Why Trump?

This is a good analysis from a cognitive scientist who has been paying attention. He refuses to write something short. If you read the first 1000 words of this and stop, you will think that Trump is inevitable (or you’ll just be mad). However, he is saying some important true things, things which winning candidates know and do without his analysis. This is very important, if the Democratic party continues to complain about Trump and regard it as enough to point out his absurdities, the election will go just as it did for Jeb Bush.
Here are two helpful sentences.
“Reporters and commentators are supposed to stick to what is conscious and with literal meaning. But most real political discourse makes use of unconscious thought, which shapes conscious thought via unconscious framing and commonplace conceptual metaphors. It is crucial, for the history of the country and the world, as well as the planet, that all of this be made public.”
“.. start with values, not policies and facts and numbers. Say what you believe, but haven’t been saying”

George Lakoff

 By George Lakoff

         Donald Trump is winning Republican presidential primaries at such a great rate that he seems likely to become the next Republican presidential nominee and perhaps the next president. Democrats have little understanding of why he is winning — and winning handily, and even many Republicans don’t see him as a Republican and are trying to stop him, but don’t know how. There are various theories: People are angry and he speaks to their anger. People don’t think much of Congress and want a non-politician. Both may be true. But why? What are the details? And Why Trump?

Many people are mystified. He seems to have come out of nowhere. His positions on issues don’t fit a common mold.

He likes Planned Parenthood, Social Security, and Medicare, which are not standard Republican positions. Republicans hate eminent domain (the taking of private property by the government) and…

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Teach us to pray

A sermon for the tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 24, 2016

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

Today’s gospel lesson features the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer has been the characteristic prayer of Christians since the very beginning. Early Christian writings say that every Christian should say it three times a day—before Morning Prayer and Evensong were invented, the Lord’s prayer was the daily Christian liturgy. The Lord’s Prayer exists in a few slightly varying forms in ancient documents, and the form we have today in the Gospel of Luke is the simplest and shortest. This can help us to understand the longer version of the prayer that we sing every Sunday and which we hold in our memory.

The spirituality of Jesus and the followers of Jesus are quickly outlined: Simple reverence for God—Father, hallowed be your name; Your kingdom come—the Kingdom of God among us, life in the Commonwealth of God is the most distinctive part of the teaching of Jesus. I’m often puzzled when people suggest using this prayer as non-sectarian and appropriate for groups that are largely non-Christian. There is nothing more Christian than to pray for the Kingdom of God to come.

The Kingdom of God is very different from the Kingdom of this world. It is not about power; it is not about intimidation or fear. It is not about one group gathering all the power and wealth it can to itself at the expense of others. You see the Kingdom in Jesus healing the sick from disease and from being oppressed by those demons that distort the lives of individuals and society. You see the Kingdom in Jesus, the servant of all, who encourages everyone to be neighbors to one another.  You see the Kingdom in him as he faced those powers of the world and was killed by them and yet was raised by God from the dead.  In saying, “Your kingdom come,” we pray for the resurrection of the dead in Jesus Christ.

And it is in that vision of that Kingdom of God that we pray the next sentence: “Give us each day our daily bread.” Bread Nourished. Each day.  In God’s commonwealth there is enough. Enough to share, but not enough to grab and keep for ourselves. Life with Jesus is simple, it is an ordinary experience of peace. In his prayer, what we request is the basics of real life, not the fantasies of what we might want, or the violence of what we might take.

The way that the next petition is phrased is somewhat ironic—it points up something we want to ignore: Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  This is a dangerous prayer—by entering into it, you end up giving up all claims you have to what others owe you. Of course, God’s forgiveness of our sins is much larger than that, but still, it’s a pretty audacious prayer.  It’s costly to be Jesus’ disciple. The bounty of God’s overwhelming love, forgiveness and free grace flows to us all, in pure generosity. In the Kingdom of Christ, we live from God’s generosity and we live in God’s generosity, and it only costs us …. Everything. It costs us our fears and our selfishness. It costs us our self-righteousness and judgement. It costs us our smugness and our complacency.

