First Congregational Church
June 23, 2019
Second Sunday after Pentecost
“Chaos, Fear and Christ”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Jesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man
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 impure 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?”
“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus 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 the pigs, 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.
Thank you, ladies. I can tell by your faces that this is not how things usually go for you in your time of worship. I can also tell you that you need not fear. I am not here to instill fear, but to tell you my version of this story.
What you have heard might make you think that this nameless man had no family, but he did. He had me. His only sister. I tell you this not from a place of sorrow, such as one who has lost a beloved and of the lost opportunities for joy and delight and togetherness. I tell you this story, not to instill pity, but to share hope. I tell you my story from a place of being rescued to God, making a purse from a sow’s ear.
My brother and I grew up together, playing, working, learning like most other children in the neighborhood. Maybe I was too close, but it seemed like we had a very normal life - to me. Now, looking back, I see how my brother started to change, in ways I still can’t even put to words.
He would get so angry sometimes, and so mixed up, and I tried to help him straighten out what was confused. I tried so many different ways to help him and fix him and support him, and nothing seemed to work. I prayed so hard, on my knees, prostrate on the ground, but nothing seemed to help my brother. Now, I think, that it was just that maybe for whatever reason, he couldn’t do it on his own, nor could I.
It just got worse from there. He began to go to the cemetery, the tombs where we bury our dead. I don’t know if it was the silence or if it was because no one would pester him, but eventually it seemed that he preferred living without life - without bathing or even eating with any semblance of normality.
I don’t understand why he did it, but he even began to go naked, and instead of becoming weaker, he seemed to grow stronger. None of it made any sense to me, and in those rare moments we happened to see one another, I saw the torment in his eyes, too. It was as if he was looking for something, but he didn’t know what it was.
Eventually, I discovered that my brother’s chaos began to become mine. It started slowly, but I discovered that I began to retreat from spending time with my friends at the well, and my trips to the market were shorter and less frequent. For a while, I had tried to make food for him, and leave it near the caves. But I could tell that animals got to it before he did, if he even knew it was there.
Then came the day that I realized how afraid I was of and for my own flesh and blood. He not only scared people who came near him at the caves, but without any perceivable reason, he would pull up an olive tree or destroy a garden. That was when they began to shackle him, in the darkness, hands and feet.
How ever it came to be, my brother became so strong that the chains couldn’t keep him. My fear was twisted into a knot: fear for him - what the law keepers would do to him, and for me - what he might do to me if I tried to intervene. It seemed that there was no good end to my brother - or even myself.
And then “he” came by. You know who I’m talking about: the one that caused all the stir with his healing and scandalous associations with other outcasts of society. That Jesus.
He said he came from God. I guess that is probably a good answer, because where else would such a singular and extraordinary person come from? Who else would hold their own ground when my brother came at them, aside from the guards with spears and other weapons?
But Jesus stood there. And my brother went crazy! It was as if the spirits that possessed him were trying to draw attention away from themselves. And then, it is said, Jesus commanded the impure spirits to come out of my brother! It was the prayer of my own heart for so long, and here, this Jesus turned the prayer into a command - that was obeyed!
I wish I could have been there to see it! I wish I could have been there - for my brother - because if he was even aware of the spirits, I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t have been afraid - deeply afraid of what was going to happen next - maybe afraid of what life would be like if he were healed. I know it seems strange, but sometimes I wondered if he had been afraid to even get well, because how would that be?
In those earlier days, he would do terrible things and not remember. I wonder if he understood that he was being held hostage by whatever torment was shackling him. I remember, wondering at that time, if there would ever be a cure for people like my brother - even if it was a long time into the future.
It seems odd, I know, that this Jesus, who knew so much, who could see so much in a person’s heart, asked my brother for his name. One would have thought that he would have known it, especially if he was the Messiah - the Promised One he was supposed to be.
But maybe it was for my brother, needing to call it what it was: a host of evils that was killing him from a life of love and wholeness and wellness.
You heard the rest of the story that day, of the demons going into the pigs and then running off to drown in the lake. Ironic, if you ask me - demons - going into animals that our people hold in disdain - to die a physical death. Something’s of this world are so hard to wrap the mind around.
Speaking of which, never was a sight so welcome to my heart as the one of my brother, clothed - in his right mind - silent and still - sitting at the foot of the One who helped him become that way. The sacred writings don’t tell you, but it was a most glorious reunion with the one who had been lost to me - found and well!
Life is strange, is it not? Those who had witnessed this miraculous healing became afraid - ordering this Jesus to leave their city. Perhaps they were afraid there weren’t enough pigs for all the evils that plagued them? Isn’t it strange how human beings do things that we know are so very wrong for us, but we do them anyway? And why would they remove such joy from their own selves?
I know not everyone understands this whole thing. There are people who have healthy and happy families. But perhaps that is only what things look like on the surface. Even so, this Jesus, he’s an interesting fellow - giving a person the dignity to call their plagues by their own name.
He didn’t force my brother into saying the name of his malady. But he gave him the opportunity to say it. Like the townspeople were given the opportunity to deal with Jesus’ offering of healing and wholeness. What would it have been like, had the townsfolk allowed Jesus to stay?
Actually, he did stay - in my brother - and in the telling of his healing to those in the town. It’s amazing how long it can sometimes take us to figure things out, isn’t it? It makes sense now. Jesus didn’t leave them bereft and alone. He left my brother with them.
And what greater hope is there than the testimony of one who can tell you how this Jesus is able to sort out the chaos and fears of this world, with us doing our part, of course!
I think that the next best thing that we all can do is to pray, not only to this Jesus, but to God and God’s Holy Spirit. So if you will join me.
Loving God, Divine Redeemer and Holy Spirit, thank you for sending your son, this Jesus, to help us see how you love - regardless of our problems or plagues or warts or afflictions.
Help us to give name to those things that hold us back from being whole people, how we can be free of the maladies that threaten to kill us - spiritually, mentally, socially - even physically - when we are able - and give us the courage to do that which we need to do to assist in the process.
Help us to leave those places of chaos and fear - those we are able to leave - to settle into your housing of comfort, and love and security. For all the healings that you do, however they happen, all your people say thank you as we say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.