When Pigs Fly

Is it really possible that we would overcome our divisions, all truly be one in Christ Jesus, and fully include all people?

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. – Galatians 3:28

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Luke 8:26-39, Galatians 3:23-29

What if we have gotten things wrong?

[1]

I know that’s a scary question, but when it seems like things are falling apart, we have to be willing to consider that there might be something we’ve missed, or something we’ve misunderstood.

Like when we’re asking, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” maybe we’re really asking, “Why didn’t this go the way I wanted it to?”

Or when the Bible doesn’t say what we think it should or what we want it to say?

If our understanding of a part of the Bible doesn’t match with what we know or feel about God or with what the Bible says in another part, maybe our understanding is wrong, or we’ve been making it say what we want it to say.

In the book Inspired, author Rachel Held Evans tells about a real life example of how scary it can be when we get things wrong: 

[2]

In the predawn hours of May 26, 1637, an army of English settlers under the leadership of Captain John Mason breached the palisade walls of a Pequot village {Native Americans] near the Mystic River, and with the help of native allies, set fire to the community. Hundreds of Pequot burned alive, and those who managed to escape were shot or slain by Mason’s men. Recounting his role in the massacre, Puritan John Underhill wrote, “Down fell men, women, and children. . . . Should not Christians have more mercy and compassion? . . . Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents. . . . We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings.” For Underhill and other European colonialists, that “sufficient light” came from the Bible’s war stories, particularly those of Israel’s battles in Canaan.[3]

Early settlers who came to America and attacked and wiped out an entire village of Pequot Native Americans, believing they were entirely justified in doing so because the same thing happens in the Bible.   Those who were fighting to keep slavery alive in America also believed they were entirely justified in doing so because the Bible says that slaves should obey their masters.

[4]

Sometimes we get it wrong. As a young adult, I used to think that the reason Israel lost the Promised Land and got carried off to exile was because they didn’t complete the genocide that they were supposed to do to take over the land.  This understanding seems to fit with the book of Ezra, where we read that Ezra was concerned about people having married gentiles. But we know that God created all people, and that all people are created in the image of God, including gentiles, so how can it be that God would command genocide or encourage exclusion?

We were wrestling with these questions in our women’s Bible study this past week, and we struggled to come up with good answers. I continue to struggle with this. I know that the different books of the Bible were written to particular audiences, often attempting to address the issues of that particular time, and which we often cannot fully understand. I also know that the prophets have a recurring theme about the underlying issues which are often about failing to trust God, and failing to treat each other well.

It’s tempting to resolve our questions and doubts by dismissing parts or all of the Bible entirely, but instead I think it’s more helpful to admit our questions and doubts, and consider that there might be other answers. 

Sometimes the problem is that we’re asking the wrong questions. 

Sometimes the problem is that we’re making wrong assumptions. 

Sometimes we’re missing the point entirely.

In today’s reading from Galatians, we heard a verse that makes the central point of the letter and yet seems to dismiss much of the Old Testament:

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. Gal 3:28

The easy answer is that the Old Testament was before Jesus, but now Jesus has changed everything.  Maybe.  But Jesus himself said he didn’t come to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill the law.

And we have to be careful about how we draw the lines.  One of the ways that the early colonial Americans justified slavery was to say that the slaves were pagans, heathens, not Christians, and so it was ok to enslave them.  But then the slaves started learning about Jesus and became Christians.  So what then?

I must confess that it is tempting to want to give you solid answers to all these questions, but not all questions have straightforward answers, and there is also the danger that then you will be trusting in Pastor Melissa Krabbe instead of trusting in God, and ultimately trusting God, having faith, is what we are supposed to be about. That is the sin at the heart of both the Old and New Testaments.  Trusting God often means living with unanswered questions and things that don’t go the way we think they should go, because issues and situations often have much bigger implications than we can fully comprehend.

Like the man who came to Jesus to have his son healed, and says, “Jesus, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is written in anger.  He is responding to those who are requiring gentiles to become Jewish in order to become followers of Jesus. This means that they are requiring people to follow all of the Jewish laws, and if they don’t, then they are not accepted into the fellowship.  Paul is furious that people are putting up roadblocks to following Jesus, obstacles to the freedom of grace through faith alone.  All that should be required is to trust God for our salvation in Jesus Christ.

For many of the Jews, that was a bridge too far.  They couldn’t fathom setting aside a lifetime of traditions that were integral to their understanding of how to be right with God.  Paul tries to help them see that those traditions were a precursor to this fuller understanding that we now have through Jesus.

The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. (Gal 3:24-25)

We can see how they would struggle to trust that our salvation comes through faith alone.  Even now, we find ourselves trying to earn faith by being good enough. I find far too many people who are facing the end of their lives worried about whether God will let them into heaven because there was that time when they did something they’re ashamed of, or they didn’t go to church as much as they thought they should have.  It’s hard to believe that we’re good enough.

In Luke 23:39-43, we read about the two men who were hung on the crosses on either side of Jesus. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

[5]

There is no being good enough.  None of us is better than any other, regardless of our race or color, our social standing or education, regardless of what country we live in or how much money we have or the way we worship, no matter who we fall in love with, we all have good in us because we are all made in the image of God.  And if we are trusting in any one of those things to make us good enough, we have put our trust in something other than God who freely gives us new life through faith in Jesus Christ. Our hope is in Jesus.

