The Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 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. 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" -- 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.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
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. 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.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 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. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 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. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "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.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Storytelling is a powerful medium for sharing truth and communicating to others things that are important to us. Many cultures have a well-developed history and tradition of storytelling. Before writing and printing became established most cultures depended on their storytellers to pass on the oral traditions or the laws and rules of their communities.
The early members of the Christian faith and its precursor the Jewish faith tradition depended on storytelling as its primary means of communicating their experience and knowledge of who God was. You can see and hear that in the Old Testament readings which are read to us each week. These are the stories of the people of Israel and their understanding of who they were in their relationship with God. These accounts are recorded with that sense of storytelling to pass on a cultural understanding. Many of these stories are not just factual accounts of the People of Israel and their history. These are folk law stories. They are designed to capture the story of the Heavenly father dealing with his children.
There is a sense that these stories are told in isolation from the rest of the world's inhabitants. There is almost an aspect to these stories that they don't even acknowledge that other people were living around the people of Israel. Unless of course, there was a threat to the existence of the people. Or that somehow the other people became tools in the Lord's hand to correct or redirect the people of Israel.
Even when it comes to the New Testament there is a sense in which some of the stories are told from that storytelling perspective. The story contains information and details which draw the listener in and allows the storyteller to paint a picture that illustrates a point.
A part of the impact on the hearer is because it appears that this is a moment when no one else is aware of what is happening. The story is for those involved and for those who will hear the story at another time.
I had two experiences this week which highlighted for me this important aspect of Scripture and storytelling.
The first one happened as my day began on Tuesday morning. Monday evening a series of wild winds and thunderstorms rolled through the area. The storms impacted us because at about 3 am in the morning the power went out in our neighborhood. This has happened before and so we were not too concerned. But on this particular morning time began to roll on by and we still had no power. I kept hearing about other people who lived very close to us who had their power restored. I could still use my cell phone and the data on my phone allowed me to communicate with folks. So I knew that this was not a widespread issue. Eventually, it seemed to come down to the area around the Rectory and the church. When I called the power company they said that could tell me that the power was out, that they didn't have a time when it would be restored, but that the technicians were working on the problem and power would be restored shortly. So, here I was going through this experience and trying to work out what I could do to accomplish "all of the things that I need to get done, which I normally get done on a Tuesday morning." While everyone else around me seemed to be able to go on with their lives. I found myself without power. This meant that I was waiting and watching, looking for signs that things were going to change or had changed. I was very aware that others, other people close by, all around me were unaware of what was happening to me and what my circumstances were.
The second experience I had this week was an eye-opening one for me. I participated in a very interesting exercise as part of a committee that I am part of. This committee has existed for a long time and recently had an infusion of new participants. The result of that has been a review and revision of some of the forms and paperwork that the committee uses. At the core of these suggested changes has been a desire to more effectively do the work of the committee. To aid that process the committee participated in an exercise called a "Theological Reflection."
A Theological Reflection is made up of four parts. Participants are given a common issue or question and then they reflect on the four parts from their personal perspective.
Those four parts are:
1. My own experience
2. My theological perspective
3. What current culture says about this.
4. My own position - a belief statement So we were broken into small groups and were asked to answer these questions:
1) Why am I a part of this group?
2) a) What do I bring to the group? My past experience and knowledge.
b) What Bible passage informs this work for me?
c) How is this work seen by secular society?
d) "I believe ________ about this work?"
3. What do we want others to know from this discussion? Is there an invitation to action that comes out of this discussion?
I found this exercise very helpful in the context of the committee and its work together. I found that when I was able to formulate answers to these questions I was able to articulate my views in a much more concise and effective way. I found I could put into words some of my thoughts about how the committee could move forward. So, by now you are probably wondering what does all this have to do with the Gospel or any of the other readings for this morning?
Well, I have to say that the story of the demoniac is very much one of those storytelling exercises for me. It is full of context and the constraints of the experience of the disciples as people who were based in the Jewish faith and its understandings. The disciples find themselves in this account in very foreign country. They are in "gentile territory" they are no longer surrounded by the familiar or the commonplace. They are the strangers in this place. Suddenly it seems that Jesus makes a theological change in his approach to ministry. Somehow the emphasis or the focus of his ministry turns to an outcast from a gentile community. The disciples must have been rocked by what took place. They encounter the demoniac. Now, if anything would make them want to turn around and head back across the lake to the safety and security of their home place this would be it. A crazy man who has been vilified by his own community confronts them and challenges everything they understand about what and who Jesus is.
Jesus is unfazed by this man. He engages him and provides him with relief from the "legion" of demons that have invaded his life. Jesus also confronts the existing society's methods of dealing with this man. Those from this community have chosen to bind the man with chains and shackles and they have placed him under guard. Yet despite all that, time and again, he has escaped and gone out into the wilderness naked and alone. This man confronts Jesus and names him for who he is. Jesus responds by dismissing the demons and the man is restored to health. The villagers and townspeople from the area are incensed. They are not grateful, and thankful for the restoration of the man. They are seized with fear and ask Jesus to leave.
The man himself pleads with Jesus to be allowed to accompany him and leave this place. Jesus tells him his life, and ministry is among the people who have treated him so badly. Now because this story is in the Gospels I believe we can fall into a trap if we are not careful. If we do not look beyond the obvious we can suppose that this is in our modern terminology "a big news story." It really isn't. The people on the "other side of the lake" have no idea what has just happened. It is easy to forget that this all takes place in an isolated place, where the only way that this story will be related to the rest of the followers of Jesus is by it being told by the disciples when they get back to the other side of the lake. Unless the disciples tell the story these events will remain here in the country of the Gerasenes. We have to recognize that the disciples did tell the story. Then we have to recognize that others must have told it down through history until it was recorded for us to read today.
A part of why this story is important in our context today is that we live in extraordinary times. We have to stop and remind ourselves that modern communication means we can hear and know about things almost instantaneously. We can know about things happening all over the country and all over the world in a way that has never happened before. My experience of the power outage here in Huron on Tuesday morning is a great example of that. Because my cell phone was working I could communicate my situation and challenge almost instantaneously with people far beyond my local area. People in Australia knew I didn't have any power. I was not restricted like the disciples were restricted. I did not have to rely on word-of-mouth communication to get the story out. I could just push a few buttons on my phone and the information was shared internationally.
So, what does the Theological Reflection that I mentioned earlier have to do with this message this morning? Well, one of the downfalls of the immediacy of the information being shared is that it can be faulty.
Perhaps we need to have a means of evaluating the information we are hearing. The Theological Reflection process can provide a means of seeking to judge what is being said and how I might respond t it.
How do we interpret the stories we hear? How do we evaluate the impact on our lives? Who would you believe? Why should we believe them?