26 Then they arrived at the country of the Ger′asenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 And as he stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them leave. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and 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. 36 And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Ger′asenes asked him to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
Poem For The Sunday Lectionary (Pentecost +5
I AM LEGION
Luke 8: 26-39
I am the lost one trapped in depression; I am the broken one trapped in my rage; I am the hurting soul chained to addiction; I am self-harmer abused at young age –
I am the many-name victim of madness, my humanness naked, nowhere to hide; drowning like flotsam in cold seas of sadness, wracked by despair until bits of me die;
haunted by fear, or strange inner voices; tortured by dark thoughts in pitiless tide . . . Blame me? Shame me? And what other choices – fear me? Ignore me and let my needs slide?
Gerasene brother, when you met the Christ who banished the illness into the swine, your healing came without judgment or price; mercy itself helped bring rightness of mind.
But note still the fear of those who kept score, finding you clothed, sitting calm and at peace. Madness is feared, but is mercy feared more? It’s Christ, not Legion, who’s asked there to leave.
Copyright ©2016 by Andrew King
Two passages inspired today’s sermon. One is from the Gospel lesson assigned for today; the other is from a poem by Andrew King. The poem is printed on your bulletin insert.
From the Gospel according to Luke:
37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Ger′asenes asked him to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so he got into the boat and returned.
From the poem by Andrew King:
Madness is feared, but is mercy feared more?1
Why did the Ger′asenes ask Jesus to leave? Once again, Jesus has performed a miracle unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Wouldn’t they want him to stay around? Wouldn’t they be hoping for another miracle? Wouldn’t they want to keep a local celebrity in town?
If Willie Nelson played a concert in Toronto/Big Rock, wouldn’t we invite him to stay a little longer? Imagine the crowd and Willie sitting at a table of card players eager to deal him in. That wasn’t the case at Ger′asene. They couldn’t wait to get rid of Jesus, even though he ha cured a man who must have been, if not frightening, at least a nuisance. They should have given Jesus a key to the city and a banquet in His honor.
Why did they ask Jesus to leave? Our passage says they were afraid. Doesn’t it seem logical that they no longer had to fear the possessed man, that they could relax a little, now that this violent man was sane and gentle. The cause of their fear is gone–no crazy man running around. Yet, the person who took away that fear was the one who is feared.
What is scary about Jesus? Jesus changes things. He changed the way the locals saw the possessed man. The role of community crazy man is now vacant. Every community needs someone to fill the role of loser, of misfit. By having one person that doesn’t fit in, everyone else, by comparison, can feel better about him/herself. As long as there is a crazy person, a bum, a loser, everybody is better than somebody else. It’s important to our self-esteem, to our personal image, to be better than someone else.
There are lots of ways to be better than someone else—own more property, have a better garden or a cleaner house, have more education, a better job, smarter kids, cooler car. We can take the most basic of necessities and make them status symbols, and use them as evidence that we are better.
That need to be better is one of the reasons being a Christian is so difficult.
As soon as we think that being a Christian, or going to church, or putting the most in the offering plate makes us better than somebody else, we’ve fallen off the “love your neighbor as yourself” bandwagon. Why? Seeing your self as better than your neighbor diminishes your love for your neighbor. Your neighbor becomes a target, a challenge, an enemy to your own status.
By restoring the possessed man, Jesus took away the foundation for the pecking order of the Ger′asenes. He changed the way everyone saw themselves. Suddenly the loser guy is a pretty decent guy, and a new kind threat–to anyone who has lost a little status. The predictable threat of him running around town yelling and screaming has been replaced by the unpredictable threat of a neighbor who now has to be welcomed into the community as one of them.
What can be so hard, so frightening about welcoming someone into community?
God didn’t create us to be unfriendly, but because we are sinners, we have to deal with our sinful human nature. Our human nature needs everything to stay the same, even when it is inconvenient or dangerous. We learn to cope with the inconvenient and the dangerous and we don’t necessarily welcome a change in the routine. I think of my friends who have nursed a spouse through a long illness. It is not a pleasant experience. It is sad, it is exhausting, it is disrupting, but there is always something to do. When the spouse dies, all the routine of caring, of doctors’ visits and special meals and changing dressings and bathing disappears. Wouldn’t it be a relief to not be tied down now? Maybe, but then what do you do without all that work? When the person being cared for dies, the whole purpose of one’s life is taken away. There is an empty space. For the first few months, you’re tied down with lawyers, bills, rearranging the house, but then what? How do you give your life purpose?
