Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 19, 2022
[sermon begins after two Bible readings; the 1 Kings reading about Elijah is at the end of this post]
Galatians 3:23-29 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There 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. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Luke 8:26-39 Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
My Three Sons was a T.V. show when I was little. I can still hum the opening music… That show pops into my head whenever I talk about my three dads. It IS Father’s Day and, as someone who had more than their share of dads, it’s a relevant aside today. I learned a lot from each of my fathers. Dad, my first dad, is a faded memory a little like a dream. I remember good and bad, echoes of love and fear. Dad died in 1989 although we hadn’t seen him in many years. Pops, my second dad, did the love and work of raising the five of us siblings after he had raised four children of his own. My stepsiblings were all young adults when Mom and Pops were married. Pops died in 2002. Larry, my mother’s husband of 18 years, is a third dad of sorts. He nearly became a Catholic priest but married, had children, and became a college professor instead. I carry gifts from each of my three dads in addition to the baggage. Seeing the gifts through the baggage is something I’ve worked on and treasure at this point in my life. One of the gifts of having three dads is experiencing different ways of being family, of knowing deep down inside that love expands even when people think love is finite. Having had these experiences where family norms changed up, it makes sense to me that we learn patterns of behavior that are as invisible to us as the air we breathe. We just think they’re normal because they’re normal to us.
The Gerasene demoniac in our Bible story had become a normal part of his community. Oh, sure, Legion was naked, unpredictable, dripping with demons, and living in the tombs when he wasn’t shackled and chained in town, but his community knew what to expect from him. He was their normal. They knew what to expect from the man until Jesus showed up. Jesus showed up, sent the demons into a herd of pigs who raced to the lake and drowned. It’s curious that the city folks were afraid when they saw the man sitting calmly at the feet of Jesus. Their fear was so great that they asked Jesus to leave town. Their normal had been disrupted with healing. It makes me wonder about our own comfort with the demons that we know versus the healing that we don’t know.
A lot is known about individual healing and transformation especially related to addiction and recovery. Less is known about how we might transform systems, whether that system is our family, our town, our country, or our world. The more people you add, the more complicated it gets. I’m interested in those systems and what it takes to fight through fear of the unknown future to leave behind the chains and shackles that bind us. I’m interested in how a God who loves the whole world animates us by the power of the Spirit. We know that those of us who face addiction and find healing in rooms of recovery like Alcoholics Anonymous process those experiences with an honest accounting of the hurt inflicted while making amends to those who have been hurt.
Notice that Jesus sent the healed man back into his community, back with his people. Restoring the man into relationships long thought irredeemable. I see that demoniac reconciled with his community, and I see our families, and cities, and country and I wonder, do I believe in a God of transformation or don’t I?
Racism and its effects on our country are hotly debated. We just passed the seventh anniversary of the Emanuel 9. Nine black people were killed by a 21-year-old white man at a church Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. Two of the black people at that Bible study were educated in Lutheran seminaries. The killer was raised in an ELCA Lutheran Church. Racism is not a problem unique to the ELCA. It is a problem baked into the system of our country’s formation right through the practices and policies and laws today. The church, the body of Christ, is uniquely positioned to address racism and work on it in ourselves and within our faith community because we confess every Sunday to things we’ve done and left undone, not loving our neighbor with our whole heart.
This summer, Augustana’s Human Dignity Delegates ministry invites us to read How to Be an Antiracist. All of us are invited to read it, wonder about Dr. Kendi’s arguments. Bring questions and thoughts to our check-in conversation in July and the larger conversation in August. We’ll critique the book from our different perspectives and wrestle with the content.
Today is Juneteenth – a celebration of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 finally arriving in Texas over two years later on June 19, 1865, along with the Federal troops to announce and enforce the freedom of the enslaved people there. Juneteenth (short for June 19th), as of this year, is a state holiday in Colorado. It’s as good a time as any for us as Coloradans and as Lutherans to wonder about how we work for truth and reconciliation across differences of race that are unexamined and embedded – a.k.a. normal – in our policies and practices because it hadn’t occurred to us to look at them in that way.
