Luke 8:26-39 • June 23, 2019
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
In our gospel reading today from the eighth chapter of the gospel according to Saint Luke, we hear a story that I’m guessing is familiar to many of us. The demons and the pigs.
In the story we have a naked man with a bit of a problem – he’s possessed by demons. Not just one demon either. A Legion of demons. Like thousands of demons.
The community has tried to get rid of him. They’ve chained him up, which doesn’t keep him under control. They finally think they have a plan, we’ll isolate him away from the community, in the cemetery, among the tombs. FAAAAR away from any of the normal people in the community.
And, now, as far as all the normal and good people in the community are concerned, this man is as good as dead. Note that the community hasn’t really solved anything, but the problem of this naked, demon-possessed man is at least far enough away to no longer be a nuisance to them.
In a reflection on today’s gospel reading, now retired Wartburg College biblical studies professor Judith Jones said, “Jesus comes to challenge and cast out every power that prevents us from living fully and freely as human beings created in God’s image. Jesus claims sovereignty not just over our soul, but over our lives here on earth. Many among us resist that news, finding deliverance from Legion too frightening, too demanding, too costly. But those whom Jesus has healed and freed know that his liberating love is indeed good news, the gospel that he commands us to proclaim throughout our cities and towns. Still today God is at work in Jesus, bringing God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.” [www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4108]
Did you hear that? “Jesus comes to challenge and cast out every power that prevents us from living fully and freely as human beings created in God’s image. Still today,” Professor Jones believes, “God is at work in Jesus, bringing God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.”
What I believe Jones’ is saying is that today’s gospel reading is not just a quaint little Bible story about a naked man and some pigs. It’s not a story we can ignore because we think it’s not about us anyway. I mean, how many naked men possessed by demons have you ever seen running through the streets of Bismarck? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.
What Professor Jones is saying though, is that this story is in fact about you. It’s about me. It’s about communities that we know and love like Bismarck or Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.
The gospel of Luke was written around the year 80 a.d. In that time of human history, demons and unclean spirits were not just something that possessed someone and caused them to run around town naked saying strange things. Demons and unclean spirits were things that separated people from being in relationship with other people. And they didn’t just involve demons like a bad horror movie. It also included other kinds of illnesses – think of some of the other healing stories in the gospels like the hemorrhaging woman or the blind man or Jairus’ 12-year old daughter, which is the story that comes immediately after today’s story.
What’s maybe most amazing about the healing stories of Jesus is not just the healing. It’s also the restoration of relationships. And the freedom that restoring those relationships brings to someone’s life and to the community in which they live.
In the story before us today, the demon-possessed naked man is not the one who freed himself, nor is it the community, is it? In Jesus’ healing stories, people are healed because of their encounter with Jesus. It might be a dramatic encounter like the story we heard today with thousands of demons being cast into a herd of pigs that then run off a cliff and drown in the sea. It might also be someone reaching out and simply touching Jesus cloak as he walks by, as is the case with the woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years.
In whatever way these healings happen, they happen because of an experience the person has with the Savior Jesus. And they happen in ways that no one is expecting them to happen.
I’ll be honest, sometimes the miraculous healing stories we hear in the gospels are hard for me to wrap my head and heart around.
I’ve presided at way too many funerals of people who have endured evil journeys with the demons of cancer only to be taken from their loved ones in an untimely death.
I’ve sat with way too many people trying to stay sober in a world that makes it incredibly easy for the demons of alcohol, sex, and drugs to exist.
I’ve walked with way too many people who are on the receiving end of people possessed by unclean spirits. Unclean spirits that project racism and bigotry on other children of God. Beloved children of God who find it nearly impossible to find a safe place to live or be employed simply because of their skin color or sexuality. Even in a community like ours with an almost non-existent unemployment rate.
It’d be easy for me, to be very cynical and simply push aside the healing stories in scripture. These are just made up ancient stories anyway, that have no relevance to my life or the world in which I live today.
It’d be very easy for me, to simply ignore the reality of how I’m part of the healing stories and how they are trying to show me what it looks like to live as a faithful follower of Jesus.
I have to admit, I spend a fair amount of time each week yelling at God and asking where in the heck God is and why God doesn’t heal anymore.
And in every one of those times, if I actually stop yelling and simply listen a little, I often hear Jesus say something to me like he said to the woman who’s hemorrhaging stopped simply by touching his cloak, “your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
Or I hear Jesus saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” just like Jesus said to us in this very worship space a few weeks ago on Pentecost.
Or I hear something like the time Jesus said to the demon-possessed naked man after he was healed … “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
Shortly after he was freed from years of unjust imprisonment in South Africa simply because of the color of his skin, Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects, and enhances the freedom of others.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, return to your home and declare how much God has done so that children of God who are possessed by demons like cancer can be reassured of the promise of eternal life simply because of your presence and healing touch. A presence and touch that sets people free.
Return to your home, and declare how much God has done so that children of God who are possessed by unclean spirits that allow poverty, hunger, addiction, and homelessness to still exist can be set free from those chains through your bold acts of compassion.
Bold acts of compassion as you and I support ministries like World Hunger, local homeless shelters and affordable housing projects, or even through a simple wooden box called the Little Free Pantry on the north side of Good Shepherd’s property. Bold acts of compassion that set people free.
As children of God, claimed, named, forgiven and set free in our baptism, you and I are followers of Jesus who are sent into the world with the power of the Holy Spirit to cast out demons and break the chains of bondage because God is at work in us and through us right now, today.
So you know what, if you haven’t realized it yet, maybe you do now. Today’s gospel is about us. Thanks be to God that it is. Never stop declaring how much God has done for and continues to do through you to bless the world in which we live right now. God is at work in Jesus, bringing God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. Amen.