“Preferring Our Demons” Luke 8:26-39

I am wondering if we prefer our demons?

In the Gospel lesson, the disciples and Jesus step out onto the Gentile country of the Gerasenes.  They are not on “home soil,” they are visitors, and the very first thing they encounter there is not some friendly townsfolk, or the welcome wagon, or the tourism council.

No, what welcomes to meet them is a demon infested man.  He is naked, wild, could not be bound even by strong chains, and who lived among the tombs.   He is unclean.  He is uncouth.  He is uncontrollable, and unwelcoming.  He greets Jesus with a not-so-subtle question.

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!”

Now, we’ve seen Jesus do a number of things in the Gospel.

We’ve seen Jesus cast out demons, and heal the sick, and even raise the dead.  But at no point have we seen Jesus “tormenting” anyone or anything?  That’s just not in Jesus’ usual list of things to do.

Clearly however, the demon possessed man has the impression that it would be in Jesus’ purview so to do.   Could we imagine Jesus “tormenting” anyone?   Even demons?

And at the end of the story, when the demons are cast out and the man is sitting there in his right mind, it is the townsfolk who come to Jesus and ask him to leave.  He’s put quite a dent in pork production and profitability by causing the herd of swine to be sent into the sea.   “Seized with great fear” they ask Jesus to leave.

Could it possibly be that we prefer our demons?   Both those gripped by them and those who live with their consequence?

“Legion” we are told is the name; when Jesus asks for it from the man.

He has demons by the thousands.  Where does one begin?

The man is such a problem that the people who live here don’t know what to do with him anymore, and so they leave him to his demons.   They let him roam the countryside.  They try to restrain him to keep him away from them.  They consign him to the unclean places, the place of the dead.

Clearly, the people of the area cannot live with him, so they leave him to live with himself, by himself.   But at least even in the grips of this demons the man has his place in that world.

When the man is restored to his right mind and cleaned up, the people don’t know exactly what to do with him.  It scares them that he has changed so much!

Which is what prompts me to ask the central question here, “Do we prefer living with our own demons to having Jesus address them?”

Perhaps this is where the idea of torment comes in.   Perhaps the torment the man/demons speaks of is that of having to do something besides live with things the way they are.

We come, we worship, we drink our coffee, we sing our songs, and go home again, often shaking our heads at all the troubles that are “out there” in the world and how good it is to get away from them all “in here” for a little time in here.

We like having this respite from the world.

But we are not always so enthusiastic about addressing our demons.  That ends up being torment for us!

“Do we have to talk about this?”

“Can’t we just leave well enough alone?”

So we do what in some communities and circles is called “Minnesota Nice.” We keep our conversations on safe, shallow, and not too revealing terms.

Better to have my demons in check, than let them run rampant.

We do our best to just contain them, or to tolerate them.

They are often too big, too numerous, and too powerful to take on, but they are also not usually all that well hidden.  They poke their fierce heads with the right comment made, the wrong action taken.

They get out every once in a while.

So like the man in the Gospel, we do our best to restrain our demons.

We shackle our demons of poverty, injustice, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia with polite chains that we know will never hold them, but that give us enough time to simply keep out of their way.

Address something like gun violence?   That would mean taking on the NRA, or examining our gun culture, our entertainment industry, and our constitution!   Those are things that you just don’t want to mess with!   Surely it is better to just keep things at bay and in the fringes that to confront them.   So we shake our heads and find various excuses to leave things as they are, not take them on, examine them, or —gasp—ask their name and get to know them!

When it comes to the balance of guns and freedom, we prefer the demons we have.  It appears we prefer to live with them.

Address poverty?   That would take examining all forms of economies, and what they can and cannot do.  You can’t question capitalism!   You can’t advocate for democratic socialism!    To do so unleashes the well-rehearsed attacks and jabs and catch phrases we have cherished since the turn of the century.    No, capitalism certainly has its drawbacks but it is still the only way to go.   We prefer the demons we know, the ones that may grip to us tightly, rewarding some and punishing and tormenting others to considering alternatives.

