St. John's, Centreville
June 23, 2019
Proper 7 C
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our gospel lesson this morning is the miracle story of Jesus curing the man possessed by demons. Just prior to this story in the gospel of Luke, Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm comes up and threatens to capsize the boat. Jesus is asleep and the disciples wake him as they are certain they will die. Jesus calms the wind and the waves and the disciples say to one another, "Who is this, that he commands even the wind and the waves and they obey him?" The disciples do not understand who Jesus is.
When Jesus and the disciples arrive at the shore in Gentile territory, they are greeted by this man, who calls himself Legion because his demons are many. He lives in a graveyard and breaks the chains that keep him under control. As soon as he sees Jesus, he cries out, "What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" This man, filled with demons, mentally ill we might say, knows who Jesus is, that he is the Son of God. The disciples, who have been with Jesus for some time, are still trying to figure out who he is, even though they have seen him perform miracles and talk about his Father in heaven. Legion sees Jesus once and knows who Jesus is.
The demons beg Jesus not to destroy them, but to send them into a herd of swine. Jesus agrees to do this and the pigs then run down a steep embankment into a lake and are drowned. When the swineherds see this, they run back to the city and tell everyone they see what has happened. The people come out to the graveyard and find this man clothed and in his right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus.
What jumps out at me most is what happens next. The people are afraid and they ask Jesus to leave. They ask Jesus to leave! Jesus has just restored this man to his right mind. He can now be a productive citizen in their community. Yet his healing scares the people so much that they ask Jesus to leave. Why do you suppose they didn't welcome him with open arms and invite Jesus into the community to heal friends and family members who are sick or disabled? Why didn't they see this as an opportunity to embrace Jesus and his teachings rather than cast him out?
What are they afraid of? Change. Oftentimes we prefer the troubles that we know, the status quo, to the change that we don't know. The people knew how to deal with the man with the demons. He lived in the graveyard and when he got out of control, he would be chained and guarded. They knew that reality. But what would they do with this man who was now in his right mind? There was no longer any reason to keep him out of the community. But could they trust him? How would he fit in, since he had been ostracized for so long? It was easier to deal with him the way he was than to try to integrate him into the community. And how would the swineherd who just lost his whole herd of pigs respond to this man? His entire livelihood was gone - over the bank, drowned. He faced financial disaster. It was the fault of this crazy man Legion.
Jesus is not a safe person to have around. He upsets things. He changes the status quo. He wants to change the accepted social standings in the community. He changes the financial landscape. This is too much change for people to accept. They want Jesus gone, out of their lives, so they could return to business as usual.
What are we afraid of? What changes are we afraid to see? What if everyone had equal access to education, employment, housing, food, political power, and medical care. Now that would upset things. There would be no one to look down upon, no one to feel superior to, no great class distinctions. The haves and the have nots would be on more equal footing. Whoever advocates that kind of dramatic change would be asked to leave, so people could return to business as usual. Even if that person is Jesus.
What do you think might have happened in the gospel story if the people had not been afraid and sent Jesus away? What if they had invited him into their community? Jesus could have taught them about God's love for them, he could have shown them a better way to live and be in a community without living in fear. He might have healed the sick and infirm. He might show them how to be a community and how to embrace those who are different.
Jesus could have changed their lives for the better, if they had invited him in. But they didn't. Because of their fear of change, they asked Jesus to leave, to go away, even after they heard Legion proclaim that Jesus was the Son of the Most High God. They didn't want Jesus around.
What if we invite Jesus daily into our midst, to be part of our community, to lead us and guide us, even into areas where we need to change? What do you think would happen? It might mean opening our doors on Sunday morning to those who are different from us, or want to worship in a different way. We might be asked to welcome the homeless, or people from different ethnic backgrounds. We might be asked to embrace new possibilities, new excitement, new ways to grow and get the gospel message out. With every challenge, there is opportunity - opportunity to change and to grow.
God needs to be in the midst of whatever we are called to change - new ways of thinking, new ways of reaching out to others, new ways of proclaiming the gospel. Whatever happens, when we call on the Holy Spirit and put ourselves in God's hands, we will end up in a better place if we allow God to be in the midst of change.
May we continue to invite God's Holy Spirit into our lives individually and as a community of faith; to lead us, guide us and help us to listen; to give us strength, insight and courage to face change, and to empower each of us to be vessels of God's holy and life-giving Spirit. Amen.