Monday, June 25, 2007

Luke 8:26-39 -
Cultural Keys to Luke (Part 2):
Reset the Scene in Gerasenes

Cultural Keys to Luke (Part 2) Handout
You can view the research and background information that goes into this sermon by clicking here.

Commentary on the creation of this sermon can be found by clicking here.

4th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 7)
(Year C, - Lutheran Service Book Readings)
Thursday, June 21, and Sunday, June 24, 2007

Imagine the scene from our Gospel reading:
Jesus comes. Casts out a demon. Proves He’s God.

Hmm, lacks much drama when you imagine it that way, although I’m afraid that as a consequence of hearing these Gospel stories over and over again that we think of Jesus doing miracles like Jesus going to the grocery store. It was just something He had on the to-do list that day. Jesus goes. Buys some milk. Goes home. Jesus comes. Casts out a demon. Proves He’s God. We hear about these miracles so often that they lose their power, their punch, their ability to make us gasp in shock and wonder.

If we acted out this scene like we imagine it, we’d fail drama class. Our stage production would not last beyond opening night. In our heads, in our imaginations, in our understanding of Scripture, we often fail drama class and our productions based on God’s Word don’t go much beyond the first reading. So we need to reset the scene. There’s nothing ho-hum about this scene.

Reset the scene: You’re the disciples seeing Jesus in a dangerously wonderful light, seeing Him as someone you might begin to fear—if His Spirit of love wasn’t drawing you toward Him. You want to flee, because the things you’re seeing are just too much to bear. But there’s Jesus holding your hand, giving you a calm that can only be from God Himself.

You’re the disciples experiencing all of these things for the first time. You’re not dulled, so used to having Jesus doing incredible things. You’re just beginning to glimpse the power of Jesus—a power that is so dramatic that you often wonder if this is a movie or real life.

You’re the disciples in awe of Jesus who has a mission to save the world. You’re not dulled, so used to having a church on every corner, living in a society where everyone at least has heard of Jesus. You’re seeing a radical mission that goes beyond any picture of God’s salvation than you have ever been taught.

Reset the scene so that you’re fully immersed in the world of the disciples, so that you can imagine the power and mission of Jesus, so that you can be fully aware of how that power and mission impacts your life. Don’t fail that drama class in your mind; don’t let your imagination’s production end with a whimper. This is a bigger-than-life drama; this was a real event; this is a reality for your life. This is a scene that provoked awe, wonder, fear, surprise, shock, and rejoicing 2000 years ago, and now this can be a scene that provokes awe, wonder, fear, surprise, shock, and rejoicing in you.

You begin by stepping off the boat onto the far shore, the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, as if we have just crossed Lake Michigan landing on the shores of Wisconsin. Granted Lake Michigan is about 350 times as big as the Sea of Galilee, but like Lake Michigan, the Sea of Galilee was the central body of water in the world of Jesus and the disciples. It’s where they fished for a living; it’s where they traveled to go long distances. You have just crossed the most major body of water in your world.

You live in Michigan and rarely—if at all—travel to Wisconsin. While you’ve signed up to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus, you’re not entirely sure why you’ve traveled to Wisconsin. You see, even more than the difference between Michigan and Wisconsin, the disciples were leaving Galilee, their home country, to go into an area that was perhaps mainly Gentile, non-Jewish, like a foreign territory to them. It’s not just leaving Michigan to go to Wisconsin as a matter of routine; it’s leaving Michigan when you’ve never left your home state. It’s leaving Michigan, crossing the lake, and finding yourself in a landscape that seems similar but where the people, language, customs, and religions are completely different.

As a disciple, you’d much rather withdraw from this country; this doesn’t seem like the place to be, but Jesus is fiercely dedicated to His mission. He came across the lake for a reason. You sense that His heart can’t be distracted by your fears. As much as you want to withdraw, He presses forward.

That’s a key dimension to resetting the scene: the tension between the disciples wanting to withdraw while Jesus is pressing forward. In our failing drama class productions, we think of the disciples as basically just along for the ride, offering some half-hearted objections, but essentially cooperative passengers on the mission bus of Jesus. Instead, though, to deliver the drama on the stage of your imagination, to sense the true force behind this reading from the Gospel of Luke, a force for our lives today, reset the scene with the disciples desperately wanting to withdraw while Jesus continues to step further and further into foreign territories and situations.

It actually turns out that Jesus has made this whole trip just for one man, to heal one man, to make one disciple, to bring one person into the Kingdom of God. That’s like being a dentist in Ludington, Michigan, traveling across on the carferry just to fill one cavity, and then return home. Jesus is going to great lengths to save His people, and you’re only beginning to sense what He is doing.

