The 4th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 7C (6/20/2010)

The Power of Jesus

Lessons: Isaiah 65:1-9 Psalm 22:19-28 (22) Galatians 3:23-29 St. Luke 8:26-39

Semicontinuous Series: 1 Kings 19:1-4 [5-7] 8-15a Psalms 42 and 43 (43:3)

Prayer of the Day: O Lord God, we bring before you the cries of a sorrowing world.  In your mercy set us free from the chains that bind us, and defend us from everything that is evil, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

8:26 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 Jesusto 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.

St. Luke 8:26-39. New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

This week’s Gospel lesson speaks about the astonishing power of Jesus. In the country of the Gerasenes, there is a man who used to be from the city. He once had a home there – perhaps a family, and a job in town. Quite likely, he used to be a regular at worship. But those days are long gone. For as long as most of them can remember, he has been living outside the city, taking refuge in the tombs of the local cemetery. He wears no clothes. He has no family. The townspeople are so frightened of him that they once tried to chain his legs and arms together. The shackles still encircle his ankles and wrists, but in a furious rage of passion, he shattered the chains that connected them. They call him a “demoniac” – someone who is filled with demons.

Then Jesus arrives on the scene. This Jewish rabbi, schooled in the purity laws of Israel, reaches out to this man who is four times unclean. He is a Gentile, living far from the center of Israel’s life (good Jews in that day never associated with Gentiles); he is filled with demons; he is living in a cemetery, constantly in contact with death; and his neighbors are a herd of swine (an animal all Israelites are prohibited from eating or even touching). Jesus reaches out to this man, sends the demons that inhabited him into the herd of swine, and sets him free from the horror that so long has bound him. It is an awesome miracle, and one that gets the attention of many people. It gets the attention of the swineherds, who were probably most frightened because they would have to report to their employer what happened to his entire herd of pigs. It gets the attention of those who saw what happened, and with wild eyes and frantic gestures, they try to describe it to the rest of the town. It gets the attention of all who come out to see what had happened. There are amazed to see this man, whose presence has frightened them for years, now calmly sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him.

The people become frightened. They are unnerved that the careful balance of their community has been disturbed, and their sense of order has been destroyed. They are troubled by this power and they ask Jesus to leave. So that is exactly what he does: he gathers his disciples up, they climb aboard the boats that brought them there, and they take off – never again to return to the country of the Gerasenes.

St. Luke and this morning’s lesson teach us that here is a power in the presence of Jesus. A power that can seem frightening. It turns situations upside down. It calls to question the way that we understand the world. When the power of Jesus is at hand, death is no longer the final answer; insane situations don’t remain the same; patterns and realities that we’ve become accustomed to no longer hold. And there is something frightening about that. A power that great (one that cannot be controlled) elicits one of two responses: either we come to believe that Jesus is God, and begin to live as his followers, or we ask him to leave. It is too frightening – too costly – too unpredictable to continue in his presence without giving him our hearts. For the people in the country of the Gerasenes, it is just too much for them to take. They ask him to leave. How will we respond to the power of Jesus in our lives?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How does St. Luke describe the relative strengths of Jesus and the demons?
  2. Why were the people so unnerved when Jesus made this man well?
  3. How did the man once possessed respond to Jesus?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When has the power of God in my life given me hope and peace?
  2. When has the power of God in my life unsettled me?
  3. What would it mean for me to open my life up to the influence of God's power?