Sunday, October 25, 2009

If Pigs Fly, Would That be "Swine Flew"?

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Today our gospel lesson from St. Luke’s account [8:26-39] describes the healing of a man possessed by many demons. How many times have we heard this story read over the years? A lot, to be sure. We might wonder why this passage, or others very similar to it, are placed before us by the Church so often and so regularly. Be assured that we are not reading about graveyards and demons because it is the week before Halloween. As always, the Church puts these scriptural stories before us because they are needful to our salvation. There are details of great importance in this text that we need to pay close attention to, lest we succumb to things far scarier than ghosts and goblins.

The story opens with Jesus arriving at the country of the Gergesenes (sometimes referred to as the Gadarenes). This was a region truly on the outskirts of Jewish civilization at that time. Located along the Eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, it was largely a Gentile region with a small Jewish population. Christ obviously came to preach to the Jews there, since His ministry was mainly to the children of the house of Israel. What He found when He arrived in this region however was a Jewish people quite out of touch with their religious heritage, and heavily compromised by their close association with the Gentiles. The people there were raising pigs. Although today we appreciate pork as “the other white meat,” both lean and delicious, to observant Jews, pigs were unclean animals with which they were forbidden to have contact. Obviously, the Jews living in the Gergesenes felt that the economic benefits of raising pigs to sell to the Gentiles far outweighed any silly little religious rules against such things. Forget pleasing God; there was money to be made!

This could be our first clue as to why this passage is important to us and to our salvation. Of all the reasons that may cause a person to compromise his faith and obedience to God, the love of money is right up there at the top. To make their fortunes, some people are willing to to anything they think they can get away with, even if it brings harm to others, including swindling seniors out of their retirement investments, or selling drugs or pornography. Others choose the more legal route of grossly overcharging clients for goods or services rendered. But even if we don’t engage in any of these practices, there are other ways for us to put the love of money above the love of God.

The most common way is to neglect the poor. Jesus tells us that if you have two cloaks, give one to the brother who has none. He doesn’t say that this would simply be a nice idea. He says in no uncertain terms, do it. How often do we obey that commandment? Most of us have more clothes in our closets than we can comfortably wear at one time. Do we ever think that we have too much; that we should share with those who have less? Maybe we think, “Hey, I earned my cloaks; I deserve them. Why should I give one of my cloaks to the bum who spent his all money on wine?” Well, maybe because that bum is your brother; more importantly, he is Jesus, and he is cold. Is that not a good enough reason?

Another way for us to put the love of money above the love of God is to neglect the temple of God. I’m sure you remember the story of the widow’s two mites. Jesus and His disciples were present in the Temple when the rich folks were making their offerings. Along came a poor widow who contributed two mites, the smallest coins. Jesus alerted His disciples and told them that this poor widow had contributed more than all of the others combined, for while the rich gave of their excess, she sacrificially offered all that she had to live on. But that’s just the beginning of the story. As they walked around the Temple, some spoke of the great adornment of the place, with all its gold and precious stones. Jesus immediately informed them that all they were looking at would soon be cast down, foretelling the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70AD.

Now think about this for a moment. Jesus had just praised a woman for sacrificing all that she had for a Temple that He knew would be destroyed in just a few decades. Wasn’t this unfair of Him? Shouldn’t He have rushed in to stop her saying, “Look I appreciate your good intentions, but save your money; this place won’t be here much longer”? Absolutely not! Jesus taught through this that the faith relationship of the person to God, and the willingness of a person to make sacrifice, is what matters more than any earthly concern. The widow received praise from God for her action, and eternal life for her faith. This was of far more value than any personal suffering her sacrifice certainly caused her.

Often we lack this kind of faith when it comes to our giving. Smitten by the fear that we might not be left with enough, we sometimes withhold our tithe from the parish and rely on our brothers and sisters to keep the doors open and the lights on. Either by making full tithes, or smaller “widow’s mite” offerings as they are able, many of our dear friends are seeking to honor God and to keep the parish going by paying the bills and contributing to the alms fund we use to help the needy, both within our own parish and outside as well. It is wrong to leave this work to others only. Each of us needs to step up to the plate and take upon ourselves the responsibility of making sacrificial offerings to God.

We often forget the importance of making tithes and offerings to God when we are so focused on our own financial woes in this dreadful economy. Forgetting these things, we become slightly less Christian, even slightly less human, and become hoarders rather than givers, selfish rather than selfless.

Becoming less human is exactly what today’s gospel lesson is all about. The man possessed by the legion of demons likely had turned his heart away from God long before the demons gained domination over him. Due to his close proximity to the swine, and their mention in the story, it is not a stretch to assume that he had once been among the Jewish men who had conveniently set aside their faith to make their living as pig-farmers. This compromise, combined with all his other passions, likely opened him up to further demonic persuasion, and to eventual possession.

As we know, Christ intervened in his life, bringing healing and restoration. But following this, all the other people from the village came out and begged Jesus to depart from them. They did not want to deal with the holiness and high standard of godly living that He came to impart to them. “Go away; leave us with our demons and the filth we choose,” they begged of Him. And the most frightening part of all--more scary than any Halloween story--is that He heeded them, and departed from them exactly as they had asked. If we honestly want nothing to do with Jesus and His difficult demands on our lives, He will respect that choice and leave us. What He leaves us to is a hell of our own making. A torment in which we will never receive what we want. Even our swine will run off and drown themselves and leave our desires unfulfilled. Only by listening to Jesus and making the decision to obey Him will we find lasting satisfaction and contentment in everything that is eternally good.

Perhaps this is the meaning behind our gospel lesson this morning. May God help us to find the courage to overcome our own fears, both financial and otherwise, and to gladly invite Jesus into our village, into our parish, our homes, and our lives, in order that He might bring restoration and healing to us all.

+To the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 10/30/2009 5:43 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello good Father Mike. Another wonderful sermon. I really struggled with the law of tithing for a long time. Now it is easy. Usually.... There have been times when I have written that check and said aloud, "Ouch! That one hurt!" But still I write the check. It is always the first check I write. I cannot point to any one incident and say "Here I was blessed for my tithes." But I can tell you that I believe enough that I keep doing it. And I think the occasional "ouch" is an essential ingredient. If there isn't something in our lives that we have to do without because we choose to pay tithes and offerings instead, then we need to increase those offerings. I don't claim to be perfect -- you know that. But I will give one simple warning to those who do not tithe: giving can be habit forming! (signed) Your friend, BQ.


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