06/23/13 Sermon (June 23, 2013)

posted Sep 3, 2013, 11:24 AM by David Hawkins   [ updated Sep 3, 2013, 11:24 AM ]

06/23/13 Sermon (June 23, 2013)

Scripture Reading: Luke 8:26-39  

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As 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.
When 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" - for 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.)
Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?"
He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now 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. Then 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.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then 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. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.
Then 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.
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.

Sermon: "The Service of Liberation"

As I first started reading this scripture,  I was reminded of when I was a kid, when I used to read Superman comic books. Well, actually I used to read pretty much every kind of comic book. Ah heck, who am I kidding. I still read comic books. In fact I have a giant box full of comics that I once thought be worth something sometime, but I’m pretty sure it’s not. But, I still move it from house to house. You know what I mean. I don’t even unpack it anymore. It’s one of those boxes.

Anyway, there was story thread in Superman comic books about Bizarro, a villain who was negative mirror image of Superman. Even the way he talked was backwards. He was vulnerable to blue kryptonite, not green, he had freeze-ray eye beams, rather than laser eye beams. He was the opposite of Superman.

And that’s how our scripture today starts out, doesn’t it? No, not with Superman. I mean, with opposites. Jesus steps out of the boat on the opposite of the lake from Galilee. He finds himself in a land of an opposite religion, with opposite laws, and opposite ethics. He is accosted by a man of opposite appearance, naked, homeless, among the desert tombstones, in an area opposite of life.

In every way, this scene is right out of bizarro world, where black is white, up is down, wrong is right, and the normal rules do not apply.

In other words, we are right where Jesus likes it.

You see, Jesus has made it a habit to go places that most people just don’t go. He talks to people that other people don’t give the time of day, he heals people that other people won’t touch, he likes to eat dinner with people that other people won’t even acknowledge. He accepts and forgives unwelcome guests, he even raised the daughter of a hated Roman centurion from the dead.

Jesus goes places that most people just don’t go.

But even for Jesus, this is a bit much.

This man is homeless and possessed. He is not in control of his mind or his body. He smells bad. He is a frightening creature, forced out of his own town, and now he lives in the cemetery, among the whitewashed tombs in the desert. He reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gollum, broken by his behavior, shunned by his people, cast into the outer darkness to live or, even better, die, alone, friendless, without hope of redemption.

An now, this deranged man comes running toward Jesus, arms flailing, naked as jaybird, screaming at the top of his lungs. If there was ever a time for Jesus to just climb back into the boat, now would be it. After all, what does Jesus have to do with Gentiles? What does he have to do with theses people, with their problems?

Jesus is Jewish. There’s no need or expectation that he would have anything to do with these people, these non-believers. In fact, just the opposite. Any self respecting religious teacher worth his salt would have avoided the situation altogether.

Go to Gerasenes? No thanks. Tour the cemetery? I don’t think so. Chat with a madman? Maybe some other time. I mean, it’s obvious that Jesus is out of his jurisdiction. After all, these townspeople have seemed to have worked it all out. They know their place, and this man in front of him knows his. Well, actually they know their place, and they also know his place, and his place is not with them in their place.

In any case, Jesus really shouldn’t be here. It’s not his country, it’s not his people, it’s not his problem.

But for some reason, he makes it his problem. And nobody is glad about it. Including, apparantly, the wreck of a human being in front of him.

“What do you want with me?” the man asks. “Have you come to make my life worse than it already is? Are you going to judge me like so many others already have? What new abuse have you prepared to show me the error of my ways? Tell me, O Holy one, how are you going to torment me?”

I think that most of us, upon being greeted like this, would have simply given up. Most of us have trained ourselves to avoid eye contact with the crazies we meet in the city, those who are wearing the sandwich boards announcing the end of the world, or aggressively panhandling, or simple walking around the streets muttering to themselves and their invisible friends. We’ve learning how to carefully cross the street before we encounter them, to walk away without engaging them in conversation.

Because we know what will happen if we talk to them. We will be sucked into something that we might not be able to get out of. We could find ourselves in danger, or even worse, we could find ourselves caring, becoming involved. And then what would we do? What could we do? It’s better to just not step into somebody else’s mess. It would be better, safer, easier, to climb back into our boat.

But that’s not how Jesus chooses to handle the situation. Instead of sailing away, he chooses to stay, and talk. He wants to know this man’s story. What’s his name? What’s going on with him? What is possessing this man to act the way he does? Why have the townspeople shunned him? What does he need in order to begin to put his life back together? He asks the man to name for him the impulses that are tearing him apart, the demons that wrack his body, and have destroyed his relationships.

