FIRST READING Isaiah 65:1–9
1 I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name. 2 I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; 3 a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks; 4 who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels; 5 who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all day long. 6 See, it is written before me:
I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their laps 7 their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together, says the LORD; because they offered incense on the mountains and reviled me on the hills, I will measure into their laps full payment for their actions.
8 Thus says the LORD:
As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, “Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,”
so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. 9 I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall settle there.
PSALM Psalm 22:19–28
19 But you, O LORD, be not far away; O my help, hasten to my aid.
20 Deliver me from the sword, my life from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth! From the horns of wild bulls you have rescued me.
22 I will declare your name to my people; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the LORD, give praise! All you of Jacob’s line, give glory. Stand in awe of the LORD, all you offspring of Israel.
24 For the LORD does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither is the LORD’s face hidden from them; but when they cry out, the LORD hears them.
25 From you comes my praise in the great assembly; I will perform my vows in the sight of those who fear the LORD.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied. Let those who seek the LORD give praise! May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; all the families of nations shall bow before God.
28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, who rules over the nations.
SECOND READING Galatians 3:23–29
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There 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. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
GOSPEL Luke 8:26–39
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.
A TORTURED MAN
I have to admit, having the name I do, does have its advantages. Of course I get the questions like, “How’s Cujo?”, or “How’s Christine running?”, “Any new books about to come out?” You can guess the rest. However, it has been fun as well. For example, when we were stationed in New Jersey, we lived for a time on Elm St. We did have a good time at Halloween when it dawned on people that Steven King lived on Elm St! However, besides having the same name as the author, we share little else in common. He’s a writer of horror novels and I can’t stand anything that has to do with that genre; either in print or on the big screen. I’ve only read one Stephen King book and seen one horror film, The Exorcist. The book scared the stuffing out of me and I had to leave the movie. For me horror is one thing, when the story includes demonic possession, well that a whole new level. And to be honest, I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t taken our gospel lesson for today and made a movie about it.
He’s a tortured man! His hair is tossed and tousled. His beard appears shaggy and matted with debris. His eyes stare saucer-like and hypnotic, betraying his clueless and clotheless dilemma. He beats and cuts himself with sharp rocks until blood flows, clots, and flows again. Blue bruises dot his skin like a leopard’s spots. He lives in the cemetery. Imagined or real zombies are his friends. Gerasene citizens try to contain him, but their shackles and chains crack and break by his strange and superior strength. How does one control craziness? How do you manage chaos?
Pilgrims avoid the area. They’re clearly afraid. The local villagers know the situation is beyond their scope. Do they realize “satanas” is at work? “What is your name?” Jesus asks. “Legion” he shouts back for he knows many, many demons entered him and possessed him (v. 30b). Since “Legion” represents 6,000 soldiers in a typical Roman army, darkness is truly in charge. Envision 6,000 bats in a dark cave and one can begin to imagine “Legion.” Demons, like bats, favor darkness and despise the Light.
The noted author, John Killinger, tells a powerful story about a man who is all-alone in a hotel room in Canada. The man is in a deep state of depression. He’s so depressed that he can’t even bring himself to go downstairs to the restaurant to eat. He’s a powerful man usually the chairman of a large shipping company, but at this moment, he’s absolutely overwhelmed by the pressures and demands of life… and he lies there on a lonely hotel bed far from home wallowing in self-pity.
All of his life, he has been fastidious, worrying about everything, anxious and fretful, always fussing and stewing over every detail. And now, at mid-life, his anxiety has gotten the best of him, even to the extent that it’s difficult for him to sleep and to eat. He worries and broods and agonizes about everything, his business, his investments, his decisions, his family, his health, even, his dogs. Then, on this day in this Canadian hotel, he craters. He hits bottom. Filled with anxiety, completely immobilized, paralyzed by his emotional despair, unable to leave his room, lying on his bed, he moans out loud: “Life isn’t worth living this way, I wish I were dead!”
And then, he wonders, what God would think if he heard him talking this way. Speaking aloud again he says, “God, it’s a joke, isn’t it? Life is nothing but a joke.” Suddenly, it occurs to the man that this is the first time he’s talked to God since he was a little boy. He’s silent for a moment and then he begins to pray. He describes it like this: “I just talked out loud about what a mess my life was in and how tired I was and how much I wanted things to be different in my life. And you know what happened next? A voice!! I heard a voice say, ‘It doesn’t have to be that way!’ That’s all.”
