Sermon: "Naming Our Demons" June 23, 2019

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26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus[g] to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
— Luke 8:26-39 (NRSV)

Spirit of God,

may your Word be as rain

falling from heaven, soaking dry soil

until it sprouts and springs forth,

giving seed to the sower

and bread to the eater,

through Christ—

Living Water, Living Word. Amen.

 

Its not every day that you come across a naked, wild, demon possessed man here at St. George’s, but today is your day.

What a story. 

Jesus and the twelve have been travelling through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the Good News of the kingdom of God (8:1) to anyone with ears to hear.  Along the way, Jesus cast out evil spirits (8:2), taught using parables of seeds and lamps (8:5, 8:16), and commanded the winds and waves to obey him (8:22-25).  So then, Jesus and the twelve land their boat on the far side of the lake from Galilee – they are in Gentile territory now, a few Jews in residence but mostly not. Jesus doesn’t even have both feet on the land yet and he is confronted by this man, chair of the Gerasene welcome committee. 

 

This is a terribly tortured man – he is the ultimate outcast, scarcely even human: overcome by forces beyond his control he is naked, unpredictable, violent, and alone, living among the dead.  Can you picture him in your minds eye?  Wild, filthy hair, dirt entrenched finger and toe nails, sun weathered skin, eyes darting, not present.

 

One foot out of the boat and this is who rushes up to Jesus, throws himself Jesus’ feet and screams at the top of his lungs,

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most-High God?” 

Remember, they are just getting off of the boat after Jesus has calmed the storm and the disciples are freaked right out, wondering, who is he?, that “the winds and water should obey him” (8:25) and they are immediately confronted by this demon who knows exactly who Jesus is and the power he holds.

 

And Jesus asks him, “what is your name?”  “Legion” he replies, “for we are many.”

It is enough to give you chills – this demon has a name.  We don’t know who this guy is but we know his demon.  And we might miss this, as 2019 listeners but legion is a military term, a great number of soldiers, similar to a battalion.  These folks were living under occupation by legions of the Roman army, and his demon occupies him; Legion.

 

--

 

 

We have seen our share of Gerasene Demoniacs, haven’t we?  If you have spent any time here during the week, if you exist in the neighbourhood, in the world, you have seen, lived, touched: addiction, poverty, violence, rage, unimaginable living situations – our neighbours in the community, our friends, folks who move in this building all the days of the week, folks in the pews beside us, and the one whose pulse we feel beating through our own bodies – we have all, we are all, wrestling with demons.

 

A favourite preacher of mine, Nadia Bolz-Weber, the tattooed, recovering alcoholic, Lutheran, irreverent Reverend of the House for All Sinners and Saints parish in Colorado, is very open in the way she shares about her mental illness and addiction. 

She wonders about those things that get a hold of us: making us do things we don’t want to do, or love things or substances or people that are really destructive, she wonders if those are, in part, what having a demon is all about.  She refers, in particular, to a point in time in her history when her depression was so significant, it felt like a character in her life, so she decided to give her a name.

“I called her Francis,” she writes, “…I picture my depression Francis…emaciated in her torn vintage nightgown and smeared lipstick.”  She carries on to say, “Francis first stopped by in my teens and early 20s which was easily written off by my family as me being “moody”. But later, when I seemed to increasingly like the same things Francis liked: booze, emotionally unstable boyfriends, and self-destruction, she finally just moved in, turning my studio apartment into a Wilderness.

She was a terrible roommate. She kept the place filthy and always told me really devastating things about myself.  For some reason, when she lived with me, I was no longer able to do simple things like shop for groceries.  I’d stand for far too long looking at the dairy case, unable to make a decision about yogurt.”[1]  

 

We are all wrestling with demons.  Do you know your demons name?  Are they the occasional visitor or the roommate you can’t seem to evict?  Is this occupying force so directive that you have lost sight of your identity?

 

Oppressed by too many demons to count, the man occupied by Legion lost himself in the cacophony of their voices and ceased being a self.  He spent his days raving alone in the wilderness, a danger to himself and others, separated from his community and separated even from himself. 

How many of us are similarly overwhelmed by the voices raging at us from inside and out, denigrating our identity and driving us to places of extreme loneliness or despair?