But the man can’t give a name to what’s going on with him. In fact, he can’t even give his own name. His true name has been lost to history and now he is nothing but a label, the Gerasene demoniac, a possessed freak wandering the tombs in the desert. And labels are easier than names. Labels help us put folks into boxes, help us figure our world out.

“What is my name?” the man asks. “Who am I? There are too many things to count. Legion,” he says. “That’s my name.”

Legion. Another label. Another description. There are thousands of warring voices in his head, thousands of destructive and soul crushing forces competing in his body for control. Legion is the name of this man’s set of problems. And that is who he is.

There are so many things going on with this man that it’s hard to begin. Demons of poverty, homelessness, hunger, madness, despair, loneliness, self-loathing, fear,  anger, these are just the tip of the iceberg. It seems like an impossible case. What can we do with such a person? You can understand the reluctance of the townspeople to try to work with him. In fact, they’ve tried to help him. After all, didn’t they lock him up, bind him in chains, leg irons, put him jail? They’ve obviously done everything they could think of. And if all that didn’t work, what more can they do? It’s out of their hands.

Yet, Jesus decides to get involved. And he tries something new, untested. Jesus actually talks to the man, and together, they begin to identify his demons. And when Jesus addresses the man’s demons, they are called out into the light of day. And we discover that demons also have fears. Evidently, even demons have reasons for their actions. They have their own needs and desires.

They bargain with Jesus. They will leave this man alone, they say. But they don’t want to go back to the abyss, the region of nothing, of complete and total separation from everything. “Please don’t send us there,” they plead. “We can’t bear the idea of being alone. Send us into those pigs instead. ”

Apparently the old saying is true. Misery really does love company. And the demons would rather exist in the bodies of pigs than exist in a state of complete isolation.

And so Jesus grants their request. He sends the demons into a herd of swine, and they react in the way that we might expect a bunch of possessed pigs to react, by running directly into the lake and drowning themselves. And in the process, the cleansing waters of the lake completely and utterly destroy every trace of the demons. They are gone, forever, from this man. He is free to live as any other person might, to love and to work, and to play, and to enjoy the simple pleasure of being with other people.

Now, one would think that everybody would be on board with this ending. The man is cured, the demons are gone, life is good.

But the reality is, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is frequently upsetting to our way of life. When our economies, our political systems, our understanding of ourselves as people and nations are examined under the light of the risen Son, we can find ourselves on the wrong side of redemptive justice.

Yes, Jesus comes into town, and heals someone. But there is a cost. An entire economic system is wiped out. A political system is challenged. Old loyalties are swept aside. The swineherds are devastated. Their livelihood has just gone and killed itself in the lake, and regardless of how you feel about pork and the purity laws of Israel, an entire workforce is out of a job. This also is the legacy of Jesus Christ. Shattered systems, broken patterns of life. A new morality, a new ethic, a new way of looking things is not always welcomed with open arms.

And so the townspeople ask Jesus to leave them. Leave before something else gets taken from them. Leave before they have to radically change some other part of their lives. Because they know they will. They know that they can’t possible watch Jesus do this kind of work in their midst and not be affected by it. They know that sooner or later, other parts of the way they live their lives are going to have to change.

And they’re not too sure they want that. So maybe it would be best if Jesus just went away. If he would just leave them with whatever remained of their status quo, with their traditions and their habits.  Because life with Jesus is simply too demanding.

And so Jesus leaves. But he doesn’t leave them alone. The man he healed is still with them, and he will continue to tell them, with the convincing proof of his own life, what God is doing for the world. They will have no choice but to see the change in this man, this man who used to wander the tombs naked, who could not be trusted in town, who couldn’t be cured by punishment, yet somehow responded to love.

They can’t help but face the fact that their way of life has been upended, and that the way they thought about things has been challenged in a deep and permanent way.

Because when Jesus gets involved in our lives, things change. Our ideas, our desires, our habits, our expectations, our preconceptions are shaped by love rather than fear.

And some of the changes are going to hurt. Some of them are going to mean the loss of things we thought were important. There are going to be times that we wish that Jesus would just climb back into his boat, and go away.

But the Good News of the Gospel is that these deep and painful changes signal the complete and utter annihilation of the demons that plague us, even those demons that we can’t name, but which consume our lives. The legion of materialism, of greed, of selfishness, of prejudice, of complacency.

When Jesus steps into the land opposite of Galilee, nothing in our lives, or our community, can ever be the same again.

Thanks be to God Amen.