"Legions" by Pastor Kinsey
Whatever is evil, or demon possessed, in the gospel world, wants nothing to do with Jesus. We see it in Legion, the man, and in the legion of people from the city.
In our gospel, Jesus took a trip across town, on the Red Line, from Berwyn to Howard. Or maybe it was on the Green line, from Oak Park to the Loop, or maybe it was the Metra from Union station to Elkhart, IN! But, whatever, he ended up in foreign, Gentile territory, “opposite” his home base of “Galilee,” as Luke sets up the story.
And immediately as he “stepped out,” a man of the city was there to meet him. It wasn’t the Alderman, but a man who hadn’t worn clothes for some time, like the rest of the bodies in the cemetery where he lived, I guess; Or, maybe like those naked ones that Jesus said, if we clothed them as an act of faithfulness, we would be clothing Jesus himself; Or, maybe naked like an baptismal candidate, who in the early church days, when Luke was writing, shed all their clothes before walking in the river, lake, or deep immersion baptistery, only to come up again out of the water and put on new clothes, a white robe of rebirth, baptized into Christ.
And when the Gerasenes man, “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.”
Luke gives us even more information on this un-named man, in a little aside, how he had been bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard, and yet would still break free of that, and the demon, or whatever was possessing him, that was so strong, would drive him into the wilderness. Apparently, this state would come and go, and each time it returned, he would again be locked up by the people from the city, in the cemetery.
Whatever is evil, or demon possessed, in the gospel world, wants nothing to do with Jesus.
But Jesus looks him in the eye, this man, this person, who can readily and easily identify Jesus as, the Son of God – which even his own disciples have a hard time doing – and Jesus asks him his name. I’m not sure that would even have occurred to me! Probably, what I would have thought to do, was to call 911 first; or possibly, run in the other direction! Or, if I had one, get out my MCX.
Why don’t, pretty much any of us, see him as a person? Yet astonishingly, when addressed, the man answers Jesus, my name is Legion.
His name, identifies his illness, his possession, his demon, as the gospel of Luke calls it – which, it seems to me, is more like a nickname, then. Maybe he has a whole mess of voices going on in his head, or maybe he’s having psychotic episodes, which he can no longer control himself. It’s difficult to translate, or even know exactly what’s going on over the distance of 2,000 years, in between very different cultures, divided by medicine and science, religion and a whole host of other social-psychological factors that aren’t equivalent to one another, and which we aren’t able to line up nice and neatly, no matter how we try.
But in their conversation, Jesus and the naked man from Geresene, have a negotiation, which you don’t see in any other healing story, that I can recall. But by the end of it, Jesus can go with the man’s ask, a proposition from the Legion within the man, not to go back into the abyss, but to give all of them leave to enter the, “large herd of swine on the hillside” that were feeding nearby. It was perfect – a Legion of many, sent into the huge herd of pigs! Except that, as soon as Jesus did that, “the herd rushed down the steep bank into the [Sea of Galilee] and was drowned,” Luke says. And they ended up, “…just where they hoped that they would not go, [to] the abyss, the bottomless pit where they join the fallen angels and spirits “kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day,” as Jude writes in the last NT Letter; (1:6).
But, the man is freed! He is really saved, from the fate of always being tortured by the violent spirits that had controlled him. He’s himself again! Yet when the people from the region of Geresenes see him in his “right mind”, just sitting there at Jesus’ feet – much like the woman Jesus healed in last week’s gospel – they become very afraid! And instead of falling at the feet of Jesus in worship, “all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes,” it says, “asked Jesus to leave them!”
What?! Although, this sounds a lot like the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning – those who were afraid when the angels gave them the news that Jesus was no longer in the grave, but had been liberated, and was on his way to Galilee, just as he promised you that he would! They were afraid of that announcement. Or, is it just like the Legion, the man of the tombs of Gerasenes who was afraid of the power of Jesus, Son of the Most High God, who might change him?
Whatever is evil, or demon possessed, in the gospel world, wants nothing to do with Jesus. We see it in Legion, the man, and in the legion of ppl from the city. Change is gunna come, and that isn’t always what we want to hear!
The transformation from slave to free, and from death to life, can easily fill us with fear. Because, if we are changed, who then will we be?!
The death that has gripped so many this past week in the shooting in Orlando, brought fear too. Such a senseless taking of life, by such a hater, hurts beyond belief. And for the LGBTQ and LatinX community that found safety and a community in the Pulse nightclub, the hurt is all the worse, which has reverberating out across the country, this week.
We, can understand that desire for safety, as a community that has come to trust in the freedom of religion, and knowing that this place, this sanctuary, is protected. It is open, and so it is vulnerable, but it is also ours to define, and it depends in a way, on all of us to stand up for it.
In addition, we have taken the courageous step to welcome, in no uncertain terms, those of all sexual orientations and gender identities, to worship, and to find safety here in this sanctuary, as much as anyone else.
Unfortunately in Orlando, no one felt the responsibility to look into this man’s eye, this shooter, and ask him his name – I don’t mean as he did it, but in the days and years leading up to it. For he had a Legion of demons, or spirits, too. He had been to this place, the Pulse, before, possibly been on a date. He had had two wives that he verbally, psychologically, and physically abused. He had a co-worker in his Security job that demanded to be separated from him, because of his violent temper. And yet we don’t consider these, public problems that concern us a society, as communities. Except, we do, religiously! We, the followers of Jesus, understand, and learn how. First of all, we know we have nothing to fear as a baptized people, because we have been made as dead as we can, having passed through the waters. And so, we know our responsibility to look the other in the eye. We know, they could be us; that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. There is no exceptionalism, as a person of faith.
Like the people in Jesus day, we understand that evil is a social problem. What hurts one, hurts us all. Socially, in this country, we individualize our demons, we psychologize them, we medicate them, which is another way to respond, and has validity too. But more is needed.
In our 2nd Reading today, Paul says, “27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. The church is all the people, all the baptized who are the whole Body of Christ. And baptism is open to all, which means no one can discriminate based on nationality, religion, social class, sexuality or gender.
Whatever is evil, or demon possessed, wants nothing to do with Jesus. Because, those who are the Body of Christ in the world, are not afraid. We live with one foot in the world of justice and peace already. We have been freed in Christ. We live to liberate the Legions of the world, for the sake of the one who saved us. Amen.