A sermon preached at Southminster
June 27, 2010
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.
Luke’s text picks up right after Jesus has calmed a storm and rebuked the wind on the Sea of Galilee. As Jesus and his disciples get out of the boat, freshly delivered from perishing on the water, Jesus encounters a man, perishing in his own ways.
Now, our friend Jesus is known for hanging out with unsavory characters, but this one might just take the cake. He is outcast among outcasts.
First off, Jesus is on the wrong side of the Sea of Galilee.
The west side is the Israeli side. The east side is the gentile side. the foreign side. The opposite side. This man lives in a place where they raise pigs, for goodness sake. And we know that no good Hebrew will have anything to do with pork or pork products. And this man is naked. awkward. And he lives in tombs, which makes him unclean, because you shouldn’t have anything to do with dead bodies, as you know. And, as if all of those things weren’t bad enough—and they are, bad enough—he is demon possessed. Not just by one demon. But by a legion, which was a Roman military unit of 4 to 5 thousand men. In a world of “us” and “them”, he is as “them” as you can be.
But even the people on the wrong side of the sea of Galilee don’t have anything to do with this man. They put him in chains and leave him at the tombs.
But this man, who was lowest of the low, sees Jesus, falls at his feet, and shouts out for all to hear: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?!” He may have his troubles, but he has no trouble recognizing who Jesus is.
This story may seem hard for us to imagine, because we don’t approach the world in quite the same way as those first century believers would have. We don’t talk about demon possession nearly as much as we talk about germs, psychiatry, or malignant diseases. But don’t let that get in your way. We can’t answer a 21st century question about his disease. And we may or may not have “demons” in our vocabulary. But we do know people like this man.
People who are so far on the outside of society that they are alone, living among tombs.
Who is that in your life?
The homeless person you pass on your way into the store?
The bad guy who committed the crimes you hear about on the news?
Osama Bin Laden?
Whomever it may be for you, we all know people whose lives are so messed up that fixing their own problems is way beyond their capabilities.
And Jesus, for his part, doesn’t ask the man, “what did you do wrong so that the consequences landed you in this mess”. Maybe the man deserved every moment of his demon possession. I don’t know. But Jesus doesn’t seem to care WHY he’s in this situation. But Jesus does seem to care enough about this man, this foreign, pig eating, tomb dwelling, demon possessed man to heal him.
The word for “heal” in Greek is the same as the word for “save”. Remember that when you read about Jesus’ stories of healing. Healing and salvation come from the same place and are connected.
Healing, Salvation, are offered to this man on the wrong side of the Galilee just because that is how Jesus operates. The man is the least likely candidate to receive salvation. He doesn’t follow the rules. He makes everyone uncomfortable. He’s not an Elder in his church. He should stand as a reminder to us as disciples that we can’t limit the recipients of God’s grace.
This is the only story in Luke’s gospel where Jesus intentionally leaves Israel to travel to other lands. But in the narrative of Luke and Acts, we hear that the disciples are told to take the gospel to the ends of the world. This one excursion by Jesus is a dramatic illustration of what that looks like. This gentile mission that will take the Good News far from the banks of the Sea of Galilee—all the way to Boise, Idaho, even—begins dramatically here.
But not everyone in the story sees this encounter as Good News. We aren’t told what the disciples thought, but I can imagine that more than one of them, who had moments before been so thankful to be out of the boat and on dry land were wondering if, perhaps, perishing at sea was a better alternative to welcoming an unclean, naked, tomb dwelling demoniac to the club.
And the gerasene pig herders weren’t so thrilled either. Because their income had just run into the sea. There were some real economic consequences to this healing. Their loss of income would not have been seen as good news.
The pig herders run into town and tell everyone what has happened and the crowd comes running to the scene. But it isn’t what they expect. Instead of their friendly neighborhood demoniac, they find a man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.
And they were afraid.
The legion of demons recognize the Son of God when they meet him, but the townspeople aren’t so sure.
They ask Jesus to leave.
And I confess that this story leaves me with that uncomfortable little voice in my head, asking me, “would you ask Jesus to leave if he healed a Boise demoniac?”
Of course the right answer is “no, of course not.”
But I wonder.
