Sunday, June 23, 2013

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 3
Galatians 3:23-4:7
Luke 8:26-39

And they went out to see what had come to pass; and they came to Jesus, and found the man, from whom the demons were gone out, sitting, clothed and in his right mind, at the feet of Jesus: and they were afraid.

They saw the man in his right mind and they were afraid. Wouldn’t you be relieved? Wouldn’t you be happy? Wouldn’t you rejoice that one from among you had been healed?

We like to think so, but I wonder if we would respond exactly as the people from the city. After all, they’d been dealing with the demoniac for some time. They knew his ways. They knew when to avoid him. Though they had not been able to control the man, at least they knew what to expect of him. They did not know this new man. He was healed and in his right mind at that moment, but would it last? What would happen when Jesus left? Would he continue to live a normal life or would the demons come back with a vengeance?

I always looked at this story from the point of view that the people were afraid because Jesus killed their herd of pigs. While they might have been upset about the loss, the verse from Luke tells us that they were afraid because they saw the man in his right mind. They seem to be more afraid of him after he was made whole than they were when he was violent and crazy.

They were afraid of Jesus, too. After all, He’d done something none of them could do, and He did it in a most extraordinary way. We tend to look at stories like this and assume that the people understood what was making the man crazy. But did they know that he was possessed by demons? In our modern world, we do not look at mental illness from a spiritual perspective. Many have written off the supernatural aspects of this story, claiming that the man’s problems were entirely biological, despite what the scriptures say. We know so much more about the body, about the inner workings of the human flesh and organs. We know things can go seriously wrong and that they can cause a man to do incredible things. And so we ignore the possibility that someone’s problems might just be spiritual or supernatural.

Perhaps they did, too. Jesus was in Gentile country, so perhaps they had a less superstitious understanding of health issues. Perhaps the casting out of the demons was too extraordinary for them. They tried to control the man with human means, by chaining and guarding him, without considering the real problem needed a different kind of help. The herdsmen saw what happened and told the townspeople what had happened, and at that point the people asked Jesus to leave. Did they prefer to think of the man as sick and reject Jesus because they were afraid of someone who would dabble in the supernatural?

What would happen to the man now that he was healed? He saw the reaction of the townspeople. They were afraid of him, and they were afraid of the One who made him whole. Would they accept him into their society? Would they reject him? How would he get along if he could not find a job or a home or the love of friends and family? He knew his best choice would be to follow Jesus.

Now, we know that Jesus had more than just the twelve followers, although we do not know how many stayed with Jesus all the time. In last week’s text, women are named who supported His ministry. In another story, He sent out seventy to go heal and teach. There were probably more than a hundred in the Upper Room before Pentecost. So, why would Jesus send this one man away, this one man who might be going to face rejection? He certainly may have been useful to the ministry.

This story takes place on the other side of the lake, in the country of the Gerasenes. It was obvious that the people of that region were not yet ready to hear about the Kingdom of God. They were too afraid. But the man who had been healed had something they did not yet have: faith. He had experienced the love and mercy of God in a very real way. He had a story to tell, and a passion to tell it. Who better to prepare the soil than one who has seen God face to face?

During Sunday School on Sunday when we discussed this passage, one member of our group asked, “Why does Luke tell us this story now? What does he want us to know from it?” I looked back into the eighth chapter of Luke and saw how it is placed in context. In the beginning of that chapter, Jesus tells the crowds, and then explains to the disciples, the story of the farmer who scattered seed. Some fell on the path, others on the rocks and yet others in the thorns. Some seed fell on good soil. The parable means that the seed that falls on good soil will bear much fruit.

Jesus goes on to talk about telling our story: let your light shine. He tells the disciples that His brothers and sisters are those who do the work He has called them to do. He calmed the storm and their fear. And then Jesus healed the demon possessed man and a few others. The demon possessed man is sent back into his home country, the land of the Gentiles, to tell his story, share how God calmed his storm and removed his fears. That man will “prepare the soil” in that country; the soil here is the hearts of those who do not know God. Jesus will return to the region sometime in the future, and by then His name will be known by many. Then they will come, and the Word of God will bear much fruit.

