I preached this morning at Sts. Anargyroi Cathedral in Nairobi. What follows is the Gospel text for the day and what I said about it.
26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As 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. 28When 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” - 29for 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.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?’ He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32Now 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. 33Then 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.
34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then 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. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The 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 him much Jesus had done for him.
Wherever Jesus goes, he disturbs everything. When we let him into the Temple, he overturns the moneychangers’ tables and chases the traders out. When we bring to him the adulteress and ask him to judge her the way we think she should be judged, he writes our sins in the dust at our feet and sends the scarlet woman away uncondemned. When the religious folk are aghast that Jesus is eating without washing his hands, he reminds them that it isn’t what goes into your stomach that makes a person unclean, rather it’s what comes out of their hearts that makes a person a sinner in the eyes of God. Jesus asks his critics, which is harder? To forgive a paralysed young man his sins, or to say to him, get up and walk, and take your mat home while you’re at it? His disciples want Jesus to lead a revolution against Rome, but Jesus wants them to follow his example and to love one another and to do what slaves do and wash one another’s feet. The people want to make Jesus their king, but Jesus says ‘When I am lifted up [on the cross], I will draw all people to me.’ Jesus goes to parties with tax collectors and sinners, but the religious people, he exposes the shallowness of their religion by shining a light on their hypocrisy. Wherever Jesus goes, he disturbs everyone and everything.
And the same is true in the Gospel passage we heard read a few moments ago. Jesus visits the land of the Gerasenes on the other side of the Lake of Galilee. It’s the same boat ride during which Jesus calmed the storm, during which the disciples were terrified and said to each other, ‘Who is this, that he commands even the winds and the water and they obey him?’ (Luke 7:25) And as soon as he sets foot on the shore, a naked, dirty man runs up to him and shouts at Jesus 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!’ (8:28) Luke spends many verses describing the man, describing his symptoms, describing how he’s been treated. But the actual story happens very quickly. Jesus asks the man his name, but the demons answer and say ‘Legion’, because there are a lot of them in this man’s life. The demons beg Jesus not to send them back to the abyss, but into the big herd of pigs grazing nearby. Jesus agrees and they go into the pigs, and the pigs rather understandably go mad and stampede down the hill into the lake and drown. The pig herders run away in terror and tell everyone they can find what happened. A crowd rushes out to see for themselves, and they find the man who had all those demons sitting with Jesus, with clothes on, and in his right mind. And they see a lot of dead pigs floating in the lake. And they are terrified. Jesus has just upended their world and they don’t know what to do, so they tell Jesus to go away. So Jesus leaves. But the man he saved begs him to let him go with him. But you know what Jesus says? He tells the man to go back into the town, the town that just told Jesus to go away, and to tell them all the wonderful things that God has done for him. And that is where our story ends, with the man telling his family and his friends and everyone who will listen what Jesus did for him.
Let’s bring this very ancient story home. Are there any demon possessed people here this morning? I think I can say there probably are. We have them in our midst. What about thieves and robbers? Are there any in our midst here this morning? The answer is most likely yes there are. What about people engaging in corruption and stealing money that doesn’t belong to them. Again yes, right here among us. And adulterers and adulteresses? They are here with us, too. And people whose marriages are just empty shells. Yes, in our midst. So are people addicted to alcohol. So are gossips, and others who are bullies who are using their words to get what they want and to tear others down. Right here. And there are people who are homosexuals who are part of us, as well as others who are pursuing sexual relationships outside of marriage. There are probably people who have had abortions, right here with us this morning, and others who are beating their wives and their children. And there are others who pretend they are better than others and pass judgment on others.
I mention this list because we as a church are not that different from the good citizens of Gerasa. You’ll notice how they dealt with the poor demonized man, who was actually their neighbor. They tried to control him, they kept him chained up and hidden away, and when that didn’t work that expelled him from their midst.
