Second sunday After Pentecost: June 23, 2019
Year C, 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a; Psalm 42; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
There is no recording available for this sermon. Please read the text below.
Let’s look for a minute at the story of the Gerasene demoniac. This is one that often doesn’t get a lot of attention because I think preachers tend to shy away from having to talk about demons. I personally have often found it easier to focus on the letter of Paul to the Galatians, but actually, the two readings work well together.
First of all, let’s look at the issue that seems to get in the way of preachers wanting (or not wanting as the case may be) to talk about demons. The fact is, the New Testament world had a different way of seeing reality than we do, or than the 10th century did, or than the 17th century, or even if we think about it when the 20th century did. These days we don’t do demons, at least not much. So, we are in essence, trying to force a square peg into a round hole if we try to talk about demons. And I am confident that in just another ten or twenty years there will be a still very different way of seeing and interpreting this reading. There will be different ways of naming and organizing the stuff we experience. Why? Because change is always happening.
Let’s try and see what’s going on here, what the gospel is getting to.
On one level, the story is pretty funny – somewhere between a cartoon and a graphic novel. The whole scene is bizarre. You’ve got a naked guy, talkative demons, pigs doing swan dives, tombs, chains, shackles, stressed-out locals, and a small riot. And all of this is happening in gentile territory where, as far as Luke was concerned, Jesus had no business being.
Think about the folks who first heard this story, how they must have loved it. In addition to the great action and dialogues, there was ancient regional rivalry. What could be more fun for the good pious people than to hear a story about how un-kosher, unlucky and generally strange those “other” folks were, and about how all those unclean pigs came to a well-deserved end.
But of course, there’s more to it than that. There’s the subtext. Everybody knew instantly that it was no accident that the man called himself “Legion” after the famous and feared Roman legions; that pigs were a staple of both the Roman army and the Roman economy.
But this is more than just a mildly comic interlude in Jesus’ Galilean ministry. It’s really good news and it’s good news about power – all sorts of power. The Gerasene demoniac appears just after the more familiar account of Jesus calming the storm on the lake. In fact, the storm was on the very same trip that took Jesus and the disciples to Gerasene. Both of these accounts of part of Luke’s run-up to the big question Jesus asks his disciples in the next chapter: “Who do you say that I am?” In fact, all of these stories are hints about what the right answer is, so they all are not so much stories about what Jesus did, but about who he is.
And who Jesus is has to do with power. It has to do with which, of all the powers in the universe – which power or powers will have the last word.
There are a lot of powers out there in the world, powers that can, and do, hurt and isolate, torment and destroy in all sorts of ways. The categories we use to describe them don’t really matter that much. Whether we live in a world of demons, or of people who suffer from schizophrenia who have little ability to control the voices in their head, or a world of indifferent laws – we live in a dangerous world, a frightening world, a world that seems to be out of control. We live in a world that doesn’t seem to care about us or our pain, or the pain of others.
And this story, like the story of the calming of the sea, like so many of the other stories about what Jesus did, and about who Jesus is, there are ways of saying that all of the powers out there, regardless of how real they are, about how awful they are, none of them is ultimately powerful, none of them has or will have the last word, none of them will prevail, ultimately. In the end when all is said and done, the power that Jesus brings, the power of love, the power we see most clearly on the cross, that power will prevail.
That is the hope, the faith, the belief that envelops me when I become enraged at way immigrants, particularly children, are being treated. That is not the way of Christ, I assure you. My hope rests in the fact that by the time Jesus got through with him, this gentleman was on the other side of those as well. He was not only in his right mind, but Jesus told him to go to his home, a home he didn’t have when our story began. He was given the fullness of his life back.
Remember, there are all sorts of powers out there; and all sorts of victories. This is part of what Paul is talking about when he insists that, in Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.” Paul is saying that these distinctions, and others, these powers of the social, economic, ecclesiastical, and political structures as ancient, hallowed, destructive, and potent as they were, and as they are, these are powers that will fall, and that have fallen, before Jesus. Their voices are not the strongest voices, and they will not have the last word. It is our vocation to oppose them, and by God’s grace they should not, and, ultimately, they cannot, separate, isolate, define, or destroy us.
Because the love that Jesus is, and the love that Jesus brings, is stronger than anything, even the worst, the very worst, that the world can throw at us. That’s who Jesus is, that’s what this gospel story is all about. It’s about freeing ourselves to live for God; freeing ourselves to love our neighbors; freeing ourselves to be helpful and do good for all people; freeing ourselves to focus on Christ.
That kind of freedom challenges us to a faith that ensures that there is no Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no male and female. It challenges us to welcome the other among us and to meet our Lord in Holy Communion: forgiven, loved and free.
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