Sunday, June 23, 2013

Freedom from the Tombs - A Homily for Proper 12, Year C, 2013

Homily for Proper 12, Year C, 2013
Sunday, June 23rd, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 8:26-39

If we believe that Christ has set us free, that Christ brings us new life, and that we have that life in abundance, then what does it truly mean to be free, and to live in abundance and joy?  St. Luke tells us of a man possessed of demons. The demons that lived within him had robbed him of his freedom and of his life.  We are told that he no longer lived amongst his community. He did not live in a house, but in the tombs.  We are told that he wore no clothing, but went about naked.  We are told that when he lost control, people would chain him, but the demons within were so strong that they could not be contained.  No one could do anything for him.  He was a man without a home, without a community, without dignity, without a future – he had been robbed of his life.  He had been a man of the people, a man of the city, and now he was alone with his demons, living as if in hell, living and yet not living at all, residing in the tombs as if he were already dead.

And yet, even as he struggled with the thousand demons that robbed him of his life, his dignity, and his joy, he was not without hope.  Perhaps it was a only a shred of hope that he clung to, but it was hope, nonetheless, for when Jesus set foot in his country, he ran to him and fell down before the Lord.  But the man could not even form his own words.  It was the demons who spoke, whose words formed on his lips. These demons feared Jesus. They feared the man to whom their host had brought them, for they knew that he was more than a man, that he was the son of the Most High God!  And so they shouted and spewed at Jesus, “what have you to do with me?” and then begged him, “Do not torment me.” 

The demons knew true power when they saw it.  For years they had tormented this poor man who had been their host. For years they had robbed him of his life and joy.  For years they had used and abused him.  But when that man struggled against them, and brought them to Jesus, they cowered as if powerless.  They tried to make a deal with Jesus, for they knew he had the power to bind them and send them into the abyss, whence they had come.  They asked him to free them and find them another host -- perhaps that heard of swine over yonder.  We don’t often think of Jesus as a trickster, but trick them he did. He allowed the demons to enter the herd, and immediately, the herd charged over a cliff to their deaths.  Now, you may ask, what happened to the demons?  A demon without a host his robbed of its power, and hurled into the abyss. 

What of the man who had been possessed of this legion of demons? 

He was free.  Not only was he free, he was so thankful to Jesus that he wanted to become a disciple and follow him.  Jesus granted rather that he should be his follower, but not as wandering missionary, but in his home country.  What did people discover about this man when they saw him afresh? They found him clothed, and returned to his home.  Jesus gave him back all that he had lost, and more!  Not only did this man regain his dignity, not only did he regain his home, and his community, but he was given the good news to share with those he loved.  Jesus would not restore his freedom only to enslave him again.  Jesus did not demand that he leave his mother and his brothers and follow him (as he had done with others), rather, he commanded him to return home and spread the joy of his freedom, the joy of his liberation, the joy of his salvation with those he loved dearest and best.

What does it mean for us to find freedom and new life in Christ?  For some it will mean a journey into an unknown land, for others it will mean a transformed life in their own country, but for both, it means freedom from the demons that threaten to rob us of life, liberty, and joy.  When Jesus cast demons from Mary Magdalene, she became part of his retinue, a partner in his itinerant ministry. When Jesus cast demons from the Gerasene man, he became a witness in his home town to all Jesus had done.  Both had their demons, and each had their own special calling in the kingdom of God.  What is clear in both cases though, is that they could not rid themselves of their demons, they needed Jesus.  The most they could do, in their struggle with what possessed them and robbed them of life was to fall down at the feet of Jesus. And when they took that risk, when they used their last remaining strength to fall down before the Lord, the demons cowered before the Most High, and left them. 

Whether our demons be of the spiritual kind or of any other sort, they cower before Jesus.  Jesus has the power to heal us and deliver us from the demons we host within ourselves.  There are the demons of our broken history, both personal and cultural.  There are the demons of bigotry.  There are the demons of unhealthy desire and lust.  There are the demons of avarice and greed.  There are the demons of abuse and neglect. There are the demons of unforgiveness. But these demons all cower before the God of love and peace.  They cower before the power of the gentleness and tenderness. They cower before the power that defeats sin on the cross and death amongst the tombs.  They cower before Jesus.  God’s healing power is there for all, but there is one other detail in these stories that must never be forgotten, each of these people comes to Jesus, or when they are too ill to do so themselves, a loved one brings them to him.

We cannot save ourselves; only Christ saves us.  However, we must want to be saved. We must want the demons cast out.  How many of us have known people who seem happy in their misery, who seem to take joy in the demons that haunt their lives?  How many of us have even wallowed in the delight of misery from time-to-time.  For those who delight in misery, who take pride in the demons that haunt them … well, I will not venture to guess what will come of them, but Scripture is clear about those who come to Jesus.  Can it be expressed any better than in his own words, “Come unto me all ye who weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I shall give you rest”?  Everyone who comes to Jesus, who brings their demons before him, will meet a Lord who gives them rest.  What he gives each of us might be very different, and to be sure, as the demons are cast out, we may learn we have certain crosses to bear, but these crosses lead us to new life, not the tombs. 

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