Rev. Sarah Buteux
June 23, 2019
Luke 8:26-39, Proper 7 Year C
“O God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, you who are our rock and our redeemer. Amen”
Friends, I’m pretty good with my words. (That’s probably how I got this job). But when it comes to the meditations of my heart, I gotta tell you that they are not always as acceptable as they should be, especially when it comes to social media.
I don’t know about you – and forgive me if what I am about to say shocks you or lowers your opinion of me – but I find that scrolling through instagram or facebook often leads me to think less than charitable thoughts about other people.
I know. But it’s true.
I take a few moments to check my feeds and find myself thinking things like: don’t you have anything better to do with your time than livestream yourself brushing your teeth? Even though I apparently don’t have anything better to do with my time than scroll through a feed and watch someone livestream brushing their teeth.
I read an inflammatory post, immediately do a little righteous digging on the internet to affirm it’s whack-a-doodle, and write off my second cousin once removed as a conspiracy theorist. Though, I must admit, I’m perfectly happy to re-post clever things that resonate with me before fact checking them, because… well… I already know I’m right.
And I can be deeply uncomfortable with how personal people can get on social media – sharing details of their lives that seem way too intimate for public consumption – (You all know what I mean?) While simultaneously feeling just a wee bit jealous that they’re getting so much of the exact kind of attention I’m 99.9% sure I would never want. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s true.
Friends, we are living in the Age of Information. Some might say, the Age of Too Much Information. And no where is our propensity for T.M.I. more present than in the realm of social media. The word, “oversharing” was coined back in 2008, and we’ve all seen countless examples of crass, rude, stupid, vain, and ruinous behavior enshrined forever on the internet, haven’t we?
So much so, that you’d think people would know better by now. And they probably would, were it not for the fact that the worst offenders are the very same people racking up the most fame and influence.
Information, no matter how false or inappropriate, is currency. Attention is power. And if you want to keep your followers coming back for more you need to provide a steady stream of fodder for them to consume. Which is why celebrities, authors, politicians, and the rest of humanity feel the need to post pictures of themselves doing anything and everything, whether it’s interesting or not.
And in point of fact, most of it is not – interesting – and yet, we can’t look away.
So I look.
And I judge.
Like a few weeks ago: I was reading an article in the New York Times about Elizabeth Gilbert – she who ate, prayed and loved her way into our hearts back in 2006. She’s out with a new book called “City of Girls” – which I will read the moment my feet hit the sand this summer – but as part of the profile, the reporter was remarking on Gilbert’s deft use of social media.
Specifically, her propensity to share every detail of her life with her 1.6 million followers. Marriage. Divorce. Death. What she’s wearing to the book launch. What she ate for breakfast. Who she’s stepping out with. Gilbert’s not afraid to post anything, and I thought, “uggh, here we go again. What is wrong with these people that they crave so much attention?”
But then I was brought up short by something she posted on facebook. She was chattering on about some new boyfriend when she abruptly stopped – as if she could hear what I was thinking – and wrote:
“I will always share anything personal about my life, if it could help someone else feel more normal about their life.”
“Oh,” I thought. And all of a sudden what felt like a masterclass in oversharing and self-promotion, shifted into something perhaps deeper and more profound.
“I will always share anything personal about my life, if it could help someone else feel more normal about their life.”
That’s powerful, I thought. It’s beautiful. Actually, the more I think about it, if that’s really her true motivation, what she’s doing might very well be holy.
Which brings me to the demoniac on the shores of the Gerasenes. No really, it does. You’re just going to have to be patient until I explain why.
The reading before us today in Luke is really rather sparse. In contrast to all the oversharing we deal with now, the gospel stories about Jesus always seem to leave out more information than they give.
Every word matters. Every detail is loaded with meaning. And yet I always want to know more. I read this strange story about Jesus and his disciples sailing across the sea of Galilee – deep into Gentile territory – and my mind rushes to fill in all the gaps in the narrative.
If you’re familiar with this chapter, then you know Jesus has just calmed a terrible storm out on the water and his disciples are in awe of his power to command the wind and the waves. They thought they were done for, but as they step out of the boat on to dry land – perhaps putting a little more distance than usual between themselves and Jesus – I bet they felt as though they’d stepped out of the frying pan and into the fire.
For the only one who has come out to greet them on this long, lonely stretch of beach is a naked man who has seen better days. He is disheveled from sleeping rough amongst the dead, scarred from chains that have shackled him, and -as if that weren’t bad enough – is also apparently possessed by a very large and very vocal demon.
Let me just say that if this is how the people of the Gerasenes traditionally welcomed tourists, their Yelp reviews must have been in the tank.
That doesn’t stop Jesus from reaching out and healing the man, though. Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of him, allows it to enter a large herd of pigs, and then watches as they plunge to their death in a nearby lake. And in the midst of this miraculous healing we learn something of this fellow’s tragic story.
