I’m pretty sure before the Year of Mark I literally NEVER preached on this story before. And it’s one people are still talking about, months later!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 30, 2018
The Power Of God
I would like to begin this morning by sharing an email I sent on Wednesday to Nathan, Rich and Dan.
Hi All –
I hope you are having a great week and staying dry (insert joke about how many cubits the ark is here).
Here is the order of worship for this week – Charlotte Chaput is being baptized! Also – the scripture might be the strangest I have ever preached on. Rich and Dan – my apologies to whoever is reading.
See you on Sunday!
Our scripture reading for this morning has perplexed me all week, to the point of writing in my sermon notes, What the heck is actually happening right now? I think this is the gist: You’ve got demons in a man and then Jesus talking to either the man or the demon (that part really isn’t all that clear) and then the demons jump into a bunch of pigs and then the pigs fall off a cliff and drown.
And do you want to know what the worst part is? For those of you who might be newer to the church, we started something called The Year Of Mark in July, where we started at the beginning of Mark and are going to spend the entire year preaching through it. So, to a large extent, I do not have much control over what the scriptures are from week to week. And what are the odds that this story happens to pop up on a weekend where we likely have visitors in worship for a baptism?
I mean, seriously.
So to all of Charlotte’s family and friends who gathered here today for her joyous occasion, please know that we do not normally talk about drowning pigs with evil spirits. We are simply trying to familiarize ourselves with and understand the stories of Jesus. You just happened to catch us on something of a strange week.
Let’s first talk about what is going on in this scripture and try to understand the story, itself. Basically, as soon as his adult ministry began, Jesus began traveling around, preaching the Good News of God’s love, teaching in parables and performing acts of healing. He has now arrived in a country called Garasa, which today is known as Jerash, which is a city in Jordan. Drowning pigs aside, there are some geographical details about this story that do not necessarily make sense. Up until this point, Jesus had been traveling by way of boat on the Sea of Galilee. But Jerash is located about 30 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, which is kind of perplexing and really not something I have an explanation for (but is worth mentioning anyway).
Regardless, Jesus has very clearly entered a Gentile territory; we know this because of the presence of pigs (may they rest in peace), which would not have been permitted in a Jewish area. What this tells us is that the geographical spread of Jesus’ ministry is becoming more widespread. He is not simply preaching to Jewish communities, but now Gentile communities, as well.
As strange as this story is, it is considered one of the miracle stories of the Gospel. After all, Jesus not only exorcised evil spirits from a man, but, in doing so, he also rid the world of the evil spirits (which, by the way, is a much nicer way of putting it than saying he drowned them). This particular miracle story is one of the longest and most vivid; here the Gospel of Mark continues to unfold the mystery and the power of Jesus.
Jesus arrived in Gerasa and was immediately met by a man who was possessed by an evil spirit. The story says that the man lived among the tombs, that because of the evil spirit that was in him, he could not be restrained. He broke the chains and shackles people used to try to keep him under control, he screamed and he injured himself.
In a bizarre way, this story sets us up to see just how powerful Jesus is. Because do you know what happened when Jesus arrived? The evil spirit recognized him.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’
The spirit was pleading with Jesus, because according to this story, in verse 8, Jesus had already called the spirits out of the man. And yes, I said, spirits – plural; Jesus asked the spirit what his name was and he replied, Legion, which is a Latin word that refers to a large military presence. This name tells us just how many evil spirits were in this man and the power that theyhad, which, again, points us back to seeing justhow powerful Jesusis.
Because Jesus not only was not afraid of these spirits, but he took control of them. Jesus gave the spirits permission to enter a herd of pigs, where they met their demise, falling down a bank and drowning in a lake.
Let’s recap what has happened so far:
- Jesus entered Gentile territory for the first time.
- Jesus came face to face (?) with an army of evil spirits.
- Jesus proved, yet again, that evil will not win; that the Good News of God’s light, love and grace will prevail.
This is cause for celebration, right? The Gerasene people should have pulled out the confetti canons and called people into the streets for a celebration, right?
But that was not what happened.
The swineheards – the people who raised and herded the pigs – scattered in different directions and told people in the city and in the country what had happened and people returned with them to see for themselves. And when they saw Jesus and the man who had been possessed by the spirits sitting together, they were not excited or relieved or ready to proclaim any kind of Good News.
They were afraid.
The did not want to hear what Jesus had to say; they did not care that this man that had been formerly possessed by evil spirits was healed; they did not even want to celebrate the fact that the evil spirits were gone.
They were afraid. They rejected Jesus. They asked – they begged – Jesus to leave.
Jesus had just done something incredibly powerful and life-changing in their midst and instead of rejoicing in the victory over evil, people rejected Jesus.
I wonder how many times God has done something incredibly powerful and life-changing in our midst and instead of rejoicing in that victory, we, too, respond with fear and rejection.
Sure, the man was possessed by evil spirits, but that is what they knew, that is what they were comfortable with. They did not know Jesus or the Good News he was proclaiming. That was not comfortable at all; that was different, that was scary, and that was going to possibly require something new of them.
This story has a lot to teach us about how we respond when God is doing incredibly powerful and life-changing things in our midst. How will we respond? Will we be open to this movement? Will we celebrate the victory, even if we do not understand it? Will we proclaim the Good News so that others will know of God’s light, love and grace?
Or will we beg Jesus to leave?
The craziest part about this whole story is that the important part wasn’t really the exorcism itself that mattered, but what happened afterwards.
This story raises a really challenging question about how we respond to God’s movement; how we welcome the presence of Christ and the real-life application of the Gospel in our world.
This is powerful; Jesus did not just feed people and cure them of their ailments, he casted out evil in jaw-dropping ways. And in doing so, he made a bold declaration that proclaiming the Good News of God is not just about trying to be a good person and help people, it is about believing, at our very core, that God is more powerful than evil and that we, as Christians, are called to share this message with others.
Remember that when Jesus got in his boat to leave, the man who had been possessed by the demon begged Jesus to let him go with him. But Jesus did not let him get in the boat.
Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.
We have to tell people about our faith, about our church and about our God that inspires the very depth of our being. Is this easy? No. Is it scary? Often times, yes. I think sometimes we even try to water down the message of Christianity because we do not want other people to think we are a crazy religious person, but in doing so, I think we are lessening God’s power in this world – God’s life-changing power.
What is God doing in your life right now? What is God doing at this church right now?
We cannot be afraid. We cannot be afraid to accept what God is doing in our midst. It might be new, it might be scary and it might make us uncomfortable. But we cannot be afraid. Because the moment we let fear dictate our faith, we will inhibit ourselves from realizing the true depth of our faith.
And that is the kind of faith that can move mountains.
Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to see God, recognize God, know God and tell the world what God is doing in your midst.
Thanks be to God!