We might also ask the question ‘what is Jesus doing there?’ For this is the territory of the Decapolis, Roman and Gentile territory: not somewhere a self-respecting Jew would be attracted to, even a Jew from the borderlands of Galilee. This is deeply significant, for it tells us this is not just a story about the healing of an individual. It is clearly also a story about how the love of God can heal the brokenness of all dimensions of our world: political as well as personal. There is definitely a bit of politics in the sub-text of this story, and there is no doubt that the first hearers would have been delighted by it. For as James Liggett has written: ‘Everybody knew instantly both that it was no accident that the demons called themselves “Legion”, after the famous and feared Roman legions; and that pigs were a staple both of the Roman army and economy (though both were of course anathema to the Jews). In our Gospel story therefore, we are meant to rejoice with the Jews that both the Caesar’s legions and Caesar’s rations could not resist God in Jesus. Whatever form of empire and oppression we encounter God’s power of love will ultimately triumph.
This dramatic Gospel story is thus a powerful one for our own times, when we also see, and sometimes experience, a multittude of oppressions in our lives and world: a ‘legion’ of demons of all kinds which threaten to divide, terrorise, and destroy. What can bring us true wholeness, in our personal lives, and in our local, national, and international politics?
A further key aspect of this Gospel story is also its very ‘edgy’ nature. It takes place on the beach, the edge of land and water; probably at dawn, on the edge of night and day; soemwhere on the edge between lief and death, bondage and freedom. For the demoniac is someone who has lost everything. He is a total social outcast, living a half-life in the tombs. Whenever others have tried to bring him in, by shackling him, he’s broken the chains: but it has been a freedom for death not life. In less extreme ways, we may therefore recognsie our own experiences in this. Think of the ‘edgy’ times in your life: the times perhaps of sickness, grief, depression; the times of ‘half-living’, when you felt vulnerable and helpless. We certainly see them in our wider world, not least in the plight of refugees. The Roman legions were not the first or last bullies on earth. In the demoniac, we see the violence that human beings visit on each other. Again, these are some of the legion of demons of our own day, as in Jesus’ day.
So that is why Jesus was there. Jesus was sending the demons packing. He was showing what God can do in the world, when we recognise the power of love in action. That is what Jesus sends the man home to do: to ‘declare how much God has done for you.’ And, of course, this is the point of the story: that’s what Jesus sends us to do as well. So how are we going with that? There are all kinds of ways. Let us share three that we are involved with in Toowoomba.
Firstly, we are trying to be part of our diocesan journey of seeking healing and wholeness with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I/Jonathan will share more about this at Synod later this morning. For our diocese has been working on a Reconciliation Action Plan which we hope will be formally launched at St John’s Cathedral later this year. The aim is to find practical ways in which parishes, schools, Anglicare and all our diocesan Commissions – all parts of our diocese – can contribute to growing relationships, respect, and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. That might be as simple as placing a plaque of recognition in every Anglican church, school, or other setting. or celebrating much better events in our church calendar like the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation or the Coming of the Light; or it might involve learning more about our shared stories of place and possibility. For of all of Australia’s many regions, it is Greater Brisbane which has the highest number of Indigenous people and this number is growing faster than any other other Australian region. Casting out the demons of the past and present and finding a new wholeness together is therefore a very important Gospel imperative for us all.
Secondly, we are also closely involved with the challenges of building multicultural peace and harmony in our locality. For as we are all deeply aware, our world today is deeply troubled in many places by the demons of violence, poverty, war, terrorism, and religious and cultural conflict. Our churches however can offer a different way forward, affirming what is good, offering hospitality to those who are different from us, and solace to the oppressed, including refugees who live in such desperately edgy conditions of half-life.. Toowoomba is not perfect, but we are blessed in this respect by ever more thriving multifaith and multicultural relationships which are transforming our growing city. May we all together learn ways in which we can drive away the legion of fear and hatred in our communities so that all may be properly clothed and in their right mind.
Which leads us, thirdly, and finally, to the ways in which we are seeking inner wholeness with others. For in our hectic and disjointed world, it is easy to be torn apart by different voices and different forces, and to lose a sense of God’s gentle peace and presence, without which our work of reconciliation and healing with others easily comes unstuck. Our contemporary world is full of a legion of such distracting demons, is it not? Recovering the power of the contemplative peace of Jesus is therefore vital to us all. Every church community needs to find its own particular ways of doing this, but, for us, creating times and spaces for contemplative prayer is very important. The most visible symbol of this in Toowoomba is now our beautiful Chartres-style stone labyrinth, which was blessed last year by Bishop Cameron in special ceremony with city and other faith leaders, Aboriginal elders and many others from the wider community who had contributed to it. Deliberately built outside St Luke’s for easy public access, it has already been used for a variety of wonderful community events. Above all however, it is available day and night for anyone who seeks a means of wholeness. For, in the spirit of Christ, the labyrinth has proven value to balance our minds, hearts and lives and restore us to peace and genuine freedom. Visit it if you like!
That’s it from us for now. We have shared just three ways in which we are engaged in sharing God’s work of healing and wholeness. How are you going here? It's a funny thing: in the western church today we may feel, like the man in the tombs, that we are living in edgy times and with a legion of challenges. Yet maybe we are closer than ever to realising the truth that, in Christ, healing and wholeness is possible, beginning right now. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Jon Inkpin & Penny Jones, for St Mark's Clayfield, Synod Sunday, Pentecost 5 Year C, 19 June 2016