Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

I had a day away from Trinity today--this Sunday and next Sunday I am supplying for the 1st Presbyterian Church here in Kirksville. Had a couple requests among my blogging friends to post what I preached about here it is...

Proper 7C—1st Presbyterian Church, Kirksville, MO-June 20, 2010

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, son of the most high God?”

When Jesus began to challenge the voices inside this poor tormented man’s head, the man’s own reply must have echoed through every fiber of his being and bounced off every one of the voices inside of his head. If we pulled out a different sort of “bible”—the bible of psychiatric diagnoses, the DSM-IV—it’s pretty apparent this man was a schizophrenic. He heard many people speaking to him inside of his head. Voices that told him to rip his clothes off and run around naked because the mere weight of clothing reminded him of a humanity that was too painful for him. Voices that demanded silence of such a degree that the only solace he got was among the dead. My guess is when he heard music playing in the street, he got special messages from the music that he thought were meant only for him, and some of the messages weren’t very pretty.

I would also bet money that people in town weren’t prone to speaking too highly of him. At best, on a good day, he was probably one of those colorful characters like many we’ve known in Kirksville over the years. If they had newspapers back then, he probably would have always been submitting editorials and running for public office—and even getting a few votes. At worst, on his most difficult days, he was bound and chained—the legal version of “committed to 96 hours of observation” in those days. People probably wondered how they could lure him out of town to another place, little children made fun of him in the streets, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people in town tried more direct methods of discouraging him like flinging the contents of their chamber pots at him when he passed by. All because these voices—“Legion”—would not leave him alone.

So imagine what he was feeling when Jesus—with no introduction, no asking of permission, and with no regard to his personal space—began to command the unclean spirit—the voices of “Legion”—to come out of him. This man didn’t know much, in his psychotic state, but he must have looked at the face of Jesus and knew this man was the holiest, purest thing he’d ever seen—and his heart must have sunk because he knew he wasn’t anything close to that. He must have known exactly who he was at that moment—so in a last ditch attempt to get this fully human, fully divine man to not be profaned by the likes of him, yelled, “What have you to do with me, Jesus?”
What have you to do with me, Jesus?
Wow. Let’s step back from that one a second. Now, many of us here today spend some amount of time on a regular basis, inviting Jesus to bring healing of various sorts to ourselves and to the lives of others. But when Jesus takes the initiative on that one, sometimes our response is more like the story of this poor tormented man than we would like to admit. All of a sudden, when we feel God start to work on us in our lives, to bring us to a new and better place, we suddenly stiffen up and take three steps back and go, “Now wait a minute. I don’t deserve this. I’m not really a terribly nice person on some days. I’m fairly ashamed of some of the things I’ve done, and I’m not really proud of some of the places I’ve gone in my life. No one is knocking at my door to hand me the Mr. or Ms. Congeniality prize. I am SO SERIOUSLY not worthy.”

Hmmm. (Pause) “What have you to do with me, Jesus?”

Well, as we continue on in our Gospel story, what happens next was probably quite a show. Oh, my goodness, there must have been squealing, and splashing, and mud and the swine herders yelling, and as those squeals subsided, all there was left was a bunch of floating hog bodies, an ominous, growing, silence, and a bunch of really, REALLY angry swine herders. I like to imagine, as that silence grew, all of a sudden, this man who had lived a life of torment, a life of feeling possessed by darkness beyond his control, for the first time in many years, for a few split seconds—heard absolutely NOTHING inside of his head—and even that nothingness can feel frightening. We all know that old saying, “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know.” That peace, that silence, might actually have felt for a bit like “the devil he didn’t know.”

But luckily for us, nature abhors a vacuum—and so does God. As our story plays out, we discover this man regains his senses—he is “clothed and in his right mind.” Somewhere in this, his mind begins to become filled with goodness and the healing force of the Holy Spirit. That happens to us, too, when we stop backing up from the touch of Christ and simply stand still and feel his hands upon our face. That happens when we share a meal at his holy table in communion with God and each other. That happens when we catch that split-second glimpse in the sparkle of the eye of someone we know truly loves us. Our voices of darkness are replaced with voices of light. Our naked imperfection becomes covered with the warm, comfortable sweatshirt and blue jeans of a new life in Christ.