As a confessional church, we confess our faith in Jesus as Lord of heaven and earth, giver of radical grace and unconditional love. We also confess each Sunday that there is much we do and leave undone that hurts ourselves and our neighbors. Frankly, there’s not much difference between family systems like mine with my three dads, and larger cultural systems that bring both gifts and challenges. There are differences of scale and impact for sure. But there is no difference in the ways that most of us leave patterns of behavior unexamined and, if they are examined, we can end up justifying those patterns as just the way the world works. It’s just normal.
The Elijah Bible story we heard this morning, offers a few hints about continuing fearful, exhausting work with an unknown future. Elijah is on the run from a furious Queen Jezebel who wants to kill him. He hides in the wilderness in despair, thinking he’s better off dead. While hiding, he rests, and he eats, and he rests again. He is sent out to wait for God to pass by which God eventually does in the sound of “sheer silence.” Naps, snacks, and silence are examples of slowing down to figure out and do what we think God wants us to do. The world is a noisy place. Many voices clamor for attention and the fights often devolve into who can be first to humiliate whom. Jesus followers are offered a different path. We are free to get rid of things that have become normal that don’t serve us or our neighbors.
The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Galatian church that we are free. Freed in Christ by faith so that all are one in Christ – no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male and female. Bible stories name differences all over the place and names us neighbors across difference – think the Syrophoenician woman, the Good Samaritan, and the Ethiopian eunuch – although in fairness, race as we understand it is a much later 16th century social construct.
While reassuring that Christ is the great leveler, hierarchies that divide us remain true our own minds. It takes practice to celebrate and not fear difference in other people – practice in prayer, practice in worship, practice in thought and conversation, and practice in relationship with all of kinds of people. As people freed by Jesus, without any reason to have to justify ourselves, we are free to practice as the body of Christ so that all may freely live without fear. Happy Juneteenth and amen.
Song after the Sermon:
Healer of Our Every Ill
Healer of our ev’ry ill,
light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear,
and hope beyond our sorrow.
1 You who know our fears and sadness,
grace us with your peace and gladness;
Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts. Refrain
2 In the pain and joy beholding
how your grace is still unfolding,
give us all your vision, God of love. Refrain
3 Give us strength to love each other,
ev’ry sister, ev’ry brother;
Spirit of all kindness, be our guide. Refrain
4 You who know each thought and feeling,
teach us all your way of healing;
Spirit of compassion, fill each heart. Refrain
 My Three Sons opening credits and music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpEsDaOuiyk
 Captain Larry Brien Palm, Ph.D. (9/1/1938-7/28/1989). We left my Dad when I was small because his mental illness devolved him into violence. Dad’s gravestone may be viewed here: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/113725753/larry-brien-palm
 John William Cloer (1/3/1929-12/28/2002) https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/latimes/name/john-cloer-obituary?pid=691002. Pops’ gravestone may be viewed here: https://billiongraves.com/grave/John-William-Cloer/12973585
 Lawrence P. Ulrich, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Dayton. https://udayton.edu/directory/artssciences/philosophy/ulrich_lawrence.php. See Larry’s Curriculum Vitae here: https://academic.udayton.edu/LawrenceUlrich/UlrichCV.html
 “South Carolina Lutheran Pastor: Dylann Roof was Church Member, His Family Prays for Victims.” June 19, 2015. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/dylann-roof-religion-church-lutheran_n_7623990
 Ibram X. Kendi. How to Be an AntiRacist. https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2020/june/ibram-x-kendi-definition-of-antiracist.html
 What is Juneteenth? https://www.history.com/news/what-is-juneteenth
 Mark 7:24-30 Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman
 Luke 10:25-37 The parable of the Good Samaritan
 Acts 8:26-39 Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
 The History of the Idea of Race https://www.britannica.com/topic/race-human/The-history-of-the-idea-of-race
1 Kings 19:1-15a Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” [5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” ] 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15aThen the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.”