Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost / Sixth Sunday of Luke, October 25, 2015
Galatians 2:16-20; Luke 8:26-39
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Most of the time, we do not take responsibility for our own being and destiny. Part of this is that we don’t really know ourselves very well, even when we think we do. But at its root is the sin of pride, which is the desire to put ourselves first. From this sin comes most of the problems in our lives.
Today we hear the Gospel of the demon-possessed man Legion who is exorcised by Jesus. He casts the demons out of the man and sends them into a nearby herd of pigs, who immediately kill themselves by a suicidal jump into a nearby body of water. And the people of the region then drive Jesus away in response.
This image of possession and then the suicide of the pigs and the subsequent rejection of Jesus all have their root in this problem of not taking responsibility for oneself, which is the primary way that pride manifests itself in our time.
What do I mean by that?
We don’t get the back story of how the man got possessed, so full of demons that they name themselves “Legion,” but perhaps we may speculate that he had become addicted in some way. Perhaps he was addicted to some kind of substance, such as alcohol, or perhaps he had a sexual addiction or some other kind of addiction. We don’t know what it was that opened him up to the demons, but in a case like this, we can be fairly sure that his action or his neglect is what opened the door to the demons.
So he was not self-possessed but became demon-possessed. Because he did not want to face himself, he gave his identity over to possession, probably through addiction.
We function much the same way. We have our dysfunctions, our reactivity or neglect, and instead of facing ourselves and being self-possessed enough to own up to our addictions—perhaps the addictions of anger or lust or drugs or sloth or material possessions or having our own way—we instead blame someone else.
My life would be great if my husband or wife or kids were different. My job would be great if my boss or my peers or my employees or clients or customers were different. My church would be great if the bishop or the priest or parish council or someone else were different. But things aren’t great because someone else is bad. My reactivity or anger or disappointment or anxiety is someone else’s fault. I woudn’t have to feel that way if it weren’t for them. So I have to wait for them or complain at them or complain about them, etc., etc. If only they would change.
And sometimes, even if healing is presented, we act like the demons in the pigs and do something suicidal or crazy in some other way in an attempt to draw attention away from the healing or to sabotage the possibility for change. Or maybe we act like the townsfolk and reject the healer outright. We don’t want healing, because it means we have to change rather than the person we blame.
This is all pride.
Now, it may not feel like pride, because maybe in whatever anxious situation or relationship we’re in, we feel like we’re giving the other person space or always cleaning up after them or whatever. Surely that’s selfless! No, it’s not selfless. Why?
The reason why is because in most anxious relationships, we usually end up trying to protect our feelings like they are now. The problem in my relationship is that the other person needs to change. I do not need to change! I have every right to feel like I do! And it’s the other person’s fault that I feel this way!
So this is really pride, because we are not accepting that it is we who need to change. We are not putting ourselves last by humbling ourselves and changing. We’re focusing on someone else’s actions or words—which may well be actually dysfunctional, who knows? But we blame them rather than taking responsibility for our own feelings, our own being and destiny.
So what can we do about this? How do we get unstuck? How do I unstick myself in an anxious relationship when I see the problem as being the other person?
The key is to learn sacrifice.
God gave sacrifice as a gift to mankind to help him become unstuck. Sacrifice is the means by which we initiate change in ourselves and give stuck relationships the opportunity to get unstuck, to progress and to make permanent change.
How does sacrifice work? When we offer up something to God, He changes it by blessing it and then returns the changed sacrifice to us so that we can be changed by partaking of it. We know how this works in the sacrifice of the Eucharist. Bread and wine are offered to God, changed by Him in blessing, and then returned to us for our sanctification.
But the Eucharist is not the only sacrifice we make as Christians. Another which we are especially focusing on right now in our parish is the sacrifice of our finances. We sacrifice our money to God, He blesses it and changes it by using it for ministry, and we are sanctified by being changed by our participation in that ministry.
Some people think that sacrificing money to God means that God will give it back to you by making you rich. That’s just not true. God does sometimes materially bless people in response to their sacrifices, but that is just a temporary blessing that does not last beyond the grave. No, the point of the sacrifice of money is not to become financially prosperous. It’s to become spiritually prosperous.
Why does this work? Consider how much anxiety, how much anger, how much selfishness, how much worry, etc., etc., go into our whole approach to money in the modern age. This is ripe for all kinds of addictions, blaming and focusing on other people’s perceived dysfunctions.
That also means that our possessions are also ripe for the harvest possible through the sacrifice of possessions. I will speak about myself here especially now.
I do not like to share. I do not like to lose things that I like. I am never really satisfied with what I have. And I tend to blame other people for when I feel anxious over all these things.
That is why I need to tithe, why I need to sacrifice 10% of what I receive back to God for His use as ministry. When I tithe, I am taking responsibility for myself, for my feelings of inadequacy about money and possessions, for my feelings of blame for other people. When I tithe, I am sacrificing so that I can be exorcised of that reactivity, that addiction.
10% is not a magical number. It’s not even the only Biblical number. In the Old Testament, there were actually two and a third tithes, so they were really giving 23%. And in the New, Christians were often giving 100%. When the Church Fathers address tithing, they often say that the Old Covenant gave 10%, but because the New Covenant is superior, Christians give even more.
The point, though, isn’t the number but the sacrifice. 10% is definitely a sacrifice for most of us. For many of us, it’s not really that much of a sacrifice. But even if we can easily afford 10%, it is still a starting place, one that says that we’re serious. And if it truly is the case that we cannot afford 10%, we can still be serious with another percentage.
And a sacrifice has to be serious. We cannot get unstuck from our anxious relationships and addictions and blaming and deflection of responsibility if we don’t undertake a serious sacrifice.
So let’s sacrifice together, you and I. We do it not to satisfy a budget or because we hope God will help us win the lottery or because anyone is getting a raise—none of that is the point at all. We sacrifice together because we need to get unstuck, because we need to be serious about offering something to God for His blessing and transformation.
Just imagine all the blessing that we can receive when we sacrifice. May God bless you as you show Him you are serious about sacrifice. And watch what happens when you do.
To the Holy Trinity therefore be all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.