Year C Proper 7 Luke 8
It Doesn't Have To Be This Way
He is a powerful man usually the chairman of a large shipping company but at this moment, he is absolutely overwhelmed by the pressures and demands of life… and he lies there on a lonely hotel bed far from home wallowing in self-pity.
All of his life, he has been fastidious, worrying about everything, anxious and fretful, always fussing and stewing over every detail. And now, at mid-life, his anxiety has gotten the best of him, even to the extent that it is difficult for him to sleep and to eat.
He worries and broods and agonizes about everything, his business, his investments, his decisions, his family, his health, even, his dogs. Then, on this day in this Canadian hotel, he craters. He hits bottom. Filled with anxiety, completely immobilized, paralyzed by his emotional despair, unable to leave his room, lying on his bed, he moans out loud: "Life isn't worth living this way, I wish I were dead!"
And then, he wonders, what God would think if he heard him talking this way. Speaking aloud again he says, "God, it's a joke, isn't it? Life is nothing but a joke." Suddenly, it occurs to the man that this is the first time he's talked to God since he was a little boy. He is silent for a moment and then he begins to pray. He describes it like this: "I just talked out loud about what a mess my life was in and how tired I was and how much I wanted things to be different in my life. And you know what happened next? A voice!! I heard a voice say, ‘It doesn't have to be that way!' That's all."
He went home and talked to his wife about what happened. He talked to his brother who is a minister and asked him: "Do you think it was God speaking to me?" The brother said: "Of course, because that is the message of God to you and everyone of us. That's the message of the Bible. That's why Jesus Christ came into the world to save us, to deliver us, to free us, to change us and to show us that ‘It doesn't have to be that way.' A few days later, the man called his brother and said, "You were right. It has really happened. I've done it. I've had a rebirth. I'm a new man. Christ has turned it around for me."
Well, the man is still prone to anxiety. He still has to work hard. But, now he has a source of strength. During the week, he often leaves his work-desk and goes to the church near his office. He sits there and prays. He says: "It clears my head. It reminds me of who I am and whose I am. Each time as I sit there in the Sanctuary, I think back to that day in that hotel room in Canada and how depressed and lonely and lost I felt and I hear that voice saying: It doesn't have to be that way.'"
That is precisely what this story is all about. Christ walks into the tormented life of the Gerasene demoniac, this madman, whose life is coming apart at the seams and He turns it around for him. He gives him a new beginning, a new start, a new birth. At the beginning of the narrative, it sounds like a horror-story. This wild-eyed, adrenalin-filled, madman comes running and shrieking out of the tomb. He is so unbalanced! He is convinced that he is being held captive by a whole legion of demons, who are pulling and jerking him in every direction.
This is an eerie, grim, suspenseful, frightening situation. Jesus and His disciples have just come through a storm on the Sea of Galilee. It is nighttime and having survived that frightening storm they are thrilled to now set foot on solid ground. But, as they get out of the boat, they encounter a different kind of storm... yet another scary experience. They hear strange sounds coming from the tombs… shrieks, growls, screams, moans, the rattling of chains. Then, suddenly, a horrifying sight. A madman with tattered clothes, bruised, dirty, bloody and battered with pieces of chains dangling from his arms and ankles, comes running and screaming directly toward them!
Now, let me ask you something: "What would you have done in that situation?" This was a perilous place, a bloodcurdling moment… a powerful, dangerous, berserk man, charging them. I think I would have run for my life... or jumped back in the boat.
But not Jesus! Jesus stood His ground and faced the madman. Undaunted, unafraid... Jesus stood there and dealt with this wild man. Jesus healed him. He brought peace to his troubled soul. He changed him. He cleansed him. He turned his life around… and you know (don't you?) that He can do that for you.
Now, let me underscore this and spell it out a bit more by lifting three ideas out of this great story...
- You Don't Have to Be at War with Yourself.
- You Don't Have to Be at War with Other People.
- You Don't Have to Be at War with God.
Jesus' Ten Commandments
From Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein" to The Nightmare on Elm Street's "Freddy;" from Friday the Thirteenth's "Jason" to Stephanie Meier's vampire "Voltaire", we are always creating new monsters. Why are we constantly on the lookout for bigger, scarier "bumps in the night?" Why do we keep making up monsters that are so elaborate and extraordinary, so super-powered and immortal?
Demonology isn't something we talk about much less study anymore. But we can't escape talking about demon possession after reading a text like today's gospel lesson.
The "Geresene demoniac" is a classic "monster." He is nothing like the "normal" people in his community. He runs around naked. He is "out of his mind." He is strong enough to break out of any chains and shackles. He can escape from any prison that his neighbors build to contain him. He lives in the graveyard. He spends his life ranting and raving among the tombs, living with the dead.
Yet he is NOT a monster. He is just a man. A man possessed by a "legion" of demons, but a human being nonetheless. Once Jesus calls out the unclean spirits from him, the man is restored physically and spiritually to his full humanity. Having been healed by Jesus the man joyfully proclaims "how much Jesus had done for him" to all his neighbors, even "throughout the city."
This is someone who was never "a monster." But he had been a man possessed.
Think "demon possession" is a relic of a pre-scientific age when mental and physical illnesses were attributed to evil spirits? The fact is we live in a culture that suffers from a "legion" of possessing spirits, as toxic and traumatic as those that came raging forth from the Geresene demoniac.
The spew from one of our most destructive demons is even now washing up in greasy globs all along the coastlines in the Gulf of Mexico.
We are possessed by a life style lubricated by more and more oil. We will do anything to keep the grease coming.
We are possessed by a greed that puts profits before protecting people and the planet.
We are possessed by an insatiable desire for "more stuff" — and the cost of that "stuff" is increasingly deadly.
When Jesus banished the evil spirits from the Gerasene demoniac, he filled the man with a new identity and a new mission...