And that’s why the prayer ends— “Save us from the time of trial.” The trial is the temptation to turn our backs on the Kingdom of Peace and accept the world of violence, fear and anger, as we see just about every time we turn to the national news recently. The time of trial when the only way forward for everyone seems to be to hold on to the despair of anger and to give up on the hope of forgiveness. Save us from the time of trial when the way to Jesus’ resurrection seems totally blocked by that stone sealing the tomb, and those soldiers blocking the way.

The Gospel lesson continues, and Jesus continues to teach about prayer. Usually the experts observe that these stories are about persistence in prayer. That’s true. But I think Jesus is also playing with us a bit. He taught his disciples and us this simple prayer of the Kingdom. But how often do we get bogged down in being all religious about that? “Oh yes. We must be grateful and generous and forgiving.” “Oh yes, we are the faithful disciples.” “Oh yes, we never give in to the temptation to be fearful.” So Jesus tells a story about his followers and their friends and neighbors who are probably also Jesus’ followers. One goes to the other and asks for a cup of sugar or something, because guests were coming. And Jesus tells it like it actually happens (or the way that people sometimes feel)—that friend says, “No, go away! You’re always bothering me and I don’t feel like helping you out!” In this real world, people don’t always cooperate, not everything goes smoothly and not everyone is nice. Jesus is teasing us. It is not because you are perfect, or because you feel good that you are part of the Kingdom of God, it is because you are God’s child. And look! What’s in my hand? Is it an egg for you to eat? Or is it a scorpion to sting and hurt you? It’s possible to think of people who might play that trick, but not a loving parent, not the God and Father of Jesus Christ, not in the Kingdom of God, the Commonwealth of Peace. Jesus’ stories tease us out of that fearfulness and anger that are that trial that can tempt us. He forgives us and directs us to our daily bread.

The ancient Didache, or Teaching, of the Twelve Apostles, instructs us to pray this prayer three times a day. Before we come forward and share in the heavenly bread of the Eucharist (our Great Thanksgiving), Let’s pray in the words that our Lord taught us:

 

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name.

Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

By the Oaks of Mamre

A sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 17, 2016

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.

OaksThat image reminds me of home, out in the arid West in the middle of summer. Cloudless days like that are quiet and hot.  But they can be quite pleasant, even without air conditioning, as long as you stay in the shade, out of the direct heat of the sun. So, in the middle of that hot day, Abraham was sitting in the shade at the entrance of his tent. That’s a meditative time, it’s not a time of day when you do much work. Chores are for the morning and early evening.

It’s unusual to see travelers out walking in the heat of the day. When Abraham saw the three men standing out there on the road, it was an event.  He suddenly sprang into action, he begged the men to stop and rest, and to receive hospitality. He ordered a feast prepared.

Why? There is nothing in the text to imply that there was anything unusual about these men beyond being strangers walking on the road in the middle of a hot day. Ordinary travelers. Abraham gave to those strangers the same welcome that he would give to any stranger, the hospitality due to an honored guest. Of course Abraham was in a slightly different context than we are in—there weren’t subways carrying five and a half million passengers per day at the Oaks of Mamre in those days as there are now in New York City. But still…

In offering hospitality to these strangers, these people whose background Abraham did not know, Abraham encountered God.  And this was no small thing, no private feel-good occurrence. You see, what we read in the Book of Genesis today is the first half of a longer passage that is pivotal in all of biblical history, in understanding God’s relationship to Israel.  This is the story where the promise of the creation of that people is made. Today’s lesson ends: “Your wife Sarah shall have a son.” That son was Isaac, who was the father of Israel. As it says just a few verses later, “Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him…” In their old age, and the old age of his wife Sarah, when she was 90-years-old, they became parents, and established a people who were God’s people.  And all this because they extended hospitality to three strangers—people who they did not know.

I peeked at how the story continues—Abraham and Israel were blessed because they extended hospitality—and the whole world was blessed in them, but in the next verses Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, specifically because they violated hospitality. Abraham’s nephew Lot extended hospitality to God’s messengers, and the angry crowd gathered, and as he confronted them to protect his guests the crowd said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.”

