Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 19, 2016

2016.06.19 “Off the Map” – Luke 8: 26 – 39

Central United Methodist Church
Off the Map
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 8: 26 – 39
June 19th, 2016

gerasene

They sailed on to the country of the Gerasenes, directly opposite Galilee. As he stepped out onto land, a madman from town met him; he was a victim of demons. He hadn’t worn clothes for a long time, nor lived at home; he lived in the cemetery. When he saw Jesus he screamed, fell before him, and bellowed, “What business do you have messing with me? You’re Jesus, Son of the High God, but don’t give me a hard time!” (The man said this because Jesus had started to order the unclean spirit out of him.) Time after time the demon threw the man into convulsions. He had been placed under constant guard and tied with chains and shackles, but crazed and driven wild by the demon, he would shatter the bonds.

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Mob. My name is Mob,” he said, because many demons afflicted him. And they begged Jesus desperately not to order them to the bottomless pit.

A large herd of pigs was browsing and rooting on a nearby hill. The demons begged Jesus to order them into the pigs. He gave the order. It was even worse for the pigs than for the man. Crazed, they stampeded over a cliff into the lake and drowned.

Those tending the pigs, scared to death, bolted and told their story in town and country. People went out to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had been sent, sitting there at Jesus’ feet, wearing decent clothes and making sense. It was a holy moment, and for a short time they were more reverent than curious. Then those who had seen it happen told how the demoniac had been saved.

 Later, a great many people from the Gerasene countryside got together and asked Jesus to leave — too much change, too fast, and they were scared. So Jesus got back in the boat and set off. The man whom he had delivered from the demons asked to go with him, but he sent him back, saying, “Go home and tell everything God did in you.” So he went back and preached all over town everything Jesus had done in him.’ – Luke 8: 26 – 39, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

There is a legend that ancient maps contained the words, “Here be dragons”, referring to unexplored and uncharted regions “off the map” where – for all they knew – dragons may lie.

With last Sunday’s shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in America yet, I have felt this past week that as a society, we are “off the map”, into a region that no longer makes any sense to us, where predictable but apparently unpreventable dangers lie. Are you with me?

Does it make any sense to you, that a man for a time on the terrorist watchlist under investigation and surveillance, could go into a gun store, and legally buy a Sig Sauer assault rife, designed for U.S. Special Operations forces? As columnist Nicholas Kristoff pointed out in the New York Times: “The Orlando killer would have been legally barred from buying lawn darts, because they were banned as unsafe. He would have been unable to drive a car that didn’t pass a safety inspection or that lacked insurance. He couldn’t have purchased a black water gun without an orange tip — because that would have been too dangerous. But it’s not too dangerous to allow the sale of an assault rifle without even a background check?” (Nicholas Kristof, Some Extremists Fire Guns and Other Extremists Promote Guns, the New York Times, June 16, 2016)

Perplexity and frustration over this, however, doesn’t address the sorrow and loss of those victims and families, the fear it generates in the general population, or the mixed motives behind it. Was it a hate crime, a terrorist attack, or cold-blooded mass murder? Whatever the motive, the fact is that, due to one murderous killer with an assault rifle, 49 people are dead and scores of others are injured. All of us will be even more wary to attend any mass gathering, because how many other disturbed individuals will be inspired by this shooting? Truly, we are “off the map” of anything that makes sense whatsoever.

I like this “off the map” analogy, not only in regard to the state of gun violence in America, but because in today’s Gospel, Jesus is also “off the map.” He and his disciples sail across the Sea of Galilee, to arrive on the far side, into a non-Jewish but Gentile region, inhabited by a people known variously as the Gerasenes, the Gadarenes, or the Gergesenes, depending upon which Gospel and version you read. Not only is Jesus in a Gentile region, he is among pig farmers, an area not frequented by Jews.

What we find is that when Jesus arrives, casting out our demons and summoning us to our rightful selves, it presents great possibility for transformation, but also great challenge, leading to inevitable change. Like the Gerasenes, we have a choice: which will it be?

Jesus didn’t know it, but there was a reception awaiting him, about the kind of reception I would receive: not a band playing and balloons and the Key to the City, but a naked, crazy man, demon-possessed and out of control, blocking his way. If I had been Jesus, I would have turned around and gotten back on the boat. No place for a picnic here!

