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Pentecost 2C Sermon
Luke 8: 26-39
23, 2019


Sermon Archives


Luke 8:26-39

When they 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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

You may have noticed that I have had some fun choosing the pictures for the front of our bulletins lately. Last week I selected the icon called, “The Trinity” and focused on the images from that ancient picture during my sermon. I like icons; they often draw us in to the witness of a Biblical story or Saint and become visual sermons. Some weeks it takes a while for me to find something that I like from my online image searches. I must admit that there were some shockingly interesting possibilities for our gospel reading today about Jesus healing the Gerasene Demoniac, as we have come to call him. I chose this one because it was kind of, “tamed down,” while still being based on the appointed story.
I have to admit, after most of the bulletins were run I pulled a couple of them out and looked at them and what I observed made me chuckle. Instead of a story of Jesus driving a legion of demons out of a man, into a herd of pigs which run into a lake to drown, I saw one of those Russian dancers entertaining a group of men at the bottom of the picture, while a number of pigs get a drink from a nearby watering hole at the top! Not exactly what the artist intended to portray I would say!

The biggest problem is that stories about demons and possession and exorcisms are so strange that they are difficult to convey, even in artwork. This guy is possessed by a great many demons that they are called legion. A legion is a Roman garrison of 6,000 soldiers; as a result he has super-human strength and is a threat to his community. They chain him and he breaks his chains. They make him live in tombs and he still wanders into town. He yells out at inappropriate times. He makes people nervous. I bet that they just wish he went away. Biblical scholars talk about demon possession stories in the Bible sharing three aspects: 1) The demon causes self-destructive behavior in the victim; 2) the victim feels trapped; 3) the possession causes separation from family and community for the victim. There are many who deal with different kinds of mental health issues today who can identify with those descriptors: feeling trapped, doing self-harm and being ostracized from their families. I have often wondered if folks in this condition hear this story as a word of hope, or as just another strange and unexplainable tale from Jesus’ life that doesn’t much apply to theirs. Think about those who feel the helplessness of being trapped in a lifestyle of destructive thoughts and actions which causes people to want to ostracize them suffer from: like people who suffer from serious mental illness like schizophrenia, paranoia, bi-polar or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; or those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, sex or gambling; or those who find pleasure in so many other behaviors that most of us in society call, “sick”. We can even wonder about folks who are developmental delayed in their lives. Many times people who deal with physical issues like downs syndrome, muscular dystrophy or cancer receive our compassion because we see how their disease affects their lives. But those who suffer from mental illness appear to be perfectly healthy. As a result, people in their communities cannot understand why they act the way they do. They get labeled, “crazy”, and the general public usually just wants for that person to just go away!

On Thursday I received the phone call from Fay Yungflesch, Marcus Brainerd’s brother, that he had passed away early that morning. I did not know Marcus before coming to Clinton Heights, but I can imagine that life was not always pleasant for him, especially in his school years. Those are the communities who sometimes treat people who are different than them as “possessed” by a demon, and instead of sharing compassion, they bully, tease and tear down. I will admit, he could sometimes make me feel a little bit uncomfortable when I looked out and saw him approach someone in the congregation to make a comment about the paisleys, polka dots, or other patterns on their clothing. He was always good for a prayer request to remind us of the anniversary of the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, or of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, or other infamous events. He once submitted a prayer request to give thanks for the life of Fide Castro right after he died, which the assisting minister and I decided to edit out of the spoken prayers. But no matter how he may have made people uncomfortable, I always felt that he had a home in this congregation. As a matter of fact, Faye made a point of telling me how much Marcus enjoyed Clinton Heights, and how much we meant to him. I believe that God used us as a means of healing whatever demons Marcus had in his life as we welcomed him and celebrated him and considered him a full member of our community. And just as importantly, I believe that God gave Marcus to this congregation as a healing presence as well. Marcus was honest and sincere in his church participation. One of his favorite things was during the reading of the passion every year where he would provide the sound effect for the cock crowing after Peter’s third denial. He also very seriously took on the role in the story of the sentry standing guard in the lobby after we announced that the stone sealed the tomb. He had a place here, he was my brother and I will miss him dearly.

God’s healing comes in many ways – sometimes with a dramatic exorcism, driving demons into a herd of pigs to be drowned, and sometimes with a loving, nurturing community that makes everyone welcome, even if they make some feel uncomfortable. Sometimes we cannot figure out why people have certain conditions – mental health, developmental delays, autism, cancer, heart disease … the list goes on. Why does one man live to nearly 93 years of life and die peacefully just at the right time as his health is deteriorating while an active, energetic11 year old boy falls dead on a baseball diamond from a brain aneurysm on Father’s Day? How do these things happen? Why do they happen? These are questions that are worth asking, even if the answers are going to be, “I don’t know.”

I truly believe that as we ask these questions, we enter into the mysteries of life which trouble us. And as we enter into these mysteries, God has promised to provide the healing that we need – maybe not the answers, but the peace and healing that we need to live together in love and joy. Since we will not have an opportunity to have a funeral or memorial for Marcus here, I wanted to make this a bit of a time for that.

And not only for Marcus, but for Richard Dover and John Mullins, and for all who have died or have been possessed by physical or mental ailments in their lives, especially those who are experiencing changes because of aging or dementia or other circumstances. Today we give thanks that while we may not be comfortable all of the fellow members of the body of Christ, or understand what they are going through, we have the presence of Jesus Christ to surround us with the love of God in his holy word and sacrament. Their memories warm us as we celebrate the community that we share in this congregation. We have been blessed by their presence and we will continue to bless others with the presence of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.