Hospitality is the opposite of the anger that groups feel against those who are different.  It is the opposite of racism. It is the opposite of festering anger that erupts in violence. Hospitality is the opposite of terrorism.  Abraham blesses the strangers by attending to their needs. The Samaritan in the story last week blessed the injured stranger by caring for his needs, taking him to a place of healing. They themselves are blessed, not by something they receive back, certainly not immediately, but they are blessed by encountering the love of God in the ability to give hospitality.

It’s not always easy or peaceful or obvious. Sometimes our worry and our busyness gets in the way of recognizing that encounter with God, even while it is happening. In today’s Gospel lesson, which is really a short extension of the story we heard last week, where Jesus tells the lawyer the story about the compassionate Samaritan, Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. She is extending hospitality to him. And she really is welcoming the Son of God, the prophet of the Most High, into her home. Hospitality is about attending to the needs of the guest. (Once the stranger enters your home, they are no longer a stranger, but a guest). Particularly in this section of the Gospel of Luke, after the Transfiguration where he is blessed along with the great prophets Moses and Elijah, Jesus is a prophet, single-mindedly on his journey to Jerusalem.

What do you need to do for a prophet? Listen to him. That’s the one and most important thing: listen to the message. So Mary is listening to the prophet, who is the guest. Martha was working very hard, doing all the things to prepare for what guests usually want and need. And Martha sort of loses it. She goes to the guest and complains.  There is nothing in this short passage arguing against hard work, or implying that the hard work of hospitality is not a good thing, or that the contemplative life is better than the active life, or that Mary is better than Martha. Martha is the main host, and her job in extending hospitality is to attend to the needs of her guest. And we should note, the way this scene is depicted, there isn’t a crowd of disciples or others, in fact, Jesus is the only guest mentioned. Martha made the standard assumptions that anyone would make: bake fresh cakes, find the good dishes, get the foot-washing bowl… And like many of us she focused on the tasks without looking up at the guest.

But what did he want? The prophet wanted to be heard. I don’t hear rebuke in his words to Martha, I hear tenderness—“Martha, you are distracted by many things, but there is ONE thing that I want, to be heard.” Martha and Mary together extended hospitality to Jesus, and in that they were blessed by his presence and by his words. Sometimes we can get so worked up about what we think we should be doing or what should be happening that we forget to see the blessing that we have received and are receiving, even now.

As Christians we are called together to live a life blessed in thanksgiving and the opportunity to extend hospitality. In welcoming those strangers, Abraham and Sarah encountered God, and were blessed throughout all generations.

Let us pray once again our Collect for today:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Go and do likewise

A sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 10, 2016

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?

Two Sundays ago, our lectionary Gospel readings set out with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem. Today’s lesson directly continues in the Gospel according to St. Luke. The journey started in Jesus’ home district of Galilee, in the far north of Palestine to Jerusalem, in the southern part of Palestine. A large part of the journey is through the district of Samaria. That roughly overlaps where the northern Kingdom of Israel was before the Assyrians overran it and then the Babylonians invaded and took many from the southern Kingdom of Judah into exile. In that district of Samaria was a large number of towns populated by Samaritans. The Samaritans regarded themselves as the true followers of Moses—they observed the laws of the Five Books of Moses and offered sacrifices on Mt. Gerizim, which they believed was the place that God had appointed, not Jerusalem. The Jews, including those who were the majority in Galilee as well as those from Judea, regarded the temple in Jerusalem as The Holy Place. The Jews believed that the Samaritans had intermarried with idolaters, that their worship was polluted, and that they were generally a people not to be trusted. These two groups did not have an amicable relationship. In fact, they got along better with the gentiles with whom they shared no common traditions, than they did with each other.

When Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem, he sent messengers out and a Samaritan town rejected them. Jesus’ disciples, the brothers James and John, whose nickname was the “Sons of Thunder” came to Jesus and suggested that they should call for God to rain down fire on that village. That epitomized the relationship of the Jews and the Samaritans.