Talk about the LGBTQ community and our response to Orlando?  That opens up just way too many questions.   We have most of those demons of divisiveness and advocacy under restraint right now, the keel is even, why rock the boat?

The church it seems always tries to walk a fine line between social issues and individual rights.  We try to keep a large enough tent to allow all a place under the roof, and in doing so we necessarily let a few demons persist that we are simply not willing to name.

Could it be that we prefer our demons to having to address them?

Could it be that the torment we envision is having to deal with what grips us, examine it, let go of it, or deal with the changes the departure of demons will make.  It will cost us dearly.

We envision tortured conversations ahead as we engage in debate.

We considered tortured conversations ahead as we do what is all too human, fail one another, surprise one another with the bigotry, racism, and privilege that we did not even realize was in our midst until Jesus began to name things for us.

The prospect scares us, of having to address these big, Legion complex things, and so we sip our coffee and sing our hymns and hope to simply keep things at a status quo.

And Jesus will have none of that!   The demons sense it, and angrily shout at him even as he approaches.

This is not where we are meant to stay, you see, cloistered behind these brick walls and stained glass, in safe but polite places.

The man is not meant to stay gripped by Legion.

The community of the Gerasenes is not meant to stay as they are, putting up with things as they are for the sake of their economics, convenience or fears.

If you think church is just about is coming here, and singing, and praying, and drinking a cup of coffee with your friends, then you are sadly mistaken.

There is no place in the Gospels where Jesus gathers people just for the sake of gathering them.

No, Jesus gathers people to be taught and empowered and equipped for service.

Jesus gathers people to be healed of their infirmities so that they can proclaim the good news of a God who heals!

Jesus gathers people to put them into boats and to take them to distant shores where they will have to engage the demons that dwell there!

And while it is Jesus who acts primarily in this story, he does so knowing that the disciples are watching him intently.

He does what he does this day, knowing that a day is coming soon when he will commission his disciples, sending them out like sheep among the wolves, where they will have to confront the demons themselves!

Look and remember what Jesus shows us in this story.

Legion recognizes Jesus, and puts up quite a fuss when Jesus arrives.   Legion recognizes that Jesus will be the end of Legion’s power over this man.

“Don’t send us back to the Abyss!”  “Send us into the swine!” Legion begs.

And Jesus does, but Legion ends up rushing headlong into the abyss of the sea anyway.

Destruction is what the demons of this world are bound for, no matter what! Which means of course, the more we harbor those demons, whatever they are, and tolerate them, the more tormented we will be when Jesus comes near.   The demons know, we know – that the demons cannot exist where Jesus comes near.

The truth is that the problems of this world are indeed “Legion”. There are so very many of them.  They are often left to run wild because we are afraid to approach them, or ask their name, or label them for what they are.

Followers of Jesus know that the demons, the legion of problems out there have to be confronted.

As bearers of the name of Jesus, we are the ones who are called, empowered and commissioned to go forth and confront the “Legions” of this world.

This is the scary side of the power of God, this is the “torment” that we can find ourselves in because of Jesus.

God has a mission in this world, and God is going to be about doing it.

The Kingdom will come, that is a promise.

The question always before us is “Will we be a part of that work of God in confronting the demons of this world that we come across, or, will we remain quiet, and let the demons have their way with us?

More importantly, where do you find yourself in this story?

This is the scary side of the power of God.  There is no standing in the wings, no just letting things go on the way they always have.

In the end for the man restored, but no easy life of leaving behind his old community to retreat with Jesus is given to him.

No, you have to stay and help your neighbors now, confront what they have lost, how things are different for you both, how the world is changed because of what God has done for you and in your midst.

When Jesus comes near, demons are named, and dealt with.

So, I wonder again, “Do we simply prefer our demons, Legion though they may be, to a world turned upside down by Jesus’ presence?

It’s worth considering.   Are you ready to face your demons today?