Just a heads up here. The meaning of this light, this warmth, this brilliance that comes out in us from Christ’s incandescent incarnation, is not always going to be apparent right away. I really doubt the swine herders in our story ever really cared that our man was healed in this story. I imagine they went back to town angry as all get-out and it is very possible that 20 years later, you could load them up on a little too much wine and they could still get on a roll about how “that dude with a beard came to town and ran our hogs down the bank and drowned them.” After all, it did make the people in Gerasenes nervous enough to escort Jesus to the city limits. But as with all good things, time has a way of revealing the truth, and the full goodness of good things. It’s very important we have faith enough to trust in the power of time.
There’s one more place we need to go with this story this morning. Let’s look at what our newly healed man’s response is. Right off the bat, he wants to go hang out with Jesus, like a puppy following him down the street, wagging his tail, begging “take me home with you.” Really, there’s nothing new about that. It’s our natural inclination that when someone changes our lives, we want to follow them forever. We’ve all done it. Maybe it’s a beloved teacher, or a much-admired professor, the friend who went to bat for us when our back was to the wall, the lawyer who saved us from a great injustice, or the doctor who pulled us through a dire illness. On this Father’s Day, maybe it’s a dad, or a grandpa, or an uncle, or a man in our lives who had no reason to be like a dad to us, but did anyway, that we remember. Maybe it’s even a caring pastor or a dynamic preacher! Imagine that!

But look what Jesus tells the man. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” He’s nice about it. He doesn’t throw a rock at the man or anything. But he’s pretty clear about one thing—go take your own journey with this. Tell everyone. Show your thanks to God and to the people in your community--not me, personally.

Jesus is telling the man to TAKE OUR STORIES OF HEALING TO THE STREETS. Christians, by and large, have a tendency to be very generous about our stories of God’s healing within the walls of the church, and at coffee hour afterwards, but we get a little edgy about telling this story at work, or to a friend whom we are unsure of how they feel about matters of faith. We get a little nervous about that “E” word—evangelism. We get images of tent revivals and people coercing us against our will to say and do things that just feel kind of scary, allegedly in the name of Jesus. Most of us are not going to want to stand on the corner of Franklin and Washington and shout to passers-by about how God has healed and delivered us. I don’t know about y’all, but I can’t even put my finger out and say, “Repent!” without busting up laughing.

So, ok, let’s all take a deep breath. Jesus didn’t tell us to do any of that stuff. He simply said “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” We can start right in the privacy of our own homes in a plain brown wrapper. We can start by simply doing things like saying grace at our table at home, and continue the habit when we have people over for supper. We can start by telling our children and the children close to us in our lives about the good things God does in our lives. In this Internet age, we can admit on Facebook that we are praying for someone. We can e-mail our friends a great prayer we bumped into on the internet, we can find a time each day when we pray for the needs of others and ourselves and perhaps read a little Scripture while we’re at it, and admit to others that, “Yeah, I do that every day,” with a sheepish grin on our face. If we simply start by doing that, it will spill out into the rest of our lives as a matter of course.

So today, as we continue with the rest of our worship, I’m going to leave y’all with a little take home assignment. Some of you in this sanctuary today know I started out as a junior high teacher. So I will admit I am into “take-home assignments.” But this is an easy one, and there won’t be a quiz. You are on your honor for this one. I promise I will do this one along with you, too, so I’m in this with all of you. Simply go home today and ask the question, “What have you to do with me, Jesus?” All we have to do is keep asking the question until we hear something. Imagine what could happen in Kirksville and the world if everyone in this room heard just ONE thing to that question. To borrow from the late Sam Cooke, “What a wonderful world this would be.” AMEN



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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