First Congregational Church
June 19, 2022
Second Sunday after Pentecost and Father’s Day
“Drawing the Circle Wide”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time, this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!"
29 For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
30 Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" 31 "Legion," he replied because many demons had gone into him. And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.
37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 "Return home and tell how much God has done for you." So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
You probably didn’t expect me today. You probably never knew I existed. And no one will testify to my identity. But, I am here - now - the sister of the one you just heard about - the one that has no name to you except demoniac - the one our family called Wolf. Our mother said that even as a baby, Wolf was a little on the wild side, even though he was shy. And I adored him. We were close as babies, and I wanted to protect him - always as his big sister.
We just thought of him as Wolf, but as he grew older, Wolf became more - odd. Most of the time, he was just fine, silly, caring, loving, protective, even patient. But every so often, it was like he heard another voice in his head and he would do strange things.
At first, they weren’t big things’ stealing a fig here, breaking a cup on purpose there. Our family would brush the ‘infractions’ off and hope that our friends and neighbors would forget them. But as Wolf got older, the damage he did couldn’t be excused. And it was so hard, because one minute, he’d cheerfully take a cup of water to workers on a hot day, and the next minute, he would take a nearby tool and break the chair or overturn the pot cooking dinner.
It made no sense to us, and we couldn’t stop loving him, but we became scared, fearful that someone would become seriously hurt, himself or another, and one day, there might be no more compassion for him. It was one of the hardest things we ever did as a family - the day we told Wolf he had to leave our home. The memory of that day never ceases to bring tears to the surface of my eyes.
So he lived with the dead, although we brought him food as often as we could. He stopped caring about his appearance; dust and twigs clinging to his unmanaged hair and beard, his tattered clothes. When his sandals fell apart, they weren’t replaced. And finally, he stopped wearing clothes altogether.
People would look at us as if we were guilty of not controlling him. We tried. We tried tying him to his bed, but he got out of his bindings. We tried chains and guards, but just because he was sick in the head didn’t mean he wasn’t still smart - and strong. It seemed to become more evident that the ultimate means of controlling my little brother would be near, if you know what I mean, because I can’t bring myself to even say the word.
And then one day, everything changed. Jesus - the one the called the Son of the Most High God - came across the lake. They said that this man was a healer, a miracle worker. If anyone ever needed a miracle, it was my Wolf. But the chances of Wolf and Jesus crossing paths seemed slim at best. How would he even know that Jesus was there?
Somehow, it happened, and maybe that was the first miracle. Wolf’s sickness changed the way he thought of himself, and when Jesus asked him his name, Wolf replied “Legion.” It was about that time that I heard that these two had met, so I hurried down to the shore, making my way through the crowd that had gathered.
I cannot explain what happened next, except that I saw it with my own eyes. Wolf - Legion - began begging Jesus to leave him - them - alone. Irony: demons asking not to suffer. I have no idea how it happened, but the demons left my beloved brother and were thrown into a herd of pigs, that then ran down into the lake, drowning themselves. The whole story sounds as crazed as my brother was.
Except that he wasn’t from that point on. I don’t know where they came from, but clothes were brought for Wolf, and a comb and sandals. His circle grew a little bit, in that gifting.
His face looked so different, almost as if someone erased the frown of torture from his forehead. The big thing was his eyes. His eyes once again had the light that they had when we were children - of innocence and wonder and light.
I laughed inside because Wolf said he wanted to go with Jesus, and who could blame him. If this Son of the Most High God could heal my brother of such torment, imagine what else he could do!
When Jesus told him no, that he was to go home to tell people how much God had done for him, I thought it was the best of advice, because maybe, just maybe, this miracle would last, and I would get my brother back.
In the end, it might have seemed more kind to let Wolf go with Jesus. It wasn’t that what Wolf had to say was hard. The hard part was the listening, and taking in of his change. The pain and agony Wolf had brought to our family, friends and community was a fresh as a grape picked from a vine. We were afraid to trust this change, afraid that it was an act, and that tomorrow would find him back in the graveyard, the place that had actually become his refuge.
It didn’t seem right for him to go back to the tombs, so he came home. And anguish moved in with him. None of us had changed, but the more that Wolf spoke about what Jesus did, the more suspicious people became - not only of him, but of our whole family. It took a while for him to fit back into the family, reassigning chores and roles. And we got to functioning pretty well. But outside, in our neighborhood, in the market and synagogue, that was a different story.
And I certainly wouldn’t blame them for being afraid of what Wolf might do. They should absolutely be on guard should harm happen. But regaining trust was hard - for Wolf himself, for us his family, and the larger circle of friends and community. But I’ve learned a few things I share with you, so that the circle of my brother’s healing continues to widen.
It’s not that there are no distinctions in this world, that we are somehow all alike. We are so very different, but we are not separate. This same Jesus that restored my Wolf also said that we ought to love our neighbors as ourselves. What I’ve come to understand is that we love our neighbors because we are part of them and they are part of us, and all of us part of a much greater whole.
I also learned, and I give to you what you probably already know, that demons, like those that infested my brother, point to invisible powers, powers that recognize Jesus, who has greater power. And sometimes that power is hard to trust, even though it is good.
I have also learned that this Jesus gave a prayer that we can use, and it mentions those who “sin” against us. I won’t attempt a list of sins, but point out that this prayer doesn’t include healing of physical, spiritual, social or psychological issues, but deliverance from evil. The sin of evil that separates and drives into herds of people that think of themselves as superior over others - to the detriment of all.
Lest you think that I am arrogant, I have questions after Wolf’s deliverance. Why doesn’t Jesus heal all people? If he is the Son of the Most High God, why aren’t we all free of pain and sorrow and agony? —- I suppose it wouldn’t be right for this Most High God to leave us without work to do - work like prayer, extending comfort, drawing the healing of the Most High God’s circle wider.
I have begun to see small changes in our neighborhood, people beginning to lower the fence of their suspicions about Wolf, as they begin to embrace that which Jesus did that day. I’ve noticed it in little things, like when our neighbor, Tova, died. We’re learning not to ask “what can I do” - which can seem distant, but to say, “I’m so sorry this happened,” which draws us closer to their pain.
And you probably already know - that it takes a village to grow us - more often than not - well past our childhood years - and that denying the need for such help is perhaps closer to sin than anyone would like to admit.
There are perhaps a great many more things I could share with you, but I leave you with this last one. I saw it. I still don’t fully understand it. I don’t know if I ever will. But what happened to my brother has opened the door to the possibility that mind-boggling things happen, which can help us open the door to more possibilities - drawing ever-widening circles of protection and shelter and restoration. I think that your pastor would now like to pray.
Most High God, thank you for your circles of love and inclusion because we well know that on any given day, choices and decisions can or would have us on the outside looking to come into your love. Thank you for infinity and revelations and miracles and all the other aspects of life that seem so far beyond us, and yet we are “in” them. Forgive us when fatigue and burdens and fear limit our energies and awareness. So we pray for your restorations of us and your church, that we continue to draw wider and wider circles around your heart. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.