Witness!

Galatians 3:23-29

Luke 8: 26-39

"Return to you home, and declare how much God has done for you."

Prayer: Holy God, help us to keep your vision alive. Amen.

Two days ago, Friday, as I began to write this sermon, it occurred to me that exactly one year ago on that day, on June 17th, 2015, our nation was shocked and shaken to the bone because of a mass shooting that took place at Mother Emmanuel AMA Zion Church, in Charleston, South Carolina. Last Sunday, three days shy of one year later, we are again deeply saddened and terribly upset that our nation's deadliest mass shooting took place at a nightclub for the LGBTQ community called the Pulse.

In the days after the shooting we, like so many others around our nation, attended prayer vigils and worship services this past week. We gathered to grieve, to mourn, to pray, to hear scripture, to light candles in remembrance.

And you already know this, but I need to say we gathered in support of the LGBTQ community, and to express our solidarity with them as they suffer through this tragedy. The Pulse, intended to be a safe place for members of their community, wasn't safe at all last Sunday. And the fear that other "safe" places may not be so safe after all is terrifying.

So, we gathered for worship here to look for and find faith and hope...faith tha tGod has not abandoned the LGBTQ community or us, for that matter, faith that tragedies such as these do not have the last word, but God's word and God's love do...and hope that God's vision of a just and peaceful world featuring global attitudes of love and acceptance for others is still a viable vision worthy of our support and our diligent witness.

Witnessing to a vision, just like witnessing an event, means to participate in it. Witnesses to the Orlando shooting were participating in the event by experiencing it, observing it, testifying to what happened.  Similarly, witnessing to God's vision of a more just and peaceful world featuring love and acceptance for all means participating in that vision. so, in a very real sense, the prayer vigils and worship services that many participated in this past week were people witnessing to God's vision by supporting and standing with the LFBTQ community. We hurt when they hurt. We suffer when they suffer. We witnessed to the good news that we are one in Christ. God is with us, together.

Legendary rock singer Bono, lead singer of the band U2, said at a National Prayer Breakfast, "God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silenced of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunities and lives, (and I would add) God is in the pain and sorrow of the victims of the Orlando shooting. God is in the broken hearts of those whose child was taken by an alligator, and God is with us-if we are with them: (D. M. Felton, and J. Proctor-Murphy, Living the Question, HarperOne, 2012, pp.88-9). As we are with them, we are witnesses to the oneness in Christ.

Being on in Christ is the vision that God has laid out for us to witness to. It's a vision where titles don't matter. Wealthy doesn't matter, either.  What religion, what nationality...these don't matter. Being true to the letter of the law is not the key to being one in Christ. Conditions in your life, what gender your are, what your sexual orientation is, where you've been, where you're going...none of these matter-God has made it possible that all are one in Christ. This is God's vision for the ongoing relationship God has with humanity.

But many things get in the way of our ability to witness to that vision. Many things keep us bound with the chains and other shackles preventing us from sharing God's vision with others, both in words and in practice. Some are shackled by hatred and bigotry. Too many are chained by violence and the love of power. Plenty more have lost moral character and still more have fear of real life conditions on the margins of life different than the norm. We have plenty of "Legions" in our lives.

But, Jesus sees us, I believe, the way he saw the Gerasene man, the way God saw him...as a man who does have an essential goodness underneath all the illness. A man who beyond all that binds him up and possesses him and all that debilitates him is a person worthy of God's holy love.

And once the legion of mental illnesses leaves the man, he becomes a witness. He's witnessing, not only to the marvelous power of God in his life that clothed him in his right mind, but he's also witnessing to the vision that God has for everyone. A vision where there is health and wholeness, where there is peace with justice, where there is equality and fairness, where there is new life, new faith, and new hope.

The man was forever changed, and he wanted to follow Jesus...But Jesus said, "No. You stay here and tell everyone here about what God has done for you." And he did. And he became one of the first missionaries to the Gentiles, the non-Jews living across the sea, witnessing to the great  vision of God's amazing love and oneness in Christ.

We are forever changed, too, by the amazing love of God in Christ. It flows into us, changes our hearts, and flows out from us to others all around us. We are witnesses of God's love. We  keep God's vision of love and oneness in Christ alive. We are called to share it with others in word and in action.

You may have heard the old story about a monk who found a very precious gemstone. He put it in his knapsack and carried it with him. One day he met a traveler in need who asked the monk if he had anything he could share. The monk opened his knapsack to share his food, but his fingers found the gem. So he lifted out the stone and gave it to the traveler. Overjoyed by his good fortune in the valuable stone, the traveler went on his way rejoicing. A few days later, however, the traveler caught up with the monk. Only this time the traveler said, "Please, give me something more precious than this stone. Plese give me that which prompted your to give the stone to me in the first place" (Donald T. Shelby, Santa Monica, California, 2 August 1992, http://www.homilecticsonline.com/subscriber/illustration_search.asp?item_id=865, retrieved June 17,2016).

In a few minutes we will be commissioning all our Mission Trip participants. We will be sent on our way to Pipestem, West Virginia where we will be working at a summer camp repairing cabins, decks, and maybe some homes of residents will be worked on, too. We are going as workers, yes, but we're also going as witnesses in word and in practice to God's amazing love that touches our lives and our oneness in Christ with those resident in W. Virginia. We are going because we're keeping alive God's vision for humanity, that all are viewed as one in Christ. We are all participants in God's vision of a just and peaceful world featuring global attitudes of love and acceptance for others. This is the vision worthy of our support and our diligent witness.

Thanks be to God, Amen