“I have something to say to you..” Luke 7:36-8:3

Ah, to have your name on Jesus’ lips!  I think we imagine this to be a powerful moment, for we know what it is to be recognized by name, called up, or called out.

Just think for a moment of all the times that we witness Jesus calling someone by name.   Surprisingly enough, there are really only a handful in the scripture.

For instance, Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the tomb.  “Lazarus, Come out,” he says, and with the lips of the man who has been dead for four days on his lips; all the power of the resurrection is summoned.  The man who was formerly dead emerges.

Jesus comforts Mary in the Garden with her name.   She has come to the tomb to anoint his body for burial, all the hopes and dreams of the Kingdom shattered by his death and crucifixion.  She is steadfast in her love and goes to the tomb.   Finding it open, she is frantic and panic stricken.  “Where have they taken his body?”  Is this a last cruel joke paid upon a man whom she loved and who loved her and forgave her?   To hide the body?

And so, Jesus assuages her grief by calling her by name.  “Mary.”   The name spoken breaks through the haze of grief, panic and frenzied fear that had clouded her eyes to recognizing him.

Or Jesus calls Zacchaeus the tax collector out of from the tree, and the invitation to dine with him in his house that day restores a man short of stature in his community to new heights of acceptance and service.

Ah, to have your name on Jesus’ lips!   What a powerful moment that must be!

But at the same time, we are reminded that having your name spoken, even by someone you love and who loves you, can have a different kind of power.     It can have the power to pull you up short and make you take notice of your own error, sin, or shortcoming.

We know how this works, do we not?  Almost everyone can tell a story about how they knew they were in trouble when their parent or teacher used their full name.

“Merle Lee Brockhoff, what have you been up to?”

Uh, oh…..

We know we’re in trouble when the parent or worse yet, the spouse commands our attention by calling us by name.

It seems to work that way for Jesus as well.

So, we recall how in the garden of Gethsemane as one of the disciples approached Jesus with the Temple Guard in tow.  Jesus called the disciple out by name, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

Ouch, called out by Jesus by name for the action taken.   It’s something Judas never gets over.

Or, we recall Peter having abandoned his role as disciple and going back to fishing finds himself being called by name by the resurrected Lord and asked, “Peter, do you love me?”   Not once, twice but three times.  Powerful words that remind Peter of his own denial of Jesus, and that opens the door to him for forgiveness and restoration of relationship.

Or we recall the busy Martha, rushing around clattering pots and pans while harboring resentment toward her sister Mary for just sitting there listening to Jesus.    Jesus calls her by name, “Martha, you are troubled and worried by so many things, one thing is needed…”

And here now with this who has invited Jesus to dinner, we learn his name because Jesus uses it, and we sense that it is an “uh oh” kind of moment.

It must first be noted that Jesus is fond of hanging out with Pharisees.  He likes them.   They ask the best questions.   Questions, which in turn allow Jesus to respond in ways that almost always surprises them, but also opens up new avenues for him to give a clearer understanding of the Kingdom he comes to proclaim.

So, Jesus eats with Pharisees at their invitation.  You’re not in trouble with Jesus just for being a Pharisee, a good religious leader of your day.

No, it appears you only get in trouble, (or you only get called out by name,) when you’ve done something that needs correction or pointing out for your own benefit.

“Simon, I have something to say to you…”

And what has Simon done to cause Jesus to single him out by name?   Well it’s all about hospitality and forgiveness.

It’s all about how we treat each other, what we think of each other, what we are willing to do for one another.

It’s all about what we say behind the backs of others, or whisper in the margins when we think no one is listening, or when we are speaking to those of “like mind” about “those kind” of people.

That’s what will get a look at you from Jesus that begins with him using your name.

Here’s the first detail of the story that you really can’t miss but that somehow always seems to elude us.

Everyone knows this woman for what she’s done, but nobody knows her for who she is.

We’re told right up front that she is a “sinner,” but given no indication is given of what it is she’s known for doing.

Simon knows her for what she’s done, or labeled for doing.

Jesus apparently knows too, but does not feel compelled to point out or talk about whatever it is she is notorious for doing, what makes her a “sinner.”