But what about when Jesus comes in and disrupts your way of life?  In today’s gospel story, Jesus frees a man from demon possession by sending the demons into a herd of pigs, who then run off a cliff.  Jesus made pigs fly.

Do you know where flying pigs go to school?  Hogwarts.

We often talk about how people were expecting Jesus to come in power, raise an army, and send the oppressive Romans packing.  He didn’t.  But here in this story, Jesus takes on an army of demons – “a legion.”  We don’t know how many, but Luke tells us that Jesus sends them into a large herd of pigs,[6] so there must have been sow many. 

“Not even a “Legion” from the demonic realm can keep Jesus from restoring this person in torment and allowing him to return to his home (8:39). Jesus takes on evil on its own turf, as it were, and is victorious over these forces of evil and death.”[7]

Not surprisingly, after he was healed, the man begged to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him to go home and tell people what God had done for him.  Stay where you are and be a witness.

The people of Gerasene were frightened and begged Jesus to leave. It’s hard to change.  We fight change.  We’re used to the way things are working and we have a hard time seeing how things can work differently.  The reality is that whether or not a system is healthy and working well, changing it can seem like waiting for pigs to fly…and yet Jesus makes pigs fly.

In essence, this is the story of the holiday we are celebrating today. Juneteenth is the remembrance of the day the Emancipation Proclamation arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865, two years after it was signed by President Abraham Lincoln. Why did it take so long?  Why did the slaveholders fight so hard against it? 

I’ve heard a variety of explanations. One is that news didn’t travel so fast in those days. Another is that the slaveholders had crops that needed harvesting and they couldn’t see setting the slaves free until after the crops were harvested.  The reality is that slaves were integral to the southern economy, and once something is part of the system, it’s hard to change.

Why do any of us find it hard change?  Often it’s just easier to stay the same.  Easier to believe that change is impossible.  Easier to say, “that’ll only happen when pigs fly.”

But the Lord works in mysterious ways and it’s never wise to bet against God.

In the animated series “The Simpsons,” the richest man in town, Mr. Burns, owns the local nuclear power plant and is famously stingy and selfish.  But on a whim, one day he tells his assistant that he’ll  donate a million dollars to the orphanage, then adding, “that’ll happen when pigs fly.”  Meanwhile in another part of town, Lisa Simpson, a vegetarian who has been fighting with her father Homer about eating meat, pushes Homer’s prize pig down a hill into a river where it gets sucked into the spillway and shot through the air, causing it to fly right by Mr. Burns’ office window.

So did he give the money to the orphanage?  No, he didn’t, because he didn’t really mean it.

We might assume that resistance to change is just about being unwilling to accept a change. But for the most part, it isn’t the change itself that people resist. People resist change because they believe they will lose something of value or fear they will not be able to adapt to the new ways.[8]

[9]

What is it that we fear losing when things change?

Early in my faith, I was afraid to talk with people who are atheists because I was afraid they would talk me out of believing in God, but I came to see that my belief is deeper than that.

Israel was afraid that they would lose God, but even when they were in exile hundreds of miles away from the temple, God spoke through the prophets to let them know he was still there, and the books of Daniel and Esther about life in exile show us that God was still with them, even in that new place.

Unfortunately, when we resist change, we may also be resisting the solution to problems, and if we resist new ideas, we may be shutting out new people from knowing the joy of finding God in Christ. 

It can be hard to see how things can be done differently.  It’s hard to admit sometimes that we don’t have all the answers. But this is a place where it’s ok to ask hard questions and share our doubts and fears.

We might think that change will only happen when pigs fly, but in our gospel story for today, Jesus makes pigs fly. Let us renew our trust in Jesus to help us change the world.

As our closing prayer, let’s have a time of meditation and acknowledge

Forgiving and Loving God, we acknowledge our sadness and grief over the things that aren’t the way we’d like them to be.  God, hear us as we name these things to you in prayer.

God, we thank you that even in the midst of our grief, there are things that are good and for which we can be thankful.  God hear us as we name these things to you.

Jesus, you do so much more than we can ask or imagine. Help us to see that we can work with you to change.  Name those things in our hearts now.

Jesus, we acknowledge that we have often trusted in the wrong things instead of trusting in you. Hear us as we acknowledge those things.

Thank you for your forgiveness and grace, and for being the solid rock on which we stand.


[1] Photo by Michelle Tresemer on Unsplash

[2] By Library of Congress, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=473233

[3] Evans, Rachel Held. Inspired (p. 61). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition. Referencing William P. Trent and Benjamin W. Wells, eds., Colonial Prose and Poetry: The Transplanting of Culture (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1901), 139. (Footnotes, p. 231).

[4] Photo by Matt Walsh on Unsplash

[5] Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

[6] By kallerna – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110364679

[7] Jeannine K. Brown at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-12-3/commentary-on-luke-826-39-5

[8] https://www.liquidplanner.com/blog/why-is-organizational-change-so-hard/#:~:text=People%20resist%20change%20because%20they,implementation%20of%20a%20new%20process.

[9] Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

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