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What does it mean for us to live a resurrected life in our time? Is God’s power still relevant and active in our world today?
This Sunday, we delve into the story of the demon-possessed man who had a lifechanging encounter with Jesus. What demons do you battle and what could Jesus’ resurrection power mean for you?
So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes.[a] 2 When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil[b] spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. 4 Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones.
6 When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. 7 With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.” 9 Then Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”
And he replied, “My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.” 10 Then the evil spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place. 11 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. 12 “Send us into those pigs,” the spirits begged. “Let us enter them.” 13 So Jesus gave them permission. The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water. 14 The herdsmen fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened. 15 A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. 16 Then those who had seen what happened told the others about the demonpossessed man and the pigs. 17 And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone. 18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. 19 But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” 20 So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns[c] of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.
While crossing the lake with his disciples, Jesus had just calmed a huge storm, and as they landed in the region of the Gerasenes, a demon-possessed man ran out to meet him. This is obviously a person who has been suffering terribly – someone who has lost his identity. He has no home, no family, no place in society. He is the ultimate outcast, not treated as a human being, overcome by forces beyond his control. Can you picture him in your mind? He is naked, unpredictable, chained up but strong enough to break his chains, alone, living among the dead.
Quite a scary person to be part of the welcome team but he is the one who rushes up to Jesus when Jesus steps out of the boat. He throws himself at Jesus’ feet and screams at the top of his lungs,
“Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”
Remember, they are just getting off of the boat after Jesus had calmed the storm and the disciples were a little freaked out, wondering “who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him” (4:41) and they are immediately confronted by this deranged looking man who is clearly screaming out Jesus’ identity as the Son of the Most High God. It’s weird, but out of all the characters in the Gospels who encounter Jesus, the ones who most reliably know who he is are not the religious authorities or even Jesus’ own disciples. They are the demons.
Question 1 (Open)
Why do you think it’s significant that the demons clearly know who Jesus is?
The demons not only recognize Jesus. They always recognize Jesus’ authority. And we are told that the demons are afraid of Jesus. What about today? How do you understand demons and what forms do you think they take?
Question 2 (Word Cloud)
Do you think demons exist today and what forms do you think they take?
Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber talked about how she struggled with how to think about demons, until she remembered a time when her depression felt so much like a character in her life that it seemed appropriate to give it a name. She called it Francis.
Back then during Bible times, they didn’t know much about epilepsy or mental illness and they classified everything they couldn’t understand under demon possession.
So I am not denying the possibility of demon possession nor am I diminishing the miraculous healing at all. Instead, I want to challenge us to think more broadly about Jesus’ sovereignty over the powers that destroy human life. Like Bolz Weber explained, it doesn’t as much matter what a demon is as what a demon does. “Demons are things that isolate us, that separate us, that cause us pain, that make us feel vulnerable and powerless and weak. Be they depression, addiction, stereotypes, or corrupt systems, demons are the things that keep us from living the kinds of lives of connection and richness and freedom that God wants for us.”
From the moment that the demoniac first confronts Jesus, the whole episode invites us to consider what Jesus has to do with the forces that occupy and control us.
How many people in our world suffer from addictions, compulsions, depression or anxiety? How many are haunted by a traumatic past? How many are homeless or live below the poverty line because of social and economic forces that they cannot overcome, no matter how hard they struggle? Where do occupying armies still brutalize entire communities and hold them captive to fear?
When Jesus asks the demon for its name, they reply, “Legion, for we are many.” The name Legion brings to mind the Roman army and while it’s likely that we are meant to think that there are as many demons as soldiers in a legion (6000), it’s also possible that the story as a whole is meant to convey a confrontation between Jesus and the Roman Empire. Coincidentally, one of the legions stationed in Palestine had as its figurehead a boar, and more generally, a fertile sow was one of the ancient symbols of Rome. So while Jesus is confronting the powers of the demonic, he is also confronting imperial power in this story.
Naming Our Demons
Mark suggests that the first and perhaps most important step is to name the demons in our midst. By naming and identifying them, we begin to have power over them. We can see in our news the consequences when people are too afraid or unwilling to name evil—it is allowed to grow and become more powerful.
