Forming Faith Blog

Excluded (January 26, 2020)

A young person sitting on a bridge, excluded from community.
The Power of the Kingdom

In our Living the Word (Narrative Lectionary) products, we are entering our second unit of the Epiphany season. Our focus for the Bible readings is the kingdom of God, which is what Jesus announced in our previous unit. Now we look at the power of this kingdom, especially the power to heal and grant freedom. Today we reflect on the power of God’s kingdom to heal and bring freedom to a man excluded from community and tortured by evil.

Which Direction to Go?

When I read this story, I am struck with multiple ideas, details, and questions. The first is how do we address stories like this for those who may not believe demons exist? Other details that stick out are the man’s fits of violence, self-harm, feeling that he is not in control of his life. Due to the people’s fear of him, he is ostracized from the community, living completely alone. For a Jewish audience, this man would be the epitome of an outsider, unclean to the max: having an unclean spirit, living in an unclean place in an unclean country, near unclean animals. And then there’s the fact that in bringing freedom and healing to this one man, Jesus destroyed the livelihood of one or more people in this city.

Excluded from Community

My main goal with our faith formation resources overall is to give people the opportunity to see their own stories within the greater story of God found in the Bible. A good way to do this is to find a way for participants to connect with each story. In this particular story, it may be hard for participants to connect with any of the characters. However, even though most people have not experienced what the man is suffering from, they likely have some experience with isolation.

This man was excluded from his community. Now, this is for a good reason. He posed a danger to others. But he was still excluded and isolated. He possibly felt isolated in his own mind and body as an external force took control of them.

Extreme Example

This is, again, an extreme example. That means it takes some translation work on the part of the faith formation leader. Participants will likely focus on the parts of the story that are strange, different than their own experience and the world they know. And it is important to acknowledge those differences, but then to move beyond them into what is familiar. How? Some ideas:

  • Create a monologue from the perspective of the man, focusing on his feelings of being trapped and isolated.
  • Challenge participants to name ways this man is excluded and isolated. Then, ask them to name what causes people today (themselves or others) to feel the same.
  • Ask participants to close their eyes and imagine what it would be like to be that man as you retell (or reread) the story.
Reconnection

We, of course, cannot forget the good news. Jesus frees the man from oppression, suffering, and isolation. Jesus proved his authority over an army of demons, just as he had over sickness, sin, and the forces of nature prior to this. Sadly, our isolation is not as quickly and easily remedied by a word from Jesus. More often, it is God’s church that is sent out in small ways and large to bring God’s inclusive love into reality in people’s lives. We can incarnate God’s love to sit with people who are sick or have been isolated for so many different reasons.

Free Resource

This week’s free resource is an activity from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) curriculum entitled “You Are Welcome.” In it, participants are encouraged to think of and practice ways to help others feel welcome, at church or elsewhere in our lives. While this activity is written for young children, it is easy to see how it can be used with other age groups as well.

A note included in this activity, and one I want to emphasize, is that some of the ways we can welcome others are through physical touch like hugs and handshakes. It is important to teach participants of all ages (though especially younger ones) to ask permission before touching someone else and never should they feel forced to receive a hug or similar when they don’t want one.

As you teach, preach, learn, and wrestle, may you see the face of God this Epiphany season!

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

If you would like to know more about our perspectives on faith formation and cross+gen ministry, you can check out the following links:

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary 2019-2020 Planning Tool, NL Readings Overview, and Scope & Sequence