“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God”

John Torgerson,  June 19, 2016 United Presbyterian, Wisconsin Dells, Guest Speaker

Jesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man - Luke 8 - Gospel for fifth Sunday after Pentecost

26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 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. 28 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!” 29 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.

30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

32 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. 33 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.

34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 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. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 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.

38 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.

 

One of the great truths I learned in my first preaching class is that the congregation will forgive you if you don’t mention fathers on Father’s day.  But if you don’t mention Mothers on Mother’s Day, they will never forgive you.   So I will mention fathers a bit today - just to be safe.

I will begin with a little story.  I’m a member of a small group of clergy and Christian counselors and Christian chaplains in the Dells and Baraboo area that advise Hope House on planning Hope House educational events.  Hope House is an advocate for women who are in abusive relationships.  We call ourselves Faith Leaders for Healthy Relationships.  (We are on a low budget so we couldn’t hire an ad agency to come up with a better name.)   And in one meeting we were discussing presentations given by Christian pastors at these events.   And I said that if Christian pastors are doing a presentation they should not sound like a secular counselor doing a presentation - at least for part of the presentation, if not the whole presentation.

Silence....  So I decided to get off the soap box.

At the end of the meeting one female pastor wanted to share what one young lady in her youth group was doing.  And that young lady was organizing a “No name-calling day” in her school as an anti-bullying effort.  And the pastor was excited for that youth group member - and she had every right to join that young lady in her enthusiasm.

And that gave me an opening to get back on my soap box.  And I said something like this:  (although a bit embellished as I had more time to compose this)

This is a great thing to do in a secular public school culture.  But in a Christian youth group we can appeal to the Gospel.  We can remind them that at the Cross Jesus said “It is finished.”  Jesus has forgiven our sins past, present and future.  Jesus loves us unconditionally.  And Jesus is fully God and fully man so God loves and forgives unconditionally.  We are all on level ground at the foot of the cross.  And anyone in the youth who bullies another person doesn’t believe that we are all on level ground at the foot of the cross.  Rather, a bully likes to engage in power plays.  In other words, he doesn’t believe in Jesus.   And if the person being bullied also doesn’t believe in Jesus then we have a power play between two people. BUT if a believer gets bullied by a non-believer, the believer will try to respond in a way that the non-believer has a stepping stone to becoming a believer.   And there are no rules to this game.  Every relationship with another person is different.   We have to listen to the Holy Spirit.  How do we discern the Spirits voice?  The Spirit speaks with a Gospel accent!

And they seemed to say, “That makes sense”.

That’s what sharing the Gospel is all about - and it doesn’t mean that we preach a sermon - we may not even mention the words "Gospel" or the name "Jesus" until that person starts to realize that we are marching to a different beat than most people.

So what Jesus has done in this story is history.  Jesus went to the Cross in about 30 AD.  In God’s eternal calendar it happened before creation.  The future is a mystery.  All I can confidently about the afterlife is Heaven, good, Hell bad.

But today is God’s gift - the gift is the Gospel - and today a day to pass on the Gospel.

I didn’t know what the Gospel when I was a Father raising my children.  They’re doing OK in life, as I was doing OK in life when I was in my thirties and forties.  I didn’t understand the Gospel until I was fifty and my children were entering adulthood.   I wish I had understood the Gospel when they were children.

OK  - I mentioned fathers.   I explained the title of my sermon.  So now it’s time to sit down - right?

Well, what I have done is preached the Gospel from my story.  And what a Christian preacher is supposed to do is preach the Gospel from one of the many, many, stories in this grand story of what God is doing with humanity.    Particularly today, it is the passage from Luke 8:26-39, which I read.

In this chapter we see Jesus marching to a different drum beat from the people around him.

The first three verses of Chapter 8 illustrate that-

1After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Power is a theme in this section of Luke’s Gospel.  So we see power over evil spirits and diseases.  We also see Jesus associating with women - which was not a manly thing to do in those days.