Although it is impossible to know how we would diagnose such a person today, we could think of him as not unlike many homeless people: many of whom are mentally ill, and thus unable to live a normal life with job, family, home, or even basic necessities. Homeless people are at greater risk of being victimized by assault, rape, and murder, the demons that plague our streets. The homeless are not ritually unclean like this man was, but many are physically “unclean” and therefore unwelcome in most communities, in some places around the country to a heartless degree. And yet, would we want them sleeping in our parks, under our bridges, on our doorstep? Every city has its Gerasenes – who whether we like it or not – are our neighbors.

The dark spiritual forces in the man recognized Jesus, before Jesus could expel them: “What business do you have messing with me? You’re Jesus, Son of the High God; don’t give me a hard time!”

“What is your name?” said Jesus. “Legion,” “Mob, “Many,” the man said. Isn’t that the truth? Like Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, the diagnoses and addictions and dependencies that cause us to be out of control, even to do evil, are rarely single or even dual but multiple. Do you remember what I said last Sunday, for example, about shame often being a major factor in tragedies such this one? For what I have read, that may well have been a factor in Omar Mateen, who may have been gay or even bisexual, for whom that would have been shameful, and thus he took his self-directed anger out on other innocent victims. Fear most, those who hate themselves; they have nothing to lose.

Confronted by this crazed man, Jesus comes to a show- down; the power of God versus the power of evil. Who will win? We know who will win. We know who always wins, if not in the short term, in the long run. It is some nearby pigs who pay the price.

We may say, “Wow, I’m glad it was Jesus, and not me, confronting evil like that.” But do you remember that you are pledged to the same thing? It is a very ancient part of our baptismal vows, almost from the time of Jesus, which we repeat and affirm every time we perform a baptism:

“On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?  I do.”

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? I do.”

Did you get that? We are “sworn in,” to resist evil, injustice, and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves? Whether standing up to a crazed man or to protect oppressed minorities from hate crimes – whether based upon ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or status, such as the homeless; whether sometimes utilizing armed intervention or at others time working to change gun laws to control access to deadly weapons, in order to save lives, we are sworn to the work of Christ in the world. Will you do that? Guess we should have read the fine print more closely when we signed up, right?

What happens next is more confusing. When it comes to the power of God vs the power of evil, we know who will win. But when it comes to the power of God vs the power of people, the verdict is still out. You would think people would have been grateful and hailed Jesus as a hero; instead, what did they do? They said, “Just leave, Jesus, just leave.”

Perhaps they realized what we have learned – in the church and in our lives – that when Jesus comes to town and starts changing things, where is it going to stop? For them, it brought fear, and economic loss; after all, it had already cost them a herd of pigs.

For us, the change Jesus brings might start with our spiritual life, but then it extends to our moral and even social life. It might begin with our prayers and with Bible readings, but the next thing you know it involves our checkbook and the votes we cast. The next thing you know we’re raising questions about the society we live in. So, as the old saying goes, paraphrased, “Sometimes we prefer the devil we know, to the change we don’t know. The Gerasene people are not praising God that a man is healed; they are counting the cost and find it too much. It is another small episode in the larger drama, posed by the question, “If Jesus was such a great guy, how come he got nailed to a cross?” It is because, in the real world – not the world we wished we lived in, but the one we actually live in – all our efforts at truth, beauty, goodness, and justice – are as likely to be met with contempt as with gratitude. As the old saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” If you don’t believe this, just go onto Facebook, advocate for common sense gun control, and see what you get called.

More humorously, there is the story of the woman who didn’t object to mowing the lawn, but preferred to do it with a lawnmower that worked. She kindly and subtly suggested that to her husband, as wives do, but the message never got through. Finally, she thought of a way to make the point. When her husband came home, he found her seated in the tall grass, snipping away with a tiny pair of sewing scissors. He watched for awhile, and then went into the house. He was gone only a few moments, and when he came out handed her a toothbrush: “When you finish cutting the grass,” he said, “be sure to sweep the sidewalks.”

“Just leave,” they said to Jesus, “just leave.” “Get off our property, and out of our lives.”

Except for one, the formerly crazed man, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “sitting there at Jesus’ feet, wearing decent clothes and making sense.” (I’d settle for that most days, wouldn’t you?) On the basis of his brief but life-changing encounter with Jesus, naturally, he wanted to accompany Jesus, but he is turned back at the boat. Instead, Jesus tells him to perform the one ministry for which he is qualified: “Return home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

Which puts us, back “on the map,” of what we know, and what we can do, in a world that sometimes seems like it has lost its senses. “Return home, and declare how much God has done for you.”  I can do that, can’t you?

 

 

 

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