who in their poverty and dependence on food for their husbands, partners and children more than likely put their physical wellbeing second to the food on the table. So yesterday after Mass, Fr’s Daniel, Andrew, Tom and I went shopping to Sainsbury’s to learn, to shop and to buy sanitary products for the food bank collection on July 7th.
It is an indictment on Government policy that financial pressure through taxation and shame should be adding stress to the basic needs of every woman. Period poverty is of course trendy, and thank God for trends… and if you can, jump on the bandwagon and go and buy a few sanitary products.
We bumped into a married man yesterday in Sainsbury’s and I asked him, ‘What do you buy your wife in this “area”?’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s nothing to do with me…’ But how is it that there are parts of other people’s lives which, even in our most intimate relationships with them, have ‘nothing to do with me’?
This is the image of the story of the man in amongst the tombs… he’s nothing to do with us… let’s carry on and go about our business. Yet Jesus, in thinking that the man who he met had something to do with him, by his care of him was happy to be rejected by all the others – because you are of more value than many sparrows or swine.
It is incumbent upon us to care for the neglected, not only people, but those neglected parts of ourselves which need to be healed and restored into the community of one another, and communion with God. Do not pass by on the other side, do not deny that you or the people you dislike or who scare you are important to God. Jesus heals one, and the response of the one who is healed is to proclaim Christ, to proclaim the love of God. Let us offer ourselves to be healed in Christ so that we can become full members of this community – where our property and privilege matter less than the needs of our neighbours and our own flourishing.