There is something about naming our demons that somehow lessens some of their power over us. Perhaps when we’re able to identify what has a hold over us, its grip loosens a little because we’re finally able to confront our fears. And when we’re able to confront what we fear most, perhaps that is the first step towards reclaiming our identities and well-being.
Question 3 (Open)
What demons do you battle?
For some of us, it may be addictions, compulsions, depression or anxiety – things that have taken hold of us, making it hard for us to function well. Or maybe you love things, or substances or people that are really destructive. On a milder level, we may numb ourselves with all kinds of distractions so we don’t have to sit with our difficult emotions like grief, anger or sadness.
I want to pause here and talk a little about mental illness. I read about the demoniac cutting himself with sharp stones and it reminded me of the self-harm behaviour that we continue to see in modern day. Even in the Church, there is a lot of stigma and misunderstanding around mental illness and issues like suicide. I am talking about this today because the shame and stigma associated with mental illness creates real barriers to getting treatment as people stay silent for fear of being judged, rejected or called names behind their backs.
So let me be clear — mental illness is not a sin and it’s definitely not due to sin.
For too long the Church has interpreted mental illness as the result of sin. Today we know much more about the human brain. We know that our mental health has to do with the health of our physical brain, and mental illness like depression, for example, is due to a complex web of causes such as environmental, hereditary, experiential, and other causes. Mental illness often makes it harder to be confident in God’s love because of the ways it damages our self-esteem; and we may find it hard to understand or accept God’s unconditional love. So I want to make it very clear that our sufferings related to mental illness are not punishments from God and are not the fault of our own moral or spiritual “failings.”
Also, in the history of the Church, suicide has sometimes been considered a sin. But if we have personally been through depression or watched a loved one suffer while they are battling depression, how can we feel anything but compassion for someone who might be feeling suicidal? Suicide is not a sin and having suicidal feelings is not a moral failing. God sees you just as Jesus saw the man living at the tombs. Jesus really saw him – all of him – and ministered to him because he is precious to God. God looks at you with all the love and compassion that Jesus expressed in his many encounters with people in the Gospels. If you are struggling with mental health issues in this season of your life, I want you to know that there is no shame in it at all. We stand with you and as a community, we want you to know you are not alone. You are God’s beloved, no matter what you are going through.
Jesus comes to challenge and cast out every power that prevents us from living fully and freely as human beings created in God’s image. And he does it with so much compassion. Just as he did with the woman who had the flow of blood for many years, he raised up the dignity of this man who had been held captive by demons and sets him free!
Jesus continues to have the power to set us free today – be they political, mental or spiritual forces that seek to wreck havoc in our lives.
So what would healing look like today? Can Jesus heal us and set us free? Yes. Will it be immediate healing like it was with the demoniac? Maybe but often healing doesn’t happen in the way we think. Sarah Griffith Lund, a UCC pastor who grew up with a father who suffered from bipolar disorder, and then later, an older brother who did as well, said:
“Faith is not an anti-depressant. It cannot be swallowed in order to rewire our brains for happiness. Rather, faith allows us to accept the coexistence of God and suffering. We do not have to choose between two realities, because if we did, God would have to go. There is no way we could deny the existence of suffering. I believe God exists in this messed-up world, and, in the moments of greatest pain, God is there to wipe away our tears.”
Sarah Griffith Lund, Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family and Church
It may be that healing is the strength to endure another day. It may be that healing is the courage to make difficult decisions based on love for those who struggle with addiction and other demons. Jesus looks at each person who is suffering and sees people who are beloved children of God, worthy of love, worthy of healing, worthy of community. And I believe that as the church, as the Body of Christ, that’s how we are called to see each other as well – to help share each other’s pain, see each other’s gifts, and acknowledge the image of God that each one of us bears.
And that means making room for the different stories that each one of us brings – including the stories that are sometimes hard to talk about, including the stories where mental illness is a part. Here, we don’t need to pretend not to be broken. We don’t need to pretend to be satisfied with easy answers. We do need to listen, and pray for one another, and remind one another that we don’t need to be whole to be loved.
