In October, my facebook feed and our news stories were filled with two little words:
Sisters from all sorts of walks of life started telling their stories, speaking their truths, naming names.
It was like the flood gates had broken loose.
Some could only type out those two words (#metoo) and others wrote chapters that had never before seen the light of day.
Women found the authority and the confidence to share some of the most mundane and monstrous things they experienced. The momentum of one voice, added to another, and to another, was a powerful thing to behold.
Just this past week, we witnessed the sentencing hearing of Dr. Larry Nassar whose abuse only came into the public eye in the midst of this past fall. 156 women and girls gave their testimonies as Judge Aquilina opened the courtroom to all who needed to speak their truth. In the end, he was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for the things the had done and taken from them.
As six-time Olympic medalist, Aly Raisman, said: “Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who thinks it is O.K. to hurt another person. Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere.” (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/24/sports/larry-nassar-victims.html)
Your time is up.
When Jesus entered the synagogue and began to speak the truth, to lift up the word, to tell stories of how God was moving in the world around them, he was telling all that opposes the Kingdom of God that it’s time was up.
But evil doesn’t want to go down without a fight.
Right there in the synagogue, a spirit began to cry out:
“What have you do to with us? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are.”
We don’t necessarily experience demonic possession and evil spirits in the same way today that they did in Jesus time. We have different understandings of bodies and mental health and to be honest, we filter out the spiritual and mystical and rationalize it away.
But I fully believe that evil is present in our world.
I believe that people can be ensnared by addiction and hatred and violence.
And I believe that when we, like Jesus, confront the sin and injustice and evil of this world and demand it to come out into the light of day then there can be the possibility of release and restoration and healing.
When the evil spirit began to speak out and interrupt the teaching of Jesus, he commanded it to be silent. To come out. And that spirit shook and screamed and then it finally released the person it had possessed.
It’s time was up.
What troubles me, both about this passage of scripture and with the countless stories of the #metoo movement, is the question of why it took so long?
How many times before had that evil spirit cried out in the midst of God’s people?
How long had the demon been hushed or covered up or ignored?
How many people had refused to stand up to it, to name names and call it what it was?
How many were frightened and simply stayed away?
William Cummings reported for USA Today about the woman who began the “me too” movement over ten years ago: Tarana Burke. In 2006, she founded an organization called Just Be Inc which helped young women of color reclaim their sense of well-being after they had been abused or exploited. But nearly ten years before that, Burke was a camp director and a little girl came to speak with her.
“The girl began to tell a story about her mother’s boyfriend ‘ who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body.’ Burke was horrified and as she listened it began to stir up all sorts of her own memories and emotions. She realized that she could not help in that moment and cut off the little girl in the middle of sharing this painful experience and directed her to another counselor.
Burke shared later, “I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again… I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all along and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper… me too.” (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/10/18/me-too-movement-origins/776963001/)
Sometimes it is not our personal experience that keeps us from calling out and naming the evil before us, but our unwillingness to see it.
The complicity of systems that are focused on a singular goal, like that of Michigan State University and U.S.A. Gymnastics and the Olympic Committee, blind them to the allegations and words of little girls when they try to speak their truths.
As Amanda Thomashow, one of those who testified at Nassar’s hearing said, “the school I loved and trusted, had the audacity to tell me that I did not understand the difference between sexual assault and a medical procedure.” Another talked about how she was attacked on social media and called a liar for sharing her truth. Another, talked about how her parents “will forever have to live with the fact that they continually brought their daughter to a sexual predator, and were in the room as he assaulted me.” (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/24/sports/larry-nassar-victims.html)
Sometimes, we simply normalize these types of experiences and can no longer see them as out of the ordinary. Last October, I remember that I almost didn’t post my own “me too”, because my stories seemed so inconsequential compared to the hurt and pain I knew of others.
But then I started thinking about all of the stories and they kept adding up and some of them were crazier than I want to publicly admit. From cat calls to the phone call at my church office in Marengo that necessitated a call to the police and my district superintendent… The fact that I would write it off as just a normal part of ministry was not okay.
We, like the people of that synagogue in Capernaum, too often have been bystanders. We sit back and watch unwilling to do anything. We sweep the words of those in pain under the rug where we don’t have to listen.
In his poem, “Partnering with God,” John van de Laar names the reality we experience:
The struggles of our world feel overwhelming, Jesus;
Beyond our ability to understand, let alone solve.
We do not have the capacity
To silence the justifications,
To heal the addictions,
To restore the brokenness,
To repair the destruction,
Or to reverse the trajectories
Of our self-centered, short-sighted weakness,
Our heartless, dehumanising aggression.
But we do not have these struggles alone, Jesus;
You have aligned yourself with us,
In taking on flesh,
In going through the waters,
In laying down your life;
And you have invited us to partner with you,
In proclaiming Good News,
In freeing the imprisoned,
In restoring the broken,
In uniting the divided;
And you have given us the capacity,
The divine Spirit,
To be co-workers with God.
For this, we are eternally grateful. Amen.
God has given us the capacity, the authority, the power, to name and call out the presence of evil in our world. Even if it feels overwhelming. Even if it feels insurmountable. Even if it is too personal to face.
Because God’s authority comes with the presence of the one who has already experienced the worst of human suffering. And Christ walks alongside us as we silence and call out those forces that would harm the lives of others.
But you are also not alone, because you are part of a community. This body of Christ has promised in our baptismal vows to
“renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.”
And “to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”
So that means two things.
First, I promise, as a pastor and faith leader, that I will listen to you. I promise not to cover up or deny. If you have a story that you need to tell, I am here to help you bring that story out of the darkness and into the light.
But second, it also means that if you are scared or hesitant or afraid you do not have to do this by yourself. Millions of women found the courage to say, “me too” this fall because they looked around and saw that they were not the only one.
Look around this room right now. You are not alone. All of those who are in this room who have taken their baptismal vows have already promised to help one another stand up to evil and injustice. We have committed to partnering with Jesus to proclaim the good news and to free the imprisoned and to restore the broken and unite the divided.
And by God’s authority, we can bring injustice into the light of day so that it can be healed and transformed and set free by God’s power.
Amen and Amen.