Updated: Jul 2, 2022
"From the Pulpit" - June 19th, 2022
26 Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 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. 28 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”—29 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.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 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. 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 was drowned. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 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. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 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. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “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.
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the LORD Jesus Christ. Well, here we are in this 2nd Sunday after Pentecost - the green season, meaning you'll see green paraments in the church for pretty much the rest of the church year, until the Festivals of Reformation Sunday and All Saints Sunday, and then Advent. And what do you think the green paraments might represent? Hmmm…
We're back in Luke's gospel this Sunday, and this story shows up in all three synoptic gospels (Mt; Mk; and Luke) in some version or other. If you read this text quickly, which most of us do, it's easy to get caught up in the imagery - a naked man running around a cemetery; spirits dwelling inside the man; pigs serving as hosts to the fleeing spirits, as they dive into the nearby lake and drown. In some ways I envision one of the final scenes from “The Exorcist", when Father Karras takes on the evil spirits that had been dwelling in the little girl, Reagan. The spirits jump out of her, and into Father Karras, who then plunges to his death down the steps outside the home. BTW, have you ever seen those steps outside this Georgetown home in Washington, DC? It's a pretty impressive drop from M St down to Prospect St on the Potomac River in the heart of Georgetown (I used to live in that area.) You can see them in the early scenes in Georgetown, in the movie.
Anyhow, this is one of the challenges the preacher faces. Trying to carve out a message that is relevant to today, using imagery and things that were current 2,000 years ago. I don't believe the gospel writers were interested in creating imagery that was shocking, as much as trying to convey a wider message of the love of God in Christ.
A few thoughts come to mind as I read this text, and maybe you can find your own as well. First of all, that Jesus "crosses over" to the land of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee, indicates to me that Jesus again is breaking down barriers between peoples, religions, and the like. As he so often does in his ministry. Jesus is a boundary breaker, and in this act, he crosses over from a place where people were like him (Jewish), to a land where they weren't like him (likely Gentile.)
Next, Jesus actually acknowledges this man as a human being, someone in need. Someone whom his own community had put out. Jesus' message so often is for those who have been alienated for whatever reason. And isn't it interesting in this text, that it is the "demons" who recognize Jesus, not the community or the man?
Then, Jesus heals the man by beckoning the "demons" to come out of him, sending them into the swine, who take a swan dive into the lake. He heals the one who is sick. And how does the man's community react? By driving Jesus out of town. They weren't ready or able to accept this healing act of grace offered toward this one ailing man, and so they reject Jesus. Sound familiar?
I think this story, more than one of demons, pigs diving into a lake, and a man possessed, is simply another example the gospels offer of the love of Jesus breaking down barriers between people. Of showing love and grace toward those whom one's own community dare not show. Of "crossing over" into hostile territory to save one soul (think of the story of leaving the 99 behind to save the one!) And, sadly, it's also a story of us - we who are unable or unwilling to see the one in front of us who is different from us, the one in front of us who is ailing and alienated, and who refuses to help. To reach out. To touch. To engage. Dare I say...to love!?
Sisters and brothers in the faith, hear this story not as a Hollywood production with demons and drowning pigs and such, but as a community and individual, and how they each react to the healing power of Jesus Christ. One accepts it and is moved to share the good news with others. The other - the community, turns its back on this healing. And Jesus does, what Jesus does - crosses over to save the one in need. And speaking of crossing over...doesn't Jesus, in his resurrection, cross over from death to life, just as we do in our own baptism? Think on that.
Isn't this how our Christian faith works? Not always in large numbers, but in saving acts of grace extended to a single individual. Little noticed by the world, but world changing for the one who receives this act of grace and welcome. So think of someone in your own community today who may be in need for whatever reason - failing health; financial hardship; hunger or food insecurity; alienated by the world, or more. Cross over. Reach out. Extend a hand of grace to this person. Chances are the world will pay it little mind - but the one healed or helped will be forever grateful. Amen!
How do I get all this stuff? Believe me, it has taken years to understand the bible and the subtlety of its messages. And I still struggle every week with how to interpret these texts so that they make sense to us mere mortals, and that the message is relevant, fresh, and meaningful. Some Sundays it's easier than others.
Every Wednesday at 10 am, a group of us meets to struggle with the texts for the upcoming Sunday, just as I do. Come and see how we read these ancient texts, and how they speak to us individually. You will be transformed, I guarantee it. Give it a try!
Happy Fathers' Day to all! And happy Juneteenth - a new Federal holiday!
"Bring Forth the Kingdom"
"Faith of our Fathers"
"Bring Many Names"
"Go My Children, With My Blessing"