Posted on Sun, Jun 23, 2013
June 23, 2013
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Gospel Text: Luke 8:26-39 - “Even Demons Dread the Abyss”
Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 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. 28 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? I beg you, do not torment me’— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then 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. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Did you notice verse 31 in today’s Gospel text? What do you know about the word, “abyss?” Have you ever “seen” what is called, “the abyss?” One online dictionary defines “the abyss” as: 1. An immeasurably deep chasm, depth, or void: "lost in the vast abysses of space and time" (Loren Eiseley).
2.a. The primeval chaos out of which it was believed that the earth and sky were formed. b. The abode of evil spirits; hell. We have several submariners in our congregation, but as submarines, don’t have windows, I am not even sure submariners understand what the meaning of “looking into the abyss” may be…
I thought I witnessed the abyss once when I was scuba diving at night in particularly deep water not far from here. We all had flashlights, some were very powerful, but all we could see was as far as the light would go… and then the dark blue became darker and darker to black.
Abyss was a word that I thought was something we could experience, if we choose to put ourselves into a place where we were divided from another place, or surface, because of a wide expanse. Sometimes that is the easy example we would like to think of… it is a place that we can approach, or back away from like a canyon. It is a place where we might think there might be adventure with a tinge of fear and unknowing, but a place that we could back away from and return to safety if we felt we needed to retreat... According to the evangelist, who specifically uses the word, “abyss,” the meaning is much deeper and filled with terror than we humans can imagine.
The first time I really began to think of the meaning of the word was when some friends of mine and I wrote a puppet skit telling the story of Lazarus and the Rich man. Remember, the story where Lazarus sits hungrily, practically under the table of the wealthy rich man, and just waits for the crumbs of the rich man to fall to the table so he can find some nourishment like a stray dog. Each day, the rich man is forced to walk by the suffering Lazarus as he leaves his nice home, and the only way for the rich man to avoid seeing the gaunt gaze of Lazarus is to look away. One day, both of the men die and the bible story tells us that there is a wide chasm, with an abyss, between them that does not allow the rich man, now in Hades, to cross over to the place where Lazarus stands upright and in good health with Father Abraham.
We simply used two sheets at different levels to demonstrate the chasm, the ‘abyss,’ but I couldn’t help myself for feeling for the rich man… now in a state of torment, unable to simply receive a few drops of water to cool the burning thirst of his throat. He was the one now in torment, all because of his self-absorption and disregard for the needy. The “abyss” or “chasm” that was set between the rich man and Father Abraham, took on a much more ominous and serious meaning for me as we did this simple and rather humorous puppet skit.
Was it the rich man’s fault he had no sense of compassion or responsibility? We must admit, there were many verses that said if a person was rich it was because they were “Blessed by God,” but this is not the center if the teaching of the Torah. The teaching of the Torah was not that different than that of Jesus. Most of the verses were not about judgment or law, most were given to help us lead Godly lives aware of our relationship with God, and then our relationship with neighbor. But there were many other texts warning the people of God to heed God’s warning to have compassion and mercy for the poor and hungry to the extent they are Commanded, in order to demonstrate their faith and the heart of God, they are to protect and tend for the needs of the orphan, widow and the stranger?
If you are concerned about the biblical priority of the Bible, I dare you to count the verses warning the people of God about the need to have mercy and compassion to the lost, needy and homeless to any other issue!
In today’s text, we learn of a man who has been possessed by a “legion” of demons. The poor man is a little outnumbered because a legion of soldiers in Roman times was between 3000 to 6000 soldiers. The man, described as naked and living in the darkness of caves, doesn’t stand much of a chance against his present bodily tenants.
Jesus has just taught the meaning of the parable of the Sower and the seeds, and to not hide your faith under a jar but put it on a lampstand, and now he has crossed the Sea of Galilee and has met up with this poor soul.
When the man, AND the many demons living within this man saw Jesus coming towards him, it was they who addressed Jesus in Jesus’ proper name and title, understanding Jesus’ true identity and power they cry out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me?” For the demons to be tormented would mean for God to make them “homeless” and send them out of this poor man and into something, they would have less control over… like a herd of pigs… With good marketing, it has been demonstrated that humans are fairly easy beasts to manipulate, but pigs require only food…
Here is the key verse for my message they begged him not to order them to “go back into the abyss.”
“Abyss” means: 1. An immeasurably deep chasm, depth, or void 2. The abode of evil spirits; hell.
“Hell,” “Hades,” or “Heck” (for the pure of heart) is considered a place called “Sheol,” the place of the dead, the only place where it is considered God, the spirit of God, the light of God, cannot be, exist or live.
Even the demons hate this place… They beg Jesus, to not order them back into the Abyss!!!
Is this a place we can visit and return from? Is this a place we would ever consider ‘adventurous’ or even ‘tantalizingly interesting.’
You know how I ask you, ”whenever you hear a Bible Story like this one, to put yourself into the story?”
From my experience as a pastor, I have not met a person who has not been visited, controlled, burdened with, or who has had to deal with some kind of issue we may call, “demons.” They come in many different names: they are fears, regrets, addictions, denial, doubts, an uncontrollable desire for financial or social stature, self-absorption, depression or some other kind of uncontrollable sadness or hopelessness. This is just a short list of what I have observed. We have all, at one point in our lives met this character called “Legion,” and every single time, through the promise of baptism, love, mercy, faith, worship, service, prayer, praise and fellowship, Jesus has been with us to confront this Legion, and called your name to claim you back to a life with God and a part of the Family of God. Many times, it has been Jesus who has confronted us to expose our demons and to help us exorcise our demons. Jesus may appear as a loved one, a doctor, and EMT rushing to our house in an ambulance.
I’m not saying that with a swipe of a red-letter edition Bible, I or anyone, can set you free of your fears and demons, but I can say that the Gospel is clear. Jesus, as savior and Lord, does have the power to confront the Legions of demons living in our heart, mind and soul, all with different and modern names and designations, and can make you whole again through, forgiveness, mercy and reclaiming you as God’s Child, now and forever!
One part of the story I really like is when the man is finally free of the demons, he wants to follow Jesus and learn more about this amazing man Jesus, but Jesus essentially says, “NO” Jesus tells him, “39 ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
The point is that each and every one of us is the man who has been possessed by the Legion of Demons in this story. I don’t care who you are. We come before this cross, in the midst of our brothers and sisters and corporately say, we have sinned against God and the Gospel that has been given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Luke is putting the mirror to our face, and saying, you are the man in the text! And Jesus is not afraid to confront you in your humanity as a feeble and frail human being. You think you are strong? Just wait until you are on your deathbed wondering what will happen next. If you have not let Jesus be the Lord of your living and your death, you will be like the demons in the text, afraid and living in the darkness of many forms of “caves.” But remember, Jesus confronts you daily, calling out the demons wanting to comfort and heal you and call you His own. It takes time and grace. Oftentimes the grace we need must come from the Grace that God has put into your heart through the gift of baptism and faith… even then the journey may not be complete, it may take a life time. When you go through the loss of a loved one, the pain for being separated from that person may only grow… that is the way of love. But Jesus says, one day you will be healed from that pain because I have paved the way for you to be free of your demons and I have reserved a place for you and your loved ones a the greatest Luau you could ever imagine. If we allow ourselves to be freed from our demons in this life, the natural response will be the desire to share this gift with everyone you meet… it may be a little obnoxious to some people, but it is still sharing “GOOD NEWS.” This is something the world, filled with countless demons, could use a little more of…. Let go and let God. Amen.
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