Sermon Pentecost 5 – Gerasene Demoniac
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 agree about them. It still makes good drama for movies and television. These days demons have 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.
We usually talk about demons in a metaphoric way. When the radio announcer told us of James Gandolfini’s death of a heart attack last week, he said that the man had battled demons in the past. This is a polite way the media has of talking about our personal problems.
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 made him stay in the tombs, a dirty, disgusting place. They wouldn’t let him wear clothes. They made him say and do awful things.
He 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 Jews 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. 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.
He came into town, cured the local crazy man, upset their economy, and left. The Gerasenes have a couple of problems here.
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.
Yes, Jesus has come into town and caused a couple of problems here, upset the status quo. Poor Gerasenes, but how does this relate to us?
I think this is a story about identity and need. It is 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.
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… 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….
Jesus comes into our lives and tells us that we are already beloved children of God. Jesus does not identify us by what we think we lack. He reminds us of our real, God-given identities. Right here at the font, we are named children of God.
We are healed of our disappointments. We are forgiven our sins. We are reminded 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. But, Jesus knows how easy it is for the demons to come back and tempt us to believe we are lacking. He has a plan for that, too.
He invites us to come weekly to hear the Word and share the Meal together. He invites us to see the cross, the font, the altar as symbols to remind us that the reign of God has come near.
He invites us to be healed and to live as beloved children of God. Amen.