The holy gospel according to Luke, the 8th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
26 Then (Jesus and the 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.
The gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who created you, loves you, and casts out your demons. Amen.
Nobody does exorcisms anymore, like they used to. Not even the pope and the Roman Catholic Church agree about them. It still occasionally makes good drama for movies and television. These days demons have mostly been vanished to the world of science fiction and video games.
People had a different world view 2000 years ago. They didn’t understand science and health care the way we do. They didn’t talk about germs making you sick. They didn’t know about chemical imbalances in the brain that cause disturbances in thinking and perceiving. They explained bizarre behavior as demon possession.
Now we tend to talk about demons in a metaphoric way. We talk about alcohol and drugs as a demons in our lives. Or traumatic memories, or medical or mental health problems. Just like the demons of biblical times, our demons are all those things that keep us from having joy, health, and good relationships in our lives.
Our demons might seem smaller than the demons that possess other people. But, we all have demons. We all have things that keep us from enjoying the abundant life that God wants for us. We all have problems. We all have relationships that we wish were going better. We all have things that seem to define our lives in ways that we would not choose.
In the gospel lesson today, the man in the country of the Gerasenes wasn’t just dealing with a demon or two. He was possessed by a legion of them. A Roman Legion, like the American Legion was a unit of soldiers. In the Roman army, a Legion contained 6000 men.
This poor man had so many demons that they took over his whole identity. He defined himself by them. He even took them as his name. He didn’t say, “I am Pete, or Joe, or Abe.” He said, “My name is Legion.” His demons spoke for him. They took his voice away.
His demons isolated him from the rest of the community. They wouldn’t let him wear clothes. They made him say and do awful things. They made him stay in the tombs, a dirty, disgusting place. This is a hint about how his story is going to turn out. We can never forget what Jesus does when they put him in a tomb.
This man with the demons was considered so dangerous that the other people tried to keep him chained up. But he kept breaking free and running away. He must have been terrified. He must have been terrifying to everyone in town.
Then Jesus comes to him and heals him. Jesus sends that legion of demons into a nearby herd of swine. The swine run off and drown themselves in the sea.
The Jewish people who heard this gospel story would not have been terribly upset about the pigs. They would have laughed. Swine were disgusting and filthy creatures to them. We might look at it the same way if we heard about a group of rats or snakes running into the sea and drowning.
Jesus was in Gentile country though, on foreign land. The Gerasenes did eat pork chops and bacon. The owners of the swine would not have been happy about what Jesus did. He interfered with their livelihood.
Jesus came into town, cured the local crazy man, upset their economy, and left. The Gerasenes were glad he left. They wanted him to leave, but they have a couple of problems still.
Their first problem is the man who was healed. Jesus told him to go home. Now he is dressed appropriately and in his right mind. What was his family supposed to do with him? Do they even trust that he is healed?
How do they welcome him back? What if the demons come back? How do they know if he is even safe to be around? Now he is even going around telling everyone that the reign of God is near.
Their second problem is economic. Imagine if you are that farmer and you have lost your entire herd. Your family and your hired hands and their families depend on that herd for their livelihood.
Those two problems are significant enough, but their main reason for asking Jesus to leave was fear. Jesus comes into town and things change. And change is hard. Maybe you have heard the expression, “Better the devil you know…” Maybe the Gerasenes preferred knowing what was going to happen even if it was bad, instead of an uncertain future that could be better.
Yes, Jesus has come into town and caused a few problems here, upset the status quo. Poor Gerasenes, but how does this relate to us?
I think this might be a story about fear and identity and need. I think it’s about how we define ourselves and what we think we need.
Jesus asked the man his name. The man called himself by the things that possessed him. He defined himself by the things that keep him from having joy and health and relationships in his life. He defined himself by the things he was lacking - joy, health, relationships.
We live in a culture that constantly tells us that we are lacking. We are lacking status or beauty or power or wealth. We aren’t as happy as we used to be, or as we remember being in the past. We are defined by the jobs we can get or the grades we got in school this year.
If we could just wear the right clothes, the right makeup, the right hairstyle... If we could just drive the right car, live in the right house... If we could just play for the right team, or win the right games... If we could just date the right person, marry the right person... Get into the right school… Get the right job… Or even use the right deodorant or toothpaste....
We keep hearing we need so many things... We are always thinking about scarcity. What if there isn’t enough? What if we don’t have enough to send the kids to college or what if we haven’t saved enough for retirement?
Look around when you get home and notice the number of things that you have bought that you didn’t need. Why did we buy those things? Did we really believe the promises in the advertisements?
Do we fall into the panic of “not having enough?” Did we really believe our lives would be incomplete without all that stuff? Do we really need 6000 things? Every advertisement we see and hear tells us that we inadequate without whatever they are selling.
Jesus crossed into foreign territory to heal the man who was possessed by a legion of demons and then he sailed away. It seems that healing that man was his sole purpose for going there. He transformed him from a man who was possessed by demons into a human being again. He reminded him and everyone else that the reign of God had come near.
Jesus is still crossing boundaries into strange places to cast out demons. He comes into our lives, lives that we define by what we think we lack. Lives that we define by our failures and by what our culture tells us we don’t have.... Lives that we define by what we think we need to buy or own or accomplish....
This is a story about identity. Jesus comes into our lives and tells us that we are already beloved children of God. Jesus calls you by name. He doesn’t identify you by what you think we lack. He reminds us of our real, God-given identities. Right here at the font, we are named children of God.
This is a story about need. Jesus heals us of our disappointments. He forgives our sins. He reminds us that God gives us abundant life - a life full of love, a life full of possibilities, a future full of hope.
We can reject the false identities that the culture wants to sell us. Jesus gives us everything we really need. We no longer need to be afraid.
But, Jesus knows how easy it is for the demons to come back and tempt us into believing we are lacking. And Jesus has a plan for that, too.
Jesus invites you to come weekly to hear the Word and share the Meal together. He invites you to see the cross, the font, the altar as symbols that remind you that the reign of God has come near.
Jesus invites you to be healed and to live as beloved children of God. Amen.