Sermon Proper 7C 2019       The Rev. John M. Atkins

From the Gospel of Luke 8:26-39

Jesus and his disciples 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.

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I never really liked the old sitcom ‘Seinfeld’.  It didn’t make sense.  The scenes didn’t connect.  Come to find out, that’s what made the show for some so appealing. 

‘Seinfeld’ was a comedy about nothing in particular going on in the lives of four friends.  Well, it didn’t watch it much because it didn’t make any sense to me.

When one picks up a Bible and begins reading, the stories can come across as choppy – going from one incident to another, without continuity.  But unlike ‘Seinfeld’, in most cases, there is a natural build up from one story to the next.  We can see an example of this if we consider the two stories prior to our Gospel reading. 

Luke tells us that Jesus needed to escape from Galilee for a while.  He required a peaceful setting to think, pray, refocus and rest. 

Jesus is in good company.  We’ve all been there.  Sometimes the stress of life gets too intense.  Even the prophet Elijah needed to escape. 

During the 9th century BCE, in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Jezebel had enticed her husband, King Ahab, to abandon the worship of Abraham’s God or the worship of pagan gods.  Elijah worked hard to bring God’s people back to God.  But Jezebel was furious – and looked for a way of ridding Israel of the loud-mouthed prophet.  Elijah escaped for his life with the intention of rethinking and refocusing his God-given prophetic vocation.  

Jesus left Galilee with his 12 disciples seeking peace.  Sailing across the Sea of Galilee, they headed to the land of Gentiles.

Immediately prior to Jesus’ departure, his own Mother and Brothers expressed their embarrassment of him.  While Jesus was teaching, they had tried to barge in.  His family intended to take him home to Nazareth, out of public sight.  They thought Jesus was mentally disturbed and needed to be contained at home. 

How many of us can either relate to that experience, or at least, have felt that we were the source of our family’s embarrassment?  Sometimes the only solution is leaving.  Jesus had to get away.

Not long after pushing their boat off the Galilean shore, Jesus fell asleep.  But along the journey, they encountered a violent storm that tossed their boat around like a carnival ride.  Water poured in.  Fear seized the disciples.  They shouted to Jesus, “Master, we are perishing!”  Jesus’ much-needed rest was interrupted.

Miraculously, Jesus calmed the storm, and chastised his disciples, “Where is your faith?”  The disciples wondered: “Who is this man?”  Is he a man of God, or a super-human or is he insane? 

After the treacherous seven mile trip across the lake, they arrived at the land of the Gerasenes.  Instead of coming ashore to a peaceful setting, Jesus and his disciples were immediately accosted by a raging lunatic.  Yet, Jesus showed no fear. 

Though a Jewish Rabbi needing respite, Jesus didn’t shun the dangerously disturbed Gentile man.  Years later, the Apostle Paul wrote: “In Christ Jesus there is no longer Jew or Gentile… for we are all one in Christ.”  (Galatians 3:28)

Jesus was the only one of his group brave enough to confront the unpredictable, mad-man.  Shouting at the top of his voice, the naked, mad-man asked Jesus, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  Notice that while his own Mother, Brothers and even his disciples questioned Jesus’ identity, the mad-man knew who Jesus was.

Sternly, Jesus asked, “What is your name?”  “Legion” the man responded.  A Roman Legion had 6,000 soldiers.  The name revealed that the man was possessed by innumerable demons. 

No matter our personal thoughts about demon possession, we cannot impose those thoughts upon this story.  Whether the man had demons or a form of Schizophrenia or extreme Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, we’ll never know.  The man believed himself to be possessed.  Jesus addressed the man within his own context and belief system.

Jesus released the demons from the man, sending them into a herd of pigs.  The evil of the demons caused the pigs to run into the Sea of Galilee and drown.  The demons’ fate was sealed –they returned to the torture of the abyss.

The man was freed from evil, healed to be himself and a healthy member of the human family.

Word of the miraculous event spread fast.  The people of the nearby town had grown accustom to the volatile wild-man.  They knew where he lived among the tombs.  They knew how the man acted.  They just left him alone, out in the wild.  

Everything was fine, that is, until a stranger came ashore and changed everything.  Who is the one having the power to heal the mad-man?  A Jewish miracle worker?  A man with no respect for the local economy.  A man who drowned both profit and food in the sea.  A man disturbing their lives.  A man with great power.  A man feared, – – pushing Jesus away and all the possibilities with him.  “Go away from here.  Leave us, Jesus.”  Once again, no welcome for Jesus, rather rejection. 

As Jesus was leaving the Gerasenes, the healed man pleaded to come along with Jesus.  But Jesus urged the man to go back to his community and tell the story of how God saved his life.

What do we think of Jesus?

We hear the stories – but what do we think?  I’m sure you’re aware that the way we think about Jesus determines the way we live, the choices we make and the priorities we set. 

Do you think Jesus was a man of great power, a first-century miracle-worker, one of many?

Do you see Jesus as a threat to your life or your savior?

Are there times when you and I act as if we are embarrassed being a Jesus-follower?  Or are you and I unapologetic about our faith in God’s loving-kindness in Jesus?

These are questions Luke’s Gospel asks of us.  These are healthy questions to ask ourselves, especially if we are going to live an empowered, Spirit-filled life, like Jesus lived, a life of love in undeniable action.

I’m reminded of the familiar words of William W. Purkey.  I end with these words which I think are pertinent to the lives of Jesus’ followers.

          “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,

          Love like you’ll never be hurt,

          Sing like there’s nobody listening,

          And live like it’s heaven on earth.”