June 23, 2013
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side. Why did the fox cross the road? To get to the chicken. I’m sure you have heard many variations on this theme.
Today we will think about what we have to cross to share the love of Jesus with people who are hungry for love. What keeps us from crossing? What can get us across?
In order to understand the story of the man with a legion of demons in Luke 8:26-39, we need to start back at verse 22 and ask, why did Jesus cross the lake? As a skillful story teller, Luke repeats certain words to weave the themes of this story together to answer that question.
Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and told them to cross to the other side, which was Gentile territory. On the way a powerful storm threated to swamp the boat, and the disciples were terrified. When Jesus calmed the storm they were amazed and even more afraid.
Then 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 how much Jesus had done for him.
In our culture we fuss about things like trying to explain the demons and figuring out who will pay for the drowned pigs. We need to let go of those issues so we can learn for ourselves that Jesus’ love carries us across our fears to share that love with people who are hungry for love.
Did you hear these words: fear, beg, seize, clothes?
Fear connects the disciples and the people of the Gerasenes. The disciples were afraid they would perish in the storm, but when Jesus calmed the storm they were afraid of someone who had more power than the storm. The people were so afraid of the man with the legion of demons they guarded and bound him, and when the demons seized him he broke the bonds. But when Jesus freed him from the demons, the people were seized with great fear of someone more powerful than the demons.
The demons begged Jesus not to torment them (v. 28), not to order them back into the abyss (v. 31) and to be allowed to enter the swine (v. 32). Jesus seems to have complied with their begging, but being drown in the lake is symbolically equivalent with being returned to the abyss. The people asked Jesus to leave them – a different word than “beg” but still strong language, and again Jesus complied and returned to Galilee. But the man from whom the demons had gone begged to be with Jesus (v. 38), and Jesus refused and sent him home to declare how much God had done for him (v. 39).
When the man with the legion of demons first met Jesus, he had worn no clothes for a long time (v. 27). But when the demons had gone, he sat at Jesus feet, clothed and in his right mind. Did you hear this echo from our reading in Galatians 3:27? In baptism we are clothed with Christ.
Jesus sent the man home to declare how much God had done for him, and he proclaimed throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. Luke is purposely equating Jesus with God and asking us, “How much has Jesus done for you lately? Have you proclaimed how much Jesus has done for you?”
When the people found the man sitting at the feet of Jesus, did you think of Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus sitting at Jesus’ feet in Luke 10:39? It is a distinctly Lucian image of being enthralled and absorbed with the presence and words of Jesus. This is not a picture of religious obligation but of captivating love.
The man who was freed from the legion of demons begged to be with Jesus, but the people who witnessed his liberation asked Jesus to get away from them. We’d all like to think we’d be begging to be with Jesus, but if we think Jesus might ask too much of us or frighten us with power beyond our control or comfort, we might just beg Jesus to leave us alone.
Ironically, Jesus complied with the begging of the demons but refused when the man he freed from the demons begged to be with him. Yes, Jesus delights when we want to be with him, but he has bigger plans. He wants us to proclaim how much he has done for us. Jesus’ love is what carries us across our fears to share that love with people who are hungry for love.
So why did Jesus cross the lake? He made his disciples work and go through a frightening storm to love one pathetic man who was a despised Gentile and terrified his neighbors.
Our call to worship from 1 John 4 tells us that the opposite of fear is not courage but love. “Perfect love casts out fear.” (v. 18) A mother does not rush into the street to sweep her child from in front of a speeding car because she is brave. No, love pushes all fear to the side. In disasters such as 9-11 or the recent Oklahoma tornados, first responders do not enter collapsing buildings as a show of courage but motivated by love to rescue as many as possible, even if they don’t know them.
The time of transition between pastors can be filled with fear for a congregation. The future can seem bleak. Conflict can seem more likely than consensus. I may not feel comfortable in the future God is opening ahead of us. God may expect more of me than I am prepared or able to give. A release of God’s power may be overwhelming. Love, not courage, carries us over these fears. Love for each other in the congregation, and even more, love for spiritually hungry people who need to meet Jesus.
For a church to fear for its survival during the interim between pastors is only natural. But mere survival is an inadequate incentive for all of the work and courage that the interim journey between pastors requires. Only love for the spiritually hungry people of Odessa is strong enough to carry you over the fears that loom ahead.
Jesus didn’t offer the man a comfortable companionship but sent him on a challenging mission of extending the love he had received to the very people who were afraid of Jesus. “Declare how much God has done for you.” Jesus’ love is what carries us across our fears to share that love with people who are hungry for love.