Materials for Worship on the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Nerys writes: Today is the second Sunday after Pentecost and the first Sunday of Ordinary Time. For the next twenty Sundays or so, until the beginning of Advent, we’ll be working our way through Luke’s Gospel, starting this week with one of his most dramatic and memorable stories of healing and salvation – a story which still speaks to us today. As you prayerfully read Luke 8.26-39, I invite you to use your imagination to enter into the scene.

Jesus, looking for some peace and quiet had crossed over the sea of Galilee. Having calmed the wind and the waves on the lake, he is met on the shore by a human storm – a tormented, deranged man in rags with the remains of chains and fetters hanging from his arm and legs, gashed and bruised from where he’d been beaten and harmed himself, his yells and screams filling the air. It must have been a terrifying sight – and what is Jesus’ reaction? To ask his name. The question creates a little ripple of quiet in the midst of this frantic, noisy story. Through it, Jesus restores the human image to the man, and he is transformed. When the townspeople get to him, he is sitting at the feet of Jesus, calm and clothed.

Image: Frank Wesley, ‘Healing of the Possessed at Gadarene’

This is a remarkable, memorable healing story, but I think that the way Luke presents it suggests that it is intended to be much more than that. It’s a story of the salvation, not only of an individual, but of a whole community. The townspeople of the region known as the Decapolis, would have regarded themselves as civilized people and yet their reaction to the healing and civilizing of their neighbour is not that of joy but of fear. They are so disquieted by it that they beg Jesus to leave the area. We are not told why they are so frightened but I wonder if they had got used to the possessed man living on the outskirts of their town. Maybe they measured their own sanity and how civilized they were against him and he made them feel good about themselves. Maybe he represented all their fears – all that was threatening, all that was other – so they kept him fettered and subdued by violence at a safe distance. Whatever their thinking, they clearly didn’t want to be challenged. They didn’t want to change the way their society operated.

To this day, communities of all kinds, from groups of children to whole nations, still have a tendency to behave in the same way, dehumanizing and persecuting individuals and groups who are in any way different. I wonder if this is why Jesus at the end of the story, refuses to allow the healed man to leave with him but instructs him stay in his town and tell everyone what God had done for him. He was to be a living reminder for the members of that community of the saving and transforming power of love. His story would speak of a new and different way of relating to one another bringing healing and wholeness to his community.

In today’s passage from Galatians 3.23-29, St Paul talks of a new community clothed in Christ. He describes it as a community free from the inequality and injustice caused by the barriers of race, social position and gender, free from fear of those who are different from ourselves, where, in the light of his love, everybody is one with God and with each other. This is the kind of community we are called to be.

Tomorrow is the start of Refugee Week, a UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. This year’s theme is ‘Healing’ – the healing of both individuals and of communities. Those who have been offering welcome and hospitality to people seeking refuge in Scotland, testify to the way their world view has been challenged and they have been transformed by the experience. They have learnt that this is a two-way process and that in opening their churches, their homes and their hearts to those in need, they themselves and their communities are receiving a gift greater than the one that they are giving.

Take a moment now to think of an individual or a group of people you fear or find difficult and share your feelings about them with Christ, remembering that just as he knows you by name, he knows theirs also.

Pray that any barriers within our church communities built up by fear or prejudice, misunderstanding or hurt, may be broken down in Christ.

Pray for our world to be governed wisely and well, with proper consideration for the vulnerable and weak, with co-operation, honesty and respect for all.

Pray for all in desolate situations, especially all those seeking refuge or asylum and those who are migrating and displaced; those disturbed by mental illness, and all who are rejected and despised.