How she gets into Simon’s house is anyone’s guess.  Maybe the doors were left open, maybe she had connections to people present that no one wanted to acknowledge, so no one confronts or stops her.  She just kind of “shows up” in the story as a prominent feature, an uncomfortable presence for everyone else but Jesus.

Jesus makes no mention at all of what is happening to him.  He does not really even acknowledge her, it is Simon who points her out, and who is looking down his nose now at both her and at Jesus.

“If this man were a prophet….”   Simon thinks to himself.

He questions Jesus now by the company he chooses to keep, and it is the questioning in the mind that draws Jesus’ attention and makes him utter Simon’ name.

“Simon, I have something to say to you….”

Jesus didn’t really seem to mind that the proprieties of hospitality had been denied to him when he came to Simon’s house.

It’s not a big deal if he didn’t get the kiss of peace.

It’s not the end of the world if his feet weren’t washed, or the courtesy of being able to comb his hair and freshen up wasn’t extended.

Jesus does not require it of Simon, and maybe didn’t expect it.

Maybe the attitude of Simon harbored was one of both curiosity and doing Jesus a favor in the invitation this day to come and dine at his house. “Isn’t Jesus, this wandering teacher lucky to have me take him in, to know where his next meal is coming from.”

No, what draws Jesus’ attention is not how he is treated, but rather how the woman is viewed, and what is done for her… or rather what is not done…. Which is to say that she is not even acknowledged.

“Do you see this woman?”  Jesus asks.

What a strange question!  EVERYONE sees this woman!   EVERYONE is watching what she is doing with curiosity, or with contempt, or with disgust, but NO ONE is talking to her, or acknowledging her existence.

She is the “elephant in the room” of the event.   The thing that everyone sees, but at the same time the thing that no one is willing to touch or talk about openly, they only whisper about her under their breath.

That’s what catches Jesus’ attention.

That is what prompts his parable on the matter of forgiveness.

That is what gets Simon called out by name.

It is also what makes me wonder, “When have I done this kind of thing?”

When have I preferred to whisper and talk about the actions of others rather than walking over and getting to know them, or know about them, and find out what is going on with them directly?

When have I judged as Simon did, both the actions of God in being merciful and the circumstances of the person on whom God seems to have had mercy, even if it didn’t jibe with what I thought God ought to have done?

When could I have expected Jesus to call me out, by name, with something to say to me?

It is indeed powerful to have one’s name on the lips of Jesus.   We sense and know the power of that when we are reminding of how God calls us by name to be his own dear children.

In the waters of baptism, as the child is named and lifted up, God whispers in the voice of the Pastor, it is the first time God calls you by name.

In the meal when the name is spoken, “This is the body of Christ, the blood of Christ given for you___________.   God calls by name to remind you of the power of forgiveness and welcome extended.

We know the power of the positive call, how wonderful it is to be reminded that God knows us by name and finds us a delight as his own dear children.

But here we are also reminded of the power of correction.  The expectation that because we are known by God, there are things that are expected of us, and behaviors that are commanded, and attitudes that need to be put right and held in check because God loves us, and loves all.

God has something to say to us.

But what God has to say to us, when he calls us by name, is done out of God’s deep, abiding, and intense love for us.

Even correction, that does not come by disinterested parties.   Correction comes from those who love us deeply and who know we are capable of so much more than whispers and dismissals of those whom we ought to see and get to know.

“Simon, I have something to say to you…”

Having our name on Jesus’ lips is a powerful experience, and whether you hear it as praise and blessing this day or as gentle reminder of what God hopes and expects of you, may you be assured of this.

Jesus wouldn’t be calling your name if he didn’t love you.

Jesus wouldn’t be calling your name if he didn’t have something in mind for you.

Jesus wouldn’t have brought you here if he didn’t have a thing or two to say, just to you this day, in Word, in worship, in the words of a hymn or a phrase in the liturgy.

You may have thought you were doing God some kind of favor by coming to church today, but that’s not how it works at all.