On top of the normal anxiety with crossing into this strange land, this wasn’t any routine boat trip; you are landing after surviving a terrible storm that had threatened to drown all of you. You saw Jesus still that storm. You’re not just calmly stepping off the boat glad that the overnight journey is over; you’re stepping onto dry land, overjoyed to be alive, still in shock that you survived, still not believing that you saw Jesus, your Teacher, calm the storm simply with His words.

It’s that kind of joy and amazement that surrounds you already like a fog when you step off the boat onto the shores of Wisconsin. So there you are with Jesus near Gerasenes—in the fog of shock and facing an unknown country.

Jesus and the disciples were in Gerasenes, but today we’re not exactly sure where that is; it’s called different names in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. It could’ve been an entire, county-sized area stretching from far inland and all the way to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps, though, it was generally around 5 to 6 miles from the shore, so that in comparison if we landed on the shores of Lake Michigan south of Manitowoc, we might walk west until reaching Soaring Eagle Dairy Farm in Newton. Soaring Eagle is about that same distance inland, 5-6 miles from the shore, and was the site of Breakfast on the Farm two weeks ago. There’s another reason for comparing the location of Gerasenes to the location of Soaring Eagle Dairy that we’ll talk about a little later.

For now, realize you’ve left the boat behind, you’ve walked west for 5-6 miles even deeper into this Gentile, non-Jewish territory. Reset the scene in Gerasenes.

Meanwhile, you just heard the report that an escaped man from a mental institution is on the loose. Here you’re on a church trip following your Teacher on a mission, and you get this disturbing all points bulletin type of news: “Escaped Insane Man! Lock your doors. Stay inside. Avoid the area around County Road FF in Newton near Soaring Eagle Dairy Farm.”

Of course, thinking of the safety of the group, your first instinct is to get everyone back to the boat. “Jesus, the mission is over. Didn’t you hear what they’re saying? There’s a dangerous man on the loose. We shouldn’t be here.” You overhear what the townspeople are saying about this escaped man: he’s possessed by demons, he cries out at night, he cuts himself with rocks, he lives in that haunted pet cemetery nearby—the one everyone tries to avoid as they’re working the fields or going down the road. He’s been committed to jails, mental institutions, and hospitals, but he always manages to escape, break down all the barriers. This isn’t a character to mess with. “Jesus, we’ve got to get out of here.”

Are you resetting the scene? Are you finding that fear, that overwhelming desire to withdraw, to run away?

Good, because just when you think you’ve made your case for leaving, you see the demon-possessed man. And if you haven’t reset the scene, you’ll be stuck imagining that this was old hat for the disciples. Reset the scene in Gerasenes, because you can’t possibly realize the power and mission of Jesus if you forget that the disciples were in no way used to demon-possessed men who come running out of tombs raging like mad men and confronting their Teacher. If you’re going to really see the power of this event, you’ve got to remember that the disciples would have been as shocked and scared as you would be if you came face-to-face with someone matching the description of an all points bulletin.

While you as a disciple may have stepped off the boat in a fog of shock, you are now fully in the grips of fear—deep in foreign country, 5-6 miles from your boat, and confronting a wild man that no one has been able to tame. Sure, you’ve seen Jesus do some miracles—even calming the storm—but no one would have expected that the miracles could just keep coming. Miracles are just that—miracles, momentary intrusions against the laws of how the world works. Miracles are rare, so who is to say that the disciples were confident that there’d be another miracle to save them from this raving lunatic?

That’s the drama of the moment when the demon—through the man—addressed Jesus, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”

Tell me that you wouldn’t have been shaking in your boots or worse. That’s why what happens next is that much more incredible, because the disciples would have been face-to-face with such deep fear, such an awful sense of dread. . .and then Jesus commanded the evil spirits to come out of the man.

Jesus is in control.

You’re still shaking uncontrollably. You still can’t see how this thing is going to end. You’re still wishing you were back in the boat safely headed towards Michigan, towards Galilee, far from this strange, foreign, obviously evil territory.

But Jesus is in control.

Could it be that by remembering what it meant for the disciples to be with Jesus on that day when He healed the demon-possessed man, could it be that by remembering what it was really like for them to watch Jesus have power and control over evil spirits, could it be that you have a better understanding of what it means for you to have Jesus stand by your side as you face your worst fears? You are His disciple, trusting in Him for salvation, but you still shake in your boots, loosing all confidence because of what you see around you, and yet, Jesus is in control.