In our reading today, a lawyer stands up, and in this case, he’s a man trained in the interpretation of Jewish law. It’s clear from the way the text is written that his questions are meant to test Jesus and put him in a difficult place, to make him say things that would not be popular with the crowds.  So when he asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he’s not looking for an answer, but a debate.   Jesus agrees with him, “Do this and you will live.” There is no difference in the essential core of the spiritual life and the Jewish law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

But now the lawyer wants to pin Jesus down, “And who is my neighbor?”

He was looking for Jesus to draw for him the boundaries of the righteous and the unrighteous.

When Jesus tells the story, he doesn’t give guidance on how to decide who your neighbor is.  Do you see that? He doesn’t give a narrow or a broad definition. He doesn’t say one group is neighbors and another is not. He doesn’t say that some might become neighbors in such and such a way.  He doesn’t say, you’ll know they are neighbors by their love of you. He does not even say that everyone is your neighbor.

Jesus tells a story about how to BE a neighbor. Not to figure out who to treat like a neighbor, just how to be one. And in this situation, at this time, Jesus chose to tell this Jewish lawyer about a Samaritan who behaved like a neighbor. The man who was beaten by robbers was clearly Jewish, like Jesus and the lawyer, and the two other characters in the story were clergy—a priest and a Levite. The religious people in this world may think that being religious makes them much more neighborly, but that isn’t the case. Not according to Jesus.

Jesus chose as his illustration of who could be a neighbor, a person that all of his hearers, not just this lawyer, but also his own disciples, especially James and John, regarded with disrespect and anger. When Jesus described the Samaritan, when he saw the man injured by the road, Jesus said that he was moved by compassion—the Greek root of the word implies that he felt the man’s pain and need from deep in his insides.

Jesus turns to his questioner and says, “Who acted like a neighbor?”

“The one who showed mercy.” There was no other possible answer to Jesus’ question.  Jesus refused to respond to the question of who your neighbor is. Instead he said, “Go and do likewise.” This was not necessarily good politics, but it was what Jesus meant.

This week—I’m not sure what to say.  The shooting of Alton Sterling and of Philando Castile by police officers. Shootings that would not have happened to white men. Then Thursday night, the massacre of police officers in Dallas, Texas Dallas Police Shootingwho were conscientiously doing their job of keeping a peaceful protest safe.  Anger and fear reacting in violence.  We are in a country where everybody seems to shout—“NOT MY NEIGHBOR!” And even those who are quiet, quietly see others as the transgressors, the untrustworthy, the scary— “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But it was one of those transgressors, one of those Samaritans, who was deeply moved by compassion. Who saw the humanity of the wounded man, who put himself on the line for the sake of his healing.

It’s easy enough to see how people habitually do not treat one another as neighbors. It’s easy enough to see the disastrous results of that.  What is not easy to see is how to unravel the violence, the hate, and the simple self-pity of those who allow violence to flourish. I don’t know what to say.

But it was obvious, even to his hostile questioner, when Jesus asked, “Which one of the three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who into the hands of the robbers?”  It was the one who showed him mercy. And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”

Let us pray our Psalm for today, once more. Psalm 25:1-9 in the insert.

To you, O Lord, I life up my soul, My God, I put my trust in you:

Let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

Show me your ways, O Lord.

and teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth and teach me,

for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long.

Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,

For they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;

Remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.

Gracious and upright is the Lord;

Therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right

And teaches his way to the lowly.

All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness

To those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Peace to this house!

A sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 3, 2016

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”

In last week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem. The next thing in the Gospel of Luke is today’s reading.  Jesus found seventy “others.” It doesn’t really describe them, but they were definitely not the twelve apostles. We assume they were Jesus’ disciples, people we like to call his followers. But Jesus didn’t have them follow him, he sent them on ahead, to places where he had not yet been. What were they supposed to do? We can assume a lot of things, and describe their mission, but here is what Jesus actually told them: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be with this

He sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place.

He sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place.

house!’” These 35 (or maybe 36) pairs of people were supposed to go and pronounce peace for these houses—to be specific: “whatever house.”

