“Why are you doing this?”
I stood there at the front door of my house, and just shrugged my shoulders.
“Just don’t feel like hanging out,” I lied.
The truth was that I had been avoiding him.
The truth was that those mean spirited whispers had gotten to me—“Why are you hanging out with the new kid? He’s gay. He’s a fag.”
The truth was that my church has taught me that my only obligation to God as a teenager was sexual purity.
The truth was that the only gay person I had known up to that point was the gym teacher. And I knew from my family and community that it was justified to be afraid of her.
The truth was that to my 15 year-old self, trying to fit in mattered more to me than being a friend to this lonely person.
The truth was I just wanted him to go away.
And he did.
There is so much fear in our gospel lesson this week.
The Gerasenes are afraid of the man with demons, so they keep him under guard, bound with chains and shackles to keep him away.
This man is also afraid of what the Son of the Most High God will do to him, and he begs Jesus to leave him alone.
When the people see the once demon possessed man, sitting clothed and in his right mind, they react with fear. They ask Jesus to leave.
Out of fear comes distancing, isolation, rejection. We can see in this scripture that the impulse to push away results in greater tragedy. We can see healing is costly, but the cost of refusing that healing is without measure. Saying “go away” means missed opportunities for new life, for healing, for the presence of God among us.
I have changed a lot in the last 20 some years. But the truth is I am still often afraid.
I know that there is a cost to proclaiming the healing grace of God for all people in Jesus Christ. I know that there is a risk to openly welcoming all people, and fighting for that welcome. Despite the example of Jesus, the church struggles to welcome, to invite, to embrace all people. Still there is great fear for the changes that may come if those divisions are healed.
Sometimes it seems that my career as a pastor, my family's tenuous financial stability could go crashing over a cliff at any minute.
The anonymous nasty note.
The church member threatening to leave, actually leaving.
The people punishing the congregation by withholding their financial support.
Other pastors fanning the flames of suspicion and contempt for the “Lady Pastor” in the community.
These are not hypothetical possibilities for me. They have been realities.
However, those risks are nothing compared to the ones who have been cast away from their communities, exiled from their families, pushed away with violence even unto death.
And from watching Jesus and what he does in this lesson, the calling is clear. If I want to keep following where he’s leading, I’m just going to have to keep facing that fear.