The Second Sunday After Pentecost
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Scripture Reading: Luke 8:26-39
Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes,[a] 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[b] 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[c] 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[d] begged Jesus[e] 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[f] asked Jesus[g] 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[h] 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.
- Luke 8:26 Other ancient authorities read Gadarenes; others, Gergesenes
- Luke 8:27 Other ancient authorities read a man of the city who had had demons for a long time met him. He wore
- Luke 8:29 Gk he
- Luke 8:32 Gk they
- Luke 8:32 Gk him
- Luke 8:37 Other ancient authorities read Gadarenes; others, Gergesenes
- Luke 8:37 Gk him
- Luke 8:38 Gk he
Sermon: “Stay and Follow”
“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy famously says in, “The Wizard of Oz.” Writer Shauna Niequist says home isn’t so much a place as it is people.
Everybody has a home team: It’s the people you call when you get a flat tire or when something terrible happens. It’s the people who, near or far, know everything that’s wrong with you and love you anyways. These are the ones who tell you their secrets, who get themselves a glass of water without asking when they’re at your house. These are the people who cry when you cry. These are your people, your middle-of-the-night, no-matter-what people.
It’s people like that who draw us home. Even so, getting there can be hard. Sometimes we need a little help—or maybe even a miracle.
Like ET, the man living among the tombs wanted to go home, and it would take a miracle to get him there.
Gerasa seems an unlikely place for that miracle. For one thing, it’s 30 miles inland. Jesus couldn’t have come ashore there. The pigs in today’s scripture would’ve had to be marathon runners to make it to the Sea of Galilee.
Some manuscripts of Luke change the name to Gedara, whose location is now lost but, we can guess, was a seaside port. So why Gerasa?
After the time of Jesus, in sixty-seven CE, the armies of Emperor Vespasian’s general, Lucius Annius, brutally put down a Jewish revolt in Gerasa. The Romans killed a thousand rebels and then destroyed both Gerasa as well as the surrounding villages.
So…Jesus came to a place later synonymous with bloodshed and conflict. Once there, he met a man not just possessed, but occupied, by a small army of demons.
As Jesus stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he’d worn no clothes, and he didn’t live in a house, but in the tombs. (Luke 8:27)
All the demons that Jesus confronts have three things in common. First, they cause self-destructive behavior in their victim. Next, the victim feels trapped, with no way of escaping. Last, the demons separate the one they control from family, friends, and community.
If that doesn’t sound familiar, friends, it should. Now, as in Jesus’ time, we still send those whose demons are readily visible into exile.
- There are the bodily exiled, those living with illnesses that are so long-lasting few want to care for them, those considered ugly or unattractive or in some way “different” from what the world says is acceptable.
- Some are psychologically exiled, those with mental illnesses, disabilities, obsessions, addictions, or destructive behaviors that others are quick to joke about but won’t take the time to understand.
- The spiritually exiled think God can’t forgive them because so many people have told them exactly that.
- The economically exiled include the homeless and the very poor, those shut off from society and the things many take for granted.
- People shun the racially exiled because of their country of origin or the color of their skin, be it black, brown, yellow, or some shade in between.
- We push the religiously exiled to life’s edges because of their faith. We see that in today’s continued hatred of Muslims as well as in a rising tide of anti-Semitism.
- We exile and even revile still others because of who they love.
Why are we so quick to demonize those different from us? It all goes back to that basest of human sins, building ourselves up by demeaning and excluding others.
Miroslav Volf, in his book Exclusion and Embrace, says that usually takes one of four forms.
- Sometimes, we either kill or force those different from us out of our living space. There’s a long, unfortunate history of that in both our country as well as in our politics.
- Assimilation is another way we exclude. Our arms are open wide to newcomers―so long as they agree to become exactly like us. “We will refrain from vomiting you out… If you let us swallow you up,” is how Volf puts it.
- Next is dominance. We’ll accept people different from us if they “stay in their place,” and only play the role we dole out to them. That might include only working at certain jobs, only receiving certain levels of pay, and only living in certain neighborhoods.
- The last approach to exclusion, Volf says, is demeaning and ignoring We tolerate them, but ignore their opinions and their needs as well as their contributions.
Jesus makes it clear, especially in Luke’s gospel, that there are no God forsaken people or places. He seeks out the very people we would exclude, avoid, and ignore.
When Jesus stepped ashore, he did just that. Things got off to a rough start, though. The man from Gerasa shouted:
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torment me!” Jesus then asked him, “What’s your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. (Luke 8:28, 30)
Remember Gerasa’s history? That name, “Legion,” was no accident. A “Legion” was a unit in the Roman army that had at least 4000 infantry and 200 cavalry.
Luke draws a clear parallel between demonic possession and the Roman occupation. He does so in Gerasa, a town that Caesar’s legions would later savage and burn. What happens next makes that connection even clearer.
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 drowned. (Luke 8:31-33)
From a Jewish perspective, justice prevailed. The man stood delivered from the demons’ torment. The unclean herd of Roman pigs was no more, taking the demons to perdition with them. Jesus had outwitted the devil himself.
The swineherds and townspeople were in no mood to celebrate. The livelihood of the village had gone under, along with all that deviled ham.
What next? This Jesus could shake up everything. “Seized with a great fear,” Luke tells us, the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave. “The man from whom the demons had gone,” Luke says, wanted to go with him.
Going home didn’t sound as good as it once might have. Not only had he once been what the townsfolk considered mad, but his cure had cost them their living.
Still, Jesus asked him to stay. The storm on the lake, the danger, and the demons—Jesus had braved it all to free one man from the spiritual and physical chains that bound him.
How do you respond to a gracious gift like that? You go home, uncertain as you are of what might wait for you there. After all, who better to proclaim the good news than a man who once lived among the tombs but was now fully and completely alive?
So many voices try to own us and discourage us, friends. We might as well call them “Legion,” too. Yet, over all of it, still sounds the voice of one who crosses oceans and boundaries to tell us of God’s love. What does he want with us, this Son of the Most High God? He calls us back to right minds and grace filled lives, and then tells us to declare what God has done for us, starting right here, at home.