Sunday, June 20, 2010


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.

A Message from the Pastor
This is a strange gospel story. It would make a good plot for Hollywood. Picture what is happening. Jesus has just stilled a storm on the Sea of Galilee. He and the disciples are landing on the other side. Jesus steps out of the boat and he is immediately greeted by a crazy man. You could picture a man with wild hair who is totally naked, calling out to Jesus not to torment him. We know that he has been shackled and chained. We know he lives in the tombs. And there, at a distance, is a herd of swine with the swineherds. Because of the demons’ request, Jesus sends the demons into the swine. Can you just see what Hollywood would do with special affects as the demons leave the man and enter the swine? Then, the entire herd of swine rushes down a steep hill and drowns in the Sea of Galilee.

The thrust of this story is not that Jesus knows how to make deviled ham!

The thrust of the story is multilayered, confusing, and difficult to embrace. It is the story of Jesus facing chaos. First, he faced the chaos from the powers of this world with the storm. Then he faced the chaos from spiritual forces. Jesus is here, for us, to face chaos.

First of all, we don’t experience demons like they were described in this story. We don’t see naked men running through the streets or coming out of tombs. It’s difficult to connect with the story or imagine what could possibly be happening. Yet, ask someone who has clinical depression about demons. Ask the family of a schizophrenic about demons. Ask anyone who deals with an anxiety disorder or a compulsive obsessive disorder about demons. Or ask any addict – alcoholic, drug, sex, or gambling – about their demons. And if we need to think about something more “normal,’ think about the times we have grasped thoughts, resentments, or reasons for anger, and how they have engulfed our minds to such an extent that we can’t sleep or think about anything else.

I would like to quote a comment by an author of a commentary I frequently read. He has provided ministry to addicts. (I added my own “spin” to his comments:) I have frequently heard the word "demonic" used in reference to the shootings and killings in our schools; it was used in reference to Timothy McVeigh. It could be used of the Columbine killings and at Virginia Tech, of Saddam Hussein's regime, of the actions against Iraqi prisoners, and I'm sure many other "demonic," dehumanizing, destructive behaviors. We could also think about events that occur that could be identified as “powers of this world.” The difficulty I often find is how do we present Jesus as the cure for such evils in [or the powers of] the world? I have not been able to tell an alcoholic or addict, "Be cured in the name of Jesus" and have their cravings cease or cease experiencing the powers of this world. How does Jesus exorcize the demonic today? To that question, I do not have a good answer. Nor do I.

However, I would like us to consider some things that this story might reveal. First of all, did you notice that Jesus asked for the demon’s name? He named the demon. That’s a beginning. We need to name that which we are facing, whether it is a demon or the powers of this world. Have we named the real demon of the oil spill? Have we named the demon of the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars? Have we named the powers of the world that created Katrina and the demons that fed it. Have we named the powers of the world that have made us face disease, life threatening illnesses, broken relationships and economic difficulties? Have we truly named them? We need to in order to face them with the power of Jesus.

Let’s look at the baptismal rite for Ken in which we just participated. It’s a beautiful rite. We heard Martin Luther’s prayer as water was poured into the basin. We baptized him in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I anointed him as I placed the sign of the cross on his forehead. He received a candle to remind him to let his light shine. But, in the midst of that we are reminded of what we face. We name it. I began by asking Ken, “Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?” He answered, “I renounce them.” Then, getting closer to home, I asked, “Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?” Again, Ken answered, “I renounce them.” Finally, getting more personal, I asked Ken, “Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?” Again, Ken said, “I renounce them.”

Now, let’s look at what happened in the story. The swineherds went into the city and countryside to tell everyone what happened. When they came to see for themselves, which could have taken many hours or even a day, they found the demoniac sitting at the feet of Jesus, fully clothed, and in his right mind. What happened? They were filled with fear! You would think they would be praising God and thanking Jesus for what happened. After all, there was no more demoniac.

I’ve thought of three reasons that they were afraid. First, the swine were in a Gentile country where pork could be eaten. That was money on the hoof. Their economic livelihood was destroyed. Jesus created this new chaos when he healed the demoniac. And, after all, isn’t economics the god of us all? Second, think about their relationship with the demoniac. They knew where he was. They knew what he did. They could expect what might happen. Not any more. He might want to get even for them shackling and chaining him. They don’t know if the demons will return. Jesus, again, created a new chaos with the exorcism. Finally, do we ever think about what happened when the swine went into the sea. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of swine which were now floating as carcasses in the water. Can you imagine the stench? And, there were the fishermen who made a livelihood by fishing off of the shore. That industry could have been destroyed. (Is this shades of the Gulf Oil Spill?) That is another new chaos.

Then, let’s think about the situation with the demoniac. He is in his right mind. Jesus cured him. He’s had time to listen to this charismatic man and probably hear thoughts that impress him greatly. No wonder he wants to be with Jesus. Besides, the people back in the city chained and shackled him. What would happen now. Ask any recovering addict about his/her family. It’s not a matter of instant trust when he begins recovery. That would be a new chaos to deal with. Jesus sends the man back into the city where he was, and the chaos continues. Jesus wants him to tell the people what God has done for him.
Jesus can create new chaos as he changes the old dynamics. There are two sayings with which we are well acquainted. They are diametrically opposed to one another. We all love to realize that, “Jesus accepts us just the way we are.” The other saying is, “Jesus transforms us.” We have difficulty with the second one. We don’t like change.

In the midst of all of this, let’s remember our baptism and what we know. Paul said in the Letter to the Galatians that was read today that we are clothed with Christ in our baptism. We have Christ within us. Paul has also said that we were crucified with Christ and were raised to a new life in Christ. It is not we who live, but Christ who lives within us. Now, if someone commented to me in the midst of a chaotic time, “Don’t worry, it is Christ who lives within you,” I don’t think that would help much. To help us embrace the reality that Christ walks with us in the midst of all this chaos, whether new or old, we need to be in prayer, read scripture, worship, and be in fellowship with others who support us to realize that this is true. We need to know for ourselves, through the power of the Spirit, that Jesus gives us his strength and his capability to face the chaos.

But remember, Jesus gives us new chaos to face. He says to all of us, “Go to your home and tell everyone what God has done for you.”

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