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.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
While on sabbatical last year we spent a few days in Paris. We wandered over to a classic French sidewalk café, and wanting a full “Paris” experience, I ventured into an area about which I know nothing: French cuisine. So I ordered a grade AAAAA sausage that was advertised as unique to France. This ought to be great!
The server, however, upon hearing my order, frowned. “I don’t recommend that for tourists,” she said with significant emphasis. “Don’t worry,” I responded. “I’m feeling brave.” “No,” she said again. “This is not good for tourists. It is very strong.” “Good!” says the naive tourist, who, ironically, was on a sabbatical the theme of which is “Listening.”
She brought the unique French sausage, called “andouillette” (“ahn-dwee-yet”), and I quickly admitted she was right about the strong odor. Well, more than strong. It was revolting. But I’m in France, so, I took a bite–after all, it couldn’t taste worse than it smelled.
Oh, was I wrong. Now, to my credit, I did swallow a bite. And kept it down. But then I made the mistake of pulling out my phone and Googling it. There’s a reason for the horrendous smell. It’s made of all kinds of meat from various parts of animal intestines. Including the colon. Hence, the indescribable taste.
I tell you that story not because of the particular significance of it as a story, but because of the significance of stories in general. Stories have the power to connect people. When we hear a story, almost always we discover ways that our own stories can connect to it. If you’ve been to Paris, there’s that intersection between our stories. If you’ve sat at a sidewalk café, you can connect there. If you’ve eaten anything strange or disgusting, you’ve got that connection. When someone tells a story, there are almost always parts that our own story has an intersection with. It’s the nature of stories.
Which is why I believe this gospel text ends the way it does. We usually get all caught up with this strange story and miss the ending. There’s a lot going on. A man possessed by thousands of demons, uncontrollable and living among the tombs of the dead; the casting of the demons into the pigs and their destruction in the lake; the pig farmers demanding that Jesus leave their town. There’s so much there that we don’t always hear the end.
This man who has been saved by Jesus is sane and calm. And he begs that he could now follow Jesus. Isn’t that what we would think to be the best outcome possible? Another disciple! Isn’t that what we hope for everyone? That all would want to follow Jesus? Isn’t that the ultimate positive ending?
But it’s not what happens. The man begs to follow Jesus, and Jesus says, “no.” Have you ever noticed that? Instead, Jesus instructs him to go home and tell his story. Share his experience of this encounter with God. Because stories connect people. Can you even begin to imagine hearing him tell this story from his own perspective? His experience? His encounter with God?
So Jesus invites this man to share his.
Notice Jesus tells him just to tell his story, not to expect a particular outcome. He doesn’t need to convince anyone of anything, he doesn’t need to coerce a particular faith response, he doesn’t need to demand some kind of commitment to Jesus. Just tell your story. Just share your experience. There’s a bond, a connection, an intersection when people share their own stories. Something more profound than intellectual agreement. There’s a deeper connection—soul to soul.
As beings created in the image of God, of course we’ve had encounters with God. We all have God stories to tell. We just don’t tell them. Why don’t we? Maybe because we discount our own stories ourselves. Or maybe we think we’re the only ones who’ve had an experience like that. Or maybe because we’re afraid no one will believe us. Maybe because we think our story isn’t mystical enough. Or maybe because we think the only reason anyone would tell a God story would be if they’re trying to convert somebody.
No. Like this formerly demon-possessed man, we have those stories and they need to be told.
We have stories about our journeys from sickness to health, from chaos to peace, from oppression to value, from death to life, from bondage to freedom. We have those stories and they need to be told.
We have stories of times we’ve experienced grace, forgiveness, compassion, holiness in unexplainable ways. We have those stories and they need to be told.
We have stories of encounters with God, with a creator, with the divine, with the living Christ. We have those stories and they need to be told.
Our stories are unique to each of us, which means that unless we tell our stories, the world is deprived of that unique connection to another way God meets us. We need to tell our stories because the world needs to hear them and connect to them and know something more about the God who loves them.
The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with [Jesus]; but Jesus sent him away, saying “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.
What has God done for you? What is your God story? We have those stories and they need to be told.
One of my God stories is posted on my sermon blog, http://www.pastorrobmoss.wordpress.com. The web address can be founds in the announcement sheet. You’re invited to read it there!
(One of my God stories is posted here, but due to time constraints wasn’t part of the oral presentation of this message).
I have a clinical diagnosis of depression. This results in a chronic vulnerability to circumstances and stress that can leave me with no energy or desire to deal with it all. It flares up occasionally, but with medication and therapy I’ve learned a lot of coping mechanisms to keep me relatively healthy.
However, during one of the worst episodes, I found myself feeling that I was simply in a free-fall. Down and down and down in what seemed like a bottomless pit with nothing to slow it down or stop it. It was terrifying. All of the things that I’d been able to use previously to use to stop or at least slow the sense of falling were either not working or out of reach. My intelligence, my humor, my resilience, my theology, even my faith made no difference whatsoever. There was nothing in my life but falling. Trite expressions like “trust God” or “put your faith in God” were meaningless. It’s not that I did or didn’t believe in God, it’s that I simply didn’t care if there was a God or not. I didn’t have the resources available to me to sort that out.
And so I fell. Deeper and darker into the pit with nothing to grab or push against or hold. But it was in the midst of this darkness that I came to a realization that somehow I was no longer falling. It wasn’t a sudden realization, but a slowly dawning awareness. Rather than falling, I had the impression of being held. In this, my most vulnerable, helpless state, I was being held–kept from falling, if you will. This had nothing to do with me, it was nothing I did. It was happening in spite of me. I was being held. I was safe. The darkness would end. The falling would stop.
Whatever it was that was holding me is what I call God. I can trust this God because this God came to me when I could do absolutely nothing for myself. What has emerged in this journey, and what I’m now able to articulate is that this God apparently finds me worthwhile, valuable, and lovable. I’m worth the effort to this God.
Many others were part of my “being held,” it’s true. I wasn’t alone, but had people in my life that were very caring and connected. That connection, that care, that compassion is the very nature of this God who found me, came to me, and held me. This is a God I can trust. This is the God Jesus talks about and reveals for me. Nothing has been the same since.