26Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Grace to you and peace, beloved of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I have to brag about my wife for a moment. Of her many awesome qualities, she is great at giving gifts. She keeps this mental tally of all the times I say, “Oo! Look at this!” or “This would be fun!” At one point, she bought me a gift based on seeing that I had left a website up on my computer. She’s like a gift-giving ninja. Well, she continued her ninja gifting skills for my birthday this last year. So, tickets in hand, we drove down to Des Moines to see a live show of The Moth. No, not the comic book superhero from the 40s. The Moth is a storytelling event that travels the world, bringing in people to tell their stories and equipping people to tell their stories. The storytellers are different every time and the stories their share are always pretty incredible. So, for a few hours, we sat in an auditorium with over a thousand other people, and listened to people tell their stories. There was a Muslim from Bagdad, a Midwestern author who lived for a time in eastern Europe, an Australian woman living in New York, and a few others. People that we maybe never would have met. And they told stories from their lives. I don’t mean to sound cliché, but we laughed, we cried, and we had a great time. I left feeling like we had shared a sacred space with these people – these 1400 people and this diverse group of storytellers. We gathered together just to listen – listen to the stories of our fellow human beings, connect with our common humanity, and connect in a way that only listening can do.
As I left, reflecting on the what felt like a sacred space, I began to draw some parallels. In a world full of noise – the noise of grief, gunfire, political arguments – we gather here to listen. We listen to the Word of God, written and proclaimed through scripture, preaching, hymns, and prayers. We listen to the heart of God. We listen to the whispers of the Spirit in our hearts. We listen to the woes of our neighbors and the praises of creation. We listen to the words of love from Jesus and the story of his death and resurrection.
This is the story that encompasses all of our stories. This is the reality that gets lost under the noise of our world – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. And we aren’t always great at listening. We like to fill our time with noise. Even in worship, we get a little antsy if there isn’t a little bit of overlap in parts, when a reader takes a moment to collect themselves before reading or the hymn is followed by a silence. If you don’t believe me, let’s try an experiment. I’m going to set my phone for 1 minute and I just want you to listen. Just listen. Ready? Here we go.
It’s not easy. The act of listening is an act of worship. It might be the hardest act of worship. When we gather together, we listen to the Word of God, the promises of love and forgiveness, and the commands to go and proclaim. But in our proclamation, we are also listening. We listen to the needs of the world with God’s ears. We listen for the cries of the hurting and the shouts of the angry and the laughing of those who rejoice. We listen with God’s ears and act with God’s hands and feet. We speak with the voice of God to offer grace, mercy, justice, and peace for those crying out.
Perhaps listening is the most important task we must learn. As we hear the news this week of the aftermath of the shooting in Orlando, let us also listen. Listen for moments of grace in the midst of pain and grief. Listen for the needs of our neighborhoods. Listen for the opportunities who practice and proclaim Christ’s love in the midst of the noise of our world, not just in places like Orlando, but right here and right now.
Our gospel today helps us see that there is power in the voice of God. Jesus commands the demons and they listen. Jesus, with a single voice, drives out the demons and Jesus, with a single act, paid for your sins. Jesus came to the possessed man and Jesus comes to you. Jesus comes to us in our world of noise and carried the voice of grace and peace.
When Lisamarie and I went down to Des Moines to listen to stories, we expected to hear something beautiful, we expected to hear something challenging, we expected that we’d hear something that we maybe wouldn’t hear anywhere else. When we listened to the stories of those people, we didn’t just hear, but we entered into their stories. We listened vulnerably, willing to accept them as they were without condition and allowed ourselves to be changed by listening to them. When we come to worship, I hope that we come with that same open ear. And when we leave here, I hope we keep our ears open. In a world that often seems dark and noisy, hear these words. You are forgiven. You are saved. You are loved. You are enough. In these noisy days, listening to these words is difficult, but these words carry life. You are forgiven. You are saved. You are loved. You are enough. Amen.