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Sermon — June 19, 2022

 

Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9

Psalm 22:19-28

Gospel: Luke 8:26-39

 

Growing up, I loved watching Scooby Doo with my dad.

 

It was always a fun time watching those four teens of “Mystery, Inc.,”

    along with their canine pal,

        find the troublemakers in their community

        who just happened to spend their free time

            dressing up as monsters.

 

And whenever they unmasked the villain in a particular episode,

    said bad guy would always say,

        “And I would have gotten away with it too,

            if it weren’t for you meddling kids

            and your dumb dog!”

 

But here’s the thing: I never actually cared who the villain was,

    because it was usually someone we never heard of.

No, the best part was right before the unmasking.

    After all the mystery solving in the episode;

    after the silly antics of Scooby and Shaggy;

    after the smarts of Velma who did most of the work;

    after there was some drama between Freddy and Daphne,

        there was this moment,

        right before we found out who the villain was,

            there was this moment of suspense,

            as if the whole episode built to this moment.

    And then the unmasking happened

        and we found out who was causing the trouble.

 

Today’s gospel is a series of unmasking.

 

“Then 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?”

“Jesus, Son of the Most High God.”

The first unmasking is of Jesus’ very self.

    Jesus, the Son of the Most High God,

    walking among and alongside the people,

        even—and maybe most especially—

        those who find themselves with demons.

 

Though we know who Jesus is,

    we can’t assume that everyone around him did,

    so this revelation, this unmasking,

        puts out into the open that this is indeed

        God-incarnate

        walking among them;

            in their very presence.

 

And imagine what you would think:

    You find out that God incarnate is there,

    present, in a physical way,

        and he is interacting with this town demon guy!

 

It’s a striking dynamic between one who is of God,

and one who is dealing with unclean spirits that are certainly not of God.

    But that’s who Jesus chooses to be around!

 

The second unmasking is that of the demons themselves.

 

“Jesus then asked, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”;

    for many demons had entered him.”

 

“Legion.” A unit in the Roman army equivalent to 6,000 soldiers.

    The demons name themselves, “Legion,”

        because there were so many of them.

 

Now again, though we know that this man had demons

    because we hear about it in the text,

    perhaps those around him didn’t know that,

        and in this very public encounter,

            it’s important everyone knows

            who the players in the game are.

 

This man is not evil in-and-of-himself,

    but rather the victim of the demons that have possessed him.

 

Yesterday afternoon,

    at the recommendation of the doctors at urgent care,

    I spent some time in the emergency room for observation,

        for what was likely illness due to food poisoning.

 

I’m fine!

 

But while I was there,

    a patient was brought in who had taken a lot of pills

        and was acting violently toward herself.

 

For many times [the demons] seized him;

    he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles,

        but he would break the bonds

            and be driven into the wilds.

 

 

While I was there,

    every employee in the emergency room

    had interacted with this patient at least once,

        including when they had to bind her to the table

            for her own safety.

    And I couldn’t help but wonder:

        if this had happened two thousand years ago,

        would her ailments be considered demons?

 

Whether we think of demons as physical beings or not,

    we arrive at the same conclusion: something is not right.

 

Whether ailments are named demons

    or we come up with names for medical diagnoses,

    we do so naming what is not right

        so that whoever is ailed can be healed,

            not condemned for having something afflict them.

 

Surely this person was the victim of her drugs

    in the same way I fell prey to partially uncooked mall food…

But there is a third unmasking in this gospel text.

    And it’s our own unmasking.

 

“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.”

 

“Seized with great fear.”

 

The very people

    in whose community a demon-possessed man was roaming around,

    when faced with the healing power of God,

        were afraid and asked Jesus to leave.

 

I would ask us to wonder together what our response would have been.

 

Because, to be honest, if there were someone running around Hauppauge,

    someone who couldn’t be bound by even chains and shackles,

    if that person was then healed—even by Jesus—

        I might wonder what sort of power that was.

 

Standing in the presence of the power of God can really be a scary thing.

 

And it makes me wonder:

    Did the rest of the people have their own demons too?

    Were the rest of the people afraid?

    Or was it their demons that realized,

        if they were really in the presence of God,

        they too might be cast out of their bodily hosts?

 

One of the most profound theologians of Old Testament literature

    is Walter Brueggemann,

        and his work compels the church to be prophetic.

 

He says this of the church’s prophetic work:

 

    “The prophetic tasks of the church

        are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion,

        grieve in a society that practices denial,

        and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”

 

What makes his perspective resonate,

    is that it’s really the perspective of Jesus.

 

“The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with [Jesus]; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.””

 

“Declare how much God has done for you.”

 

That is our task, friends, to declare how much God has done for us.

 

Jesus sends us, from the table as baptized beloveds of God,

    not to be afraid, but to tell the good news

    of a God who walks among us, deals with our demons,

    heals us, makes us whole, frees us, and returns us to community.

Sometimes we get a passage of scripture that involves pigs

    running off a hill into a river,

        but at the core of these stories

        is Jesus’ very self,

            yearning for us to sit at his feet,

            that we might go and proclaim his love to others.

 

Amen.