These people who Jesus sent out were ordinary people, not geniuses, or orators, or great salespeople. Jesus sent these ordinary people to the places where he would be traveling with one mission: bring peace to the households they visited.

Those people were out there, and Jesus hadn’t cleared the way for them, they were ahead of him, and it was frightening.  Jesus wasn’t naïve. What he was asking them to do was not easy or safe: “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Going out without bag or purse, without wealth, or power, or any office or standing makes you pretty vulnerable when all you have to offer is peace.

But that’s how Jesus sent them out.  “Peace be with this house.” What is this peace? It’s clearly more than just a greeting, because Jesus continues: “If anyone there shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.” Peace is a gift from God—the God who is love gives peace to those whom he loves.  Peace is the knowledge of dwelling in God’s love—it is the foundation for compassion and for trust. If you’re going into someone else’s house and you want to talk about the Kingdom of God, you have to have some basis for trust. To share God’s compassion, you have to know compassion and share it.  That’s a big piece of those instructions that Jesus gave: “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…” When you come in carrying all these tools and resources, that’s what the host will see.

But there is only one thing that Jesus gives us to share: his peace.  It surpasses all understanding—and it doesn’t make sense in a world of transactions and power. It is frightening. And note: living in God’s peace and offering it, doesn’t always work out, people won’t always receive it. Jesus gives instructions of what to do in that case: “Say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off…”

Here’s what they found: in living in the peace of God, and offering the compassion of God to those they met, when that peace found the peace within others, tremendous and surprising healing power was unleashed. Even the demons, those spiritual forces that tear apart and destroy society and people were cast out by that peace of God in those ordinary people who went out like lambs to share the Kingdom of God. And as they come back to Jesus, they were are all excited—they had never witnessed such a thing. And the thing they witnessed was them! How exciting! And Jesus rejoiced with them—indeed, he said, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” The transformation and the healing were pretty remarkable as these ordinary people focused and lived in the compassion of God, sharing peace with those they met.

The power is greater than we can ask or imagine—yet Jesus says something else: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” It’s not the spiritual power, no more than it is the purse and bag that make the difference. Jesus did not send them out so that they could gain powers and do wonders. He sent them to bring peace, to live in compassion and for their lives to be a source of healing in the world.

We find that peace and healing here in this place, Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania. At least I do. The Kingdom of God is here. Jesus sends us out to bring peace. We gather here and share in Christ’s peace in the Eucharist. You know that peace is real and is of God because it helps others to be healed and grow, and we have no power to control it or make it happen. We live our lives going forward, and we don’t necessarily know what will be there when we reach the place that Christ is sending us.

But Jesus says this: “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Rejoice that God’s Kingdom is here among you.

As our lesson from Isaiah says:

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants.”

He set his face to go to Jerusalem

A sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, June 26, 2016

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

“When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Today’s gospel reading is the beginning of the large middle section of the Gospel of Luke. Basically before this, Jesus has been preaching, teaching and healing in and around his home district of Galilee, but now, after the Transfiguration, when Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in God’s glory on the mountaintop, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” In other words, he made his firm decision to bring his ministry to Jerusalem, the seat of the temple and the spiritual heart of Judaism.

This passage sets the tone. Jesus is not just wandering around, seeing what will happen or making occasional pronouncements. This journey is serious business. Much of the imagery is derived from the scriptural descriptions of the prophet Elijah, even when what Jesus says contrasts with the earlier prophet.  Elisha says to Elijah, “Let me kiss my father and my mother; and then I will follow you.” Elijah’s response was, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” But Jesus’ response was, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” I don’t think Jesus was undermining respect for family, and family obligations in this. However, his journey to Jerusalem, which clearly included his own crucifixion, was nonetheless an urgent journey to life. There was no turning back to focus on death.