He went home and talked to his wife about what happened. He talked to his brother who is a minister and asked him: “Do you think it was God speaking to me?” The brother said: “Of course, because that’s the message of God to you and every one of us. That’s the message of the Bible. That’s why Jesus Christ came into the world to save us, to deliver us, to free us, to change us and to show us that, ‘It doesn’t have to be that way.’ A few days later, the man called his brother and said, “You were right. It has really happened. I’ve done it. I’ve had a rebirth. I’m a new man. Christ has turned it around for me.”
The man is still prone to anxiety. He still has to work hard. But, now he has a source of strength. During the week, he often leaves his work-desk and goes to the church near his office. He sits there and prays. He says: “It clears my head. It reminds me of who I am and whose I am. Each time as I sit there in the Sanctuary, I think back to that day in that hotel room in Canada and how depressed and lonely and lost I felt and I hear that voice saying: It doesn’t have to be that way.'” That’s precisely what this story in Luke 8 is all about.
Christ walks into the tormented life of the Gerasene demoniac, this madman, whose life is coming apart at the seams and He turns it around for him. He gives him a new beginning, a new start, a new birth. At the beginning of the narrative, it sounds like a horror-story. This wild-eyed, adrenalin-filled, madman comes running and shrieking out of the tomb. He’s unbalanced; he’s convinced that he’s being held captive by a whole legion of demons, who are pulling and jerking him in every direction.
This is an eerie, grim, suspenseful, frightening situation. Jesus and His disciples have just come through a storm on the Sea of Galilee. It’s nighttime and having survived that frightening storm they’re thrilled to now set foot on solid ground. But, as they get out of the boat, they encounter a different kind of storm… yet another scary experience. They hear strange sounds coming from the tombs… shrieks, growls, screams, moans, the rattling of chains. Then, suddenly, a horrifying sight. A madman with tattered clothes, bruised, dirty, bloody and battered with pieces of chains dangling from his arms and ankles, comes running and screaming directly toward them!
Now, let me ask you something: “What would you have done in that situation?” This was a perilous place, a bloodcurdling moment… a powerful, dangerous, berserk man, charging them. Many I bet would have run for their lives… or jumped back in the boat. But not Jesus!
Jesus stood His ground and faced the madman. Undaunted, unafraid… Jesus stood there and dealt with this wild man. But more importantly, Jesus healed him. He brought peace to his troubled soul. He changed him. He cleansed him. He turned his life around… and He can do the same for anyone who simply recognizes Jesus for who He is; the Son of the most high God. With this in mind let’s look at three ideas out of this great story. First, you don’t have to be at war with yourself.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Notice here in Luke that the Gerasene demoniac, this madman, was at war with himself. He was hurting himself, bruising himself, injuring himself. How often we do that! As Pogo put it: “We have met the enemy and he is us!!”
One day a young father was shopping in a crowded super-market. His three-year old son was with him. The little boy was riding in the grocery cart… and he was misbehaving terribly and causing all kinds of problems. Every time the father would put something into the cart, the little boy would grab it and throw it back out. If the cart went close to the shelves, the three-year old boy would just rake stuff off onto the floor. At one point, the little boy crawled out of the cart and ran down the aisle, knocking over every display he could get his hands on, with his father in hot pursuit.
People in the store at the time could hear the father saying out loud over and over, “Just be patient, Tommy. It won’t be much longer Tommy. It’ll be O.K., Tommy. Be calm, Tommy. Hang in there, Tommy.” Finally, a distinguished looking woman came up to the man and she said: “I just want to compliment you. I’ve been watching you and I want you to know that I admire you and the remarkable patience you have with little Tommy.” “O, but Lady,” the man said. “You don’t understand.” His name is Michael. I’m Tommy!!!” Now that’s a smart man! He was right to start with himself. If we’re going to set a problem right, we have to get ourselves set right first.
