Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Discipleship by the Sea: Spirit” February 27, 2011
They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces, and no one had the strength to subdue him.
Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’
Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine, let us enter them.‘ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine, and the herd numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion and they were afraid.
Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him and everyone was amazed. Mark 5:1-20
Discipleship by the Sea: Spirit
In this Discipleship by the Sea of Galilee series, we have encountered Jesus as the one who not only calls disciples, but shows them how to be one.
For starters, Jesus included people, he fed them, he taught them, he healed them; he stirred up trouble by speaking truth to power. And today, we encounter one of Jesus’ most dramatic roles, that of exorcist--one who casts out demons.
Now, I’m not about to suggest that you go out and look for exorcism opportunities, but I do wish to lift up what Jesus demonstrates this morning--compassion for the lowest of the low.
We’re going to use another composite passage this morning, much like we did last week in discussing trusting your boating instincts. Whereas last week we were looking at 6 different ways Jesus encouraged his followers to trust, here, we are collecting demon possession stories. In this one, we join Jesus and his followers as they are getting out of the boat after having crossed the Sea yet another time, this time to the east, ‘foreign’ territory really, and they enter the city of Gerasa.
By going east like this, Jesus embraces yet another of his roles, that of boundary breaker. By entering a region mostly populated by Gentiles, not Jews, he is asking to be challenged. East of the Jordan River was considered worse than a ‘no-man’s land’ by the Jews. It was a place you just didn’t go if you knew what was good for you. As a rabbiespecially, you just didn’t go there and expect not to get criticized.
And, as if to make that point, right out of the gate this ‘man with an unclean spirit’ gets up in Jesus’ face to confront him in a spiritual battle.
There are no less than four demon possession stories in Mark’s Gospel; in addition, there is one passage in which the Pharisees even accuse Jesus of having a demon; or having the ability to cast them out because he is in league with Satan, and that is who gives him this power.
I never fail to read these ‘spiritual battle’ texts and find relevance to our own situation. No, we don’t ascribe demon possession to those who are mentally and emotionally disturbed as they did back then. But we do recognize when our own spirits are not at peace with God.
We have learned about chemical imbalances in the brain, malfunctions in the genetic code, the spectrum of human behavior that runs from normal to abnormal. But we also understand such things as tenacity of the human will and resilience of the human spirit.
The prevailing wisdom in the era of Mark’s Gospel was that a good god ruled the spiritual realm and a bad god ruled the physical realm and they’d often fight each other for supremacy. In that system, however, humans are mere bystanders, without a say in who wins. That way of thinking lets us off the hook. Under that system, if I cause harm to someone, oh well, as Flip Wilson used to say, “The devil made me do it.” The problem of sin then is replaced with the problem of Satan. John Calvin, the founder of Presbyterianism nailed it, “They made the devil the equal of God.”
Remember Jimmy Swaggart?
The televangelist who raised hypocrisy to an art form? For his transgressions, his denomination banned him from preaching for a year. He defied those orders and assured the public that he was free of moral defect, for, he said, Oral Roberts had cast out the demons from his body over the phone.
Oral Roberts confirmed it, insisting Jimmy had demons and their claws were deeply embedded in his flesh. But now that the rascals were gone Swaggart could get on with preparing the way for Christ's return. Most folks were not terribly impressed by how that turned out.
So, yes, our modern ears hear this healing story with a different antenna than the original hearers of Mark Gospel; however, it would be foolish to dismiss the power of the truth that underlies what Jesus has done here: our spiritual peace is achieved when we allow Jesus in to calm our own spiritual unrest. When we issue that invitation to him, it is the first step on our journey to transformation.
In physics, transformation refers to changing one type of energy into a different type of energy.
E = (mc) squared
For this howling, self-destructive soul Jesus subdues, there is an energy shift, a major one--from madness to sanity. Then this tortured soul living among the tombs with an unclean spirit begins to testify about what has happened to him because of Jesus Christ.
What could be in store for you and I?
Where does a shift need to happen in your life? Jesus did not come to earth so we could come to church, right? His agenda was a lot bigger than that, I hope we believe that. There is a purpose for your life as a disciple of Jesus, how do we get to that? Well, we begin by helping each other identify our passion. We move together in community.