No, it is God who is doing you the great favor of calling you by name again, and he does it because he loves you.

It’s all about forgiveness.  It’s all about accepting the person as they come, and going just one step further together to make forgiveness real and clear.

“What Will You Say?” Luke 7:11-17

Which direction are you going?   That’s the question that pops into my mind as I read this Gospel lesson today.  As Luke sets the scene, we have two crowds going in two separate directions.

Jesus is on his way into town to end his travels for the day.

A Funeral procession is on its way out of town, headed toward the cemetery, to lay to rest a body.

This widow of the town of Nain has lost her only son.  We don’t know how he died, but we do know in that culture what it means for her. Women could not hold property.  Without a husband, and now without a male in the household to provide for her, she is literally walking out of town with all of her hopes, dreams and future, as well as her dead son.

The other crowd along the road, (the one following Jesus) has been watching as Jesus moves from miracle to miracle, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near.

They have seen him heal the Centurion’s Slave.

They have witnessed him heal the withered hand of a man, on the Sabbath no less!

They hung back at a distance while Jesus walked right up and cleansed a leper.

They saw him take a paralytic by the hand and raise up on his feet, and watched as he rolled up his mat and walked away.

This crowd is walking toward what they see as a new future, filled with all the hopes and dreams that Jesus brings with this new Kingdom breaking in.

Today, these two crowds meet along the way.   Jesus reaches out and touches the bier, (the stretcher upon which the body is lain) and stops the procession for both crowds.   Seeing the woman and realizing her predicament, he has compassion on her.  Resurrection takes place, and her son is restored to her.

In the middle of these two stopped crowds, “The dead man (we are told) sat up and began to speak..”

This is the detail of the story that jumps out at me.

I wonder just what it is that the dead man now brought to life had to say?   What do you say after you have been brought back from the dead?

Do you finish the last sentence you were speaking when you died?   Was this death for him like a suspension of time?   Something he did not even know had passed and so he picks up right where he left off and just goes on as if nothing had happed?

Or, did the man rise up to express thanks and gratitude to Jesus?

Was the first thing on his lips an expression of love for his mother?

Did he begin to comment on how great it was to be alive again, what kind of changes he would make to his life now that he realized life’s fragility and preciousness?

Or, did he speak as one dismayed.  Having passed over into the new life, was he upset to be dragged back to this old one of struggle and responsibility?  Was he irked and being brought back again to live with his mother and to have to go through all the troubles and trials of this world?

“What did you do that for Jesus?”

Or, did this man simply stammer, trying to figure out where he was and what exactly had happened to him, and what he ought to do next?   Disoriented and confused, does Jesus hand him back to his mother to have her fill in the gaps for him?

There are, you see, so many possibilities of what you might say after being brought back to life.   So many different ways this story could go from this point on, and it certainly must have went somewhere, but we are not privy to it.  We are left to wonder what he said, and where it all went from there.

What do you say when Jesus interrupts your procession, where you are headed, with new life?

It occurs to me now that we live our lives very much in parallel to this story.

We are, if you will, a bit like the crowds.   We are living in a time of incredible change in culture, in society, and in the church.

Sometimes we are headed one direction, at others times in the other.

Sometimes we find ourselves walking with Jesus awestruck by what he is doing.  We just can’t wait to see what is around the next corner for us, what Jesus will do next in our presence.   We live in anticipation that following Jesus means we will see something amazing, unpredictable perhaps, but clearly God up to something and lives being changed and transformed.

At other times however, we acknowledge that we are a bit grief stricken.  We are marching as it were with the widow, witnessing all our hopes and dreams and expectations wither before us.  We walk the funeral procession of things passing away that used to be and wondering what tomorrow will hold.

We hear the stories of the decline in church membership and see it in our midst.

We watch as those young people we had hoped would take up the reigns of institution and faith leave it behind.  These young people are no less faithful, no less followers of Jesus, but the path they are choosing, the faith they are looking for has less to do with institutions, buildings, traditions or programs and more to do with relationships and authentic living.

