I was not at Gants Hill this weekend, instead, I was preaching at Wanstead URC. I thought you might like to read a summary of my sermon.
Reading: Luke 8:26-39 (NIV)
Jesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man
They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
Doctor Luke wrote this Gospel around AD 60. It is fascinating a reading, posing questions, such as:
Jesus was clearly pushing the boundaries; he appears to have been deliberately trying to become ritually unclean: he was meeting Gentiles in a graveyard. Jesus has disturbed a community, he has disturbed the status quo and he is about to change one man's life forever but, in consequence, many people's lives will be changed, unwillingly.
Jesus drove the demons out of the man. Commentaries say there may have been between 2000 and 6000 pigs nearby and it is into them that the demons chose to go. The following destruction of the pigs to save the man was not welcomed. For the farmers, the economic cost of losing so many pigs must have been immense. I think Jesus freed the man and it was the demons who chose to enter the pigs, therefore, Jesus is not to blame for the subsequent financial disaster, however, I note that Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), an African theologian, and Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), an Italian theologian, interpreted this story to claim that Christians have total dominion over animals.
Jesus has performed an extreme makeover and now the man is at peace, wanting to follow Christ. Jesus, interestingly, sends him back, merely asking that he tell people about what Jesus has done to save him.
After this event, the disciples must be feeling very confused. In the previous chapter, Jesus healed a Roman centurion's servant at long distance, raised a widow's son from death in Nain, had his feet anointed, redefined what family meant and calmed a frightening storm. All this, as well as healing a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and raising a girl to life, showed the miraculous power of Jesus. His disciples must be wondering, "Who is this man?" They too, in Chapter 9, will be sent out in the name of Christ to do similar acts. What are the disciples to think? What would we think if we had witnessed the same miracles?
The reading does not ask us to convert anyone to Christ but simply requests that we tell people what Jesus has done and what difference he makes in our lives. That is all we, today, are asked to do; it is the Holy Spirit that converts, all we are asked to do is to proclaim the Gospel and tell of the difference Christ has made to us.
I have recently seen the film Rocketman. It was most enjoyable and Elton John, alongside being a musical genius, certainly had his demons, including drugs, sex, food and alcoholism. Having realised the destruction these addictions were having on his life, he took action to rid himself of these constraints. The film ends saying that he has been sober for twenty-eight years. This led me to research a little about Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Step programme they use as a framework of healing. Five of these contain God, with number three saying, "Make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand Him."
It was also interesting to note that the AA uses the Serenity Prayer at the beginning of their meetings. This prayer is written by Reinhold Niebuhr, the most well-known part being, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference." The prayer, I believe, is on the back of medals that are given out when people have achieved six or nine months of abstinence.
This lovely reading from Luke challenges us to look at our own lives and to examine our habits and the powers that control us. As Christians, we are encouraged to have values and beliefs that give hope for the future. The reading alongside Luke is Galatians 3:23-29 where, in essence, we are reminded that we were imprisoned by sin but our faith in Jesus is the key that has set us free. We must ensure that we grasp that freedom, enjoy God's love, allow ourselves to be clothed in Christ, which Colossians 3:12 reminds us is compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness all wrapped in love.
So, as we go about our lives, may we proudly show Christ's clothes as we live free of demons, and not fall back into the prison of sin.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon