“A Power Too Strange”
Sermon on Luke 8:26-39
June 24, 2007
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
If you are anything like me, you’ve probably met some strange people or at least you know of some very strange people. We are such a unique creation anyway, but it seems that certain people have a touch more—uniqueness—than others??? Now I would never say that anyone here in this congregation is strange, and I’m sure none of you think I’m strange. But we can probably find some rather strange people if we look no further than our families.
My grandmother does some sort of strange ritual in the car every time she passes a white horse. She snaps her fingers and touches the ceiling of the car and licks her hand the whole while repeating the phrase, “Sweet Bubby, Sweet Bubby.” Don’t even ask me what that is. My wife’s great aunt covered her house with chicken wire to keep out the evil spirits. (I’m glad to know it’s not just my family that’s a bit on the strange side.)
But my favorite story, thankfully, is not about a person in either of our families. I have a friend up in Virginia that is a doctor. And while he was doing his residency, he was required to do several shifts in the emergency room. And apparently you never know who will show up in the middle of the night in the ER. This one evening a lady came into the ER, and she was claiming that she had all sorts of things wrong with her body even though the examination my friend did and the x-rays showed no problems. My friend began to think that she might be a bit on the strange side, and after reviewing her medical history, he decided to ask her a set of questions. He asked her if she ever saw things that other people didn’t see, she immediately answered yes. He asked her if she ever heard voices that other people couldn’t hear, she immediately answered yes. So, he then asked her what the voices she heard were saying to her. She immediately said, “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t speak Spanish.”
Well, you and I may not hear voices in our head that only speak Spanish, but we all have our own quirks and our own peculiarities. Our gospel lesson today features a man who went by the name of Legion because he had so many strange things wrong with him. The ancient Israelites would say that this man was possessed by many demons. We might say that he was mentally unstable. Regardless of how we name the man’s condition (which is certainly more burdensome than any name we might place on it), he had many problems and he was looked upon by everyone in his town as a very strange and problematic individual. The people of the town even went so far as to keep him under guard and bind him with chains and shackles. But every time, Legion would break the chains and be driven by his demons into the wilderness. At the beginning of the story we are told that he lived in the tombs and that he would go around naked!
I can’t imagine a stranger person than a naked guy that lives in the graveyard! I wonder what sort of strange ritual my grandmother would do if she passed him on the side of the road. And, if I lived near the graveyard of that town back then, I might even put up chicken wire to protect me from the evil spirits. But in this story, we are not simply dealing with a person that has some strange quirks. We are dealing with a man under the control of a power too strange for us. This man is under the control of a powerful and even demonic force that controls his life—so much so, that the man has been separated from the community. He is buried alive, living among the dead in the tombs, able to walk and breathe but unable to live.
Now before you start thinking that you are too sophisticated and intelligent to believe in something as superstitious as demons, think about it for a minute. There are powerful and even demonic forces at work in our world today just as much as there were in the time of Jesus. We might call it drug addiction or domestic violence or terrorism or mental illness, or a whole host of other names, but we cannot deny that there are evil forces at work in the world that can’t be explained by science and chemistry alone. Whatever we want to name it, the reality remains the same. Evil takes many forms and evil is alive and well right here and right now. C.S. Lewis once said that the Devil’s greatest accomplishment was convincing everyone he didn’t exist. I believe he is right.
We need to look at three main things in this story. (1) Where is Jesus? Jesus is on the fringes of our polite, ordered, respectable religion and society, reaching out into the raw areas of human need and pain. And if that’s where we are, there’s a good chance Jesus is there too. (2) What does Jesus do? He doesn’t just offer consolation, but he reaches out, touches, and heals. He rebukes the demons and liberates and frees the person controlled by that power too strange. (3) What does Jesus command? Even though the man wants to follow him, Jesus tells him to go home. Sometimes Jesus commands us to venture out, and sometimes he gives us the even more difficult task of going home and telling those around us what Ggod has done for us.
It is frightening sometimes to encounter someone possessed by a power so strange that they have difficulty living day to day like the naked guy in the tombs from our Gospel lesson. A number of polls claim that the scariest movie ever made was the 1970’s classic The Exorcist. But the people of the town in our story weren’t frightened of the actual exorcism that Jesus did. The people of the town were frightened when they saw the naked guy that lived in the tombs clothed and in his right mind sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning about God. In Jesus the people encountered another power too strange. Here was a man that was able to heal the guy that they had unsuccessfully tried to help for years. And here is a man teaching them how to live their own lives and requiring some rather strange things from them.
I’ll never forget the look on my friend’s face when he was riding in the car with me and my grandmother one day. My mother couldn’t pick us up from basketball practice that day, so my quirky grandmother came to take us home. And wouldn’t you know it, just before we got to my friend’s house there was a field with a white horse in it. My grandmother instantly started her ritual there in the car, taking her hands off the steering wheel to snap her fingers and touch the roof of the car several times all the while repeating the phrase “Sweet Bubby, Sweet Bubby.” My friend just got this look of sheer fear and confusion on his face. He couldn’t get out of the car quickly enough and for some reason he never needed a ride from me ever again.
My grandmother isn’t the only strange one around though. Christians are a strange group. We serve a strange God. Our strange God tells us to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us. Our strange God tells us to do good to those who do evil to us. Our strange God tells us that we have life even in the midst of death. Thanks be to God who possesses us with a power too strange to be controlled by demons. I leave you with the same command Jesus gave to the man from whom the demons had departed. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” -Amen.