| "Who do you say
that I am?" Jesus asked. Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus
answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are
Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra)
I will build my church..." Jesus then began to speak of
the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get
behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling
May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
“After the demons leave”
Message preached June 23, 2013
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Luke 8:26-39
Order of Worship
listen to this in mp3 format
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.
I’m 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. I’m 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 back then that I’d had enough part-way through and walked out.
It’s 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 eerie music and you might have another cult classic. But that’s
not the scary part of the story as we’ve received it. No, the element of
fear comes later.
As I said, it’s 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 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. “We’re perishing,” they said. With a yawn, he told the
wind and the waves to quiet down ... and the sea became calm as glass. It’s
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, it’s 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
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, there’s a lot of
crazy group behavior out there nowadays that isn’t all that different.
Anyway, here comes the scary part, according to the story as we’ve received
it. The townspeople then arrive. They’ve 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. Then, they see him set free
from those demons that have plagued his life for too long. You’d think
they’d be overjoyed. He’s 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, it’s funny what frightens us in life. I’ve often wondered what
those people were so afraid of.
I know some of what frightens me, and I’m not talking scary movies here. I
know some of the demons with which I have struggled. Nothing like what that
man faced, for sure. I’ve 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 I’ve realized how “dumb” it is? How easily we can get stuck in
attitudes that we know, deep down, aren’t 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
that’s been true in my life.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that I have no control over my
behavior, that “the devil made me do it,” when I’ve succumbed to one of
these legion of things. It’s just that “demons” are more a part of our
modern existence than what we think. I’m 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. That’s 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 mother’s 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 what’s happening between them as a couple, the demons that 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 dependency 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 God’s 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 weren’t 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
demons, period? Are we afraid of living without our demons? After all, isn’t
that what makes us - “us”? We have
a hard time envisioning a different way of living. Isn’t 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 God’s 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 that’s just what he did. After the demons leave, you can’t help but tell of God’s goodness and mercy.
©2013. 2001 Peter
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)
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