Not the easiest sermon to write – murders and a baptism…
—Kate Harrison, 18 June 2016
Galatians 3. 23–29 & Luke 8. 26–39
In a week when we have seen the most heartbreaking news unfold I will be baptising the most gorgeous young baby at our parish Mass.
St Paul said, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
MP Jo Cox said, “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”
So why does the world still focus on what divides us? Why do we still look for what makes us different?
Normally, for a baptism, I’d like to preach the gospel with a smile and a sense of humour. I really wanted to do that today for the gorgeous J and his family. But the news this week has made that very hard. There’s nothing light and fluffy in the violent deaths of so many innocent people in Orlando and then the murder of an MP here. And I don’t think I’d be being honest to any of us if I ignored these things and pretended they hadn’t happened. Our hearts are breaking and so we must acknowledge that.
Those men and women in the club in Orlando were killed because they had been marked out by their murderer as ‘different’. Jo Cox was killed by someone who is reported to have shouted “put Britain first” and had links to white supremacist groups. When we hear of Mrs Cox’s radically inclusive views it’s not hard to see why the press and bystanders have concluded that she was killed because she represented equality with those her killer felt were ‘different’.
It would be easy to link both of these murderers to the man possessed by demons in today’s Gospel story. It is often suggested that the possessed man had mental health problems which caused his unpredictable and threatening behaviour and, rather than exorcising him of these external influences, demonic forces, we would now understand what happened as a healing from illness. That is why I can’t draw those parallels. Jo Cox’s murderer may well have had mental health problems. But mental health problems do not turn someone into a murderer. Britain First have tried to distance his actions from their organisation by focussing on his alleged illness. But mental health problems are so common that, quite frankly, you may as well draw links between high cholesterol or having chicken pox as a child with violent behaviour. Jo Cox and the 49 in Orlando did not die because their killers had mental health problems. They died because of a hatred of diversity.
Maybe this is the demon. Maybe what led this man in today’s Gospel to be separate from his neighbours and community, chained and bound, is his own separateness – his need to find difference – his need to name difference rather than embrace it. Notice that when Jesus asks his name he doesn’t give the name his family would have known him by. He is defined by what has made him separate. The only name we have for him is Legion – the very thing which keeps him away from his community.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians turns the destructive view of diversity on its head. In this we hear that difference is not anything to divide us. Of course, Paul is not suggesting for a moment that there are no differences between men and women. He’s not suggesting that the slaves of the time are suddenly free to live their own lives. Difference exists. Of course it does. But through Christ we can see that it does not separate us. Slaves lived different lives from their masters. Men and women have fundamental differences. People from different countries have different cultures and different experiences. but these things do not define us. In fact, they are so insignificant in what defines us that they may as well not be mentioned. What is important is that we are all made in the image of God.
When we are clothed in Christ through baptism we grow closer to a clear reflection of that image. It is the beginning of a journey in which we grow into our true selves – the image of Christ himself. As this happens, the things that separate us from each other are removed. We shed our own ‘Legion’ and become free, unchained. No longer imprisoned and guarded, we can enjoy the full promise of life in abundance.
This is our prayer for J today. As he grows, supported by his loving family and Godparents, as he is strengthened by our continuing prayers for him, he will discover that freedom that can only come from a loving and trusting relationship with our Lord and creator. J will make this world a better and safer place for all of us. I have every faith that, through the example of those around him and the encouragement he will have to live a life of love, J will see, like Jo Cox saw, that “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”
Published on Walking the Revolution.