Proper 7c, June 23, 2013

June 24, 2013

Grace From the Other Side
Luke 8:26-39

8:26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As 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. 28 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”– 29 for 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.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 Now 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. 33 Then 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. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then 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. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then 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. 38 The 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 how much Jesus had done for him.

I’ve never had a productive tomato plant. I haven’t even tried to grow tomatoes very often in my life, but I love good tomatoes and I’m making an effort to grow some this summer. I put together a small raised bed on the side of my house that gets some good sunlight and I purchased six plants from this organic nursery that was selling various seedlings one Saturday back in the spring. I’ve got good soil, I’ve got good sunlight, I’ve fertilized, I’ve kept them watered, and I’ve got a few small tomatoes, but I’ve also got aphids. And I hate these aphids.

Aphids are these tiny bulbous insects that infest tomato leaves and blooms and just sort of suck the life out of the plant. I purchased some kind of organic insecticide to spray on the leaves, but anytime you buy an insecticide that says you can eat the fruit on the same day you apply the product you can bet that it doesn’t bother the aphids that much either. I read online that you can make your own anti-aphid spray with a little liquid soap and some canola oil, but it said to be careful not to use dish washing liquid because most of them are made of detergent and not soap. I never knew there was a difference between detergent and soap, but apparently there is.

I finally took a chance on some hand soap and canola oil, and it seems to have helped a little, but my recent experience with these aphids has put me in touch with the concept of being possessed by a legion of destructive entities. Aphids are much more visible than demons, but I’m reminded of how there are these beings who seem to exist with the sole purpose of sucking the life out of that which we love. I’m tempted to get some real poison and go after those literal suckers, but that feels like a deal with the devil as well. I don’t want to make the bees sick.

So I’m resigned to an ongoing battle with aphids. This also reminds me of my experience with demonic forces. I don’t expect that battle to end in my lifetime. Every once in a while I go out armed with a spraybottle of soap and oil and do battle with aphids. Every day I invite the Holy Spirit to be with me to keep my heart, mind, and body away from the grips of my spiritual enemies. I regularly wash the aphids off my plants with the water hose and pluck a few leaves that are particularly infested. So far my plants are holding up and I’ve got a few tomatoes on the way. I try to keep my inner-self as clean as possible and by the grace of God the most destructive demons have not taken over my heart and mind. So far I have no compulsion to run naked in Mt. Holly Cemetery and I know you are happy about that.

Aphids aren’t really like demons. Aphids are annoying, but they can be controlled. Demons are far more devastating and it takes nothing less than an act of God to get rid of them.

As if I know what demons are. I have no real understanding of what constitutes a demon, but on some level I believe that they are every bit as real as aphids. What I know is that there are these unwelcome forces that seem to take up residence inside of us that can cause us great harm. What I’ve seen is that some people are mysteriously moved to behave in terribly destructive ways, and these things lead me to believe that there are some powerfully dark forces that abide in human hearts.

I don’t understand demons, but I don’t think they are a product of primitive minds and imaginations. I’m conscious of an unwelcome stranger that abides within me that encourages me to live without any regard for God or other people. Gratefully I’m not overwhelmed by this hideous non-being. It doesn’t control my life, but I know it would love to be in charge, and it’s relatives are in charge of some people’s lives.

I don’t think much about demonic possession. I don’t have a theory of the design of the underworld, but it’s pretty clear to me that there are some unseen forces that move people in terrible ways. I don’t have to look beyond my own interior life to know of their existence, and I believe it’s the only way to describe what drives some people to live the way they live. It’s certainly the way the gospel writers understood what was going on in some people’s lives, and Jesus was understood to be a person who was able to miraculously extract demons from some people’s lives.

One of the interesting details of this morning’s story is the fact that Jesus intentionally entered a gentile region. This was a rare moment for Jesus. It’s the only time we know of that Jesus went out of his way to step in to a non-Jewish part of the world. We’re told that it was opposite from Galilee, and I think that was true on many different levels. Jesus stepped in to another world when he stepped out of the boat on to the shore of the Gerasenes, and the fact that there was a herd of pigs nearby indicates that this was not familiar territory for Jesus and his disciples. But there was one familiar situation and it was the way in which the demons inside of the unfortunate man recognized the authority of Jesus.

On the most fundamental level there are no differences between any of us. Jesus had no problem interacting with this gentile man because all of the layers of propriety were of no consequence. Jesus didn’t care that this man wasn’t an observant Jew. This man who lived naked among the tombs didn’t care where Jesus had come from. But they communicated on the most fundamental level. Jesus recognized how oppressed this man was, and the powers that oppressed this man recognized the power Jesus had to send them away. This is not an interaction that I fully understand, but it is something I sort of understand. I’ve never witnessed anything like this, but I don’t doubt that Jesus had such authority.

I don’t know how these things work, but I’m convinced that we don’t generate our own transformations. I’m not saying that there isn’t some wisdom to be found in the self-help section of Barnes and Noble, but I don’t believe we decide how to fix ourselves – at least not in the most profound ways. It seems to me that any significant change that happens in our lives comes to us from what you might call the other side.

This man who was infested by demons didn’t decide to invite Jesus to come over to his side of the lake to repair his broken life. This event wasn’t something he planned, nor was it something that was likely to happen. Jesus went out of his way to help this man, and I think that’s a lesson for us to hear and to celebrate. I don’t think any of us should despair over the fact that we often feel very helpless to repair the brokenness in our lives. This man and his friends had tried everything they knew to do to repair this broken man and it hadn’t worked. Chains couldn’t hold him. He had nothing that resembled life, but he wasn’t forgotten by God.

When the other residents of this part of the world asked Jesus to leave because of what he did to their herd of pigs, and the healed man wanted to go with him, Jesus told him to stay and to tell others what God had done for him. Jesus had gone to this other side of the lake in order to do the work of God.

I believe God often leads people in to the lives of other people in order for God to do the miraculous work of transformation. I believe one of the most valuable things that any of us can do is to encounter people who aren’t like us. Whoever you are, you need to get in touch with someone who isn’t like you. It’s people who come from the other side that can best help us see who we are, and who help us get over ourselves.

If you spend any amount of time around United Methodists you will hear someone talk about how much we value diversity. We United Methodists say that a lot. And to some extent there’s some truth in that. In fact I think it’s the diversity of our particular church that buys us some good will with Headquarters. QQUMC is like the poster-child for diversity in the church, and I’m not unhappy about that, but what I truly believe is that the best hope any of us have for getting over the various demons that reside in our own hearts is through the touch of people who are far different from ourselves.

There’s an unfortunate side of this story. It’s a portrayal of a bad day for some pigs and the people who were counting on taking those pigs to the market who weren’t so thrilled with what had occurred. I guess the truth is that we will always be struggling to deal with aphids and other unfortunate beings in this world. Demons are around and are hard for us to deal with, but God is paying attention and seeks to repair the damage that those evil forces are compelled to create. It’s often messy, pigs were sacrificed, but by the grace of God redemption and transformation happen.

Grace does enter our lives in mysterious ways, and if we are willing to get involved in the lives of other people we can be the bearers of that healing force as well. Pay attention to those opportunities that arise that will enable you to step over to the other side in some way, and don’t be surprised if God uses that opportunity to do some miraculous healing in the life of a desperate person – who may very well be yourself.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


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