On the way  to Gerasenes Jesus and his disciples row a boat.  And in this chapter we have the story of Jesus calming the sea. And after that miracle Luke quotes the disciples as saying,

“Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."

Nature in the form of weather obeys him.  Nature in the form of disease obeys him.  Demons obey him. He is a man of power  -  Not quite...

Within this chapter is the parable of the four soils representing four groups of people who hear the Gospel.  One group hears, but the Devil turns them away from the Gospel.  Another group of people just quit believing because they say “It’s more trouble than it’s worth”.  A third group of people say, “I like the good life and the Gospel doesn’t give me the good life.” 

And a fourth group of people say,

15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

One out of four.  Not far from today.  About one third of the world’s population claim to be Christian.  All other religions are smaller, but all those together constitute two thirds of the world’s population.

Wouldn’t  it be a good strategy for Jesus use some of his power force people to believe  - or maybe micromanage peoples lives so the is a clear benefit to believing in Jesus?  That would be a Jesus who uses his power to make us believe.

Let’s take note of the last verse of the last story in Luke 8.  Here Jesus raises to life a young girl.  And the last verse is this:

56 Her parents were astonished, but he ORDERED them not to tell anyone what had happened.

Why?  

Jesus did not want his story to be a story of rule by power.  He wants to be known as a messiah who rules by love love.  He wants US to live and share the Gospel - the Gospel of rule by love.

 So it is in that setting that today’s story is set. 

So - after encountering the storm and Jesus’ miracle of calming the storm - they get off the boat.  And they find a naked madman living in a graveyard. .... I’d run the other way.  The disciples probably wanted to run the other way.   But Jesus already knew that everyone is on level ground at the foot of the Cross.   And Jesus begins to exert his power over a legion of demons. 

28 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!”

Somehow this man knew something of who Jesus was.  Maybe he had heard stories.  Maybe the demons told him.  But he didn’t really know of Jesus.  He expected a God of power.  He expected big time bullying, which is torture.

The demons do not want to go to a place called the Abyss, and I suppose there are whole chapters of books as to what the Abyss is, and I’m not going to explain that. 

And even the whole idea of demon possession seems to be something very non-21st century.  I know that Pastor Jay Heesch has said that he has encountered para-normal phenomena that was apparently demon possession in another person.  Yet the historic creeds do not say anything about demons.  From we can gather from scripture they cannot possess a person against their will.  And right now I can decide to bring up a memory from a memory from the past.  Science says that a memory is a matter of chemistry and physics in the brain. Not only do we NOT understand para-normal phenomena - we don’t understand normal phenomena!   

But the demons ask to be transferred into some pigs.  And that’s what Jesus does and the pigs drown in the lake.

So the story ends this way,

38 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.

Unlike the last story in Luke 8, Jesus did not tell the man to be silent about what Jesus did for him. 

Maybe because the demon-possessed man's thinking about God changed.  He thought God was a God of power who would torture him and he rather encountered a God who was not afraid of him and showed him love.  And I like to believe that when he heard the story of Jesus death and resurrection, he wasn’t surprised.

That man already knew more than the crowds who hailed Jesus as a powerful king on Palm Sunday.  They thought that Jesus was coming in power to end Roman rule.

 And that man could truly say “Yesterday is history”.  He saw the God of love.  God is always love - even 30 AD - even today - even in the "afterlife".   John (in Revelation) says Jesus was  “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” (Rev 13:8)

Tomorrow is a mystery.  What is not a mystery is that “God is love” in the past, present and future.   Today is a day to obey Jesus words. 

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.

Today is a gift from God. The gift is to believe on Jesus -  To believe that he loves and forgives universally and unconditionally.    And as we meet that neighbor who is hard to get along with and as we treat him with love instead of power, he may also treat other people with love instead of power.  And non-believers will become believers, who will make nonbelievers become believers, who will make non-believers become believers.   Etc.

Today is a gift from God.  It’s a gift that keeps on giving. Thy kingdom come.

 

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