Preached at FCCW 6-19-2016
Social media has revolutionized the ways people relate to one another, hasn’t it?
Take Facebook, for instance.
When you “friend” someone on Facebook, you grant them an up to the minute window into your life.
They get to instantly see everything you post on your Facebook page.
And you have that same immediate access to everything that they post on their page.
Which is all well and good for keeping in touch with one another, swapping vacation photos, or if you share some common interests.
“Friending” someone can be something you come to regret, though,
if say, it turns out that they are a Yankees fan,
send you endless invitations to play on-line slots games,
or are relentless in expressing opinions and attitudes that raise your blood pressure.
In that case, you could always “unfriend” them to put an end to your online relationship.
Unfriending them may seem like a permanent solution to your problem with them.
But, you soon find out that is really only temporary when they discover that you unfriended them and things get a little awkward.
Those of you who have ever received an unappreciative response
to a letter you sent to an inactive church member telling them that
they have been removed from the church membership rolls,
know what I’m talking about.
Luckily, there is always the “unfollow” option.
“Unfollowing” spares you from being subjected to their annoying posts,
but still keeps you officially labeled as “friends.”
In other words, “Unfollowing” maintains the illusion of a relationship for the sake of appearances, without subjecting you to everything you’d rather not hear from or know about them.
When Jesus and his disciples beach their boat on the shore of the Gerasene territory,
they are greeted by a man who has clearly been unfriended by his former community.
Now he lives by himself in the local graveyard, where he is free to indulge in certain idiosyncrasies without offending his neighbors.
Like not wearing clothes.
Actually, to say he lives alone is not quite accurate because he is not exactly alone.
He is possessed by a “Legion” of demons who drive him to all kinds of frightening behaviors.
No sooner has Jesus set foot on dry land than this man greets him with his typical frenzy.
But unlike the Gerasenes, Jesus doesn’t react by driving him away or placing him in restraints.
Jesus treats the man with compassion. He commands the unclean spirits to leave the man.
When the demons depart from this man they enter a nearby herd of pigs.
Which turns out to be not such a good choice for them or the pigs because the now possessed pigs rush into the water like a herd of lemmings, where they drown, taking the demons with them.
The swineherds who witnessed all of this, rush back to town to tell everyone about it.
When the townspeople come to see for themselves the first thing they notice is that the scary naked man who had been living in the graveyard
is now dressed, in his right mind, and sitting peacefully
at the feet of Jesus.
The second thing they notice, is the herd of drowned pigs,
now bobbing in the waves like so much driftwood.
Whatever good feelings they might have had about the demon possessed man being restored to himself by Jesus quickly vanish once they realize exactly what Jesus’ act of compassion has cost them all, in terms of this economic loss for the community.
The Gerasenes had learned to tolerate this man and his demons as long as he kept a safe distance from them, and didn’t bother them too much.
But, if Jesus’ casting out demons is going to disrupt life for the rest of them –
well, they would rather have him just leave well enough alone.
They end up asking Jesus to leave.
As Jesus is getting in the boat to leave, the man from whom he had exorcised the demons
begs him to let him go with him. He wants to become a follower of Jesus.
Everyone else chose to unfollow Jesus.
How does one unfollow Jesus?
Whenever we hear that still small voice telling us to do the right thing
by showing compassion to someone or speaking out against injustice,
and allow the voice of self-interest to prevail,
we are unfollowing Jesus in that moment.
The well-known preacher Fred Craddock says,
“We get used to the evil around us, the casino, the adult book store, the corrupt business people, the polluters, and the bad politicians.
Sometimes evil in our midst is justified by the economic value.”
I remember a conversation I had once with a minister who lived near Midland, Michigan.
Midland, Michigan, if you don’t know, is the home of Dow Chemical.
He talked about how for years everyone knew they were polluting the river, but nobody wanted to talk about it because it was good for the local economy.
Now, if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God,
unfriending him doesn’t seem like a viable option,
even when he’s been annoying you with his calls to love God and love your neighbor by making some inconvenient adjustments in your life when you’d rather let things stay as they are.
Ah, but unfollowing Jesus allows you to keep your status as his friend while tuning out the parts of that relationship that disturb your comfort zone.
Yesterday, I, and our Conference delegates, Richard and Kathy Miller, were at the Mass. Conference Annual Meeting.
The theme of that meeting was “Be Bold.”
Boldness is an indispensable component of following Jesus,
because Jesus commands us to love people that, if it was up to us we wouldn’t even like.
Not even in a Facebook kind of way.
Jesus calls us to care about situations and causes that we fail to see as relevant to our lives.
Loving people we wouldn’t even like (even in a Facebook way) and caring about things we might care less about, but doing it anyway because Jesus loves them and Jesus cares about that injustice
is only going to happen if we are bold about following him.
19th century Abolitionists possessed the boldness necessary to not unfollow Jesus when they interpreted his claim to have come to bring release to the captives, as a rallying call to work for an end to slavery, themselves.
Much of the resistance they encountered in the fight to abolish slavery had to do with fears of what would happen to the Southern economy without slave labor to sustain it, and what would happen to the Northern economy when emancipated slaves came there looking for jobs.
The rights of black men, women and children to be free were suppressed by fears of what their freedom would cost those who profited by their bondage.
That resistance continued even after slavery was officially abolished.
We all know that today is Father’s Day.
Today is also another holiday, though one you might never have heard of before.
Today is Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the actual end of slavery in the U.S.
It was on June 19th 1865 when Union soldiers liberated the last slaves being held in in bondage in Galveston, Texas.
That was two years after the Emancipation Proclamation unequivocally declared the immorality of slavery and granted freedom to all slaves in the United States!
So, while Juneteenth is a celebration of the final end of slavery in America, it is, at the same time,
a reminder that resistance to the end of slavery did not just fade away by shining a light on its wrongness.
People in the South and the North who considered themselves to be faithful Christians,
nevertheless found ways to justify holding other human beings in slavery.
How different might our history have been;
how much more suffering might slaves have endured,
if the Abolitionists had “unfollowed” Jesus’ teachings about freeing the captives in the face of the economic fears and justifications for continuing slavery?
How different might the Gerasene’s history been if they hadn’t unfollowed Jesus?
Jesus had barely set foot in their territory and he already emancipated the first person he saw from a “Legion” of evil spirits.
Do you know what a legion was?
In the armies of the Roman Empire a legion was a fighting force of between three to five thousand soldiers.
That’s the scope of demonic power that held the man on the beach in bondage.
Yet, Jesus set him free.
And, Jesus was just getting started.
Who knows how many more of their neighbors Jesus could have healed
if the Gerasenes had possessed the boldness to welcome his ministry
instead of sending him away?
Who knows how much the demon possessed man,
who had the boldness to want to follow Jesus after he was healed,
did for others by proclaiming what Jesus did for him?
And, who knows what, with a little boldness, Jesus can do through a follower like you or me?