A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
I know this madman well. And so, I suspect, do some of you. I know him from the inside out and from the outside in. I’ve met him in the land of fear, of loss, of grief. I’ve seen his face in folks I love. A face that haunts me still. We’ve come face to face that madman of the tombs and me—face to face in times of failure and, strange as it may seem, in flush times too.
He scares me—this man possessed by demons and living there among the dead. “What have you to do with me?” I shout at him as if to ward him off. Sometimes it works. He darts away. He’s gone. Sometimes for only a moment and sometimes for a season. Then he returns. Oh how I would love to wall him off, to banish him, to keep that madness, that despair, that raging pain far from my field of vision. “What have you to do with me, you madman of the tombs?”
“What have you to do with me?”—that’s the question the man possessed by demons puts to Jesus. I suspect that question comes from a place deep inside the one whose name is “Legion.” A question born in fear and loss and deep, deep disappointment. “What have you to do with me”—there are so many different ways to ask that question:
--“Why should I believe that you won’t leave me in the tombs just like the others did?”
—“Why should I believe that you won’t disappoint me? I’ve been disappointed so many times already.”
—“Why should I trust you?”
Questions people who’ve been deeply hurt often ask not once but many times.
“What have you to do with me?” children who have been abused ask. They’re calibrating really—calibrating if and how much they dare trust the person reaching out their hand to help.
“What have you to do with me?” people on the streets ask in a host of different ways. And why not—they’ve been rebuffed, walled off, locked up so many times.
“What have you to do with me?” That’s a question folks can put to the Church as well given both actions churches have undertaken and actions churches have supported or condoned.
“What have you to do with me?” There’s another way to put that question. “What claim have you on me?” That’s a question people who live outside the land of tombs ask of those who wander among the dead. “What claim have you on me?” Often those living outside the tombs answer before the voiceless even have a chance to speak. Often those living outside the tombs answer as the people of Gesara answered when they saw the one whom they’d walled off, “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.”
They answered from a place of fear those people from Gesara. “Get out of here. Get out of here,” they shout to Jesus. “You have no claim on us,” they might well have said to Him as they had said already to the man living among the tombs. Those townsfolk were afraid—afraid of Jesus and afraid of the one he healed of the demons haunting him. Those townsfolk were afraid that Love just might reorder the way they lived their lives.
“What have you to do with me?” A question we put to the madmen we meet in our lives—madmen living in tombs of grief and despair, of hunger and homelessness, of failure and loss; a question we put to madmen living in the many kinds of otherness we encounter in our world. “What have you to do with me?”
“What have you to do with me?” I ask that madman I know so well. Sometimes she answers with the words, “I am a part of you. You know me very well.” Other times she reminds me that I know her in friends and family, in the walls that darkness and despair, depression and grief throw up. In those moments I remember the claim she has on me. The claim of our shared humanity.
I hear her say to Love himself, “What have you to do with me?”
In Love’s answer I hear echoes of a poem a priest wrote long ago:
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"
"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.
Sometimes the pain is so great that the question—what have you to do with me—has to be asked and answered time and again before the madman within and without is ready to sit and eat. Ask we must. And answer too. Again and again. For we are followers of Love himself.