Friday, July 2, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 7

Go and Tell

My husband Tom and I recently rented and watched a movie
It is a documentary about an inner city high school in Philadelphia.
The school offers an amazing culinary arts program.

Now, lest you think that culinary arts—cooking--would be an easy class,
you obviously have not met—or seen==the teacher of this class--
Mrs. Wilma Stephenson.

Mrs. Stephenson is tough. That’s putting it mildly.
She is a strict disciplinarian with 38 years of teaching experience,
and she has high—I mean pie in the sky high--expectations
for every student.

Her students dare not show up late for class
or worse still, unprepared;
Students quickly learn that Culinary Arts class is not a place
to goof off
or mouth off.
Try it and
they incur wrath like you can’t imagine.

Mrs. Stephenson is tough.
But the truth is,
Wilma Stephenson doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.
But she knows these kids at Frankford High
are going to have to achieve the impossible
to make it out of their crime-ridden
and crumbling neighborhoods,
to escape the demons that haunt them--
body, mind and soul.

What are those demons?
Poverty. Primarily poverty.
But there is also abuse. Hunger. Racism. Illness.
Low expectations. Hopelessness.
Every one a demon.
A demon that can grab hold, possess and destroy you.

Wilma Stephenson, like Jesus, is determined that the demons will not win.
Wilma Stephenson has been there and she knows what it takes to get out
and she knows it is not an easy journey
to get free of those demons.
She also knows that we do it only “with God’s help.”

Wilma Stephenson sees the potential in these young people.
Yes, she has definitely assumed the role as task-master,
but she has also accepted other roles with her students—
cheerleader, surrogate mother, mentor, motivator.
She sees their potential
and she sees her work
to be helping these students
see that potential in themselves--
and then to take responsibility for that potential.

Her Culinary Arts classes are the door to a much brighter future
for many of these students.
Through an annual competition
these students will compete for scholarships to colleges
to earn a culinary arts degree.
Top-rate chefs—especially those with a college culinary arts degree—
command top-rate salaries and positions when they graduate.

Mrs. Stephenson knows that none—hear that---NONE—
of her students’ parents
can afford college tuition.

So Mrs. Stephenson jumps in and gets involved.
Her students learn what it takes to be a gourmet chef.
She helps them understand the scholarship application process.
She teaches them how to manage their time and how to meet deadlines.
And she makes them work and work and work.
Work harder and work smarter.

Her results are impressive.
She points out in the film that last year 11 members of her culinary arts class
landed three-quarters of a million dollars in college financial aid.

Watch the film and you will see
that these students truly EARN those scholarships.
They work hard. They work late. They work early. They give up vacations.
But they do not give up hope.
Wilma Stephenson is a genius at generating hope.

So what does this film PRESSURE COOKER
have to do with Luke’s gospel today?

What is the connection between the students and the Gerasene demoniac?
Between Jesus and Wilma Stephenson?

Luke tells us that Jesus has gone into Gentile territory.
You know how we know?
Because they raise pigs here.
Jews don’t eat pork and they don’t keep pigs.
So we know that this is foreign soil for Jesus.

Foreign soil almost always guarantees that things will not be easy.

Immediately a man---a naked man—violent, shouting,
confronts Jesus.
“I beg you do not torment me.”

Now the disciples probably took one look
at that screaming, crazy, naked man—and like you and me--
wanted to get right back in the boat and go home.

But if you want the safe and easy,
you better not travel with Jesus.

Jesus remains calm but also quite stern.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind
that Jesus is a person of strength and authority.

He looks with compassion on this man
who has been tormented by demons,
and probably by other people as well.
Jesus sees far beyond the demons—
Jesus looks and sees the potential
in every human being.
Jesus sees all we CAN be.
(And to that, we each ought to say, Thanks be to God!)
Jesus sees all that this man, this man so tormented, so possessed—
Jesus sees all this man CAN be.

Even in this man everyone fears,
even in this man everyone shuns,
Jesus sees what is good and what is possible.

And Jesus commands—
he doesn’t ask, he doesn’t offer a weak little prayer of intercession,
the demons to come out of the man.
And that happens.

The man is healed.
The man is free.
The man is saved.
The man is immensely grateful.

This man now wants to go with Jesus.
He wants to follow Jesus wherever Jesus goes.
Out of gratitude, out of amazement, out of transformation.

But Jesus says no.
Jesus says what I need you to do is to go.
To go and tell.
To return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.
To go and live a life that is whole and holy
and to keep reaching out to others.

And the man does just that.
The man does just as Jesus asked—he goes away,
proclaiming throughout the city
how much God has done for him.
You know that had to be hard.

Because these people in his hometown
they only know this man for whom he WAS—
possessed, out of control, some would say mad, crazy,
even mean.

These people in his hometown
do not know this man for whom he is now.
Healed, free of demons,
free of the demons that kept him captive all those years

But Jesus still tells him to go home,
to go and tell others
how his life has been transformed by God.
And this is exactly what this man does.

We cannot be Jesus,
but with time and practice and work,
we can learn to look with the eyes and heart of Christ,
to see the potential,
the possibility that lives in each person.

It is oh so easy
to see another person’s faults and weaknesses.
It is oh so easy to believe
that someone will never be free of their demons.
“Oh, she’ll never change…”
Jesus says wrong.
People do change.
People do live into their potential and possibility.

Wilma Stephenson, that culinary arts teacher at Frankford High,
looks at each student that walks into her class
as full of potential and hope.

She COMMANDS their demons to get lost.
She COMMANDS those students to work harder
than they have ever worked in their entire lives.
She COMMANDS their respect and their love
because she respects and loves each of them.
And love is really at the heart of all hope, all possibility, all change.

Jesus tells the man who is now free:
go and tell how much God has done for you.

Wilma Stephenson goes and tells how much God has done for her
by being a teacher that cares
and sends her students out into the world
with a future filled with hope and possibility.

Go and tell.
It’s called evangelism.
Sharing with others the good news of God’s abundant love.
Go and tell how much God has done for you.

Go and tell.
Go and do.
Go and care.
Go and love.

Go and see the possibilities,
instead of the obstacles.
Go and give hope to others,
just as hope has been given to you—and to me—and to all of us.
Some of us have received mightily, abundantly.
Truthly, not so much.
Or so it might seem by worldly measure.

But in God’s measure,
we are all receivers of abundant possibility.
In God’s heart,
we all have the potential
to go and change the world.

The source of all that is possible is the love of God.

The potential is here.
The possibility is there.
The time is now.
Go and tell.

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