How Much God has Done – Message for Sunday June 23rd, 2019

How Much God has Done – Message for Sunday June 23rd, 2019
Pastor Megan Filer

Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:19-28
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

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You can find the half sheet of resources mentioned in the sermon at bottom of this post.

How Much God has Done – Message for Sunday June 23rd, 2019 Manuscript

“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.” These words from the apostle Paul have been used for centuries to show how God’s future looks different from the world we live in. Describing ways we divide ourselves as humans with distinctions and identities and titles, and how our baptism, our faith in Jesus calls us to be one together. Through Jesus we are all children of God.

Scholars, theologians, pastors, and people of faith for generations have used these verses to talk about other distinctions and differences too. I have heard this text used as a call for churches towards inclusion for all people.

Regardless of their ethnicity, economic status, gender identity, race, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, any of the long list of distinctions that could separate us from one another.

These words from Galatians remind us, all who are baptized are children of God and one in Christ. No matter the differences.

I wonder though, if in our attempts to be inclusive and to welcome all people, in our attempts to all be one in Jesus, we sometimes lose part of each other’s stories. We gloss over our differences. We don’t always lift up our experiences, our distinctions, as gifts from God, and we don’t always do a good job of seeking out those who are different from us and are in need of welcome.

And sometimes we use these words from Galatians as the basis. We say these differences don’t exist in our “being made one” in Jesus so why should we pay attention to them now?

I’ve seen this sort of statement a lot around welcoming church communities.

But it seems to me, that who we are does matter, especially to Jesus. Throughout Jesus’s life and ministry he shows examples of why the identity of those he meets matters. Throughout our Gospels, Jesus is encountering those who may have once been excluded because of human distinctions, and welcoming them in, not in spite of who they are, but because of who they are.

Our Gospel reading from Luke today is another one of those moments in Jesus’s ministry. Jesus travels to the land of the Gerasenes.

The Gerasene man who meets Jesus is a gentile, he’s possessed, living in the tombs with dead bodies, running naked in the wild, those in the neighboring city try to guard him, shackle him, and bind him. They don’t want this man anywhere near them.

And he just comes right up to Jesus as the boat makes shore. As Jesus steps out, he hears the man speak, and heals him. Between the time it takes for the whole pig thing and for the witnesses to spread the news to the city and country, by the time they come to see what has happened, not only is the Gerasene man in his right mind, but he’s fully clothed and sitting calmly at Jesus’s feet.

The people know his story. They know about his history, they know how he has been exiled and avoided. They know how little they want to be in relationship with him. And so, this discovery is scary. They see the man and in his wholeness, and they’re afraid.

And the man doesn’t really want to go back home where people know his whole self. He’d rather be with the one who healed him, with Jesus. Maybe he worried about awkward questions from those who aren’t sure how to interact with him now. Maybe he’s already preparing himself for misconceptions about his struggle. Maybe he’s worried that people will only see him as the outsider they tried to avoid and will just reject him again.

The Gerasene man begs Jesus to stay with him, but Jesus knows how important the man’s story is. Just like the stories of those Jesus has encountered throughout his ministry. This man too has a story to tell.

It’s not just a healing story, but a story filled with grace, with reconciliation, with a new wholeness in Jesus. Jesus says, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

Jesus calls him into a new life, a life sharing his story of God and grace and healing through Jesus.

Honestly, if no human distinctions mattered to Jesus, then this man’s story wouldn’t be nearly as powerful to those who would hear it.

And so, having these texts together, allows them both to speak to us. Our differences shouldn’t keep us from being one in Jesus. And we’re called to share our lives, our differences, our stories. It’s not about erasing our differences or all assimilating until we’re the exact same person. We’re called to share the ways Jesus has brought us grace, healing, and wholeness, which for children of God, means sharing ourselves and how much God has done for us.

But unfortunately, we don’t always do a good job of lifting up the voices and experiences of those who are different from us. So many people experience feeling erased, feeling invisible, feeling outcast in varying degrees. Sometimes this happens in our families, in our workplaces, in our social groups, and unfortunately, in our churches.

I started working on a list of all the human distinctions that are often forgotten or excluded.

I thought of veterans, refugees, those dealing with mental health, addiction, or different physical abilities. My heart hurts for people of color and indigenous peoples, and for all who experience victimization from emotional or physical violence. I find myself wondering how to lift the voices of those who face poverty and homelessness. I wish there weren’t so many stories from the LGBTQ+ community of being excluded from churches, from families, from places of belonging.

I even found myself thinking about all the ways we judge people and separate ourselves from those we deem to just be a bit too “different” for us. I think of metalheads and bikers or hippies and hipsters, people who grew up in the country or people who love the city.

I know I’m still missing differences and identities and titles that make up who we are.

God made us so diverse, so varied. And in this complexity, in our diversity, we struggle to be one together while also accepting and loving one another.

