Saturday, June 19, 2010

Watch out for Jesus!

Luke 8:23-39

There’s a proverb that goes, “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t know.” It’s natural to resist change, because we tend to fear the unknown. It’s this fear that keeps abused women in the relationship. It’s this fear of the unknown that causes us to not seek a new job, or to try a new educational program, or even to walk into a church full of strangers for the first time.
The story immediately before the gospel reading for today (Luke 8:26-39) is this: (Luke 8:22-25)
One day [Jesus] got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger.They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
At Jesus’ instruction, the disciples headed across the lake, and a storm came up. Diane, Mike, and I have been on the Sea of Galilee – now called Lake Gennesaret – in rough weather. In the fishing boats of that time, it must have been pretty scary for them. Jesus must have been really tired to have been able to sleep through all the tossing back and forth and up and down of the little boat. Finally, the disciples woke him up, and he spoke to the wind and the waves, and they instantly calmed down. Imagine sitting huddled in your house, in the middle of a hurricane, and suddenly it becomes a gentle rain. No, it’s not the eye of the storm, the storm is simply over.
The disciples reaction is predictable. First, it’s “WOW! He made the storm stop.” … Then, it’s “Who is this guy who has power over the weather?!!!” They were both amazed and terrified.
When they got to the shore, they were in Gentile territory. While scholars aren’t certain just where the land of Gerasa is, they do know it is in what is now called Jordan. These people were not only strangers to the disciples, they worshiped other gods, and they raised and ate pork – a Jewish taboo.
Among these Gerasene people was a man possessed by demons, who lived in the tombs, the place of death, another Jewish taboo. Jews only went near the tombs when they needed to bury someone. To live in them must have seemed really creepy. Even today, it might creep us out.
Most common people and leaders of the Jewish people did not recognize who Jesus was, but the demons did. So when Jesus approached the demon-possessed man, the demons made him cry out – “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth, son of the Most High God?” They ask Jesus not to send them into the abyss – a place of death – and so Jesus sends them into the pigs, who promptly run into the deep water – another place of death.
When the swineherds saw what happened, their reaction was predictable. They were angry at the loss of their herd, which meant their income. And they were terrified at the power of Jesus to cause this to happen. They ran off to tell the story to their friends and families, and the whole town was upset and afraid.
Did you notice in the story that no one paid any attention to the man who had been healed? The people in the town were not celebrating the healing of this man who had been ill for so long. They were counting the cost of his healing – the whole herd of swine – and finding it too much. The change they would experience with this man healed was too much for them. Perhaps they would lose tourist dollars, since there was no one to come and gawk at him anymore. Perhaps the man had a wife and children, who would have to find a way to let him back into their normal lives. Perhaps he could return to a meaningful job, and he would be competition for the other person. What would they talk about, now that he was healed? They would constantly be reminded of the loss of the pigs and the amazing power of Jesus. The whole town would be changed because this one man had been healed.
The healed man wanted to follow Jesus, to join the disciples, but Jesus wanted him to stay in Gerasa and tell the story to the people about what happened. And that’s what he did.
We like to think that if Jesus lived and walked and healed among us today that we would be happy to have him among us. But he would bring in a lot of changes, and we are just as likely as those fearful disciples and the people of Gerasa to be afraid of him and what he can do.
Imagine if Jesus came into worship some morning and sat among us as we worshiped. What if he clapped his hands in time to the music? What if he healed people as he passed the peace with us? What if he brought the neighbors with him, the neighbors who don’t usually go to church, the neighbors who use drugs, the neighbors who hit their wives and abuse their children, the neighbors who struggle to keep a job and pay their bills?
Would that be too much change for us to handle? Would we be afraid of Jesus, as were the leaders and many of the common folk of his time?
Or would we understand what he was up to, and join in the fun? Would we watch and celebrate the healing miracles? Would we ask for a healing for ourselves? Would we go about the town telling the stories of this man who caused such a stir, brought about so much change in our lives? Would we go about the town seeking others who needed healing and offering to bring them to Jesus?
Do we really believe that Jesus can heal us? Do we really believe that Jesus has the power to make good things happen? Do we really believe that Jesus has a vision for ministry for this congregation? Do we really believe that we can do much in the name and power of Jesus?
If we don’t, why do we bother to pray? Why do we bother to come to worship, if we don’t really believe anything will come of it?
Well, we’re here, so we must at least kind-of believe. Maybe we could ask Jesus to heal us as individuals, and as a congregation. Think for a moment – what hurt or illness or disability would you ask Jesus to heal? What are the deepest, most hurtful wounds in your heart? What physical ailments do you have? Arthritis? Digestive system? Vision? Breathing? Heart? Mental illness, like depression? Would you ask Jesus for more money, so you could pay your bills and eat too? How would you be different if those things were healed?
Could we ask Jesus to heal our congregation? To take away the dissensions and divisions of the past and bring us together as one body in Christ? To give us a vision of the future which passes on healing to those in need? To give us a passion for telling the stories of God’s interaction with people throughout history and into the present?
How would we be different if we allowed God’s power to work in our hearts and in our bodies and in our congregation? Do we dare ask? It would be a lot of change, and maybe we’re not ready for it.
Please pray with me: Amazing God, as much as we’d like your help, we often are afraid of getting too much of it. Heal us anyway. Heal our hearts, our bodies, our minds. Guide our congregation into the future you have in mind for us, united with one purpose – serving you. Amen and amen