A sermon preached at the Massanetta Middle School Conference, July 2011
(The theme of the conference was “I of the Storm” and we looked at the Matthew 14 account of a storm where Peter walked on water.)
Luke’s text picks up right after Jesus has calmed a storm and rebuked the wind on the Sea of Galilee. You might recall hearing a similar story from Matthew this week. As Jesus and his disciples get out of the boat, freshly delivered from nearly 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. The disciples were probably wondering why they got in the boat in the first place. Had they known where Jesus was going, they might not have gone.
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.
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.
So 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. The Disciples, Jesus own followers, just wondered if he was a ghost. But the naked demon possessed guy, sees Jesus pretty clearly.
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?
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”.
Here’s what it looks like in Greek.
When Peter called out from the waves, do you remember what he cried? “Lord save me!” What Peter asked for is the same thing Jesus offered the demon man. Healing and saving are the same word.
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.
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 demoniac here today?”
Of course the right answer is “no, of course not.”
But I wonder.
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.”
The thought of change scares us.
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?
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 doesn’t want to go back to his old way of living. He begs Jesus to let him come along with Jesus, 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.
Now, to my knowledge, nobody here is a formerly naked demon possessed person from the wrong side of Galilee.
But we, too, have met Jesus this week here at Massanetta. We, too, have been offered salvation and healing from Jesus. And we want the great experiences we have had here with Jesus to go on forever. But Jesus tells us to go back to our homes too. Because we have good news to share. We need to tell the world, by how we live our lives, that we know of a God who saves, who loves, who welcomes all. We need to share the stories of our storms with others so they will know they are not alone in their storms. We have work to do on our journey of discipleship.
What are some things in your life that might need to change as you step out of your boat and put your trust in Jesus Christ?
Is there someone at school who needs your friendship? Because if you are going to claim to be a follower of Jesus, then you need to be the person who stands up for people, who speaks for the voiceless and who works for justice for alls.
Are there things you could be doing, like prayer and bible study, that could help you build your relationship with God?
Is there a gift you have to develop? Perhaps you can be brave and try something new, challenging and different, like taking up guitar, or learning to make pottery.
Who are the people who can help you through those changes? Are some of your friends the kind of people who bring out your best? I would suggest to you that most all of your friends should be those kind of people. Talk with your parents. Or are there people from your church or youth group who can be your support?
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. Maybe stepping out of the boat for them meant becoming people who welcome the people that everyone else chains up by the tombs.
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.