Sermon for June 23rd

First Reading Isaiah 65:1-9

Second Reading: Psalm 22:19-28

Epistle Reading Galatians 3:23-29

Gospel Reading: Luke 8:26-39

Sermon: “Fear and Grace”

It has been a while since we have been in Luke. All during Lent and Eastertide, we have been reading from the beautiful Gospel of John which declares the divinity of Christ so clearly. Now as we begin the summer season of ordinary times, we return to this year’s reading from Luke’s gospel. Luke as you may recall was a part time student under the Apostle Paul, a physician by training and very likely a gentile. He wrote not only the Gospel that bears his name, but also the book of Acts.

Among the distinctive characteristics of Luke Gospel that we will see today are his recognition that Gentiles as well as Jews have a place in God’s plan and joy at the announcement of the gospel or “good news” Later this summer, we will also see his special concern for the role of women, his interest in the poor and in issues of social justice, as well as a concern for sinners in general. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is presented as a friend of sinners and tax collectors. Luke also emphasizes Jesus’ prayer life, especially before important occasions and he includes more parables than any other Gospel.

As we begin then this section of scripture then, it’s useful to note how Luke introduces Jesus ministry just after the temptations. We read these words from Luke 4:16-21 NLT

[16] When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. [17] The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: [18] “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, [19] and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” [20] He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. [21] Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” Release for the captives, good news to the poor, the time of God’s favor – these are the themes for today and for the whole summer for that matter.

Our Gospel story today doesn’t actually happen in a Jewish area at all as you might surmise from the herd of pigs that we find here. Its important to note how Jesus and his disciples came to this area. Immediately before this section we read: Luke 8:22-27 NLT

[22] One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and started out. [23] As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger. [24] The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. Suddenly the storm stopped and all was calm. [25] Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?” The disciples were terrified and amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!” [26] So they arrived in the region of the Gerasenes, across the lake from Galilee. [27] As Jesus was climbing out of the boat, a man who was possessed by demons came out to meet him…”

And so what begins with great terror and a physical storm being calmed leads into another fearsome situation of spiritual storm which Jesus masters as easily as the first. The ends of the stories are different as we shall see. In the first, the disciples fear is transmuted into awe and amazement as they wonder at the power of God revealed in Jesus. But the story is sadly different over in the area of the Gerasenes. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. First we need to address the strangeness of this poor mans condition. Possessed by a legion of Demons – If this refers to a Roman legion, that would normally run between 3000 and 6000, that’s a lot!

He is homeless, self destructive, the subject of many attempts to control him and really disruptive to any who come in contact with him. He is so totally lost, he doesn’t even seem to have a name, only that number of tormenting problems, a legion of them – here is one to be shunned and avoided at all costs. He lives among the tombs, and herds of pigs – he is the very definition of unclean.

Into this tragic situation, in gentile territory comes Jesus and the power of God. Jesus does not seek to avoid him at all. It seems the first thing that Jesus does is to command the unclean spirits to leave him. Unlike any other time Jesus expels demons, they beg to be allowed to inhabit the pigs feeding there. Evidently, the pigs would rather be drowned than so used. For the agribusiness folks here, you might recognize that the loss of such a large herd would represent a huge financial ‘pig-tastrophe’. Seriously however, its not unheard of in either scripture or our modern life for Christianity to have financial implications.

So its the news of the great loss of pigs that brings the town folks out to see what has happened – not the gracious healing of this wild, naked terror of the tombs. What they see when they get there, must surely have been shocking. There he was clothed, completely sane and sitting at Jesus’ feet. What was the response? Joy? Awe? Praise?

No…Fear. They all came and urged Jesus to go away and leave them alone. They did not understand, likely they did not even want to understand. This was too much of a change for them. It is so ironic that the demons accepted Jesus authority whereas the Gerasenes did not. They preferred the troubles they knew to the changes they feared.

For the man however, everything was new. As Jesus and his disciples began to leave for their boat, the man begged to be allowed to come too and no wonder! Jesus often issued the invitation to come and follow him, but in this case he told him to stay and tell his story – about how much God had done for him. He was healed and he was sent back in his own right mind, back to be an indisputable witness to the power of God. I would like to think that some of those urging Jesus to leave that day, came to understand how wrong they had been. I hope that many eventually came to know the grace of Jesus personally.

So how about us? How are we to hear this story today? Is it a story about the trials of mental illness, and their rejection by polite society? Perhaps we could profitably look there. Is this a reminder that no matter how many troubles and confusing voices beset us that Jesus is able to provide us peace, identity and belonging? Yes most certainly. You see, demons may be a bit more urbane these days. They have names like greed, addiction to drugs and alcohol, addiction to gambling, lust, pride, unfettered ambition and a whole legion of others as well. The worst one of all though is fear. When we are afraid, we can do all sorts of terrible things – simply out of fear. Fear of the other, Fear of the unknown – these made the Gerasenes tell Jesus to go away and leave them alone. All of these things can drive us out into lonely, desolate places. They can lead us to reject the very source of Grace.

God reaches out to us through the voice of the Holy Spirit. What a wonderful loving call it is. How tragic when our fears and self interests push us away. Its like what the Prophet Isaiah wrote about God and the People of Israel in his day: Isaiah 65:1-2 NLT

[1] The LORD says, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on my name. [2] All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people. But they follow their own evil paths and their own crooked schemes.” Even-so, God never gave up on Israel. He left them witnesses in the voices of the prophets and at just the right time, sent Jesus, his son to them and to the whole world.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians speaks of a wonderful transformation that is made possible through faith in Jesus. Just like that previously lost man who the townsfolk found sitting, fully clothed at Jesus’ feet, Paul says that same transformation can happen to any who will fully put their faith in Christ: listen to a portion of that reading again: Galatians 3:26-27 NLT “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.” Indeed, we have put on Christ, and it is our privilege to sit at Jesus feet and learn of his marvelous grace. Christ also asks us to tell others what God has done in our lives, so they too might know the love of God. Don’t let a little thing like fear stop you!