June 19, 2022

Return Home—and Preach!

“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
I’m going to attempt to teach you something about how to preach today, or maybe how not to. I’m a big proponent of the priesthood of all believers, and, having taken the scenic route to ordained ministry, you may see something of your own calling in mine.

Don’t be afraid. You are going to preach, each in your own ways. After all, you promised. “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” And you said you would “with God’s help.”

I said the same thing you’re saying now, “Not me.” When I was a teenager, I remember seeing the priests and seminarians with Catholic Committee on Scouting. I heard them preach, and, even though I felt called, I thought, “I’m not that guy.”

I wanted to get married, have kids some day, and you can’t do that as a Catholic.

I told God, “No, not me.”

But God said, “Yes, you.”

God said, “Preach!”

So preaching a sermon: A community chooses one among their number to reflect upon what’s going on in the world, in the parish, in the readings for the day—

Wait, what about what’s going on with me? says the preacher.

Nobody really cares about what’s going on with you, comes the reply. This isn’t about you.

So you take the news, a sense of the parish, the readings and centuries of commentary upon it, and we give you some time at church to tell us what you’ve made of what God has to say about all that. Bring us a word. Try to make it entertaining and keep it short because we’ve got meetings after this and a brunch to get to.


So let’s set to work: It’s the second Sunday after Pentecost. We’ve got a prophet, a psalm, an epistle, and a Gospel that features an exorcism, terribly distressing to modern ears with a distaste for anything supernatural. It’s demonic possession, bad geography, and a horrible bit with a herd of pigs.

Where do you even go with that? Let’s see…
• It’s Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day! How about an encomium to fathers? That’s a little dicey considering it’s a Hallmark holiday and not a church feast and not everyone has a great parent-child relationship.
• It’s still Pride month, so an exhortation to repent of the church’s and society’s continued persecution of the queer community would be appropriate.
• Juneteenth could occasion a sermon about jubilee, freeing people from their chains, and urging people to make real the dream of God in racial reparation and reconciliation.
• Three people were gunned down at an Episcopal church potluck in Alabama on Thursday; there was gunfire at Tysons Corner Center yesterday. Another topical sermon on gun violence? Surely, you’ve got one by now.
• There was an insurrection without much in the way of consequences for the perpetrators?
• There’s that pandemic that everyone just decided was over?
• There’s violence and war around the world, broken relationships at home and suffering in the human heart…

Hear the conflicting cacophony of the expectations of your congregation, your boss, and your God! A social media feed, a country, filled with Christians but no Jesus!

Do you feel the weight? The anxiety? The loneliness? The sadness?

Do you feel this frenzied nightmare that doesn’t stop when you wake? Do you hear the voices? Do you feel the chains?

Do you feel like a preacher? Or like that man torn apart by a thousand demons chained and alone among the tombs?

Let me tell you something about preaching:

Our sermons are “legion.” They do not inspire us. They possess us.

Our sermons are “legion,” for they are many and militant when they should be united and uniting. We Christians are not always inspired by God but too often possessed by our own preference, power, and prejudice. I could tell you to go to the tombs and, like Jesus, free those chained there, but we are the ones he’s coming to free.


“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.”

Forgive me for eliding the riches of this passage. There’s a lot to be made of this episode in the life of Jesus, so much to say about pigs, but I want you to skip to the end. This unnamed and newly freed and clothed man, wants to join with Jesus. There is nothing for this man in his fearful community. Literally clothed with Christ, to borrow Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he begs to join the disciples, to live out a new God-given life. He wants to exorcise demons, to teach, to serve those in need, to change the world. Jesus stops him, and, again to borrow from Galatians, makes his newborn faith subject to a disciplinarian. The word used is pedagogue, a governess, a tutor, a servant responsible for the education of a child.
There is no discipleship without discipline, and the fundamental disciplines Jesus instructs are return and relation. He must return from homeless exile to his home, to his own promised land, to God, his father, and remain there. And, among the people, declare what God has done in his own life. He may do other things, but he won’t do much if he cannot do that. Moved, the man preaches, the word is “preach,” about Jesus’ intervention in his life. The life of “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female” remains beyond those followers who are unwilling to preach Jesus and what Jesus has done.

And so it is that our sermons ring hollow, our ministries fail, when we mark Father’s Day, Pride, and Juneteenth, when we decry gun violence, insurrection, and war, but do not preach God, do not preach Jesus.

Worse, our sermons, our ministries, our churches, an entire denomination can lurch along like a zombie, infecting and imprisoning others, not resurrected, simply undead.

We preach a Father’s Day of earthly fathers, good and less so, forgetting that heavenly father with outstretched arms in Isaiah, arms stretched in earnest prayer, embracing welcome, and self-sacrificing love. How do we preach to fathers who’ve lost their children? How do we preach to sons for whom this is the first Father’s Day without their Pop? Our God knows what it’s like to lose a child. Our Lord knows what it’s like to feel abandoned. Wherever you are this Father’s Day, whether you’re celebrating or not, you are loved. Our God longs for you, rushes to meet you again, and would do anything for you.

We preach Pride, but, without Jesus to point Christians to that life of “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female,” the church remains a source, if not the source, of shame, cruelty, and violence against the queer community and people of color.

We could preach Juneteenth, but, forgetting Jesus, the church preaches another Gospel. The Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Survey found in 2018 that “in the United States today, the more racist attitudes a person holds, the more likely he or she is to identify as a white Christian.” Furthermore, “there is no evidence that higher church exposure has any mitigating impact on racist attitudes; if anything, the opposite is true.”  In fact, identifying as Christian makes one more likely to have racist attitudes. Whatever our churches are doing, it isn’t Juneteenth, and it’s not the Gospel.

God holds out his hands to a rebellious and idolatrous church, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own preferences and prejudices; a people who provoke God to his face continually, sacrificing in banks and offering incense on stock exchanges; who sit inside tombs, deal in death, and spend the night on gun ranges and the streets they’ve turned to battlefields; who eat lead, consume flesh, and drink gasoline; who somehow say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”


“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

Tell people where you were this morning.

Tell people what God did for you. That’s your sermon.

Without it, no true preaching, no true ministry is possible. Without it, you can’t preach Father’s Day, Pride Month, Juneteenth or any other teenth. Without it, there’s nothing to say against violence, insurrection, terrorism, and war. Without it, there’s nothing to invite, welcome, or connect anybody to.

Without the deeds of God, you’re still in chains.

But if you can tell me how God is reaching into your life and breaking the chains, you can exorcise demons, raise the dead, make all things new.

You keep saying, “No, not me.”

But God keeps saying, “Yes, you.”

Listen to him.

God reached into my life and placed a call on my heart. Despite my laziness, my arrogance, my cowardice, God made me a husband and a father. I married the love of my life and welcomed three amazing sons. This week, I attended orientation for summer Shrine Mont chaplains. Staring at the faces of the young people serving as counselors, I recalled how I looked at the Catholic Committee priests and said, “I’m not that guy.” I heard a voice: “Kevin, you are that guy.”

We keep saying, “No, not me.”

But Jesus keeps saying, “Yes, you.”

Listen to him.

Return to your home, put the readings and centuries of commentary, the world’s news aside, just for a moment, and declare how much God has done for you, and see how much more God will continue to do for all of us.

I’ll tell you what God told me: