4 Pentecost/Lectionary 12
June 20, 2010
26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As 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. 28When 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” — 29for 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.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32Now 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. 33Then 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. 34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then 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. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then 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. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39Return 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.
The Gospel writers are good storytellers, eh? Luke is especially good at drama. Today we have a raving maniac. He is so scary and dangerous that he had been locked up. He couldn’t live inside, seeking the furthest places from others – living in the tombs. You can’t tell for sure if he chose to live there or whether he’s sent to live there. But we see that he is completely rejected, physically, mentally, spiritually. He is completely unclean. He is also a Gentile, living in the country opposite Galilee. Jesus seems to have casually commanded the spirit which possessed this man to leave him alone. And then all hell breaks loose. It seems that this man is tormented and overwhelmed by spirits and that the spirits fight back. They don’t want to return to the abyss, so they get permission to possess these animals (also unclean, by Jewish standards)which they then drive into the nearby lake.
Jesus seems completely cool and casual in this tale. He is quietly in command and knows exactly what to do. But he has interrupted a system that seemed to work for everyone – with the possible exception of the maniac. And so the swineherds report him to everyone, it seems. And the people of the city come to see what’s going on. And there he is, listening to Jesus, composed and dressed and looking like everyone else. It seems that Jesus has upended a system, managing to scare everyone who thought that everything was safe with this man thrown out into the darkness by himself. Not surprisingly, the man wants to come with Jesus. Wouldn’t you? “Go home and tell what God has done for you.” Jesus says.
As dramatic a story as this is, I think it is hard for most of us to find ourselves in it. I am not raving – most days. I am not thrown out of society because I am so scary. But I have to tell you that there have been times in my life when I was so overwhelmed by how my life had fallen away from me, that it took everything I had to keep my public face on each day. At that time a dear friend who just couldn’t cope went into residential care for a few weeks, and when I went to see her, I envied her the ability to just let it all go and hide out.
I know that in this room are dozens of stories of life gone awry. In my story, I was so frozen and numb that I didn’t even wonder where God was. It was not until I showed up in church to hear the pastor read from Romans 8 that I even felt my own pain. “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things, present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Those words pierced my frozen heart. I cried. I wanted to leave so no one would see me crying, but I had to stay and hear those words. They sent me to Bible Study, a study in a community which saved me and put me at Jesus’ feet, in my right mind.
In the Galatians passage, Paul assures us that in our baptism, through our faith, we are clothed with Christ. We belong to Christ first and all the other stuff about us is secondary. We are new from the inside out, and heirs to a new promise. We are not possessed by our culture or our birth family, we are possessed by the love of God in Christ. It gives us a way to trust that when life falls apart, we are not alone. Nothing that happens to us happens without Christ being part of it, somewhere, somehow. And Christ has the power to create sanity in the face of insanity, order out of chaos, life out of death. We know that because Christ is God with us. And so we have a new story to tell. Just as this maniac was sent home to tell the story of how God had intervened to bring him new life, we have a story to share. “And so he went away,” the story ends, “proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” This man becomes the first Gentile evangelist – a word which means telling good news.
What’s your story? What’s the healing you have received? What is the healing you are asking for? Are you still living in the tombs of something overwhelming that possesses you? Will you let Jesus cast those demons out? Each of us is sent out to talk about our healing. How will you go and tell what Jesus has done for you?
Now may the peace of God which passes our understanding keep your heart safe in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.