Jesus had sent out messengers in advance to prepare the way for his journey. And some came to a Samaritan village, and that village rejected this journey to Jerusalem.  Most people don’t know much about the Samaritans. A small group of them still exists in Israel.  The Samaritans were the descendants of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Israel—the northern part of the Kingdom of David that split off after the reign of Solomon. During the time of Jesus, there was a pretty substantial population of Samaritans in Palestine, definitely a minority in an area that was predominantly, but not exclusively Jewish. The Samaritans regarded themselves as descendants of Abraham who worshiped God properly, in the place and manner that Moses had spelled out. For the Samaritans, that place was Mount Gerizim, where they still offer sacrifices to this day, NOT in Jerusalem. The Samaritans had definite opinions about Jerusalem and most of them were unfriendly at best. So it isn’t that surprising that when these advance men for a trip to Jerusalem came into town, the Samaritans gave them the heave-ho.

James and John, the brothers also known as “the Sons of Thunder,” wanted to rain fire down on the Samaritan village and destroy it. After all, can’t those stupid Samaritans see the truth? Don’t they know that this is the Savior and he’s going to Jerusalem to save everybody? Shouldn’t we teach them a lesson? Jesus turns around and says, “No!” This is not a show of power, the Kingdom of God is about life, not about force and punishment and death.

And with Jesus, they moved on to the next village. His remarks make clear this is not a casual journey; it’s not a camping trip just for fun. This is a journey to life, and for life—but that life encompasses all the difficulties of real life, including danger and death. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head,” Jesus said to someone who glibly said he would follow him anywhere. This journey is serious business and it’s not about following some celebrity or hero around.

I love the final saying in this lesson, but it doesn’t make sense unless you’ve worked on man plowing field with horsesa farm. When you plow a field or plant seeds, whether you are using a tractor, or a mule to pull your plow, it is important to plow straight furrows, next to one another or the ground won’t be thoroughly or completely cultivated, or planted or mowed. Doing this is relatively simple—you look at a point ahead of you at the end of the field and keep going straight toward it. If you turn your head, you won’t go straight, usually you will veer off toward the direction you are looking. Just like driving a car in traffic without paying close attention. So Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The Kingdom of God is God’s life-giving compassion for God’s people, which is to say—us, living in that compassion and living out God’s compassion in the world. In this whole lesson, Jesus is making clear that focusing on life is not trivial or easy. You can’t take your eye off the goal of abundant life, or turn around into self-indulgence or arrogance. There is no compassion or life in fire-bombing the Samaritans, or playing at following Jesus while being unprepared for Christian life in the long haul.

Here at Trinity, I have experienced life in the Kingdom. Remembering God’s compassion for all of us, mourning with those who mourn, and rejoicing with those who rejoice. We walk with Jesus, and offer him our hospitality, he who has no place to lay his head.  With him we carry in us the gift of life and of love which we have received from those who have gone before us, and those with whom we share this day, and those who will continue to grow in Christ into the future. We share with him the path of life. Let us be thankful. Let us receive his generosity.

From today’s psalm:

O Lord, you are my portion and my cup;

it is you who uphold my lot.

My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;

my heart teaches me, night after night.

I have set the Lord always before me;

because he is at my right hand I shall not fail.

My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;

my body shall rest in hope.

Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 19, 2016

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.

The gospel today is about what Jesus did for a man who was possessed by demons. Every time I baptize someone, I make sure to talk with them or their parents and godparents about the questions they will have to answer, especially the first two: “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?” And: “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?” The reason is that these evil powers, these demons, are real and they wreak havoc in our world. Contemporary people think of images of little devils with horns and tails and say, “those things don’t exist, we can just ignore all that stuff, that’s just old fashioned.” It is true, that the little superstitious creatures of horror movies don’t exist, but the demons that Jesus cast out are just as real today as ever.

Last year on Father’s Day the gospel was about Jesus stilling the storm on the lake. It ends: “He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” This year the gospel begins at the very next verse, “Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes.” Jesus was met by a man who had demons. It describes how his life was torn apart and destroyed by these evil powers: he had stopped wearing clothes and he lived in the tombs, not among the living but among the dead. And as soon as he sees Jesus, this frightening, frightened, angry and pitiful man gets right up in his face. Meanwhile, Jesus has been calling that spirit to come out of him. The man says, “Do not torment me”—but the torment is within him.