 

And if this man’s torment, if our torment, was the end of the story, it would be very bad news indeed.  But it is not.  Jesus comes near, and before he is even out the boat, the demon knows exactly who he is and screams out in terror.  Because it knows it ain’t got nothin’ on Jesus.  Legion has taken everything from this man but is powerless in the face of Jesus.

Unfazed by all of this, Jesus strikes up a conversation with the demon, removing them from the unnamed man and allowing them to enter the herd of swine nearby, who promptly plunge themselves into the water, to their own destruction, in Jesus’ presence.[2]

And what was true for that man is true also for us today: our demons recognize Jesus right out of the boat, and are afraid of him.  Do you know how I know this?

Because our demons try to keep us away from the people who remind us how loved we are.  How precious we are.  That we are already claimed by God.  Our demons want nothing to do with the love of God in Christ because they know they ain’t got nothin’ on Jesus.  Our demons are powerless in the face of God, so they lie to us to keep us hiding ourselves away from that love.  They try to isolate us, telling us that we are not worthy, that no one wants us, that we cannot be known and seen as we are or we will be rejected.  But those demons nuh-uh, they ain’t got nothin’ on Jesus.

 

It is said that Martin Luther, the great reformer, when feeling oppressed, overwhelmed by his demons, would take courage by shouting, “I am baptized!”.[3]  It was his way of claiming confidence in the power of God over these forces that torment us all.  The voices of this world, the demons we wrestle with, shout but they do not have the last word.  We can declare that God claims us once, again, and always, as Gods own beloved children.

 

I am not done, but can we get an Amen?

 

Now, it would be my greatest pleasure to tell you that the farmers, the ones who had spent all this time fretting over our unnamed Legion host, making sure he was out of the community, shackled, retrained, contained, I wish I could tell you that those farmers saw the miracle and lined up to follow Jesus. 

But they didn’t – they took off! 

They ran off to tell everyone about what had happened, and when the crowds came back to see for themselves, they found this once wild, naked, tormented man hanging out, wearing clothes, chatting away with the disciples.  And I wish I could tell you that then the crowds saw for themselves and lined up to follow Jesus! 

But they didn’t – they told Jesus to take off. 

They were afraid, “seized with great fear,” (8:37) and wanted nothing to do with this power in their presence which was greater than the power of evil. 

How can this be?  Why not unanimous joy at the presence of a power greater than evil?

 

Have you ever seen a family completely break down after an addict gets clean or a person with depression begins to heal?

The world of the folks around the one who was tormented and is now healed gets turned upside down and well-worn systems are thrown into the chaos of the unknown.

There is a certain security when people know the locus of the evil: where it lives, how to fence it in; there is time and expense devoted to guarding and controlling it.  And a community learns, we learn, how to live with the demonic powers, isolating and partially controlling them.

Then power of God shows up and disturbs the way it had been neatly arranged. 

 

Some days, the unknown grace is scarier than the known, the comfortable, familiar demon. 

 

Jesus’ healing power has a wide blast radius, reaching far beyond the intended target.  The impact of the restoration of this man [radiated out] with the deafening echo of God’s love for everyone, and God’s power over everything.  And that world shaking message has the power to disrupt and disturb comfortable systems, and it doesn’t always feel like good news for everyone who is invested in the broken system.

Stepping into the unknown power of God can seem almost unbearable.  It is like when the ancients in the Old Testament are unable to look direct at the glory of God – it overwhelms. 

Jesus though, Jesus is the walking, talking glory of God that doesn’t blind us when we look at him, but heals our blindness, our inability to see who we really are. 

 

It is in Jesus that we come face to face with God who sees us, really sees us: the naked, distorted, isolated, mess we are, and greets us unflinchingly. 

It is Jesus who reaches into the distance we ourselves and our demons have created.  And our demons scream in terror, because they know, they ain’t got nothin’ on Jesus.

 

This Jesus who claims us, heals us, restores us to our rightful place as precious, beloved children of God.

 

Can I get an Amen?

 


[1] Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Demon Possession and Why I Named My Depression ‘Francis.’” Blog: Sarcastic Lutheran: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, June 25, 2013. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2013/06/demon-possession-and-why-i-named-my-depression-francis/

[2] Ancient Middle Eastern demonology understood that demons could not survive in water, as per Elaine A. Heath, Feasting on the Word Year C Vol. 3, p. 168.

[3] Thanks to David J. Lose in Feasting on the Word Year C Vol. 3, p. 171 for this treasure!