Reading: Luke 8:26-39
Grace to you and peace, in Jesus Christ, who calls us Beloved. Amen.
As we move into summer, we’re switching gears, from the Narrative Lectionary, back to the Revised Common Lectionary. And that means that we’ll be spending a good chunk of the summer in the Gospel of Luke. Today, we hear a story from Luke Chapter 8.
Jesus has just wowed his disciples by stilling a storm on Lake Galilee. And now he’s on the other side of the lake, in Gentile Country, the country of the Gerasenes. And the first person he meets there is a man, who is living in a graveyard. This man is homeless. He is naked. He is violent. He is chained up. He has bruises from throwing himself against the rocks and struggling against his chains. And the text says that he is possessed by demons.
The fact that he is possessed by demons is a clue for us that this will be an exorcism story. There is not one demon that Jesus meets in any of the gospels that he does not drive out. So we know that Jesus will drive out the demons that are harassing and oppressing this man.
But let’s just take a moment to name the elephant in the room. Exorcism stories make us uncomfortable, don’t they? They certainly make me uncomfortable. Sometimes I worry that the fact that the Bible talks about exorcisms is just one more reason for society to think that we Christians are crazy.
There are two things I want to say about that.
The first thing is that I have realized that as a pastor, people tell me things that they would not tell anyone else. And I have had people tell me that they believe they have experienced demons in their life. I have had people tell me that they think that the devil is trying to make them do things they do not want to do. I have friends that have experienced places that they believe are haunted.
I have learned that people experience oppressive spiritual forces in their lives. And I have learned that I should not be too quick to dismiss these experiences.
The second thing is that there are many people who do not experience oppressive spiritual forces, but would resonate with some if not many aspects of this man’s experience. In fact anyone who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder, or bi-polar disorder, or schizophrenia, or major depression, or eating disorders, or self-harm, or any number of other mental health conditions may recognize some aspects of this man’s experience in their own life. Anyone living with an addiction, anyone who has spent time in prison, or anyone who has been homeless might recognize or maybe relate to some aspects of this man’s experience in their life.
And if you have ever loved someone who lives with a major mental health condition, someone who lives with addiction, someone who has spent time in prison, or someone who has been homeless, some aspects of this man’s experience may be familiar to you.
So if you need space, feel free to take it. It’s ok if you need to step out at any time.
What strikes me is that, when Jesus meets this man, he doesn’t ask any of the obvious questions. He doesn’t ask, “Why are you naked?” or “Why are you chained up?” or “Why are you living in a graveyard?” or even, “Why are you screaming at me?”
The first thing Jesus asks the man is, “What is your name?”
The world sees a violent, demon-possessed man.
Jesus sees a beautiful and beloved child of God.
The world sees a man to be feared.
Jesus sees a man who needs love.
The world wants to chain this man up.
Jesus wants to set him free.
So Jesus asks him, “What is your name?”
“Legion, for we are many.” This isn’t the man’s name. It is the demons who answer Jesus. They have taken everything from him. They have taken away his home, his clothes, his job, and everyone he loves. They have even taken away his name.
But Jesus knows that this man’s name is not “Legion.”
Jesus knows his true name. The name that he was given even before he was born: Beloved.
Have you ever loved someone who was living with a condition so oppressive that it had prevented them from believing that they were beloved?
Jesus knows that the only way for this man to know his true name, to know that he is not Legion, but rather, that he is a beloved child of God… the only way for him to know that is to drive out the demons that oppress him.
And so the demons flee before Jesus. They flee from the man, and they enter a herd of pigs nearby, who runs right into the sea and drown.
And so it’s the pig farmers who first witness what Jesus has done for this man. It’s the pig farmers who run into the city and tell everyone what has happened. And when come to see it for themselves – the pig farmers, and the city folk, and everyone in the countryside – they find the man who they had once called “Legion” clothed, calm, in his right mind, free from the demons who oppressed him and sitting at Jesus' feet. A beautiful and beloved child of God.
When Jesus shows up in our lives, he gets to work, freeing us from all the forces that oppress us. The physical forces, the psychological forces, the spiritual forces, the social forces, the political forces – once Jesus shows up in our lives, he won’t rest until all these forces have finally released their grip on our souls. Jesus won’t rest until we are free to be who God has created us to be – beloved children of God.
Sometimes it happens in an instant.
Sometimes it takes a very long time.
Sometimes Jesus works through religious things, like Word and Sacrament, prayer, and worship.
Sometimes Jesus works through those who practice the healing arts.
Sometimes Jesus works through friends and loved ones, who never give up on us.
In all these ways and more, Jesus is active, and at work in our world and in our lives, healing us, freeing us, through the power of the Spirit of Life, so that each and every one of us may one day say:
“Once my name was Legion. But now, I am Beloved.”