We learn that the demon often seized control of him, that his neighbors kept him under lock and key, and that the demon’s power over him was so great that it would enable him to break his bonds and drive him out into the wild.
We learn the demon’s name is “Legion,” a term Luke’s readers would have associated more with the Roman military than the armies of Hell. Which makes me wonder if the whole story isn’t some elaborate metaphor describing how soul killing life can be for people living under military occupation. (That could be a whole sermon right there, if we knew just a little bit more).
Alternately, I can’t help but wonder if this man was really possessed by an actual demon? Or, if this story describes a primitive understanding and response to a man’s struggle with a severe form of mental illness. (That could be sermon number 2, if I just had a little more information to go on).
We never learn the man’s name. It’s unclear to me whether the people of the city cared about this fellow or abused him. Did they chain him up because they feared he was a danger to them? Or did they restrain him because he was a danger to himself?
Were they trying to hurt him or help him? Was he a victim or a scapegoat? Or was he the beloved son of someone so well respected that they allowed him to live among them even though they didn’t know what to do with him?
I don’t know. I don’t know how to read these people, but I want to. I want to know more about why they fear Jesus for what he has done. The loss of the pigs not withstanding, why are they so eager to send away someone with the will and the power to banish a demon, heal their neighbor, and make him whole?
This story raises so many questions for me, questions we can’t answer for sure because there is not enough information in the text. I mean where’s a Kardashian when you need one. Luke shares a lot, just not enough. But the biggest question of all, for me at least, is why Jesus would heal this man and then leave him behind.
Luke writes: “The man from whom the demons had gone begged – he begged! – that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
As tragic as the story of this man has been, honestly that is the detail that breaks my heart. Of all the questions raised for me by this text, that is the one that bothers me the most.
Why would Jesus heal him and then leave him behind? After all, Jesus has come all this way across the sea. He’s calmed a storm and faced down a demon. I know the people have asked him to leave, but why give up now? Why give into their fear and go home, leaving no one but this poor guy, out there on his own, to do the work of proclaiming the gospel?
Obviously, I can’t say for sure. But as I’ve sat with this question all week, this is what has come to me.
I don’t think Jesus left the man behind because he didn’t care about him. I think he left him behind because this man simply being who he is – restored, healed, and made whole – has a better chance of winning the hearts and minds of the people than even Jesus does.
Honestly, I think Jesus probably wore out his welcome the moment he destroyed the pigs. His actions may have saved the demoniac, but they were disturbing, disruptive, and upending for everyone else.
No-one is going to want to listen to Jesus now, no matter how clever or engaging his teaching might be, and he knows it. They just want him to get out of Dodge before he does anymore damage – no matter how well-intentioned – to them or their property.
But this man who they have known and feared and pitied…this man now calm and clothed and in his right mind … only has to be who he is now. All he has to do is let his life speak for itself, and people’s hearts cannot help but be moved and changed by what God can do.
David Lose points out that this man has not been converted. “[T]here is no indication that this Gentile later became Jewish or, for that matter, Christian.” All we know is that this man was healed. His life was changed. He has been transformed. And in Jesus’ mind, that was enough. His life was his witness, and that my friends, is where I find the good news in this passage.
Because, you see, so often we think it is up to us to find the right words or arguments to convince and change people, sway if not save people. With the very best of intentions, we send them articles that refute their beliefs, point out scriptures that contradict their claims, implore them to read this book or listen to that podcast, thinking that if we can’t help them see the light then maybe someone a little smarter than us can.
But when is the last time you argued with someone such that they changed their point of view?
When’s the last time you heard back from someone who read that opinion piece you shared on facebook and finally agreed to switch parties, come to church, or start using paper rather than plastic?
I would imagine it’s been awhile, because most of us simply aren’t wired that way.
But tell us a good story, share your experience, invite us into relationship, give us – not a sermon- but a sign, and all of a sudden hearts can change.
There’s an old saying that faith is caught, not taught.
Friends, I don’t think our job is to convert people to our faith or way of thinking through sound arguments, good exegesis, or a pointed editorial, so much as it is to help God transform people by simply allowing them to see how God has transformed us.
Healed lives conveying hope,
forgiven lives communicating grace,
welcomed lives cracking the door open even wider,
authentic lives bearing witness to your experience.
You loving whom you love.
You surviving what you have survived.
You becoming who you are.
You living your life out loud.
In the words of Emily Heist: “The hardest parts of being human – illness, fear, grief, insecurity, disappointment – are often the loneliest parts.” But we don’t need to suffer alone.
Friends, your experience might just be the map that leads someone else home. Your life, the light that shows them the way.
Your story might be the only gospel some people ever read.
So don’t be afraid to let your life be your witness.
Don’t be afraid to go and declare just how much God has done for you.