The Ger′asenes were not the only ones to find Jesus threatening. Remember that when Jesus preached in his hometown of Nazareth, he was asked to leave via being stoned, as in being the target of rocks thrown by his parents neighbors.
You may have been horrified by the slaughter of fifty people in Orlando last Sunday. Or maybe you just reacted with a shrug–a here-we-go-again kind of resignation. Did you feel anger? Did you wish for a way to get even or did you wish for way to wave a magic wand?
Why did the killer need to shoot as many people as possible? Was he afraid of something? Did he feel threatened by people who were different from him?
I think we operate on that level pretty often. I don’t think there is anything unique about that man, other than he operated on a larger and more violent scale than most of us are able. I think we all try to destroy that which threatens us.
I see this phenomena of threat as a continuum. It starts with perceiving that something is different; when the something that is different is not understood, we are afraid that this difference might be a threat to our security. First we try to isolate ourselves from the threat. We determine, for instance, in grade school, who can be our friends and who can’t be our friends. We determine, as we move into the responsibilities of adulthood, who is like us, and who is different. We sort out all the different people and institutions and rank them according to how threatening they are to our social or financial security.
None of this has to do with loving your neighbor. We are governed by the fear of something out of our control, out of fear that what we have worked for, is going to change. Why is change scary? Because change can go either way. Life can get better or life can get worse. I’m not talking about the change we initiate, like getting a better job or repainting the living room. I’m talking about change outside of our control, change with unpredictable results.
Jesus changed the dynamics of this one community by changing one person. The citizens couldn’t take anymore.
I went to a meeting the other night. You might have seen mention of it on television. The meeting was at the Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad Cities. The room was packed–standing room only–with people on a mission. There have been similar gatherings all over the country, all over the world, since last Sunday. All of us were there because of the murder of fifty people gathered in a place where they felt safe.
Most of these people were gay. They were killed for being gay. They were not killed for public intoxication or assault or drug dealing. They were killed for being born gay.
Through the work of many people, both Christians and non-Christians, among people like me, gay people, are no longer the evil persons in our culture. People like me no longer consider gays perverts. It’s not they who have changed; no one waved a magic wand and made them straight. It’s as simple as realizing that being gay is as normal as being straight. But that change of perception by many of us is threatening to those who are afraid of being gay. So, when you are threatened by the concept of homosexuality, you have to do something about it. Most of us are able to smother these fears with shunning gay people, with reassuring each other of our own straightness. Some people find homosexuality threatening enough that they pass laws to limit the rights of gays. Some people find gays so threatening that they harass them, bully them, or murder them.
We all need somebody to pick on. And maybe we all need someone to fear. The Ger′asenes needed the nameless man to fear. He was predictable; even if he was out of control, he was predictable. Even change for the better is frightening, because we have to rethink how we relate to the rest of the world and to our neighbors.
Jesus upset the civil order in Ger′asene; he did not receive even one thank you. No thanks, Jesus, they said. We were doing just fine, even if we did complain a little about the crazy guy. We were doing just fine before you came. Why didn’t you do something cool like spread a picnic before us or cure all our illnesses? You didn’t make anything better for us, Jesus. You picked the least deserving person in our town and cured him. You did nothing for us, Jesus. We don’t need anymore of that kind of help. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
That’s the thing about Jesus. He decides who’s in and who’s out. He decides on whom he has mercy. He makes the rules. Lucky for us Jesus doesn’t have rules about who receives His mercy. He doesn’t look around the room and say, that one needs to be kinder to his sister, that one needs to stop gossiping, that one needs to invite the neighbors over for supper, that one needs to spend more time with the Bible, that one needs to do this, that, and the other thing.
Jesus treats everyone of us the same way he treated the crazy man.
And I expect He wants us to use his method. So, if Jesus doesn’t follow our rules, do we un-invite him? Jesus, not today. I don’t like what you’re selling. Come back another day when you’ve got something better for me. You want me to visit at the nursing home. I don’t think so; it smells bad. You want me to take some flowers to my neighbor? I could do that. happy to.
Or do we open the door, let in the fresh, frightening air of change? Who deserves mercy? Jesus doesn’t let us pick and choose. It’s all or none. Thank you, Jesus, that we all receive your blessed, undeserved, incomprehensible, amazing mercy. Amen.