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Yesterday morning at the Cathedral Bishop Melissa Skelton presided at an ordination of Deacons and priests.  It was a beautiful and moving service—over 500 people present witnessed the ordinations of four new deacons and three new priests.

From the vantage point of the Dean’s stall I looked over the congregation: the Chancel was filled with vested clergy and the nave with family members and friends of the newly ordained.  At the time of the breaking of the bread in the Eucharist, we said the familiar words,

“We, being many, are one body, for we all share in the one bread.” [1]

As we said those words yesterday, and looking around at the assembly, I had one of those moments where you simultaneously have two contradictory thoughts:  one thought was, ‘that’s a lie’—we’re not one body—I know some of the people here and there’s a range of views about a lot of things and even some hearty disagreements.”  And at the same time the thought that indeed, we are one body—we are more deeply connected to each other than we’re aware and we affect one another consciously and unconsciously.

The affirmation that “We being many are one body” is complex: it’s a hope, it’s a calling, and it’s who we can be, by the grace of God.  If we are indeed to live into this one to be one body then there can be no sense of one person or one group being better than another.  That kind of division has no place in the household of God, the body of Christ.  But sadly, often invoking religious principles, people get divided into groups of more and less worthy or more and less human and the result of that division can be catastrophic and thank God there is a strong reaction against that both within the Christian community and beyond.

For example, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples outlines in its affirmations and clauses the dignity of all human beings, and it pulls no punches when it states:

 … that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust…[2]

And it goes on to outline all of the ways that indigenous people have the same rights and privileges in society as everyone else.  It’s sad that this document has had to be written, but as Canada approaches June 21st, National Aboriginal Day, it’s important to remember our history, a history that includes the church, in making a whole group of people somehow less than human and trampling over their inherent dignity.

But this is the structure of colonization whether European or, to move into the world of today’s gospel reading, Roman.  Identifying some group or individual as less than human, somehow deficient, potentially dangerous and therefore ok to exploit.  And in Luke’s gospel, there can be no more vibrant a picture of an outsider than the demon possessed man of Gerasene (Luke 8:26-39).   So let’s go to across the lake from Galilee to this Roman place of tombs and pigs where frightening character lived.

The author of Luke’s gospel gives us lots of details.  This man wears no clothes; he lives in the tombs.  They tried to restrain him using chains and shackles but he breaks free from them.  He doesn’t so much speak as holler.  Most everyone, hearing this description, would consider this guy pretty far down the list of those we might admire—he appears less than human.   And Jesus is there with him.  Now you have to ask yourself, what the heck is Jesus doing there?

He’s crossed a boundary, he’s moved into dangerous territory.[3]

And here’s the thing: if you imagine your way into that time, you could have a variety of viewpoints about the Roman occupation of the land, you could be a Jew or a Gentile and disagree about this or that—but one thing almost everyone would agree to was that this guy, the Geresian demoniac, was less than human and it was right that he was chained up in the pig farm, at the tombs[4].  When Jesus asks him his name he says that his name is Legion, because there are so many evil spirits in him.  And I wonder whether there’s a clue there in his name, Legion: it’s what the Roman army was called—an army that invaded lands, slaughtered the people until they surrendered and then took some of them into slavery.  Is Legion code for empire, for colonization?[5]

Well what happens in this story next is weird: Jesus casts the many evil spirits out of this guy and into the pigs who run off a steep bank into the water and are drowned.  Later in the story we learn that people were filled with fear: well of course they were—there went their economic engine.  Because who ate the pigs but the Romans?  Losing a herd of animals hurt the Gerasenes, economically.  But that’s not the point—the point is what happened to the man.  He is transformed.  By the end of the story, he is described as ‘clothed, and in his right mind.”  He is given dignity by Jesus Christ.  He is brought into the human community.  He is no longer the scary man on the margins: he can join in the human community.

Theologically this story is part of Luke’s argument for Gentile inclusion in the Christian way.  Remember the controversy in the early development of church about who could be considered followers of Jesus—was it Jews only or could Gentiles or Romans also be part of the Jesus movement.  It was what informed the theology of St. Paul, who wrote famously, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  (Galatians 3:23-29)  No longer ethnic nor economic nor gender division: but a new humanity created through the saving work of God in Jesus Christ.

For St. Paul and for St. Luke this is the gospel—this is the good news, and it is good news particularly for those who have been marginalized, for those who have been told implicitly or explicitly that their lives are somehow less than human because of their identity.

One of the ways we’re working at this within this Cathedral parish are efforts to remove the stigma of mental illness by seeking, through the Mental Health ministry group, to provide safe spaces for people who live with this condition.  It’s an important step forward in a culture where so many people suffer with depression or anxiety, feeling,

I believe, in their deepest souls the anguish of a world where discrimination and violence too often seem to have the last word.   Thank God that the mental anguish of so many can be, in our time—and we’re just beginning—lessened somewhat through the provision of safe spaces where we can simply be human together.

There are so many forces in society that seek to divide, to demonize groups and individuals, that rob people of their inherent dignity and worth and that resort to violence made more possible with the too easy acquisition of guns, especially south of the border.

The largest mass killing in US history happened just one week ago in Orlando Florida when 49 people were gunned down in a gay club; the 50th fatality was the shooter himself.  This tragic and violent act punctuated a legacy of violence against gender and sexual minorities. In North America and Europe thank God, attitudes toward the LGBTQ community are in the process of being transformed, but in many parts of the world gay men, lesbians, transgendered or bisexual people are regarded as less than human, and subject to imprisonment and even the death penalty simply because of who they are.

The tragic shootings in Orlando, if they are to have meaning, must compel and propel all people—including the church—to regard each person as a human being with all the rights and dignities that can be afforded.

While dominant culture and its systems will regularly seek to marginalize and dehumanize certain groups and individuals, the Christian way, the Jesus movement, imagines another possibility.  It imagines one body for the human community, living in harmony and good relations with one earth that has been created for peaceful coexistence.  It acknowledges the diversity that is implied in the words, ‘we being many’ and celebrates the multi faceted ways of being alive.

This Christian way has, as its initiation rite, the sacrament of baptism where we behold each person at the font as God’s beloved daughter and son.  It has, as its primary rite the holy communion where, as we remember the story of Jesus Christ we discover it happening again around bread and wine as we bless these earthly objects and find our own lives connected into the broken bread and the poured out wine—we find our very body and blood grafted into the life of the God we know in Jesus Christ.

And, as we live into the Christian way, we discover more and more the call, the hope, the invitation to transformation that is within the words, ‘we being many are one body, for we all share in the one bread.

The Collect appointed for today says all of this more succinctly than I can: let’s pray it together:

God our refuge and hope,
when race, status, or gender divide us,
when despondency and despair haunt and afflict us,
when community lies shattered:
comfort and convict us with the stillness of your presence,
that we may confess all you have done,
through Christ to whom we belong
and in whom we are one.



[1] Sentence #2 for the Breaking of the Bread.  The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada Toronto: ABC, 1985, page 212.

[2] You can read (and download) the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People here

[3] David Lose’s article God in the Shadowlands explores this

[4] Alison, James.  faith beyond resentment: fragments catholic and gay.  New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001.  Chapter 6 clothed and in his right mind, page 125. See especially section betting on the breath of God, p. 131 and following.

[5] See D. Mark Davis’s blog Left Behind and Loving It—Unbinding the Unbindable Bound Man