We feel as if everything we built to give to them has been abandoned, our future snuffed out.

Two crowds are meeting this day, one  a procession of thankgiving at what they see Jesus doing, the other a procession focused on death and loss.   Which one do you find yourself in this day?

And, really if you think about it, what would one crowd have to say to the other?

When you’re walking with grief and loss, the last thing you want to see and hear is a bunch of happy, flippant individuals having a good time.    “Have they no respect for the dead?  For what we’ve lost?”

When you’re walking with someone who is going from sign to sign, wonder to wonder and gathering momentum and crowds around you, the last thing you want to meet is a   depressing crowd of mourners.

So it’s important that we pay attention to what happens in this story when Jesus interrupts our procession, whichever one it is, with resurrection.   When Jesus reaches out and touches that bier, and the whole crowd freezes where they are.   All eyes focus on him, and on what he says, and on what he does.

Hear what he says… “Do not weep!”

Something is about to happen that neither crowd could have ever expected, ever dreamt of happening.

It will wipe away the tears of one procession.

It will astound and amaze the other procession, despite having seen wonders, who could imagine something like this happening, someone rising from the dead?

It will cause all in both processions to be seized with fear and glory.  It will make the whole crowd, no matter which way they were headed, proclaim “God has looked favorably upon his people!”

Listen to Jesus today, as he reaches out to touch our procession, whichever one you happen to be in.

“Do not weep!”

God has something in store for us all, and as hard as that is to believe sometimes, it is something that we would never have been able to have without a death and resurrection.

Look also at what Jesus does.

I know you think that I’m going to talk about the resurrection now.   You think I’m going to talk about the restoration of the son to his mother, the “getting back” of what was lost to her.

I know that for many of you that would be your greatest hope, the most desired outcome.   “Give us back what we’ve lost, Jesus!”  Whatever it is that you may feel is lost.

But that is not what I want to point out.

No, what I want you to see is the first thing that Jesus does in this story, and that is this:   In verse 13 we read about the first thing that Jesus does:

“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her….”

It isn’t resurrection that Jesus does first.

It isn’t restoration that moves the events of this story along.

It is compassion.

Compassion is the first thing that Jesus does.  It is compassion that empowers him to move, to resurrect, to reach out, to act, and to speak.

Nothing else happens in this story without Jesus’ compassion.

So maybe that’s our cue as well.   No matter which crowd you find yourself in today, nothing happens for you without Jesus first having compassion on you.   Compassion that is found in the waters of Baptism.  Compassion that comes to you time and again in Word, in Sacrament, in forgiveness.  Compassion that reaches out to stop you in your tracks and surprises you with the power of the Resurrection.

Compassion just needs an open heart, and a hand that is willing to reach out and stop a crowd intent upon its own direction.

Compassion just needs someone who experiences the power of Jesus, and who then sits up and begins to speak.

I don’t really know what you all are going to say in the day and weeks and months to come as you make your way in the crowd you find yourself in right now, after you have experienced the compassion of Jesus and the interruption of your procession.

Maybe you’ll speak as if nothing really happened to you today.

Maybe you’ll speak as if you are dismayed at what has happened to you, what is going on in your world.

Maybe you will speak as if you are confused, looking for someone to fill in the gaps for you.

Maybe you will speak words of regret, “What did we do that for?”

Maybe you will speak words of thanksgiving and praise for what God has done.

It is up to you what you say will after Jesus has reached out, touched you, and given you breath and life.

What you will do after Jesus as compassion on you?   For that is what Jesus does today, and every day.

He has compassion on you.

He stops you in your tracks to experience resurrection and new life.

What you say after it happens, well that’s part of the story that you get to write in this world.  The words that you will speak, that may never be recorded anywhere, but will be noted that compassion and resurrection gave you something to say.

My prayer, is that whatever you say or do in the future, you will do it out of compassion.   For it is the compassion shown to us by God in Jesus Christ  that stops us in our tracks, and raises us to new life.