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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.)

“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 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 Jesus 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.

 

If we could spend numerous months consulting with all the noted theologians, biblical scholars, and anthropology majors, perhaps we could really understand all that is happening in this story.

So strange to our ears are aspects of it, truly this is the first recorded report of Deviled Ham.

But part of the story is about bullying.  We all know bullies from growing up.  They pick on the defenseless, the insecure, those who were “different.”  Those who are most vulnerable.  Bullies are opportunistic.  At any sign of weakness, they begin their bullying.  But they shrink at anybody who stands up to them.  

Jesus arrives in a town east of the Sea of Galilee.  Obviously the Gerasenes were Gentiles (there’s not much need for Jewish swineherds.) 

And he encounters a man with demons.  A man without clothes, a homeless man (unless you consider the tombs a proper home), a man with no name.  A nobody.  A man shackled and chained for the sake of the community’s security.  A man with no voice apart from the voice of these demons, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, son of the most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!”

Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor writes:

The cause of the man’s affliction is undefined, but there is no doubt regarding its intensity.  His life is essentially out of his control.  When Jesus asks “What is your name?”  He replies “Legion” indicating that the influences upon him were many.  (A Roman legion was 6000 soldiers.) 

So it is for many of us, even among those who call Jesus Lord.  The thought that we are in control of our lives or even that we allow God to be in control, is often debunked by the realities around us.  Vocational concerns, financial pressures, broken relationships, and even the day-to-day details of life itself vie for our attention and eat away at both time and resources, distracting from the most important priority, being in relationship with God.”

My friends, I stand before you, guilty as charged.   Bullied by the pressures of my job, bullied by the daily commute, bullied by bills, bullied by all of these worries and reproaches and existential angst that I occupy my waking hours with, my demons, my legion, if you will.  I am in control and I need to fight off these demons myself.  Me and my shrink.  Only Jesus the true champion waits to do battle with these demons.  All I have to do is ask.

The disciples had just experienced a harrowing storm before this passage began, “what can we do to save ourselves?”  Jesus is the only one who can stand up to the tempest.   Our congregation, stressed out by mounting bills, stressed by the heating system gone kablooey, stressed by not enough visitors, stressed by the idea that we are in control and things aren’t happening quite as we had liked.  Maybe if we give our doubts to Jesus and let God be God, St. Paul’s Teaneck would be a place of hope and love  to our community instead of an old building in need of repair.

OK, I haven’t even gotten to the pigs yet!

So the demons who so bullied this poor man, and isn’t it the truth about bullies. As soon as anybody stands up to bullies, they retreat.   Jesus stands up to them and they turn into helpless wimps.  “Don’t send us back into hell, Jesus! Let us go into the swine.”  Jesus (and this is what I love about Jesus).  He even shows mercy to the demons!  So the demons enter into the swine and the swine run into the Sea and are drowned. 

Now, imagine yourself as one of the swineherders.  Gee what a great miracle.  Wiping out my livelihood.   Thanks, Jesus, could you, um, get back on your boat please?  And take your friend with you?  Jesus’ miracle has caused quite an upheaval.  It looks like the Good News will not seem good to everyone.  Not everyone will be thankful for Jesus’ power.  The Gerasenes are described as seized with great fear.  Who is Jesus?  If he can do this, what other terrible things is he capable of?  The disciples are full of fear, “who is this that calms the seas? What is this awesome power intending?”

When we confessed our sins this morning, we offered our demons to Jesus.  We are tired of being bullied.  Jesus is our big brother who comes to school and cuts the bullies down to size. 

This man is healed, he is saved, he is made free.  This man who has been freed from his demons stands in front of Jesus his deliverer, and behind him the townsfolk who had shackled him in the first place and who now want to talk to him about some lost property.  Of course he wants to go with Jesus, with the one who didn’t shun him, the one who loves him, the one who stood up to the bullies, the one who didn’t care that he was homeless, naked, nameless, and a Gentile!  Jesus, take me with you!  Get me out of this mess!  And let me serve you.  Don’t leave me here!

We know the stories about Jesus saying “follow me,” but this time he says “No.  Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”  Jesus is not saying “no, you can’t come and be my disciple.”  He’s saying “yes, you can be my disciple.  And here is your first assignment.  Go back and evangelize to these people.  Tell them what God has done for you.  Your mission field is right behind you.”

The man is asked to evangelize.  He is not asked to be a theologian or great scriptural expert.  He is asked only to tell what he knows.  The man is commissioned to go out and tell the truth as he knew it.

That is the charge Jesus gives to us.  Go out that door and tell everyone you come into contact with how much God has done for you.  Our task is easier than this man’s.  Chances are you haven’t drowned your neighbor’s livestock, so how mad could they be if you invite them to church?  It takes courage, facing up to the difficulty of going back home to speak with people who know us well about our own salvation and healing, and the power of the Lord to free us for such a life.

We have been healed.  We have been saved.  We are free.  Our demons are vanquished. 

Go in Peace.  Declare how much God has done for you.

 

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.