- The Rev. Frank St. Amour, III
Sermon - 2 Pentecost
Updated: Jun 22, 2022
In the Name...
In view of this morning's Gospel it would be very easy to begin by telling some real porkers. However, as you may already consider me a ham, I'll forgo the temptation to boar you with any hogwash. Enough, already.
Our Gospel passage is interesting today, though, because it seems to begin with a throw-away line about geography. "Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee." This may seem like a minor detail, but, let's not move too quickly past it because "opposite Galilee" means Gentile territory and that would have gotten people's attention and set off alarm bells when it was written.
Gentiles were hated by, and usually off-limits to, all good Jews. The lake was a natural barrier, a comfortable racial, religious, and cultural buffer zone. Yet, that is what Jesus decides to cross. One may imagine some grumbling on the part of the disciples when they realized where he was taking them, but, this journey is to show that his ministry was not merely for his own, but for all people. And, you and I may be thankful for that.
For what does he find after crossing the barrier symbolized by the lake? A raving lunatic accosts him. A man who was naked and lived in a cemetery. A man of such physical strength that in his violent fits he could break chains. Welcome to town. Let's be honest. I would think most people would run as fast as they could to get away from someone like this and the disciples probably wanted to jump back in the boat and push off. But, Jesus was different and that is again a case of him teaching by example.
Sometimes people are pretty good about reaching across the world to those who are different and in need. The problem often comes when the different needy person is standing right in front of us. So Jesus is teaching us that outreach may be closer than we suspect.
And he even goes one more step beyond that. He's not content just to cross over to people who were different, he's not content just to meet the man's obvious needs, Jesus really wants to know who this guy is so he asks a question he doesn't often ask in Scripture, "What is your name?"
And the answer he gets is, 6,000. The man says his name is Legion, a military unit with 6,000 soldiers. In other words, he feels he has 6,000 voices telling him what to do. He is afflicted by demons trying to influence him in so many different ways that it has driven him insane.
We're not so different there. In the great buffet line of life, we are faced with choices about everything every day and we, too, can have 6,000 voices telling us how to act, what to do, who to be with. And that's no great exaggeration. Studies have shown that each American sees 5,000 advertising impressions a day from TV and on-line to just driving into town past signs about church events, fishing events, and car models and dealers. Most of us automatically tune a lot of them out, but they're there and some people can't.
But, Jesus spoke a word, the demons left the man, and suddenly he was in his right mind. The miracle of healing happened. The voice of Jesus made all the other voices go away and gave him peace.
Now, we may not be possessed by demons, raging about in a violent state, but, we too need the healing that comes from the voice of Jesus cutting through all the noise around us to give us direction and peace. Indeed, we may really be more like this pitiful man than we want to admit.
Notice that this man lived in the tombs. In ancient times there was a belief that evil spirits lived in cemeteries, so, this was an appropriate place for a man tormented by demons. But, there is something else about cemeteries that might apply to our lives. Tombs are a symbol for the past. They represent yesterday.
It is easy for us to wander in cemeteries, cemeteries of broken relationships, failed dreams, and good old days. Back in 1989, I met a fellow in his mid-eighties who said he used to be a member of my church, and that he'd left after he quarrelled with a rector. I asked when that was and he told me - 1932. This man had stayed away from church - any church - for over 50 years. And he couldn't remember what he had for breakfast that day, but he could remember the argument in detail. I call that living in a cemetery.
We need to receive the healing that Jesus offers to us from the voices of the tombs. We need to hear the voice of Jesus cutting through and rising above the chatter of the world which would distract and destroy us, that would possess us and drive us nuts.
The story of this demon-possessed man is a story of outreach and hope, of rescue and healing. And it's a story which seems to have a happy ending. Yet, it's also a story that challenges us in at least a couple of ways.
The first - and this is a question that always comes up - what about those poor pigs? They were all killed. No wonder people demanded he leave the area.
Now, in the Jewish community nobody would have gotten excited over that. After all, pigs were unclean and better off dead anyway. We live in a different time and culture. We do not see pork as something offensive to our sensibilities or our faith. In fact, we might wonder if what Jesus did was fair. But, Jesus does not explain. He simply gets into the boat and leaves us to wrestle with it.
The lesson that I take away is that often there is a cost to healing. Sometimes personal, sometimes community.
It's a basic fact that for something to live something else must die. When we are sick that is because an illness is alive. When we are healed, the illness has been killed. We don't usually question that. Nobody feels sorry for a kidney stone or cancer that is removed. But, when what is making us sick is a memory, or friends, even family, who are leading us astray, then we struggle with the cost. And I think that is a message of this story. What are we willing to give up in order to be healed?
And the second challenge is that Mr. 6,000, now healed and made whole, wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus will not let him. Instead Jesus commissions him, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." In other words, this former lunatic has just become the first commissioned Christian missionary. Crazy, wasn't it? After all, back home people knew he was crazy. But, that is where Jesus sent him because that is where Jesus also knew his story would have the greatest impact. Back home where people would understand how his life had been changed. And we know he did because, later in the Gospel, we read that Jesus returned to that same area, and, this time, it says, he was welcomed with open arms.
You and I can thank Mr. 6,000 for a lot of reasons especially because he is an example of what Jesus wants to do with each of us. Meet us where we are - as different and needy as we may be - free us from competing voices to his, take us out of the cemetery, and send us to tell how he did it.
So, where will you take that story this week? To what healing will you be a witness? How much has God done for you?
In the Name....