When I moved to Fargo/Moorhead three years ago, I wondered about the state border between these two cities. When Charlie and I were shopping for a house, I asked a few people whether it would make a difference—since I was a pastor of congregation in Fargo—if we lived in Moorhead. What most people said to me was something like, “Oh, no, lots of people do that!”
So, we ended up buying a house in Moorhead. And since then I have made a daily trek from home to office—traveling all the way from Minnesota to North Dakota and back.
At first it was kind of exciting, crossing the state border each day. But after a while, it became very routine.
Except this past Thursday, when I crossed the border several times! On Thursday morning, Charlie had an appointment at the new Sanford Hospital on the west side of Fargo for a C-scan for his arm, which he injured in an accident last week, so he couldn’t drive himself.
Of course, I had an appointment at the same time at the Sanford clinic in north Fargo. So, we drove from Moorhead to the hospital, where I dropped off Charlie, then headed to my own appointment. After that, I drove back to the hospital, picked Charlie up and took him home—again crossing the border.
Then at noon, I had set up a lunch meeting with Curt, a friend from our Rainbow Seniors group, and Charlie decided to join us. So, we rode from Moorhead back to Fargo, crossing the border again! After lunch, Curt wanted to see our church’s old organ, so I took Charlie home and then drove back to our office in Fargo— which made two more border crossings. About 4:30 p.m., I drove home. Another crossing! But my driving day was not done. Because we went to the International Potluck that evening at Olivet Lutheran in Fargo. Once again, we crossed the border. Finally, after the potluck, we had our final border crossing. So, if I count correctly, that made a total of eight border crossings in one day! An all-time record!
Today’s Gospel also tells a story about border crossings. The lesson starts with Jesus and the disciples sailing across the Sea of Galilee, arriving at the country of the Gerasenes, located in modern day Syria. The Gerasenes were the people of the Roman district of which Gerasa was the capital city. So, Jesus crosses what today is an international boundary—but without any security checks or border wall. Jesus passes freely to a city originally founded by the Greeks a couple centuries before.
When Charlie and I visited Israel seven years ago, we sailed on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Our guide pointed out the spot where supposedly this story took place, on the east side of the lake. Where a Roman settlement once stood. Where the farmers raised pigs for pork, a food forbidden by Jewish dietary law.
This story is situated in the center of a clash of cultures—contrasting the homeland of Jesus with a completely different society. The foreigners there would have been hated for their allegiance to the oppressive empire.
Yet, the man Jesus heals is one of those foreigners. By crossing the border, Jesus enters this man’s country and culture—a controversial act for any Jew of that time.
Based on the animosity many felt, Jesus could have turned his back on that man’s misfortune. Instead, Jesus, an immigrant himself in that moment, heals a despised and dangerous foreigner. A Jew who steps beyond his community to reveal God’s grace in the person of an outsider. A Gospel parable enacted in real life. In this healing, Jesus sends the legion of demons into a herd of swine. “Legion” was the Roman word for a unit of 5,000 soldiers. And the pigs were probably intended as food for the military unit of the occupying force there.
In all this, there’s a not-so-subtle impediment.
Jesus seems to engage in the kind of resistance sometimes practiced by oppressed people. Not an open, public protest, but symbolic defiance. Like the blacks who sat at Southern lunch counters in the 1950s. Like the transgender and gay individuals who refused to follow police orders just before the beginning of the Stonewall Riots. Like the Lutheran congregations that called LGBTQ pastors before the 2009 ELCA vote. Like the caravans of refugees who cross the Mexican border, knowing they might be sent to U.S. detention centers.
Like the law enforcement in certain cities who are refusing to cooperate with raids planned by immigration agents.
Like them, throughout his ministry, Jesus resisted the evil of this world. Jesus crossed borders. Jesus defied cultural norms. Jesus embraced the marginalized. Jesus welcomed the stranger. Jesus healed the foreigner.
That kind of welcoming grace and hospitality is the central message of the Gospel Jesus preached, and lived, and died for. The same kind of hospitality recently extended to our congregation by members of Temple Beth El Synagogue—who have graciously invited us to share their space. The same kind of love we are called to live out today. A love that transcends our differences. As St. Paul writes in our second reading from Galatians:
“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Paul suggests that Christ removes all the walls that divide us from one another. That we are now united in the love of Jesus, the One who came to change all that. The One who shatters the dark hatred of this world. The One who crosses the borders that separate us. The One who gives healing to our weary bodies. The One who grants comfort to our broken hearts, The One who brings together our diverse communities. Amen.
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GOSPEL READING: Luke 8:26-39
Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.