Spiritual powers that rebel against God and corrupt and destroy the creatures of God are primarily characterized by fear and hatred.  In the world that we live in, we often attribute this fear and hatred and wickedness to the individuals who we see that manifest them. The fear and hatred of individuals may feed these powers, and increase their intensity and reach, but these are demonic powers and they are not in the control of any single person. Often people are not even aware of the ways in which their actions are associated with the evil that these powers wreak on the world.

Jesus says, “What is your name?” And the man can’t even answer. The demon within him responds, “Legion.” A legion was a Roman military unit, terrifying in its power and the number of heavily armed soldiers who could overrun another army or a country. What possessed this man was not a simple fear, or a hatred of a single thing—the demon that ripped this man’s life apart and separated him from all society was a whole constellation of fears, they manifested in hatred of life itself, and even when the Life of the World invited him to life, he said, “DO NOT TORMENT ME!”

A week ago, over a hundred people were shot in Orlando, Florida. Over fifty were killed. People rightly responded in horror and pain to the awful events. But when you read the descriptions of the killer of the people in the Pulse nightclub—there are as many labels as there are fears: “terrorist,” “foreigner,” “self-hater.” Honestly—it doesn’t matter, his fears and hates were Legion, just like the man who dwelt in the tombs in Gerasa, two thousand years ago. The powers which corrupt this world are complex—simple characterizations like you see being offered by some of our politicians and those seeking political office aren’t going to solve society’s demons like racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia. If we use them as amplifiers for our own fears and angers—or allow others to do so in our name—we just give more power to those demons.

And Jesus, the incarnate love of God, is still calmly standing there, waiting for the demons to come out of this man. Simple anger and fear eventually just go away. Sometimes, when Jesus cast out demons, they just disappeared in the face of his love and faithfulness. But with the complexity of demons like this one—where often the fear and the anger is interwoven with other things that people care about, or once loved or hoped for, this kind of power may be cast out, but it doesn’t disappear. The fear and the hatred and the destruction take up residence somewhere else.

Perhaps that’s the symbolism of the demons taking up residence, at Legion’s request, in the herd of pigs. The demon, like the human he possesses, doesn’t want to die. We see that today, when hatred of “the other” lives and feeds on itself and shows up in many different forms—sometimes they are embodied by people who are asking us for our vote or telling us the only way we can survive is to arm ourselves—because “the other” is coming!

Jesus is focused on the healing of this man. But the demons don’t just fade away—they persist and go swineelsewhere. There is loss—the herd of pigs is destroyed. Make no mistake about it: People are scared to let go of their demons—of their anger and their hate. If they gave it up—What? They might have to see this man who was once possessed by demons, living naked in the cemetery, who they discounted as human, sitting among them. They might have to accept him as their brother, and actually see him.

The man wanted to go with Jesus. He was healed and he wanted to stay that way. But Jesus told him another way to stay healed: “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” It is the blessings that we receive from God that keep us healed. I thank God for all the healing I have received in this community, through the respect and courage and joy of Trinity Church which has upheld me. When we experience hope, or compassion or generosity it becomes part of us. The love of Fr. Newman, the dedication of Fr. Roberts, the generosity and friendship of Keith Warren continue to be part of us, even as they have gone to another shore.  God has blessed this church and continues to bless us.

On this Father’s Day, we remember that we have been blessed by fathers, both our own and those we have known. Of course, fatherhood is a broad category, encompassing all manner of men. But when I think of my own father, or the blessings that others receive from fathers, I think of someone who shares what he has—his skills, or his courage, or his wisdom.

What has God done for us? God has blessed us all, particularly in the love and courage and generosity of other people. In the church we have seen faithfulness, we have received love, we have been challenged to be followers of Jesus. And then Jesus got on the boat, and told that man who he had healed from all those evil powers to tell everyone how much God had done for him.

You remember, that man had found clothes and put them on after he was healed. As St. Paul told us today:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. 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. And if you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Please turn to page 499 in the Book of Common Prayer

Let us pray for all those who died in Orlando last week and all those who died a year ago in Charleston:

Give rest, O Christ to your servants with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Give rest, O Christ to your servants with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.