When we think about the Geresene demoniac, we think about someone who was completely isolated – who was out of control, alone and in pain. And if being out of control and alone and in pain was what the demon wanted, then I think it makes complete sense that the demon feared Jesus. Because whenever Jesus healed people, he does not just cure people’s diseases and cast out their demons and then says “All done”…Jesus is always after something more than that…because the healing is never fully accomplished until there is a restoration to community. In Jesus’ ministry, community is always a part of healing. The final step of healing is to end their isolation, to restore the person to their community. If the effect of a demon is isolation, the cure is connectivity.
The Opposite of Addiction is Not Sobriety – It Is Human Connection
Some of you may have watched the TED Talk titled “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong,” before but British journalist Johann Hari discusses the available research into the underlying causes of addiction and concludes, rather brilliantly, that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s human connection. His statement echoes a theme that many addiction specialists have talked about for years — that addiction is not about the pleasurable effects of substances, it’s about the user’s inability to connect in healthy ways with other human beings. In other words, addiction is not a substance disorder, it’s a social disorder.
Demons are not kept at bay alone, but in the midst of a community.
In the story today, Jesus confronted the demons, and the demons knew they were defeated. And so, in order to avoid destruction, they begged Jesus to let them enter a herd of pigs. Jesus gave them permission, and the pigs rushed down the banks into the lake and were drowned.
After the demons leave, the man is restored to his senses. Luke describes him sitting at Jesus’ feet, calm, clothed and in his right mind. This is the posture of a disciple. When the people see him healed, they are fearful and beg Jesus to leave their region. This story is intriguing in many ways but I’m most intrigued by the response of the townspeople. They see the demoniac clothed, in his right mind, and sitting at Jesus’ feet and they are afraid.
Question 4 (Multiple Choice)
After seeing the healing of the demon-possessed man, why do you think the people were filled with fear and pleaded with Jesus to leave their region?
They fear the fact that their economic livelihood has been destroyed by the loss of their pigs. Add to that the fear of the unknown. We can understand that. We are frightened by things we do not understand, and things that interrupt our predictable lives, even if it is for someone’s good. Where does this power come from? What if it turns against me? What does this power want?
Jesus is a foreigner here, an outsider. He comes for no apparent reason, or perhaps only for this reason, to encounter this man who was possessed by demons. He heals him, restores him to his senses and to his community and in doing so, he isn’t just threatening a way of life or economic well-being, he is threatening the very order of the universe. He demonstrates his power over the forces of evil, demonstrates that many of the assumptions the inhabitants of this place held dear, can no longer be taken for granted. If the demons obey him, what else might he be capable of? What other trouble might he stir up?
This story also challenges us and our assumptions. Do we find it hard to believe that Jesus has the same power to heal and set us free today?
The Gerasenes beg Jesus to leave their region and he makes preparations to do as they have asked. The man who was healed begs to go along with him. But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.”
Question 5 (Open)
Why might the healed man be reluctant to go back to the community he terrorised?
If we put ourselves in his shoes, we can imagine how unbelievably difficult it would have been for the demoniac to return to his home town where he was so well known. Notorious for being the insane one who was so crazy he had to be isolated from the rest of his community. The one whose healing cost the townspeople their living. It would have been much easier for him to start a new life elsewhere where no one knew him. But Jesus knew it was an important part of the healing process for the man to return to his community and start speaking to others about his healing.
It would take tremendous courage but it would make such a difference to him and to the community who knew him and what he was like before, and thus could testify to the power of his transformation and healing!
We are told that the man obeyed what Jesus commanded him and started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region. And he began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.
We know the impact he has on his community and the neighbouring towns is great because in Mark 6, we read that the next time Jesus steps out of a boat in Gerasene, people recognize him immediately and run “throughout that whole region bringing the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was… begging him to let them touch even the fringe of his robe…”(Mark 6:55, 56) The man who was healed had changed the minds of the people of Gerasene by the telling of his story and the witness of his life. And many others were healed too because of him.
What about you? If you have experienced what it means to be healed and set free, will you go out with courage and tell your friends and loved ones what God has done for you? Will you witness to Jesus’ resurrection power so that others may be healed and
set free too?
Jesus, healer of mind and body, we sometimes suffer at the hands of physical, mental, and spiritual ailments. Quiet our minds, still our hearts, and empower our bodies so that we may be whole and healed. Help us know the power of your resurrection in a real way today. Set us free! And help us have the courage to tell others what you have done for us. Amen.
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