June 19, 2022 – Second Sunday after Pentecost – Luke 8:26-39

Wouldn’t you think that the people of Gerasa would have been glad that Jesus cast the
demons out of their neighbor? It must have been demoralizing, if not downright disturbing for
the townspeople to have one of their own living naked in the cemetery. And Luke tells us that
this had been going on for a long time. More than just finding it disturbing, the people must
have been afraid of him because they kept him guarded and bound with chains and shackles;
yet even so, the demon or demons would apparently cause him to have extraordinary strength
because, from time to time, he would break out of the chains and go running off into the wild.

What a life for this poor man. What a life for the Gerasene people. You would think that
setting the guy free from his bondage and returning him to his community would have made
Jesus a hero, except maybe to the pig farmer who lost his whole herd that day. You would
think that they would have welcomed Jesus to stay with them for a while longer, out of
curiosity, if nothing more, but maybe also because others had conditions that Jesus might heal.
But the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave. They were afraid of him. Setting captives free disrupts
the status quo. And some people – people with power and authority – some people like the
status quo. Some people find the status quo, even a demoralizing or disturbing or dangerous
status quo, more comfortable than dealing with change. More comfortable than giving dignity
and respect to every member of the community. More comfortable than giving someone they
had seen as an outsider a rightful seat at the table.

Today is June 19 th – a historic day that I, as a privileged white middle class person, had
never even heard until a few years ago. And yet it has been celebrated in African American
communities since the late 1880s. Juneteenth, as it is known, is the annual commemoration of
the end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865, the date when a Union General made
the official announcement in Galveston, TX that freed the last remaining U.S. slaves. June 19,
1865. That’s more than two months after the Civil War had ended and two and a half years
after the January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Some of that delay might be attributable
to slower methods of communication in the 1860’s. But some of it is also that good news
doesn’t travel so fast when it upsets the status quo. Because slavery was the status quo. Last
year, Congress made Juneteenth a federal holiday – which, since it is a Sunday this year, will be
observed tomorrow. And yet polling shows that only a third of Americans feel that this holiday
has personal significance for them. 1

You might argue that for me, a white person whose family has no Southern roots . . . why
should I care about Juneteenth? But there’s a deeper problem than just the popularity (or even
the name recognition) of the newest federal holiday. And that is that we, who are white, have
power and privilege simply by virtue of our skin color, even though it is power and privilege that
we didn’t ask for and may not even want. It is the status quo. It is built into the fabric of our
society, and I believe that Jesus, who over and over again disrupted the status quo, calling into

1 https://www.moreincommon.com/media/lmsd23ji/2022-juneteenth-report_more-in-common.pdf

the community those who, for whatever reason, had been outside of it – I believe that Jesus is
calling us to be an anti-racist community. Now many people hear the word racism and think about racial slurs or hate crimes or other
overtly racist actions. We don’t have to look hard to find examples of such evil. But structural
and systemic racism are often invisible – at least to those who are not its victims. Examples
include residential segregation, unfair lending practices which make it harder for people of
color to get a loan, schools’ dependence on local property taxes which provides better
education to those with more money, environmental injustice (because it is the disadvantaged
communities which are most adversely affected by climate change), voter suppression which
makes it harder to exercise the right to vote, and bias in law enforcement. And we, as white
people, can’t address any of these issues until we, as white people, come to understand how it
is that we benefit from the status quo. That’s the uncomfortable truth. We need to do this
work not just because we’re Americans and we want to be good citizens. We need to this work
because we follow a Savior who accepts us, flaws and all, but does not leave us as we are.
Jesus’ love disrupts the status quo and transforms both individuals and communities, removing
barriers, and drawing the circle of inclusion ever wider.

It’s easy to see how the man with the demon was transformed. Having been exorcised of
his demons and permanently freed from his chains, we may assume that he was able to put on
clothes, live within the city limits, and return to normal life. Interestingly, and perhaps not
surprisingly, he wanted to stay with Jesus. But Jesus sent him back to his home to declare to
others what God had done for him. It sounds to me like Jesus was sending him back to
transform his community, not just with his witness of what Jesus had done, but also by his very
presence within a community that seems to have been happier with him in chains rather than
as a fully participating member of it. Because this is what Jesus does: he loves us, but does not
leave us as we are. By the work of the Spirit, he transforms us so that are always becoming
more and more the people God calls us to be.

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