Then [Jesus and his disciples] 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; 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.) Jesus then asked 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 possessed by demons 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 he 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.
Pastor Marc's sermon on 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (June 23, 2019) on Luke 8:26-39. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
How would you, if given the chance, have written today’s story from the gospel according to Luke?
I’ll admit that’s a bit of an odd question because we don’t usually imagine ourselves writing the stories we read in the Bible. For us, living almost 2000 years after these stories were first told, we believe the story is already there. But if we think about it, we often find ourselves being asked to re-tell them. Someone, once, might have asked you what Christmas or Easter is all about. Or you might have been drafted to help teach Sunday School - and you quickly find that every story we share with kids is a paraphrase of the text itself. Or maybe there have been moments when a story from the Bible has popped into your mind exactly when you need it. And you suddenly find yourself re-experiencing that story - but not necessarily reciting the text exactly as it appears. Instead, we sort of re-mix it - and end up with a slightly new story, one rooted in the Bible, but shaped in our own particular way.
So take a look, one more time, at this text from the gospel according to Luke. What would your re-mix of this story actually be?
Now, if I had to guess, our remix would probably start in the same way. Jesus was in the borderlands - in the space between where devout practicing Jews lived and where gentiles were far more numerous. Jesus wasn’t in the place we’d expect a Jewish Rabbi to be so our remix should start exactly where he was. He was in the land of the Gerasenes and a man came out to meet him. Part of what makes a good story good - is the amount of details it contains. If there’s too little, our imagination isn't big enough to see ourselves in the story. And if there’s too much, we end up buried by the amount of information we need to remember. Every detail should invite us deeper into what’s happening. So our re-mix would also include that the man had no clothes and that he lived in the tombs. We would keep all the words the demons shared with Jesus, the fact the community tried to keep him under guard and in shackles as a way to probably protected themselves and him. And our re-mix would totally keep the fact that he was so overwhelmed by forces outside his control that Legion, the name used to designate an entire Roman army, was the proper description of his reality. We might, since we live in the 21st century, want to claim that the man living in the tombs was someone with a mental illness. But we need to be careful. No one can be diagnosed from afar and we have to make sure that we aren’t, unintentionally, reinforcing the unChristian stigmatization we often force upon those living with a mental illness. We do a disservice to our friends and loved ones when we stigmatize them instead of accepting them as real human beings who deserve love and care. The man living in the tombs had been overwhelmed, invaded, and was, on one level, no longer human. And so when those forces were finally cast out, we’d totally keep in our re-mix of the story the really odd detail about the pigs running into the lake.
So, right now, our remix sounds exactly like Luke’s telling of the story. We would, like him, name the swineherds who saw everything that happened and who then ran off to tell the entire city about it. When the crowd came out to see what happened, they found the man from the tombs sitting at Jesus’ feet. And that moment feels like it’s the climax of the story. Jesus healed the one who no one imagined would ever be healed. So we might end our re-mix of the story there. But if we continued, our first instinct might be to celebrate what Jesus had done. We would probably do what we think we would do it that same situation. We would make them shout for joy, praise Jesus, and thank God for the healing that had occurred. We’d imagine the crowds and ourselves as the ones who would cheer Jesus on.
But that’s why our re-mix might not always be the right story that needs to be told. Because, as we read, the crowd didn’t shout for joy. Instead, they were afraid. They had, I think, overtime become comfortable with the man as he was. They couldn’t control him, keep him under guard, or help him live the way they thought he should. He was completely unpredictable - wild and untamed. But they had learned to - accept that. The community grew accustomed to what they thought was possible with the man in the tombs. They couldn’t imagine their relationship with him being any different; so they didn’t even try. He was who he was, and the crowd assumed his story was already written. The man couldn’t help isolating himself from others so the community let that story be there story. Their relationship to each other was defined by staying apart until - when Jesus showed up - the story changed.
That’s why, I think, the crowd was terrified. And if we had been there, we would have been terrified too. How many times have we let an old story, an old assumption, or an old stereotype be the only story we listen to? Even when we are confronted by a completely new reality, we fall back onto what makes us comfortable. Too often, that’s the story we choose to tell. We surround ourselves with opinions, viewpoints, and voices that reinforce the reality we already choose to accept. We assume we know the story as it’s truly written. We find ourselves making story remixes that challenge everyone else but ourselves. And in that process, we miss seeing what God is already doing in front of us. We miss bearing witness to the story Jesus is already writing down. Because the climax of today’s story isn’t, I think, the healing. Rather, it’s the very last verse when the man who once lived in the tombs begged to live with Jesus instead. Yet Jesus sends him away because our experiences of God are not meant to only be for ourselves. When we meet Jesus, we end up becoming part of a new reality where God’s story remixes our own. No longer are we limited to the old stories of isolation, separation, and the status quo. We have been opened to a new way of life where reconciliation, restoration, and the forming of new life-giving relationships is the focus of what we do. We might imagine that this new way of life depends on us meeting God like the man did in today’s story. Yet, through your baptism, through your faith, and through the fact that the Holy Spirit brought you to be in this place today - means Jesus has already met you. And in the holy communion we are about to share, we will meet him again. When we encounter God, we end up being remixed into the person God knows we can be. Which means, wherever you are, Jesus is too. We can, right now, start writing the rest of our story. Our old assumptions, stereotypes, and all those voices meant to keep us comfortable are not the limit to what we can become. With Jesus, we do not need to be afraid. Instead, you can become exactly who God has already imagined you to be.
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