Please read Luke 8.26-39.
I once was preparing a couple for marriage. As happens with about half of the couples that I have prepared for marriage, the woman stood up and said that she couldn’t marry the guy. She was a mess. She was crying, and the man was furious with me. I had lead them on a journey to ask the tough questions about their relationship and it lead to her waking up and realizing that she didn’t want to have anything to do with this guy.
She realized that she was strikingly beautiful, smart, intelligent and didn’t have to settle for the type of guy she thought she needed to marry. It was a day that I left with great joy that we had avoided a bullet.
About a year later, I received a telephone call from this young lady. She was in a panic. She wanted me to come right away to her home. So, I drove the twenty minutes it took to get there wondering what could possibly be the matter. As I got to the house,
I saw this guy who was supposed to be out of the picture standing in the lawn. He saw me and was not happy. When I got into the house, I saw her with bruises and tears.
You see, while in my office the young woman had decided that she couldn’t marry the guy because he was abusive. Once they were out around family and friends, they decided together that because they had bought champagne and had all the arrangements for the reception made that they just had to get married. They went and found a colleague of mine in another city who did not do any preparation for marriage. He agreed to marry them on the spot. A year later, after they had gotten married, what she knew would continue to happen, happened.
I cannot tell you the number of times the people I have counseled continue in the behavior that we figure out and decide needs to stop. I cannot tell you how many people return to bad relationships, bad behavioral habits and sinful behavior that hurts them, hurts their family and hurts their community. It happens time and time again. The reason it happens over and over again is as old as this passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke.
In this passage, we see this demon possessed man who is really a scary figure in the community. He has seizures and fits of anger so fierce that the community has bound his hands and feet in chains. He cannot live at home because he is such a menace. In fact, the only place that he can stay is among the tombs with the dead. He is possessed.
When Jesus comes on the scene, he knows that Jesus has the power to heal him. He is the only one in the entire story that knows who Jesus really is. He is the only one who says, in the Greek, “What is this to you and to me, Jesus son of the most high God?” He knows that Jesus has the power to heal him, but fights it. When he is healed, what is the response of the community?
The community is not happy that Jesus has made this menace to society healthy. They are afraid of Jesus. In fact, they do not want Jesus to stay around. They want him out of there as fast as possible.
Why wouldn’t a demon possessed man and a community which is threatened by him want him to be healed and the person who healed him around? The answer is the same as that young lady who married the man by whom she was possessed. It can be summed up this way, “Better the demon you know than the Lord you can’t control.”
Should we really be surprised at all of this? There are people in the church universal who go to church for years but do not know, nor do they want to know, the power of the living God. If we stop telling him to get lost, Jesus may just heal the demons who are in our midst.
Jesus himself, is an imposing figure. He walks on water, heals the sick, rises from the dead, appears to his disciples and to us after his resurrection, confronts our demons and casts them out of us. He is more than just the friendly, nice guy who helps us get through the life we have created. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Great Redeemer, the Great Physician, the Good Shepherd who leads us and guides, but even more, he transforms us and heals us. His power is of which we are afraid.
A friend of mine was relating the other day how he went to an ecumenical gathering of about five hundred people. They were going to celebrate their oneness in Christ by celebrating common union with Christ in Holy Communion. Before they got up there a pastor from another denomination stood up and reassured everyone about the safety of coming to Holy Communion. He reassured everyone that this was just a meal of remembrance, that Jesus was not really there, and that there was nothing about which they ought to be afraid in coming forward and taking the bread and cup.
Well, in my friend’s mind and mine, two questions are begged by this whole scenario: Why bother to go through the routine of taking the bread and the cup if Jesus isn’t there? And, why are we so afraid of encountering the risen Christ in the bread and the cup?
I think we are afraid that God will really take control of our lives. The last thing in this world that we want is for God to take control of our lives. Why, we might have to change if that happens! It might make us an alternative to what we have been raised to believe is good and wonderful.
In almost every kindergarten classroom across the country there used to be a copy of Invictus. It is the poem written by William Ernest Henley that ends with the lines, “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.” In fact, we try to ensure that our children are sufficiently imbibed with this sort of thinking.
I took Caleb to school one day and heard what should have been a casual conversation. A teacher welcoming a little boy who had on a play policeman’s badge said to him, “Hi, Bobby! What a nice badge! Well, if you want to be a policeman, you can be whatever you want to be!” Then the thought hit me, “What about me? I wanted to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives. I can’t be what I want to be. I had to be a pastor and then a Catholic evangelist. I don’t get to move and shape the history of the world like I wanted to. I am not the master of my fate, nor the captain of my soul!” Then after I thought about it for a minute and how utterly lost I would have become because of all the fame and money in Washington, D.C., I thought, “He is the Captain of my fate, the Master of my soul. Thanks be to God!”
You do know that there are whole theologies that have been created to ensure that we are “the master of my fate and the captain of my soul?” We say that if we only accept Jesus into our hearts as our Lord, then he will save us. Do you hear how that is working? We graciously allow Jesus to come into our lives and change us. Well, my friends, if we allow Christ into our lives, then who is in control? That kind of formula is just the same old rugged individualism dressed up as Christianity.
What if God seized you even though you protested? What if you simply refused to invite Jesus into your soul and he took you anyway? It happens you know. I am living proof. There was no point in my life where I “accepted Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior.” He just took me. He lead me and I followed. St. John’s Gospel said, “You did not choose me, I chose you.”
In our story from St. Luke’s Gospel today, we see that this reaction is not uncommon. Jesus is the one who changes us to do his will. He changes us so that our demons are gone and we cannot love them anymore, we love him. As much as our demons control us, we cling to them. They are familiar to us, we have learned how to live around them. And the possibility that we could be free of them scares us to death. We share a certain equality with the demons. We like what little control we have in the symbiotic relationship. The alternative, that we would have Jesus Christ, as our “Lord” would really sink in and we would be changed.
You know, I think that what is flawed about the ways in which we were taught to evangelize is that they reduce the power of Christ. We were taught to tell people that there were benefits to be received in believing. I cannot deny that there are benefits such as knowing true peace and experiencing the purity and wondrous simplicity of true joy in Christ. But the benefits are not what it is about. Christianity is about being in relationship with the One, True God of the universe through the Savior of the universe, Jesus Christ. It is not about a deal we make in the back rooms of our hearts. It is about the unbridled power of Christ which transforms us.
In the event we read today, the possessed man knows true peace for the first time in a long time. He reclines at Jesus’ feet, no longer needing to show off and get attention by being naked and frothing at the mouth. What is the benefit from all of this that the formerly possessed man seeks? It says, “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away.” All he wanted thereafter was to “be with Jesus.” The newly transformed man did not want any other benefit but to be with the Lord.
He did not want to learn how to manage his time better so as to have a more full life. He did not want to find peace from his hectic life. He did not want to be given some therapeutic formula to massage his conscience because he is not really doing the things Christians are supposed to do. He just wants to follow Jesus. Wanting to follow anyone, but Henley’s “captain of my soul.” is scary to us. But, as the angel said to Mary and the Shepherds in the field, “Do not be afraid! For I bring you tidings of great joy, for unto you is given this day a Savior, Jesus of Nazareth.”
What did that Savior do? He sent the man back to his town to proclaim the good news to all he met so that they, too would be prepared for the coming of Christ again. That is what we are charged to do as well. So, my friends, I encourage you to reflect for a moment after this sermon and invite you to have the demons you want to hold on to removed by Christ. Rest in the peace of Christ and then go and proclaim what he has done for you. Amen? Amen.