Luke tells us that the man “went his way, publishing throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done for him.” He didn’t just tell one or two folk about Jesus. He went about publishing all the great things Jesus had done for Him. Jesus told him to do this, to share the good news with the people in his home. Jesus cared for the Gentiles as much as He cared for the sheep of His own flock. He wanted them to know, so He sent a messenger ahead to announce the grace of God. This word spread, and when it came time for Jesus—and the disciples after Him—to visit the Gentiles, the soil was read and the seeds of faith had already been planted.

We might think that the Jews were better able to receive the Christ who was sent by their God, but they aren’t much different. In the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah we see how they failed to see the mercy and faithfulness of God. This passage is the beginning of the end of the book. After sixty-four chapters of warnings, calls to repentance, and promises for salvation, God speaks to the people. They are a people who have found something they think is better than God, things they think will save them better than God. Whether it is neighbor, ally, friend or self, they think they do not need God. They want to go their own way, make their own path, and be independent without the helper that is waiting, much like the Gentiles in the Gerasenes.

God does not speak well of His people. They do not call on His name. They are rebellious. They walk in a way that is not good. They follow their own devices. They provoke God, make improper sacrifices and offerings. They follow rituals, eat food and do things that are abominable to God. These things are cultic, practices done by the religions that were popular in the day of Isaiah: they were worshipping false gods. God says, “They say, ‘Stand by thyself; come not near me, for I am holier than thou.’” God’s people had declared themselves holier than Him!

God offered help to His people, but they refused. They took control of their own lives and learned about the consequences of their independence. Yet, there is always promise in the Word of God. He would not be silent. Despite their sin, He was still there for them. He was still ready to be their God and to lead them in the ways of righteousness and truth. Despite their hatred, He offered them a promise: someday they would see Him again and they would turn to Him. Someday they would be saved and they would inherit all that He had to give them. That promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

The people on that lakeshore were not ready to be saved. They still wanted to control their own world. They wanted to chase after their own gods. Yet, God reached out to them, offered them the same promise. He sent a messenger to prepare their hearts. He wouldn’t be silent for them, too. The seed of Jacob was sent for the whole world. Faith is not a gift that is limited by borders: everyone is invited to trust in God.

It took the early Christians a long time to accept this. So much of the New Testament witness has to do with correcting the errors of dealing with the Gentile Christians. Some wanted them to convert to Judaism before becoming Christian. They wanted to the Gentiles to follow the Law of Moses as they had for so long. They were insisting that only those under the Law could truly be saved. And yet Jesus went out of His way to introduce the Kingdom of God to those outside His Law.

Paul writes, “But before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.” There was a before and an after. The Old Covenant was given to point us toward the New. The Law was given to guide God’s people until the day when Christ would establish the New Covenant. In Christ we no longer live under the Law. We live under grace. Before Christ we were prisoners to the Law, but Jesus sets us free to live in faith. This freedom is given to all who believe, even those who were not born under the Law.

Paul writes, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.” It didn’t matter who they were or where they came from. It didn’t matter if they had a pedigree or a genealogy that went back to Father Abraham. Those that believe are adopted as sons, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. We are not slaves to sin or death or the Law no matter who we are because we have been redeemed by God’s Son, Jesus Christ. By faith we are sons of Abraham and heirs to God’s promises.

You would think that the healing of the man possessed of demons would have caused those witnesses to believe in Jesus. But they did not see it through the eyes of faith. They saw it through their fear. A man, one of their own, was healed of the most horrific ailment, but they did not care. When they heard what Jesus had done, they asked Him to leave. God spoke to the Jews, “I have revealed myself to a people that did not call my name,” but these words are as true for the Gentiles in the Gerasenes. The Gentiles weren’t looking for God, but Jesus showed Himself to them. The man was the only one to believe and though he wanted to follow Jesus, Jesus sent him home to prepare the soil.

We are called to be disciples of Christ through faith, to go out and share our witness with the world. Our stories might be met with fear and doubt, but that’s not our concern. We are sent to prepare the soil, to make the way for God’s Kingdom to enter into their lives. Jesus saves us from our own demons and sends us out into the cities to tell everyone about His mercy and all he has done for us. We are called to sing His praises so that the whole world will see. They may reject God at first, but He will come to reveal Himself again and again. As we tell our story they will see Him revealed and be ready to receive His grace when He does.

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