Our story this morning begins with this phrase: “Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes.” You see, Jesus and his crew had been traveling. Just before this story, we hear of Jesus’ calming the storm while in a boat. Now, the lake they were in served as the border between Galilee and Jerash. Now Galilee, as you know, was part of Israel, the land of the Jews. Jerash was a Gentile land. So when Jesus and his disciples climbed into that boat and crossed that lake the place the landed wasn’t their own.
And the first person they met proved it. “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.” If we, say, early Christians–ones who previously had been Jews, this line alone would set us off. Basically, everything about this man screams “UNCLEAN.” First off, he’s a gentile which means he didn’t follow any of the Jewish purity laws. He was naked. And he lived among the dead.
As if that weren’t enough to make us concerned (as first century Christians who were previously Jews), the man was unpredictable. He was violent. All of that together would be enough to make me think twice about dealing with this guy. But Jesus, in Jesus’ way, doesn’t think twice about it.
Luke continues the story: “When 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’— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
I suspect that when you first heard the gospel story read this morning, you were probably thinking “Oh great, he’s preaching about demons.” This is, after all, the story about a man who had been consumed by demons being liberated by Jesus.
Too often, I hear people try to figure out these demons. Now, there’s something you should understand about the ancient world–in Jesus’ day there was a much thinner veil between the physical realm and the spiritual world. For people in Jesus’ time, there was no separation between the two–the spiritual world wasn’t high and far away while we remained down here on earth. It was all around us. So the idea that someone could be possessed by a demon wasn’t a long shot.
Sometimes people will argue that the demons Jesus cast out (not just with this man but throughout the gospels) were what we would classify today as mental illness. Others hold firm that Jesus cast out manifestations from evil. We could spend hours deliberating and discussing.
But I’ll be honest with you–today, for us, that particular detail isn’t important. Suffice it to say: Jesus healed. These demons, whatever they were came out of this particular man and were driven into the swine (another unclean element of our story today) which then rushed into the lake and drowned. And that’s the end of the our demon work today.
But it’s not the end of the story. So the now, demon possessed pigs have drowned. And their owners and keeper have run into the surrounding area–both in the city and the country, we’re told, which causes a large group of people to come figure out just what was going on. And when that group gathered they found “the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of jesus, clothed and in his right mind.”
Since we’re familiar with the stories of Jesus’ healings, the reaction we’re expecting is one of amazement, one of awe. If I stopped reading the story after that line my assumption would be that the people, after seeing this man who was unpredictable, violent, and unclean sitting calming at Jesus’ feet, would be dumbfounded.
But, since we’re also familiar with people (and people haven’t changed that much in 2,000 years), we know that sometimes that which we don’t understand becomes that which we are afraid of. And that, friends, is what comes to pass: “Then all the people of the surrounding county of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.” The Good News doesn’t always seem good to everyone.
But it was certainly good news to this man who had experienced healing.
Since Jesus was being driven out by the locals, unpopular since his stint miraculously healing, he gets back on the boat to head home. And here’s where were told that “the man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might [go with Jesus].” Of course he wanted to go with Jesus. In his native land, this man has been, literally, no one. Why would he stay? The only thing that had defined him–his affliction–was gone. What incentive was there to stay put? What reason was there to remain.
“But,” we’re told, “Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” The answer for this man wasn’t going to follow Jesus. It was to stay as a testament and witness to that which God had done in his life.
Theologian David Lose puts it this way: “While there may be times when we are called to journey to unfamiliar parts in response to God’s call, at other times following Jesus may mean staying where we are, bearing witness to the mighty acts of God we have experienced firsthand in our own lives.”
So, what does that look like? What does it mean to bear witness to the mighty acts of God?
First, I think it means we offer our gratitude for that which God has done for us. Ever since I first began to learn how to write, my mother made me write thank you notes. She would line out note paper if wasn’t already lined and would sit next to me, watching my spelling. What she was teaching me was that a simple “thank you”would go further than almost anything else you could say. The first part of bearing witness to what God has done for us is to be grateful for it.
But bearing witness isn’t just about the personal gratitude to God for all of God’s blessings. Bearing witness is also about public declaration.
Now before you get too concerned, let me clarify: I’m not suggesting that we start handing out religious tracts or all put the same bumper sticker on our cars: “Do you follow Jesus this closely?”
What I’m suggesting is that while our relationship with God is personal, God’s good works in our lives are not.
So what do we do? How do we bear witness in gratitude for the good in our lives that is God’s doing?
How about saying grace before a meal. Some of us grew up saying it. Others still find themselves saying it every once and a while. But I wonder how many of us say it regularly. It’s really a remarkable moment in our lives. It’s a prayer that acknowledges that of all the people in this world and all the food, that this is the meal we are about to it. And that in that meal are the hands of the farmers who tended the produce. In that meal are the hands of the migrant worker who harvested it. It’s a meal that’s been nourished by creation. It’s a meal we should be grateful for–whether it’s homemade from our own gardens or a value meal from Burger King.
In taking just a moment before we launch into our food and more conversation to thank God (whether we’re at home or in public) what we are doing is bearing witness to our belief that we’re not in this alone–that God has already blessed us and continues to do so.
A couple of weeks ago, I was eating dinner with some church members. And before we ate, as is customary at their home, we prayed. It was my turn, so I started out with a single note: “Oh….” and somehow we prayed and sang together a song I learned in the South and they learned in the North, but a song that was our prayer that evening: “Oh…the Lord’s been good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need: the sun and the rain and the apple seed. The Lord’s been good to me.” We had different ways to sing the Amen, but what was important is that in that moment we bore witness to all that God had brought into our lives–that day, the food, each other.
Confession time: I’m the worst about saying grace. I get caught up in everything I have to do and, living alone and therefore eating alone, I often find myself camped out in front of the TV eating without even a second thought to it.
So today, I challenge you (and myself). I challenge us for the next week–just a week– to pray before each meal you eat–whether you’re by yourself or with friends. It doesn’t have to be out loud, no need to make it a spectacle. Make it simple: “Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub!” Or perhaps a little more intricate. It’s up to you. But find a way to bear witness to gift God’s given you in that meal and, more importantly, in this life.
My guess is that as we acknowledge what God has done for us, we will become all the more aware of the way God continues to care. And knowing that we can face whatever demons we have to face, together.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.