June 23, 2013
The Fifth Sunday of Pentecost
The Rev. Deacon Stella M. Clark
Posted July 17, 2013
Prior to my encounter with Jesus my personal life was riddled with guilt, shame, fear, and obviously low self-esteem. You see, growing up Catholic in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, my central preoccupation was sin. Sin was everywhere. It consumed us and dominated our waking hours.
Jesus spent a disproportionate amount of time with people described in the gospels as the poor, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the hungry, sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, the downtrodden, the captives, and those possessed by demons, all who labor, and are heavy burdened, the least, the last and the lost.
One of the mysteries of the gospel tradition is this strange attraction of Jesus for the
unattractive, this strange love for the unlovely. The key to this mystery is, of course, is ABBA.
Jesus does what he sees the Father doing. He loves those whom the Father loves.
Here’s a question for those who like trivia. Who was the first missionary Jesus ever sent? Someone well trained, right? Someone with an intimate relationship with Christ. A devoted follower. A close disciple. One with a thorough knowledge of Scripture, wouldn’t you think?
Let me give you a hint. To find him, don’t go to the Great Commission. Don’t turn to the names of the apostles. This person who was sent, was not on any of these lists. Where did Jesus go to find his first missionary? You won’t believe this. A cemetery!
Who was the first person he commissioned? You’re not going to believe this either. A lunatic. The man Jesus sent out was a madman turned missionary. His story is found in the 8th chapter of Luke’s Gospel. When Jesus got out of the boat, instantly a man with many demons came to him from the burial caves. This man lived in the caves, and no one could tie him up, not even with chains, because he always broke them off. Day and night he would wander naked around the burial caves and on the hills, screaming and cutting himself with stones.
He’s the fellow your mother told you to avoid. He’s the fellow in my hometown who stands in the middle of the street directing traffic or stalks the railroad yard waiting for train #29 and talking into a chewing tobacco can. He’s the fellow the police routinely lock up for his unorthodox, often dangerous, crazy antics. He’s the fellow who stalks neighborhoods. His is the face that fills the screen during the evening news.
And this is the first missionary of the church! Palestine didn’t know what to do with him. They restrained him, but he broke the chains. He ripped off his clothes. He lived in caves. He was a menace to society. Of absolutely no good to anyone. No one had a place for him –
Even today the best that modern medicine could offer such a man is medication and treatment. Maybe with much time, expense and professional help, such destructive behavior could be curtailed. But it would take years.
With Jesus it takes seconds.
The encounter is explosive. The disciples boat beaches near a graveyard and a herd of pigs. Both are unclean for Jews. As Jesus steps out, a crazy man with wild hair, bloody wrists, arms flailing, and voice screaming storms out of a cavern. The apostles are horrified. But Jesus isn’t. Jesus speaks first. Jesus wants the man back. The demons offer no threat. They’ve heard this voice before and Jesus’ mere presence humbles the demons. They cower before God and beg for mercy from Jesus. His words reduce them to sniveling, groveling weaklings. Jesus sends the demons into the swine and 2,000 possessed pigs hurl themselves into the sea.
And all the while the disciples do nothing. While Jesus fights, the followers stare. They don’t know anything else to do. Can you relate? Are you watching a world out of control and don’t know what to do? If so, do what the disciples did: When the fighting is fierce, stand back and let the Father fight.
God wants us to focus our eyes on him. Why study the enemy? We won’t defeat him. Only God will. Only God can destroy Satan. As the stunned disciples look on, Jesus goes into action and God delivers a lunatic. Pigs are embodied by demons. And a disciple is made in a cemetery.
Outlandish story? Just wait. It’s not over yet. If you think the reaction of the demons is bizarre, wait till you see the response of the people. The pig herders ran to the city and told everyone what they had seen. So the people went out to see for themselves and began to beg Jesus to leave their area.
They did what?? The people began to beg Jesus to leave the area. You mean the
people asked Jesus to leave? That’s right. Rather than thank him, they dismissed him. What would cause people to do such a thing? That’s a good question. What would cause people to prefer pigs and lunatics over the presence of God?
Or better. . .
What would cause an alcoholic to prefer misery over sobriety?
What would cause a church to prefer slumber over revival?
What would cause a nation to prefer slavery over freedom?
What would cause people to prefer yesterday’s traditions over today’s living God?
The answer? Fear of change. Change is hard work. It’s easier to follow the same old path than to move out into uncharted territory. So the people dismissed Jesus. And since Jesus never goes where he isn’t invited, he steps back into the boat. Now watch what happens next.
The man who was freed from the demons begged to go with him. But Jesus would not let him.
Strange way to treat a new believer, don’t you think? Why wouldn’t Jesus take him along? Simple. He had greater plans for him. “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has mercy on you.”
There it is. The commissioning of the first missionary. One minute insane, the next in Christ. No training. No teaching. I wouldn’t have sent a missionary to some people who had just given me the boot, would you? A plague, perhaps, but not a missionary. But Christ did.
And Christ does. He still sends the message to the unworthy. And he still uses the unworthy as messengers. After all, look who wrote this sermon.