Because change is hard. Even good change. Maybe especially good change. Certainly the townspeople, before Jesus came across the Galilee, would have argued that they wanted their government to fix the demon problem out by the tombs. Take care of these people! It isn’t safe! What if one of them moves in to our neighborhood?! They must be healed!
But when faced with the fact of a healed man, clothed and in his right mind, they ask Jesus to leave because they are afraid.
Afraid of what?
Maybe they are afraid of what healing might be coming for them—“If Jesus can do that for that guy, then just think what he would ask me to do to change.”
Maybe they secretly liked having a demoniac living among the tombs—he made them seem so normal and successful. “I may have had a bad day, but at least I’m not that guy.”
You know that saying about “better the devil you know than the one you don’t?” Perhaps they have learned to live with this dysfunction and will fight to maintain it rather than live into unknown change. “Yes, he’s a naked demoniac, but he’s our naked demoniac.”
This is the one that worries me the most. This is where I can see myself, can see us, asking Jesus to just get back in his boat and go to the other side.
Because we’re pretty comfortable in our routines, no matter how good or bad those routines might be. The thought of change scares us. Last week, Alden came up to me after worship and said, “mom, someone was sitting in my seat today in worship.” We’ve not even been here two years, and my kids have assigned seats!
But when Jesus heals us, when Jesus saves us, we have to change. We can’t continue to be the naked demoniac living in the tombs. Certainly, being clothed and in our right minds, sitting next to Jesus is the preferred way to be. And yet, how often do we choose NOT to change? How often do we choose to stay in the comforts of the “we’ve always done it this way” past?
I hope we’ll look at this text and see that even though healing and salvation require change and disruption of the status quo, the end result is worth it.
There is no indication that the healed man sees the crowd and thinks, “hey, they’re right! I wish I were naked and living in the tombs again!” The Good News is certainly good news for him and is change he’s willing to believe in. He begs Jesus to come along with him, back to the other side of Galilee, and into new life and a new future.
I suppose a small part of him might have wanted to go with Jesus also to get away from the people who chained him up and made him live in a tomb.
In any case, Jesus sends him back to the Gerasenes—“return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”
And the man does.
Salvation and healing for our friend the man formerly known as the demoniac is free but is not easy. There are things he must do as well. He must go live amongst people who don’t want to see signs of change—being a constant reminder of what they wish to forget. He must declare what God has done for him. And remember, these people can see full well what God has done for him. Right before they ask Jesus to leave because they were afraid, they saw him clean, clothed, and in his right mind, sitting there talking to Jesus.
Often, the changes we deal with are more subtle. You can’t tell by looking at someone if they are in the midst of bankruptcy or if they just quit drinking. You can’t tell who is anxious or worried about many things. You often don’t know someone’s story until they declare it to you.
But that requires time—to build relationships and to listen. It requires safety and trust—can I declare to you what God is doing in my life and trust that the story will be safe with you?
It requires courage—can I tell you the truth about who I really am and declare to you what God is doing in my life and still have you call me friend?
Is this the kind of place we are creating, here at Southminster? A place where people can declare what God is doing in their lives? A place where the change that is necessary for salvation and healing can be faced?
I keep thinking about the disciples, who are largely silent in this story. If it weren’t for the first sentence “then THEY arrived at the country of the Gerasenes”—you wouldn’t know they were with Jesus at all.
But they had just been saved too. Like the naked demoniac at the tombs, they were perishing in a storm at sea immediately before today’s story begins. Jesus saved them too.
I wonder if they saw similarities between their deliverance and the saving of the man by the tombs.
I wonder if, before they met the man on the shore, they thought, “sure is great to be one of Jesus’ friends. Glad we knew someone who liked us enough to save us!”
I wonder how that reaction would have changed when they realized he also saved a complete stranger, who happened to be naked, demon possessed, and living with dead bodies.
I wonder if this encounter encouraged them to see similarities with people when others saw difference.
I wonder if later on, when Jesus tells them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, they thought of this man by the tombs and thought—“if Jesus gave healing and salvation to that guy, then we can take the good news every where and to every one.”
Whether you see yourself as one of the disciples or as the man formerly known as naked, tomb dwelling demoniac, know that the salvation and healing offered by Jesus is for you, it is for us, it is for all.
Thanks be to God.