The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Farmers hold their breath as they peer over a cliff, praying that pigs do fly. They don’t. Their pigs go splash in the lake below. Jews double over laughing to hear this story. These Gentiles are not so amused. They’re scared, afraid of Jesus’ power, and they don’t know which side he’s on.
Jesus and the disciples land on the Gerasene shore, Gentile territory, where Jews who visit get told, “Your church is on the other side of the lake.” A man runs down the hill to intercept Jesus as he steps out of the boat – not just any man, a man who has no community, no friends. The poor fellow’s infested with demons. These people believe demons are real, Satan’s minions, sent to create as much chaos, disorder and evil as possible. The demoniac, his moniker, lives among the tombs in the town cemetery. Only the dead will hang out with him.
Sometimes the demons would seize him and turn him into a raging, uncontrollable wild beast. He’d often roam the hinterlands in his birthday suit, revealing more of himself than anyone wants to see. He’s unclean and untouchable. He’s a mess – lost, and without hope. Then he meets Jesus.
The demoniac falls at Jesus’ feet, begging Jesus to leave him alone. Jesus knows who’s really speaking to him. Jesus is no stranger to evil’s form or power. The spirits know exactly who Jesus is and the source of his power, the power of love and healing to undo what evil tries. “What’s your name?” He says, “Legion,” suggesting he has become a housing project for homeless demons. He begs Jesus not to send them back where they came from – a dark, deep watery place, the Abyss, Satan’s domain.
Spotting a large herd of pigs, the demons beg to be sent into them. Since pigs are off limits to Jews – no pork chops, bacon, hot dogs, or playing with a football permitted – you know, strict dietary and purity laws, maybe they think Jesus will leave them alone there. Who knows why Jesus grants them their wish? The infested pigs jump into a lake rather than embrace their new houseguests. Now we learn pigs neither fly nor swim. They drown. The demons end up where they didn’t want to go. Chalk one up for Jesus and God’s team.
But don’t think the farmers rejoice. Even though Legion scares them, Jesus terrifies them. At least Legion is predictable. They run off to warn family and friends, who drop what they are doing to go check Jesus out. Sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening and learning, is their old friend, dressed and making sense. You’d think they would be glad Legion’s fixed, no longer a menace. No, forget Legion and what’s happened for him. Fear narrows their concern. Who is Jesus? “Is he a mightier demon, or would he turn his powers against me?”They ask Jesus to quietly get back in his boat and sail home. Legion sees no future where he is, and wants to go with Jesus. Jesus says his future to stay exactly where he is.
I hope you’re still with me, and haven’t tuned out because I’ve been talking demons and possession. Some people think they’re real. Others believe a good psychiatrist would help. Honestly, there are times I believe it – I believe I’ve met a few, sometimes in churches.
But, actually believing in demons is unnecessary to understanding what’s going on here. We do understand times when life seems to turn against us, the bottom falls out, “nothing is going right,” as Carole King sings. Is this a patch of bad luck, my fault, or somebody out there has it in for me? Doesn’t really matter – it’s feel the same. One visit to the doctor; a pink slip; a wrong move in traffic; a missed diagnosis – we can feel some force working against us. A teenager gets hooked on drugs; children are shot and killed while playing in their neighborhood; nature is imploding around us, earthquakes, volcanoes, oil spills – do you ever wonder which side is winning? Have you ever said something you later regret? You explode at a friend and wonder, “Where did that come from?” I’ve talked with people who wonder if God loves them. They have been told so often, “You don’t fit. Change or get out. God won’t love you as you are.” They begin to accept God’s love reaching for them, too, and they might tell you – “Yes, demonic forces are alive and well. I’ve met them. But I know God’s love is greater.” Jesus brings a greater power that frees the prisoner from fear, and opens the eyes of those blind to God’s grace and love given in Jesus for all.
Jesus sails quietly away. He leaves Legion behind to tell the story of all God’s power in Jesus will do – good news taken to and welcoming Gentiles – a man who no longer lives in death’s domain, raised up by God’s healing grace. In Jesus God puts to rest the myth that nation, religion, orientation, color matter. No one is beyond God’s reach of love, even death itself. That doesn’t mean life with Jesus is perfect, and goes smoothly. We learn to trust that God will finally transform the evil, chaos and disorder, set life and people right again – restore and fix what’s gone amuck in this world – where we live stuck between love and fear. God respects our choices, and even permits those who fear or don’t understand to tell Jesus he can sail back home. Knowing his name is not enough. Experiencing the divine love he brings draws us into his love and away from our fear. He may appear to leave, but rest assured, he’s always present, waiting.
Until we experience God’s healing love and peace in our lives, we don’t have much to tell anyone. Transformed by Jesus reordering of our lives, healing our brokenness, freeing us from our demons and fears, then we can be more than nice people trying hard. He empowers us too, to speak with confidence and authority. He equips us with God’s love to take into deathlike places of this world, where the broken, suffering, homeless, hungry, and helpless roam, waiting for Jesus to come for them. Maybe Jesus comes to them through us.