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A Homily for Trinity 4 – June 19th 2016

This is the homily I gave at St James Church Little Paxton at the 9.15am  Sung Eucharist.

It was based on the gospel of the day: Luke  8 v 26-39.

A collect for the day:


God our saviour, look on this wounded world in pity and in power; hold us fast to your promises of peace won for us by your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen   Common Worship Shorter Collect

The Gospel story from Luke Chapter 8 tells of a man  who was in a desperate state. He lived in appalling conditions, could not control his speech, was kept chained and under guard.

In Mark’s account we read that he self-harmed  by cutting himself with stones.

People around him were frightened by his behaviour and appearance and whilst struggling to contain the man, assumed that he was possessed by evil spirits. It is understandable that this would be their assumption as at that time there was a belief that evil spirits and demons were all around and it was they who were responsible for evil and disease that took over people’s lives

Thank goodness today we have a very different world view, informed by science, which has helped us to understand the physical causes of ailments. No longer do we believe that disease is caused by demonic activity. It is treated with medicine and other therapies and not exorcism. We can believe that the ever improving skills of medical staff and research is an important way in which God brings us healing.

I give a slight word of caution to that statement as there are still some types of ultra conservative Christian theology which  approach  the bible very literally and view sickness and mental illness as due to some sort of possession.

I remember talking with a priest involved in Deliverance  Ministry . He is called on when people have  disturbing  experiences in their homes which they think are of a supernatural nature. He said that very ,very rarely has he ever found evidence that something might be going on other than  people struggling with sort of mental health problem or personality disorder.  Such folk need to be treated with the utmost care and by professional medical experts who know what they are doing.

In the life and ministry of Jesus we see him healing physically sick people, we also see him healing the minds of those who were deeply troubled.

We learn too in the story that the man was carrying out self harm. Again, that is a condition that is being increasingly understood and compassionately treated the light of  insights into  how people who damage their bodies in some way are often in a state of deep distress.

It can be a way of communicating and expressing what cannot be put into words or even thoughts. The  self-harmer  may be subject to feelings which overwhelm them, perhaps of anger, sadness,  self-hatred, fear, loneliness or guilt. Self harm can be a way of dealing with these issues, getting the pain out, even if the person feels deeply embarrassed and conceals what they are doing.

2,000 years after this gospel story took place, we cannot be sure exactly what had happened to the man to reduce him to the state he was in. However what is clear is that throughout his ministry Jesus encountered people who were trapped by forces which oppressed them and ruined their lives.

Jesus was just as concerned about mental suffering as he is about those who had no food, were sick or who were physically exploited.

The people around this poor man who suffered so much put chains on him and locked him up. He must have frightened them a great deal and with the belief he was demon possessed, probably felt the best thing was to chain him.

Into this desperately sad scenario comes Jesus. He shows his deep care and compassion for this man who was suffering mental torment.

Jesus reaches out and literally touches those who were suffering in mind and spirit and rather than becoming  caught up in their pain and distress  he brings healing and wholeness to those he encountered.

Jesus demonstrates the kingdom of God on earth, and he does this by opposing the forces of evil which would rob the children of God of all that God hopes and intends for them. Jesus has power over things that frighten us and ruin our lives.

We probably all have things which possess us and from which we need  freeing.

All of which may feel very apt at the moment as our country has torn itself apart over the In/Out referendum dilemma and Jo Cox,  the MP for Batley and Spen in Yorkshire,  was murdered on Thursday in her constituency.

The tributes to her from politicians across the spectrum of politics have been heartfelt and sincere. She took a stand against prejudice of any kind, and as she considered the different ethnic groups around her where she lived and worked, she famously said that there is more than we have in common than the things that divide us.  She worked tirelessly for the people who others often have no time for, or worse feel are a great threat : – not least refugees fleeing the “Hellhouse”  of Syria as she phrased it and back in her own town of Birstall,  those who are lonely and marginalised.

How ironic that the man who killed her gave his name as “ Death to traitors: Freedom to Britain” when he appeared in court yesterday charged with her murder. Reported to be a loner with mental health issues, he is the sort of person Jo would have reached out to.

It’s hard to hate him when he was so obviously misguided and mentally unstable. The people I have to work hard to forgive are those who over the last years have stirred up hatred towards people who are different to us, not least immigrants fleeing terror and certain death.

The death of Jo Cox silenced arguments from both sides referendum debate for three days – what a relief that was. One wonders to what extent the fragile mind of a man like Mr Mair has been influenced by the venom of the far right and the cries of those who want to say NO to anyone other than those made in their own image.

Let’s hope that whatever the outcome of the Referendum,  the death of one of the kindest and bravest people who wanted peace and understanding between people of all backgrounds makes us think long and hard about the sort of world we really want. And how as Christians we think about our neighbour on this planet earth who is fleeing terror and persecution.

Jesus mixed with everyone who had need of his healing touch. He often had crowds following him, if not fleeing persecution, but seeking desperately healing and a new way of living and freedom from oppression. He never turned them away, even when he was tired and weary.

In his ministry Jesus used his power and authority to help, to show kindness and not to hurt . He shows by his actions that he heals people, he frees and binds up the broken – broken hearts, broken bodies and broken minds.

We are a part of a church which needs to constantly seek to find ways to bring God’s healing to a world where there is so much division.

Vote wisely on Thursday.

 Amidst all the claims and counter claims it is hard to hear the voice of God. I wonder how you would answer this question – what would  Jesus do?



June 19, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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