"After the demons leave"
Message preached June 24,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Luke 8:26-39
Order of Worship
I remember one Saturday night my sophomore year of college, when the horror film, Night of the Living Dead, was showing in the campus theater. Iím not a big fan of this kind of motion picture, but I went anyway along with some of my friends. Filmed in black and white, this cult movie begins in a graveyard where dead people come alive and, like zombies, go in search of live flesh. Iím not sure which was worse, the gore on the screen or the screams of the audience. To be honest, I have no idea how the movie ends. I decided Iíd had enough part-way through and walked out.
Itís funny what scares us in life. The story of the Gerasene demoniac itself begins in a graveyard. A lunatic figure racing naked among all those dead people, accompanied by the sound of clanking chains, might be a frightening thought. Add eery music and you might have another cult classic. But thatís not the scary part of the story as weíve received it. No, the element of fear comes later.
As I said, itís funny what frightens us in life. Take the boat ride Jesus and his disciples undertook on their way to this graveyard. When they began it, on the other side of the that big lake called the Sea of Galilee, the weather was mild, so much so that Jesus took a nap. While he slept a sudden windstorm swept across the lake. The waves began to fill the boat with water as it was tossed to and fro. Still, Jesus slept. Realizing the danger, his disciples finally woke him. "Weíre perishing," they said. With a yawn, he told the wind and the waves to quiet down ... and the sea became calm as glass. Itís only at this point in the story that it says the disciples "were afraid." They were afraid of and amazed at this One who "commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."
Indeed, itís funny what scares us in life. When they exited the boat on the other side of the lake, the first person Jesus and his disciples met was a crazy man. I suppose we could compare this scene with another horror film, The Exorcist, for here is a person possessed by many demons. However, unlike that scary movie from the past, this scene is - in many ways - as calm as the Sea of Galilee after Jesus stilled the storm. No beds rise into the air. No heads turn all the way around. No cursing and vomiting. No holy water sprinkled.
Jesus simply tells the demons to leave the man. Almost like how he, with a yawn, calmed the sea. Then the man (or is it the demons?) shouts, "What are you here for? What do you want of me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" How interesting that our Lord is recognized at first sight. "What is your name?" Jesus asks the man. "Legion," comes the reply. Like a large military force, a legion, these demons have encamped themselves within this man.
What happens next is a bit humorous, really. Legion apparently recognizes that their days of plaguing this man are over, and they ask Jesus not to send them off into the nothingness of the abyss. A herd of pigs are on the hillside nearby, and they ask to enter these. "Whatever," Jesus says. He gives his permission. Sort of like asking the teacher if you can go to the bathroom. Only, once in that herd of swine, Legion races down into the sea and drowns. Sort of strange but, when you think of it, thereís a lot of crazy group behavior out there nowadays that isnít all that different.
Anyway, here comes the scary part, according to the story as weíve received it. The townspeople then arrive. Theyíve known this once crazy, now sane man since his birth, witnessed his wild episodes, tried to chain him down to keep him from hurting himself - to no avail. They see him set free from these demons that have plagued his life for too long. Youíd think theyíd be overjoyed. Heís been healed, made whole. But no, scripture says that they are, instead, "seized with great fear." They ask Jesus to leave, and he does.
As I said, itís funny what frightens us in life. Iíve often wondered what those people were so afraid of. I know some of what frightens me, and Iím not talking scary movies here. I know some of the demons with which I have struggled. Nothing like what that man faced, for sure. Iíve never been driven to run naked and wild through a graveyard. But I have done some pretty stupid stuff in the course of my life for a legion of foolish reasons.
Is it a demon within that nudges my pride to continue a course of action long after Iíve realized how "dumb" it is? How easily we can get stuck in attitudes that we know, deep down, arenít doing us any good - but we keep up with it. Is there a demon behind that? Loneliness, insecurity, frustration, anxiety, fear, guilt, anger drive us into some strange territory. I know thatís been true in my life.
Please donít misunderstand me. Iím not saying that I have no control over my behavior, that "the devil made me do it," when Iíve succumbed to one of these legion of things. Itís just that "demons" are more a part of our modern existence than what we think. Iím not making a case for searching out demons everywhere, just for openness and honesty in admitting the demons that plague us still.
I wonder if those Gerasene folks were frightened by the prospect of having to face into their own demons now that their resident lunatic was no longer a crazy man. Forgive me for using these terms, ("lunatic," "crazy man") for we have fought long and hard to bring mental illness out of the shadows and change how the rest of us think about it. Thatís precisely the point in this story. No doubt these people cared enough about that possessed man that they tried to restrain him to keep him from hurting himself and others. He was some motherís son. On the other hand, they probably were weary of having to deal with him. Furthermore, in focusing upon his troubles, they had little energy to deal with their own.
Sort of like a supposed "problem" child in a family. Things may not be doing too well between mother and father, but as long as the identified "problem" person exists, they can attend to this "problem" child without having to face into whatís happening between them as a couple, what demons plague their marriage. When the "problem" finally leaves home, the marriage continues - the demons remain. A frightening prospect for some.
Or like someone who has come to terms with an addiction. Often there are a legion of other factors involved, not just a chemical imbalance in the brain, that has led to a dependancy problem. When, finally, this person becomes able to start walking away from addiction (a life-long process, believe me), loved ones need to adjust. It is a joyful time, yes, but also fearful. What does it mean to live without this "problem" being front and center? Guess we have to pay attention to our own demons now, some of which may have to do with forgiving and forgetting past hurts. Is it a demon that nudges us to continue nursing our wounds, instead of exposing them to the air of Godís healing presence?
As I think about those Gerasene folks, who were "seized with a great fear" when they saw their "son" no longer possessed by that Legion of demons, I wonder if they werenít afraid of living on after the demons left. Were they frightened of facing into their own demons? Or, more to the point, were they afraid of living without demons, period? Are we afraid of living without our demons? After all, isnít that what makes us - "us"? We have a hard time envisioning a different way of living. Isnít that what Jesus came to proclaim - another way of living?
With parables left and right, Jesus sought to open the door of the human heart to Godís kingdom. He came knocking, knowing the door will be opened. He came seeking us, knowing he would find us. He came asking, knowing that his open arms would receive us. He still comes, across the sea of history to the here and now, to where we are. As he, himself, was laid to rest in a graveyard long ago, then opened it wide when he rose from death, so we now are empowered to rise - not only from death on that last day - but also from that which tries to hold us down, be it "demons" or sins or ..... In Christ Jesus, graveyards are no longer scary places.
I love how this story of the Gerasene demoniac ends. As Jesus and his disciples are casting off for the other side of the lake, having been asked to leave by the townsfolk, this man begs to go with him. But Jesus instead encourages him to go home and tell what God has done for him. And thatís just what he did. After the demons leave, you canít help but tell of Godís goodness and mercy.
©2001, 2013 Peter L. Haynes
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