Some time ago, a young doctor came to see his pastor. He was down in the dumps, at his wit’s end. He said: “Everything’s gone wrong. I’ve lost confidence in my professional ability… my wife has left me. I can’t get along with my children. I’m cut off from my parents and my in-laws. I’m having conflicts with my co-workers. I’ve been drinking heavily. Everybody has left me… and I don’t blame them. I’ve been bitter and hostile. I’ve done so many mean and cruel things… and now I have so many problems (and then he literally said this)…. “My troubles are Legion!” He paused and took a deep breath. Then, he leaned forward and said: “To tell you the truth, I think all those problems and troubles are symptoms. My real problem is that I don’t like myself… and that taints everything I touch and do.”
He was probably right. When we’re at war with ourselves, it smudges and distorts every relationship. On the other hand, when we feel good about ourselves, we are more loving, more patient, more thoughtful, more gracious… toward everyone we see.
Do we want to feel good about ourselves? Do we want to like ourselves more? Do we want to stop bruising and hurting ourselves? Do we want to be at peace within? If so, then remember this: “We are special to God. He loves us! We are extremely valuable to Him! He claims each of us as His child!” If you ever doubt that or wonder about that, recall the story about the old man who was brought to a hospital emergency room late one evening, an apparent mugging victim.
He looked like one of the homeless. He was ill-clothed and dirty and disheveled, battered… and appeared to be unconscious. One of the young medical students took one look at him and said: “What in the world should we do with this worthless wretch?” The old man opened his eyes slightly and in an amazingly strong voice said, “Call him not worthless for whom Christ died!” We don’t have to be at war with ourselves…. It doesn’t have to be that way. We are special to God and that makes each of us supremely valuable. Second, we don’t have to be at war with other people.
It doesn’t have to be that way. St. Luke records for us that, Legion, the madman, was very much at war with other people. He’d been cast out of society… chained, shackled, exiled to the tombs, constantly doing battle with other people… here in this story he runs out toward Jesus and His disciples looking for a fight. Isn’t it amazing how crossways and estranged and hostile people can get?
Once on 20/20 episode they did a program called “Neighbors at War”… showing how next-door neighbors do battle with one another, fighting one another, fussing at one another, suing one another, sometimes even shooting at one another because of a barking dog, or a noisy power tool or a bouncing basketball. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn to befriend one another, to respect one another, to love one another?
A city newspaper had an article about a young man from a wealthy family who was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighborhood for the parents to give the graduate an automobile. “Bill” and his father had spent months looking at cars… and the week before graduation they found the perfect car. Bill was certain that on graduation night that car would be his. After the graduation ceremonies, Bill’s father handed him a gift-wrapped Bible! Bill was so furious that he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house. He and his father never spoke again, never saw each other again. His parents tried to reach him, but Bill refused to speak to them or see them… or read their letters.
When his parents died, Bill came home. As he sat one night going through his father’s possessions that he was to inherit, he came across the Bible his father had given him for graduation. Bill brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier’s check…dated the day of his graduation – in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together! Isn’t that sad? Isn’t that pitiful? Isn’t that tragic? I hope Bill read that Bible cover to cover… because it has many lessons he needed to learn that all of us need to learn, one of them being: You don’t have to be at war with other people. It doesn’t have to be that way! Third and finally, you don’t have to be at war with God.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In today’s reading, Legion, the madman, is also cut off from God. “What have you to do with me?… don’t torment me,” he says to Jesus. Carl Michalson, a brilliant young theologian who died in a plane crash some years ago, once told about playing with his young son one afternoon. They were tussling playfully on their front lawn when Dr. Michalson accidentally hit the young boy in the face with his elbow. It was a sharp blow full to his son’s face. The little boy was stunned by the impact of the elbow. It hurt… and he was just about to burst into tears. But then, he looked into his father’s eyes and instead of anger or hostility, he saw there his father’s sympathy and concern; he saw there his father’s love and compassion. Then, instead of exploding into tears, the little boy suddenly burst into laughter. What he saw in his father’s eyes… made all the difference! This is one of the reasons Jesus is so important to us.
He lets us look into the Father’s eyes! When we look at Jesus we see what God is like and what God wants us to be like! Jesus shows us the love, the compassion, the concern and the empathy in the Father’s eyes… and that’s the good news of our faith. Jesus reveals that God looks at us not with angry, vengeful, condemning eyes, but with the eyes of love. So, we don’t have to be at war with ourselves, we don’t have to be at war with other people, we don’t have to be at war with God. Jesus comes into our lives, just as He came into Legion’s life, saying: “It doesn’t have to that way!”