Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
26Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As 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. 28When 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”—29for 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.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32Now 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. 33Then 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. 34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then 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. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then 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. 38The 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.
This, of course, is the first reference in scripture to deviled ham! (Insert rim shot here!).
Did you know that it is considered bad luck to mention pigs on a boat? That is what I have heard. And it origin is based on this lesson.
Okay, enough trivia and jokes for the day. A note about today’s lesson.
Jesus is crossing over the Sea of Galilee to the country of the Gadarenes, which means that he’s not just crossing the sea, he’s also crossing boundaries. Because the country of the Gadarenes is the land of Gentiles, and no self-respecting Jewish rabbi would be taking his band of followers there.
Once on land, he is encountered – many would say “accosted” – by a man possessed by an unclean spirit. On top of that, this young man no longer abides among the living in the local town but rather dwells among the dead in the tombs. Tombs, we should note, are another place considered ritually unclean. All of which means that Jesus, the Jewish itinerant rabbi proclaiming the coming kingdom of God, goes to an unclean land to meet a man possessed by an unclean spirit living in an unclean place.
This is, in short, the very last place Jesus should be.
Which, when you think about it, is where God usually shows up. At our moments of profound doubt, grief, loss, and defeat. And – and this is the one that often surprises us – among those who may to this point have little interest in, let alone a relationship with, God.
Note that after this encounter, Jesus sails back home again. Which may mean that the whole trek across a stormy sea and turbulent run in with townspeople distraught by their loss of livestock and frightened by the power of this rabbi was all in order to meet this unclean man possessed by an unclean spirit living in an unclean and forsaken environment.
So what does this mean? Simply this - there is absolutely nowhere God is not willing to go to reach and free and sustain and heal those who are broken and despairing.
There is no place on earth that is God-forsaken. Moreover, and more importantly, there is no person that is God-forsaken. Unclean. Outcast. Abandoned. Unpopular. Incarcerated. Unbeliever. No one is left out.
If you ever think you are beyond God’s reach, God’s embrace, God’s love, think again.
Psalm 139:7-12 (NRSV)
7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
The same verses from The Message:
7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? to be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you’re there! If I go underground, you’re there! If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, You’d find me in a minute— you’re already there waiting! Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark! At night I’m immersed in the light!” It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.
One more reassurance - John 3:16-17
Jesus said, 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Let us pray: Almighty God, your love knows no bounds. Thank you for your love for all you have made. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen