A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Luke 8 Jesus heals the Gerasene Demoniac June 26, 2013

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 3:24 am
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I must admit to you that I was a bit overwhelmed by this passage out of Luke for this morning. There is a lot going on and I debated which of the many directions I should go in my sermon. There is the direction about how we all have our demons to lay at Jesus feet, about how it’s not fair that the pigs died and the pig herders were now out of job; about how Jesus calls our demons by name; how our primary identity is that of child of God; we are more than what society tells us we are or what demons may possess us; how we can relate to the man’s demons as anything in our lives that separates us from God such as addictions, disease, consumerism, materialism, shame; how we can reconstruct this text through our 21st century scientific knowledge to recognize that this possessed man probably suffered from mental illness. We could talk about how people suffering from mental illness are treated poorly by our society and Jesus would certainly have something to say about our healthcare system and our criminal justice systems.
You see any of the above themes or ideas are fine and good and very important conversations and probably are the way I should have gone today but to me they smack of triteness and of looking for and giving pat answers. So in this is what has been bugging me all week and I am not sure what to do with, is verse 35: “They found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” Why does this bother me? Of course this is a great thing for this man. After who knows how many years of chains, shackles, torment, ridicule and pain he is utterly, completely and wholly healed by Jesus word. Hallelujah. It’s a great story. Well, I am not sure I can tell you all of the reasons why this bothers me but here are a few of them that I can clearly or at least semi-clearly, articulate. He is completely healed. Its a miracle, no more demons. Really? All I have to do is go to Jesus with my demons and Jesus will send them to the abyss forever and I will be completely healed? Huh.
What’s not sitting well with me in this story is the implication that if we are truly healed by Jesus, it’s a once and forever sort of thing. But what if the demons come back? Or a different demon shows up? Or what if it turns out not all the demons were exorcised? What then? What does that mean for the power of Jesus in my life and how much I really believed Jesus could heal me? Honestly, I struggle with this in every healing story in the Bible. Maybe you do to or it could be just me. Why were this man’s demons completely cast out and why was he completely healed with just a word and why am I not, or a why is a friend or family member not healed even when we pray and ask Jesus to heal? Or what bothers me even more is why do these demons of disease, mental illness and addiction keep attacking some of the most faithful, faith-filled people I know? People who not only talk the talk of loving Jesus but walk the walk? Why aren’t they completely healed? I struggle with this.
This story in Luke kinda has the feel of those tv evangelists we have all watched (admit it!) that claim to be able to heal people and seem to do so with just a touch and the words “be healed in Jesus’ name!” Those REALLY bother me. Often times people have forgone conventional medical treatment on the word of this person who claims that if you believe in Jesus enough then you will be healed without any earthly intervention. But then what starts to bother me, as I think about all of this, is that maybe I don’t believe enough. Maybe I don’t trust God enough. Maybe I am too cynical and snarky and too co-opted into the Western, scientific world view. Well, I know that I am all of those things but I have also seen some things I can’t explain and have met people who have shared their story with me like the Gerasene man’s and I have marveled at the miracle of it. So what do we do with all of this? How do we live in the tension of the reality of demons that may or may not be cast out of our lives and of what we know to be true of God?
This newly healed man was obviously caught in that tension as well. Maybe he even wondered himself why he was healed and not someone else perhaps more deserving? While it never says that he believed in Jesus, we know that he begged Jesus to let him follow and so maybe the man thought that the answer was that he had better get out of Dodge. Or maybe he thought that he owed Jesus something or that the only guarantee to remain demon free was to stick close to Jesus. And just as we too, think that is a genius plan, Jesus says this to the man: “return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”
I think the reality is that the healed man knew that now the hard work was about to begin. You see, this man’s battles weren’t over. The towns people were afraid, not just of Jesus but of him, as well. His re-entry into the town would not be easy and perhaps even impossible on some level. After all, he would always be known in the town as that crazy demon possessed man. Luke never even bothers to give him a proper name. So the easy way out would have been for him to escape all of that and be with Jesus. Just him and his Jesus is all that he needs. If he cocoons himself with Jesus then everything will be alright forever and for always.
But Jesus knows that the man’s healing was about more than just him. If the man just disappeared with Jesus the people wouldn’t have a daily reminder of the promises of God. The world that Jesus came to redeem was and is still broken and so many people, like the town people in our story, are simply afraid of the reality of letting Jesus heal them and change their life, and need someone to walk beside them who has been there and done that and who can tell them that it is hard, that it is a journey, and that this healing from God is not the way of the world but that it is true.
Jesus knew that this man had to live his new life in a broken world, where the risk was high for demon re-possession, where the risk was high of rejection and alienation because his healing wasn’t just about him. This man had to live his new life without having all the answers from Jesus or the benefit of any further contact with him, just his story to share of God intersecting his life, changing him forever and making him new. You see, Jesus knows that a healing is more about our physical or mental well being of an individual but about how we live with one another, sharing our stories, pointing one another to Christ in hard times, and doing so in community. It’s in sharing our own healing in Christ that perhaps someone else will hear the promises of God for their lives.
This is why we read the Bible as a community-to hear of Jesus showing up in all sorts of unlikely places, with all sorts of unlikely people healing and restoring wholeness and to know that Jesus promises to show up in our lives every single day, not just for our own sake but for healing of all people. It’s mind boggling and in some ways not a very satisfactory answer but it is the truth. Jesus promises to show up again and again and we have been given these tangible elements of this promise in the bread and in the wine and in the water and in the word that tell the story of Gods promises of healing our mind, body and spirit.
We don’t know the rest of the healed man’s story, perhaps he dealt with more demons in his life, but we do know the story of Jesus. We know that Jesus was tormented, suffered and was hung on a cross and experienced real death. We know that in the act of raising Jesus from the grave, God declared that not death, nor demons, nor mental illness, nor disease, nor anxiety, or doubt, nor anything will ever separate us from God or the community of God’s people. This is the promise of God in the midst of our uncertainty and wondering. It is part of our story with God. So while we, or at least I, wrestle with the reality of the world we live in—where things do not work out always the way we think they should-my hope, and I pray your hope, is in this promise of God to show up over and over, to be with us always as we live the new life we have been given in a broken world, sending us to return each and every day to the people of the town who need us to walk beside them, whom we need to walk beside us and tell each other our stories of how much God has done for us all. Amen.