You’re still ready to withdraw, run away, get back to the boat, but you also believe that Jesus is in control. You trust that He puts His Spirit in you to hold you together even while you’re falling apart in fear. You’re trying to withdraw while He presses forward, keeping you with Him. That’s the experience of faith—running away in place because Jesus is grabbing you by the shirttail, holding you, supporting you, showing you that He is in control over your worst fears.

Reset the scene in Gerasenes: The demons beg Jesus to let them go into the herd of pigs. According to the Old Testament laws, pigs are unclean, forbidden for Jews to eat, and therefore, you should avoid all pigs. Contact with pigs would make you unclean, unable to approach the Lord in worship. If the events leading up to now weren’t enough to make you think more than twice about following Jesus, hanging out in pig country surely adds to the stress. Perhaps it is a nice distraction just to think about following the ceremonial laws instead of demons, but then being so close to that huge herd of pigs makes you say, “Jesus, we’re not supposed to be here. This is pig country; we’re from the pig dry counties of Galilee.”

I was trying to come up with an equivalent for us today to what it meant to be so opposed, so horrified by being in pig country. The best I could do is with a made up animal: the rathorse, a combination of a rat and horse. Rats are dirty, vile, disgusting, and we think they’re unfit for eating. Yet, other cultures in other countries eat rats. Same with the pigs. The Jews wouldn’t dare think of pigs as pork chops, ham, or bacon, but the disciples were now in “Pork: The Other White Meat” country which was enough to make their stomachs turn—like us thinking about eating a rat.

Yet, there’s a possibility that the herdsmen were actually Jews, raising pigs against their religion because it was a lucrative business. The non-Jews in the country would’ve paid well for the pigs, so despite the laws of the Old Testament, the herdsmen were raising the pigs to sell to people who did eat them. In a similar way, most states in the U.S. forbid selling horsemeat for human consumption inside the U.S., but there are at least three slaughter houses in the U.S. that kill horses and sell the meat to Europe and other countries where horsemeat is a delicacy. Despite it being against the law to sell horsemeat here, these slaughter houses sell the meat to people who do eat horses.

Reset the scene in Gerasenes. You are standing with Jesus surrouded by pigs—rathorses—animals that are vile, dirty, and forbidden for us to eat, raised by these disgusting herdsmen so they can make some good money.

This brings us back to Soaring Eagle Dairy Farm, and no, they don’t raise rathorses. Someone who had been to Breakfast on the Farm told me how big that farm operation seemed. Soaring Eagle has 925 cows, which is huge compared to the family farms of old, but reset the scene in Gerasenes. You are surrounded by 2000 rathorses (Mark 5:13). Twice the size of Soaring Eagle Dairy Farm. Pigs, pigs, pigs. Far from the pig dry counties of Galilee, this is a pig-full county.

There’s not time to explore this now, but just remember that when the pigs stampede to drown in the lake, they run those 5-6 miles. They run from Soaring Eagle Dairy Farm all the way to Lake Michigan. This event surely made an impact on the whole area, because a lot of people would be wondering why 2000 pigs just ran past! The news about Jesus was going to get out.

And now you are incredibly aware of Jesus and His mission. You aren’t just stepping into a little bit of foreign country; Jesus has taken you fully inside a different world. You aren’t walking on the border of your culture; Jesus has taken you all the way into another culture. Jesus isn’t just coming close to breaking taboos; Jesus is breaking taboos. . .as you watch. He is willing to be among 2000 pigs, because He is focused on saving this one man, exorcising the demons from this one man, bringing one man to faith in the true God. He is surrounded by a herd of 2000 rathorses, but that won’t prevent Him from saving that man’s soul.

Have you reset the scene now? Do you see Jesus in that dangerously wonderful light? Do you sense how in your soul you want to withdraw, run away from Jesus, but He presses forward to stay by you? Do you sense how you want to withdraw from His mission, but He presses forward and brings you with Him? Jesus is in control, has this incredible power that He uses against the power of the devil, and He brings that power in order to save you. No matter what kind of rathorse hole you imagine your life to be like, Jesus has come to save you.

You’re the reason for His radical mission, more radical than what we normally imagine for drama class. This is a bigger-than-life drama; this is a real event in your life. This reality provokes awe, wonder, fear, surprise, shock, and rejoicing in you. That’s the drama you need to put on the stage of your imagination. Reset the scene in Gerasenes. See Jesus in that dangerously wonderful light having gone to great lengths to save you.

Cultural Keys to Luke (Part 2) Handout
You can view the research and background information that goes into this sermon by clicking here.

Commentary on the creation of this sermon can be found by clicking here.