We don’t deal with sinners very well, either. We try to keep those people out of sight, and then when the outcry becomes too great, we expose them and shame them and send them away. And we console ourselves that we aren’t as bad as that man. And the result is, those of us who really are sinners, and that would be the rest of us - we go under ground. We never let anybody else here know what is really going on in our hearts, what our real struggles and temptations and sins really are. Because we are afraid of being found out and judged and cast out. And so we struggle with our damaged hearts, with our pain, with our sin in silence. It’s like we are sick unto death and we drag ourselves to this hospital waiting room week after week, but when the doctor calls us by name and prescribes his medicine for us, we refuse to come. We sit here in sight, within reach of the one who would heal us. We are going blind and deaf and hastening towards death, but we are too proud or too afraid to admit that we might need anything, that we might need help, that we might need a Savior.
Orthodox theology has a nice way of explaining what salvation is. We say that in Christ we have been saved. By the work of the Holy Spirit, we are in the process of being saved. And on the last day, we will be saved. But it’s this middle one where most of us are today, ‘In the process of being saved.’ It’s a very nice statement, but it hides the fact that for all of us, we are in a war. And this ‘process’ is very messy, and protracted, and difficult, and overwhelming. War is always terrible. The devil and the demons are not rolling over and giving up, and they are throwing everything they possibly can at us. And for the people on that list of sinners that I mentioned a moment ago, the fight is more than we can imagine. And I say ‘we’ because I am one of them, just like you. Sometimes we feel trapped, locked in an addiction, like St. Paul’s, wanting with everything we have to do the right thing, but doing the wrong thing instead, again and again. And it’s a war that’s going on in here, in our hearts, and we can’t share it with anybody else because we are afraid of being judged. And that is because some of us have been judged - by our fellow Christians. Imagine, Christians afraid that other Christians, who have presumably been forgiven by Jesus, might judge us! (In this case hard experience, not grace, has taught our hearts to fear!) Christians, who should know a thing or two about what it is and means to be forgiven but who for whatever reason refuse to forgive the one with whom they are estranged and refuse to pursue reconciliation. Christians who pretend everything is cool and run around asking God's blessing for this or that in their lives, or even worse, asking people to 'support their ministry', while all the time their heart is blighted by their unwillingness to forgive. Isn't there a parable about this somewhere? Is it any wonder that our lives, our ministries, our churches are so pathetically impotent? The way we treat the sinners among us scandalizes heaven. But I guess that’s where we are.
But those of us who are sinners, who cry out daily from our desperate need for a Saviour - Jesus will not leave you or me to carry on alone. He himself will come. I don’t know what his salvation will look like for you, or even for me. But I take profound comfort from our passage this morning. The whole purpose Jesus had in going to the other side of the lake was not to undertake some evangelistic tour of the region, nor was he on some fundraising drive; instead it was to meet this one man imprisoned by his demons. Jesus whole purpose was to set him free. And such is his great love for you, Jesus will do the same for you. This is why he has come. It doesn’t matter if you have made terrible mistakes, it doesn’t matter if you have treated people terribly, it doesn’t matter if you are struggling with sexual identity or mired in addiction, it doesn't matter if your inability to be wrong, your self-absorption and pride have blinded you to reality. Jesus loves you and will save you. And he will win the war you are in.
But notice that what Jesus did for this man was a crisis for his community. Jesus didn’t just cast out demons into a herd of pigs and threaten their livelihood. His presence disturbed their whole way of life. If Jesus stayed, more than just the demonised man would need to change, they would need to change as well. And they didn’t want to. And so they told Jesus to go away.
Jesus has come to our shore this morning. And those of us who run to him will walk away delivered, forgiven, healed, restored and empowered to know him and follow him. But Jesus’ presence here is something that others of us are going to find very threatening. We don’t want to change. We don’t want to give up control of our lives, or of our community, or of our church. We’re happy to keep Jesus up there in an icon where he’s safe and religious and can’t do anything. We don’t want Jesus to be changing people, changing our church, changing us. So you can see how it happens. The good people of Gerasa are terrified of Jesus and what it might mean if he stays around. So they tell him to go. And he does.
What about you? Are you a sinner needing a Saviour this morning? Are you broken and needing mended? Are you imprisoned in your sin and need to be set free? Have you treated someone terribly and need to be forgiven? Are you grieving your brokenness and in need of hope? Or are you disturbed that Jesus has come ashore and you wish he would leave us alone and just go away?