Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!

June 19, 2016 "Accept the Mentally Ill"

Bible readings for this sermon: Luke 8:26-39 and Galatians 3:23-29

Jesus once again shows his compassion as he encounters a man who is crazed out of his mind.
The bible story we just heard says that the man is possessed by demons that are making him crazy.
Whether you believe that demons are real or not is up to you, but Jesus apparently believed in the demons within the man.
In fact, he even converses with the demons who are afraid of him.
In this encounter, Jesus seems to do them a favor by sending them into a herd of swine.
And then the herd, crazed now themselves, rushes off a cliff and drowns in a lake.

I feel bad for the pigs but Jesus had to send them somewhere in order to heal the man, and they were nearby, so they were it.
But Jesus didn’t make a habit of abusing animals,; he was of course, born nearby and laid in a manger among them.
He did, however, make a habit of helping people who were considered to be on the far reaches of society.
The crazed man, who hadn’t enough sense to be dressed,… and was chained up,… and who lived among the dead,… was exactly that.

So Jesus doesn’t hesitate to heal him by casting out his demons.
The man was so overjoyed, that he wanted to join Jesus’ movement.
But Jesus told him to instead, “go and tell others how much God has done for you”.
So he went on his way “proclaiming what Jesus had done for him”.

Recently a there has been an increased movement in our culture that advocates for the rights of the mentally ill.
But around the world, there are still many places where the rights of such people are severely lacking.
As much as we think we are so advanced in this area of human rights,…it was not so long ago that the mentally ill in our nation were treated as the man Jesus encounters.
Up until around the middle of the 19th century, the mentally ill were kept in closets, cellars, cages, stalls and pens, like animals.
They were chained up, naked and beaten with rods to be obedient.
Almost 1800 years after Jesus, this was how you were dealt with if you had metal illness - worse than most animals.
So what changed things?

The short answer I would suggest is…..Jesus Christ and Christianity.
The more elaborate answer points to people who were idealists, like Dorothea Dix, who tried to change such things.
She was the most noteworthy among many who advocated for the mentally ill in the United States.

And, as a result, the United States blazed the trail and has set the bar for treatment of such people.
Dix suffered herself from abusive parents and physical ailments.
But she also lived in, and was significantly affected in her life by Jesus and Christian teachings.
From a religious zealot father, to a pastor who taught and inspired her, to a Harvard seminary student who befriended her,…
she was touched and motivated by God through the teachings and stories of Jesus.

Today we heard two bible readings that exemplify what God said and did through Jesus for those considered to be the least in society.
First, we heard in Luke, that Jesus had compassion for and healed the demon possessed (or mentally ill) man.
But then also, from our reading in Galatians, we read a very important passage and concept within Christianity.
A concept that, in its purist form, was a new and unique understanding of how God sees and considers us.
That concept is that, without the idea of ranking people, “we are all children of God” through Jesus Christ.
Galatians says that “There is no longer Jew or Greek,…slave or free,…male or female”. Instead “all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.

This was a revolutionary idea at the time because people always had (and still do today) rank and rate each other’s value and worth.
The Jew ranked themselves ahead of the Greek, and vice versa.
The free ranked over the slave and the male over the female.
In terms of rights and treatment, people were valued based on what group they belonged to, or their heritage, or the attributes they had.
But Jesus began to change that idea when he showed love to the unloveable and forgiveness to sinners.
Jesus blazed new trails when he did things like heal the mentally ill; that is, the demon possessed man.
And as that man and others told of these things and news spread, so did faith in Jesus and a new adherence to his ways.
So that his actions and teachings ultimately affected and influenced people like Dorothea Dix as she helped change how we treat people previously considered of less, or no, value.

That’s not to say that other religions don’t advocate such things today.
Nor is it to say that all of Christianity wholeheartedly endorses this ideal in all cases.
But Jesus was the trendsetter and trailblazer who brought this idea of seeing all people as valued as a light that comes into the darkness.
He and his ministry most likely may have even influenced other faiths to follow in his ways and path.

The sad thing is that it often takes a long time for us to reconsider how we treat others who the world sees as different or lesser persons.
But there is no denying that, in this and many other examples, the love of God in Jesus Christ has helped to change the world for the better.
Whether it was banning child-sacrifice in his day,…or the abolition of slavery,…or the treatment of the mentally ill,…people following Jesus Christ have made a difference.

As we reflect on what happened in Orlando, Florida last weekend,…let’s remember that God is still in charge.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer (the ‘Our Father’), we not only ask, but we also believe, that “his will be done, on earth as in heaven”.
We trust that the light of Jesus Christ has not gone out, but still burns within the hearts of many (although not all) of his followers.
I was disturbed to hear the other day, that a Baptist minister seemed to endorse what happened in Orlando last week.
That is not the love of God or the light of Christ on display.
What happened last weekend and other acts of hatred defy the love that God that was brought to us through the life, death, and ministry of Jesus Christ.
In Him,…. the love of God prevails over hatred, violence, and ranking of people’s worth and value in different ways.

So we don’t know how long it will take but, in the long run,….we must believe that this love will prevail over neglect, hatred, and murder.
There will always be more advocates like Dorothea Dix, but each of us can also be that light of Christ and value everyone as a child of God.
In our daily walk with God and in our dealings with others,…we too can reflect this love for the least and the marginalized by society.
So that love of God is not just there for us,…. but for us all.