I find the most disturbing part of this man’s condition is his isolation. He lives in a graveyard because of his unclean status. This was the treatment back then for someone of his condition--wall him off, ostracize him and keep him that way.
I’m sure many of you know that my wife works at Sonoma Developmental Center. We have a shrinking number of these state resources. Sonoma Development Center used to be called the State Mental Hospital, a place where many individuals were institutionalized, often not because they were incapable of living in normal circumstances, but because our understanding of mental and emotional disturbance was not very good.
Human progress on many fronts is agonizingly slow.
There is an anonymous saying in life and it is this: we have only three things to learn, three things only: how to live...how to die...how to love.
I suppose I could have saved us all a lot of time this morning by just having Beverly make this slide and we’d leave it up to meditate on...and then go try and live it.
A case can be made that you can’t successfully complete this formula if you are not in relationship with other human beings. Sure, we have monks and mystics who isolate themselves by choice, but how did they get to be monks and mystics? Someone had to give birth to them, nurture them, speak for them.
That kind of socialization is not happening for this man living in the tombs, is it?
They say you can judge a society, a people, by how it treats it’s most vulnerable citizens. When I think of what has happened over the last 30 years regarding our mentally and emotionally disturbed, I want to say “Wait, wait, don’t judge us by how we treat our most vulnerable citizens, use another measure, please.”
By now, all of us have heard the term ‘moral compass.’ I believe we are desperately in need of one. Collectively, we have lost our sense of where true north is. This leads to madness. Robert Fulghum, the guy who wrote, “Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten” wrote this: “Life is lumpy. And a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same lump. One should learn the difference.”
Many of us never do. Go in to any bookstore; next to the piles of Harry Potter are piles of a book titled, “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff... with the subtitle ..and it’s all small stuff,”a book written by Richard Carlson. That book sells hundreds of thousands of copies because many of us treat lumps in the oatmeal as if they were a monstrous attempt by the universe to thwart our happiness.
It’s been said that sometimes life can seem to overwhelm us because often what we perceive to be lions roaring are, in reality, mice with megaphones. (Thanks to retired Rev. Bob Olmstead for these last two insights).
Priority of the Spirit
Does every activity in life have the same priority? Some would have you believe that. Some who may not have your best interests at heart.
Which brings us right back to Jesus going toe to toe in this hostile situation. He speaks directly to the chaotic spirit that is chewing this man up and spitting him out. This woeful man is unable to fully engage with life due to this demon.
Where have we heard that before?
It is the language of addiction. When we choose ‘excess’ instead of excellence we deny our ability to engage fully with life. How it is different from the possessed man is that we choose our addictions, and they often may come to possess us. Whether it be the traditional ‘bad’ addictions like drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, or the ‘proper’ acceptable ones such as work or over commitment to being busy, mind-numbing TV, the premise is the same, by skewing our priorities, chaos creeps in. Before long, we find we are ‘separated‘ from what we say is important.
Addiction is black and white thinking in a world that is shades of gray. We set our own selves up to be god, and then decree that the world should revolve around us. Communion with God becomes a joke, not even something on our radar screen. This poor possessed man shows us the extreme example. Addictive behavior will bring us to our knees. The question is, what or who will we be kneeling in front of if it happens?
Jesus guides this pathetic man from out of the tombs through a complete transformation. Once he is at peace, he yearns to ‘be’ with Jesus. He has one more step to go. Jesus directs him to tell his story of how he was healed. Now he is firmly on his path to purpose.
But what about the pigs?
The pigs are the unwitting victims in this story. To moderns like us, the sacrifice of 2000 pigs sounds awful, but in Mark’s world, the pig was an unclean animal, so unclean spirits meeting their demise in an unclean animal made sense. Maybe not for the owners of the pigs, but we don’t hear about them, we hear about the swineherds instead. Back then, swineherd carried the same status as tax-collector. Swineherds were often gruff, uneducated and certainly not to be trusted. Yet, these are the ones who run off to testify all on their own. Jesus does not direct them as he does the poor man from the tombs. These ordinary men go and carry the message of what Jesus has done for the lowliest and the least.
And you and I? To what will we testify? Where are we on the road to transformation?