Scripture: Luke 8:26-39
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“The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” – Luke 8:38-39
In the modern Western world demons and demon possession is generally considered the stuff of fantasy or horror films – images like the young girl in Exorcist contorted and screaming in her bed – in ‘real life’ we would never give demons and demon possession much thought, in fact if anyone tells you they are possessed by demons you would probably laugh or at the very least try to runaway as quickly as possible from the conversation.
When it comes to demons and possession in Scripture we can make all sorts of rationalizations that can have us skimming over the story, or looking for something more grounded in our reality – they are dealing with mental illness, disease, it was a trick of the mind, or the fantasy of the uneducated and un-enlightened mind.
Through our modern lens, we can hear the stories like the one we heard today from the Gospel of Luke about the Gerasene demoniac and marvel at Jesus’ healing, we can stand gawking at the exorcism of the demons into the herd of pigs, but it remains just a story – a miraculous story that seemingly doesn’t say much about Jesus or God (because we don’t believe in demons anyways right?)
But demons do exist, maybe not in the way Hollywood horror movies would like us to think, maybe they don’t speak to us in tempting voices, or offer to buy our souls for our wildest desires but if you have ever sat with someone as they struggled with addiction to alcohol or drugs, or even struggled yourself, or if you have watched a loved one as they have spiralled into a deep depression and feelings of lower and lower self-worth overwhelm them with no end in sight – if you have, you know that demons do exist, that people can be possessed by forces beyond their control, that lives can be destroyed, that people can literally and figuratively be chained up like the Gerasene man with his shackles and legion of demons.
If we are honest about this reality and understand it, then the story from the Gospel of Luke can take on new meaning – it can reveal t o us something deeper about God and about Jesus’ mission and our call to join in.
In our Gospel story today Jesus has just arrived on the opposite shore of the Lake of Galilee (or Genesaret) – and this is Gentile country, he has left his hometown and his presumed mission field and wandered into heathen territory. And once he gets there he is confronted by quite the sight – a naked man, living amongst the dead, possessed by a legion of demons, who had regularly been shackled and put under guard and who fell down at Jesus’ feet shouting at him to leave them alone, begging Jesus not to torment them, begging him to leave them in their weird symbiotic relationship between demons and man.
Despite forcing him to literally live amongst the dead, and destroying his place in society there likely was a strange comfort in his demon-possessed state. It was the reality he knew; the reality he had known for a very long time. And Jesus’ was a threat to the status quo.
Jesus commands the demons out of the man and into the nearby herd of pigs, startling the local community so much that they insist that Jesus leave immediately – like the demons before them, they want nothing to do with him, they can sense he’s dangerous for their own status quo (at very least he was dangerous for their local economy!).
And the formerly possessed man is left stuck in the middle, he can’t return to his life amidst the graves and bones of his past, but he also was a glaring reminder to his local community of Jesus and what he had done, so he begs Jesus to be able go with him, to be with him as a follower and disciple – but Jesus sends the man away and tells him to return to his home, a declare all that God had done for him. And so he does he returns to the city, he returns to the community that he been marginalized from for so many years and began proclaiming how much Jesus had done for him.
The story is rather remarkable once we get beyond our modern hang-up with demons – Jesus heals the man, liberates him from his legion of demons that had tormented him and kept him from living an abundant, and then he gives him a story to tell, he gives him a mission and good news to share with his community.
This man is perhaps the most unlikely evangelist, he is the person you would least likely expect to be given the opportunity to speak on behalf of Jesus – a crazed, naked man, who had been completely ostracized by his friends, family and community, but now this man was a visible sign of the healing grace of God, he was a living, breathing testimony to power of God’s love and mercy embodied by Jesus.
The healing and sending of the former Gerasene demoniac is the whole Gospel story in a nutshell – the healing and restoration of the broken, the opening up of abundant life for the lost and those living amidst death and decay.
What Jesus did for the demoniac – the healing and restoration, the calling out of death and decay, the opening up of abundant life – he has done for you and me, he has done for the whole world by his death and resurrection. On the cross Jesus has exorcised the great legion of sin and death in the world, he has disarmed their power over us, liberated us and opened up for us the possibility of abundant life.
We too can be freed from the demons which possess us – from the addictions, from the despair, from the forces beyond our control which ostracize us and separate us from one another. Like demoniac when we fall before Jesus, when we cling to him, when we allow our lives to be transformed by his grace and mercy, when we allow our broken lives to be healed – then we can experience the fullness of God’s life here and now.
But like the former demoniac, Jesus doesn’t let us remain in his presence, he doesn’t let us live out our days selfishly reaping the benefits of the new life we have experienced, instead he sends us out with a story to tell, the great story of our healing, the great story of the world’s restoration. You and I are called to share what Jesus has done with our friends and families, we are called to invite people to share in the abundant and eternal life that Jesus has offered us.
And the great shock is that it is the people who the world considers the least respectable, the people who are on the margins, the people who have been wracked by the demons of this world are the very ones who Jesus has given the greatest honour, the ones whom Jesus has called us to listen to. If you have experienced the depths of despair, if you have found new life in Jesus – then you have a story to tell, your voice is the one we need to hear – moreso than mine. I encourage you to tell it, to share the good news of Jesus with the world, with us here in this place because you can help bring Jesus’ hope to this world. The world needs you, it needs your stories of love and hope, it needs to hear of the healing you have received, of the new life you have experienced. May Jesus give you the courage and will to tell your stories.
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