Galatians 3:28 has been both a verse of hope and inclusion and one of heartache and erasure for me. Intentionally or not, I got the message that I was welcome and invited into the church no matter the differences or distinctions between myself and others, but if my differences weren’t obvious, then it was better just not to bring them up. It was better to leave those parts of myself out, keeping them invisible.

It’s taken me four years of conversations, reading, and prayer to be able to say that I can’t be invisible anymore.

I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community myself, I’m the B in LGBTQ. I’m bisexual.

And because I am in a monogamous, committed marriage with my husband Greg, because I haven’t named this truth in a church setting in the last four years, people assume that this isn’t part of who I am.

And I recognize, that for many of you this is the first time you’ve heard this about me. I’m sure you have questions or concerns, and we’ll have time. I created a little half sheet to help with resources and answers to some common questions at the end of this post. I’ll have appointments available during the week before and after my vacation. The Mutual Ministry committee is also available if you’d like to meet through them.

It has been four years of working through why it matters that I share this part of myself publicly. And for a while I convinced myself that it was just easier to let people assume what they wanted, to just be part of the “one in Jesus”.

Even when it felt like I wasn’t really part of the “one,” even when it hurt. And even when it meant I couldn’t ask for support that I needed from my church community or from the LGBTQ+ community. Even when it meant holding back when my experience or knowledge could have been helpful. And even when it meant I felt shackled and hidden away.

Through it all, Jesus has been ever present for me, reminding me of his love and grace in my life. Reminding me that I am loved exactly as I am, for who I am.

But, like the Gerasene man seeks to follow Jesus instead of returning home, I’ve been afraid. Afraid for awkward conversations and dealing with misconceptions about my story. Afraid of being hurt, afraid of being rejected.

But Jesus has a peace about him. As he stood over the Gerasene, as he stands by me, by each of us. Jesus never said following him would be easy or comfortable. And Jesus just kept calling me on this. Calling me to be authentic, to be honest, to be seen.

I kept ignoring it. Until I saw our Epistle and Gospel readings for today.

Our Galatians text that has been both a place of hope for me and a place of heartache.

Our Luke reading and Jesus’s calling to the Gerasene man.

I kept hearing Jesus say to me, “Declare how much God has done for you.”

“Declare how much God has done for you.”

God has done so much for me.

God loved me when I felt unlovable. When I felt invisible. When I felt like an outsider.

Jesus searched me out when I didn’t want to be found.

Jesus called me a child of God, knowing full well every part of me and my identity.

Jesus called me to share his love, his grace, his story through me with others, in ministry, in my friendships, in my whole life.

God has done so much for me.

And God has done so much for all of us.

God calls all of us children of God. God calls all of us together as one in Jesus, not in spite of our differences, but because God created a diverse world. And God calls each and every one of us together.

And like the Gerasene people first witnessing what God’s call and wholeness can do, sometimes it’s scary. It’s hard to come together naming and sharing our differences. It’s often hard to move past our fears, our worries, our misconceptions. It’s hard to bring our whole selves to Jesus’ callings for us in our lives. It’s hard to be in shackles and it’s hard to be free.

But for all the times we’ve been erased or accidentally erased others. For all the times we’ve failed to come together as one in Jesus because of our differences. For all the moments when we feel too afraid, too rejected, too outcast to be our authentic selves with those we care about.

Jesus comes to the lakeshore.

Jesus knows what shackles feel like. He knows what trying to explain one’s identity feels like. And Jesus knows what rejection feels like.

And Jesus takes it all to the cross. All of it. Jesus dies on the cross to free us, to love us. Jesus rises from the dead to call each and every one of us children of God. Called and clothed in his grace, in his love, in his righteousness. Called to share the light and love of Christ.

So that we can be children of God together, sharing this message of love and grace and wholeness with those we meet. So that we can go to those places where people feel excluded from God’s promises and declare that they too are beloved. So that we can be the church together, sharing our stories and celebrating God’s grace.

So that as one in Jesus, we can go out into this world, into our community, into our lives, declaring just how much God has done for us.

Thanks be to God, amen.

Questions & Resources

Recognizing that when someone you care about shares that they’re part of the LGBTQ+ community there are bound to be questions, misconceptions, and concerns that come up, below are some resources I have found helpful in answering some common questions.

What is bisexuality – Terminology& More Resources

  • Bisexual is an identity term people use when they have the potential to be physically, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree.
  • Lutheran Introduction to our LGBTQ+ Neighbors
  • Ally’s Guide to terminology
  • Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities
    by Marie Alford-Harkey (2014).

Why does it matter – Stories of Shared Experiences

Who can I talk to about my questions or concerns?

  • Pastor Megan has appointments available June 25th-June 27th with more availability upon return from vacation and has an open door of communication for all those in our Bethany family.
  • Mutual Ministry (Marlene R., Harry B., and Barb W.) are available as a source to begin conversations and mediate as requested.
  • Bishop Richard Jaech has stated he affirms Pastor Megan and her identity, and wants to support her and the congregation in any way possible. He is available to support the congregation if needed.

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