Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA
June 23, 2019
Pastor Robert McCarty
Preaching Texts: Luke 8: 26-39
We like a rational world that makes sense. We like when life is predictable with a high level of stability. Instead the world seems broken or wild and we are trying to figure out our place in it. Our Gospel lesson gives us this wild story of extreme brokenness and chaos that just seems so antiquated. A demon possessed man running around naked breaking chains does not fit into the current world view. How does this story help us make sense of today’s world and our place as church in it? If this is our story how is it relevant to the rest of the world?
My sister Beth sent me an article this week written by a former college classmate. The article essentially asked two questions about relevancy that plague congregations like CELC: why church in the 21st century? and how church in the 21st century? I appreciated the article she sent me because Rachel Meyer, the author, didn’t just say “No” to church. She struggled with the question of relevancy especially as to what it means to her children.
She is not alone in the struggle. Probably some of your friends are asking similar questions about why church? or how church? Perhaps some of your children or grandchildren have stopped asking the question and just said “no” to church.
Here is my answer to the first part of that question, why church?
A church builds community based on a common respect for the sacred and divine and helps people to recognize that the sacred lives even in marginalized (broken) places as well as marginalized (broken) people.
The Christian church today recognizes just how broken the world is (the world seems). In today’s gospel lesson Jesus has ventured into another broken territory under Roman occupation. Of course, Jerusalem and Galilee are broken as well, but sometimes it is easier to see the brokenness in others than in your own lives, your own community. This land of Gerasenes is on the fringe. And the setting reminds us of other strange stories like Mad Max beyond the Thunderdome, or episodes on the border planets of your favorite science fiction series: chaos, strange relationships, different behaviors.
Our attention begins with the possessed man. How can you ignore a naked man living among the dead? Well you can’t, and Jesus does not ignore him. Jesus cares for him. Jesus does good, a miracle happens, chaos controlled. The story might even have a little bit of humor with the pigs, but the humor is lost on most of us today. Actually, this story lines up with our vacation bible school theme: “life is wild, but God is good.” Our VBS week set us in the midst of the African savannah as if we were in another story, Disney’s The Lion King. My thanks goes out to [names] who spent a week teaching youngsters about Moses and the Exodus of the Israelites into the wilderness. I love this theme, “Life is Wild, God is Good,” and how it matches this story of Jesus coming to this fringe community. Miracles happen, Jesus does good, chaos controlled, man is cured, sitting in his right mind.
Let’s move on, because what I truly find interesting, and important, happens next in the story. The people of this fringe territory arrive and reject Jesus. This rejection does not make sense to me. Even though I have heard plenty of plausible explanations—they are scared, they are upset over the loss of the pigs, Jesus is a foreigner. These explanations sound straightforward enough, seem likely, but it still just does not make sense. Jesus has just brought order into a chaotic mess. He has done something beautiful in an ugly setting of tombs. And as these people come out to see what happened, “they found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” If Jesus brings order and stability to a wild situation, then why do people send him away. That actually sounds familiar, like today in the church. You and I see how Jesus brings stability, but others want distance between themselves and Jesus. Maybe this gospel has something to teach us.
To sit at the feet of someone at that time implies the relationship of student and teacher. The man has not just been healed, he is now a student of Jesus, learning from Jesus and what Jesus means to this country of Gerasenes. Instead, the local people are afraid, and we hear it a second time, “They were seized with great fear” and they send Jesus away. Except, Jesus has prepared his follower. A witness remains in the form of a new disciple for whom Jesus has done great things.
As I grow older and stronger in faith, I see more people looking at me with these eyes that do not understand my faith. I feel normal and at my best when I sit at the feet of Jesus, but yet people are looking at me as a curiosity. They look at me as a curiosity even while I look at them with eyes that understand the brokenness they experience. They have questions they do not know how to ask, and I have stories that sound far-fetched to them about a man who died two-thousand years ago. This seems like uncharted territory that we are in.
We sit at the feet of Jesus and people treat us like the one possessed. As we sit there, Jesus gives us an answer as to how to be church. You remember those questions from the beginning: why church and how church? I gave my sister a nice answer, perhaps a bit stronger for the why church than the how church.
Jesus gives us the answer though for how church, how to be church in the twenty-first century, “return home, go and declare, tell people, how much God has done for you.” The once-possessed man goes and declares throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. How he was broken and God made him whole again.
As we prepare our stories, it may be helpful to remember the most important stories for others to hear have less to do with our success and good fortune and more to do with how we were broken and God snuck into our lives in an unexpected fashion and healed us. I have one such story shared with me about a young man who reflects back on how his parents handled him misbehaving.
As a small boy, this person consistently came home late from school. He must have been hanging out with his friends after school. One morning his parents “warned him that he must be home on time that afternoon, but nevertheless he arrived later than ever.”
“His mother met him at the door and said nothing. His father met him in the living room and said nothing. At dinner that night, the boy looked at his plate. There was a slice of bread and a glass of water. He looked at his father’s full plate and then at his father, but his father remained silent. The boy was crushed.
“The father waited for the full impact to sink in, then quietly took the boy’s plate and placed it in front of himself. He took his own plate of meat and potatoes, put it in front of the boy, and smiled at his son.
As a young man reflecting back on that moment of his childhood, he said, “All my life I’ve known what God is like by what my father did that night.”
(Shared by Craig Brian Larson in 750 Engaging Illustrations.)
You have stories as well to share with the world about how God has come to you in a broken moment and made you whole. Those stories seem simple now, but they hold hope for our world.