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Mark 5: 1-20

Meg Peery McLaughlin
November 15, 2020
Mark 5: 1-20

Scripture:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.  And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.

14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Sermon:

My friend Joe Clifford used to serve a church in Dallas, which has a ministry called the Stewpot. The Stewpot primarily serves those who are homeless. The local paper told the story about the historical significance of a building across the street from the Stewpot—a place where blues music from the 20s and 30s was recorded. A prominent architect noted that the zig zag building  “is one of the best remaining art deco buildings in Dallas. There are none like it left.” Sadly, the building is falling into disrepair and the owners can’t sell it. “The problem isn’t the building itself,” the article continued, “it’s what’s located across the street. Security is needed.  It’s a very difficult situation.[1]

“It’s a very difficult situation.” How many times have you heard that? Legion? Many?   This week on Veteran’s Day I remembered a young couple in Kansas City. They needed community, like the rest of us do, but they didn’t get the social invitations because the husband suffered from severe PTSD after his return from one of his tours in Iraq. This meant the marriage had some fairly volatile up and downs. The young adult group of which they were a part weren’t blatantly mean or anything, but this couple remained of the edge of that group, never fully enfolded, because well, it was a very difficult situation.

A very difficult situation. I have said it myself.

In my own ministry, trying to walk alongside a saint, who I just felt always out of step with. I couldn’t—the church couldn’t—ever do enough to help this one, couldn’t get it right. And I wondered was it grief? or was it something like autism or mental illness?  I didn’t know but found myself on the phone with others who also love this person, feeling at a collective dead end just saying “It’s just a very difficult situation.”

These situations go by other names.
Alcoholic, addict, schizophrenic, manic depressive, gender non-conforming, highly anxious.
They are legion.

In my bible this story has a title:  the Gerasene Demoniac.
But Mark tells us that when Jesus asked this man for his name, he replied “Legion.”

A careful reading of the text will show us that Legion
is the word used for a military unit in the Roman army.
Rome was the occupying military force in Palestine in that day,
suggesting that this man’s desperate illness was the by-product of Empire.

Now whether your referent for the power and pain of empire
comes from George Lucas’ Empire Strikes Back, the German Reich, or current events,
you can imagine that part of what captured this man’s mind and bound his spirit
were militarism, materialism, and racism, what MLK called the giant triplets.

This man’s body was shackled and chained,
but that which bound his mind was too strong.
He howled at night.

Maybe the community felt sorry for him. I imagine they might have. But they’d gotten used to it. They lived in the town, he lived in the cemetery.  They all had families.  He was alone.  They all went about their days.  He ran around hurting himself.  That was just the way it was[2].

But of course, of course, Jesus – on his way elsewhere—makes an intentional detour to this spot.

Mark does not say whether the purpose of the sea crossing was to minister to the Gerasene demoniac,
but it is the only incident reported in that area.

I wonder what Jesus’ small group thought of it all. Those disciples stepped out of the boat and were confronted with a situation that represented for good Jewish boys– the axis of evil for faithful one,  wishing to stay ritually clean: graveyard, demon possessed man, and a herd of pigs.

But Jesus cannot leave well enough alone, can he?

He engages this man,
he asks his name,
he heals him.

And it’s rather a dramatic healing–
with the pigs cliff jumping in to the sea.
But if you flip your bible back one page,
and read the end of the chapter right before this one,
you’ll see that Jesus had just been on that sea,
and it was stormy and the disciples were scared.
The sea was already a symbol of chaos and it was raging.
And of course, of course, Jesus says peace be still. And the wind and waves obey.

Those pigs took a swan dive into the water,
right where God’s power of healing restoration is at work.
It seems to me there is nowhere one can go that is outside the reach of
God’s freeing, healing, saving power. It is a stunning scene.

And the wild man—he sits at Jesus’ feet—clothed and in his right mind.

Mark is not a Gospel known for its details. His is the shortest. Mark is the least verbose.
And yet this text takes care to lay out every feature of this transformation.
The shackles that couldn’t hold him, and then the serene scene of him clothed,
clothed in pants and a tunic no doubt, but I’d argue clothed in Christ-
his mind finally finally at ease.

And, well you know what happened next.  The swineherds went and told the newspaper what had happened.  And they wrote a story about the horrible economic impact of the death of the pigs.  All that pork barbecue they could have sold to the Romans was down the drain, literally.

I don’t know about you.
But I feel like it should be that
when Jesus Christ sees what is real,
when Jesus Christ heals what is sick
when Jesus Christ frees what is chained,
when Jesus Christ saves what Empire would rather leave dead,
when Jesus Christ goes out of his way to confront the difficult situations
that we’ve let become the status quo

when that happens—
I feel like it should be that people rejoice,
that there would be singing and dancing and parades and parties.

But we do not yet live in the world as it should be.
In response to what they see the people “do not celebrate the good fortune of a man who has known none.  They do not throw a party for one who was lost but now is found.[3]
They don’t embrace him and welcome him home.
Rather, Mark says they are afraid.
They are afraid and they beg Jesus to leave;
to take his power of healing and liberation elsewhere.

It’s ironic.

Only when the demoniac was set free from his captivity do we clearly see our own:

our captivity to the status quo of brokenness and fear,
to the normalcy of imperial force and demonic policies,
our captivity to the practice of caring more about our finances than our faithfulness
caring more about how we are seen than who we see as a fellow child of God.

Thank God
Jesus chooses to cross on over to our side of the tracks, our side of the lake
to loosen our chains. Yes, thank God indeed.

This week I read a piece by anthropologist Margaret Mead. A student asked her what was the first sign of civilization was—and instead of a fish hook or a clay pot, Mead said the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur that had been broken and then healed.

Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die.
You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food.
You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.

A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts.

If I understand the text,
our faith is not going to prevent us from being in difficult situations,
it is going to ask us to be civilized,
ask us to walk straight into those situations, call them by name,
and go tell our friends of all that God as done.

God has done marvelous things.
Alleluia. Amen.

 

[1] Dr. Joe Clifford, from his sermon at FPC Dallas, February 8, 2009

[2]With thanks to Rev. Shannon Kershner for this language from her 2006 sermon on this text.

[3] Brian Blount and Gary Charles Preaching Mark in Two Voices 

Meg Peery McLaughlin , Pastor

Email: meg@upcch.org

Phone: 919.929.2102 ext 111

Bio:

Meg feels called to share good Gospel news–in word, in deed, in silence, in all things–to all of God’s beloved children. She is a native of North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and with a Master’s in Divinity and in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Meg was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 2006, at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City, MO, where she served for seven years in the role of Pastoral Care. She and Jarrett accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church in June of 2013 where they served for 6 years before coming to UPC. Meg and Jarrett have three young daughters: big sister Naomi and, twins, Caroline and Zanna. She has hitched her life to the promise that Jesus Christ is the light that overcomes darkness, is the love that is stronger than all fear, and is the sure and certain assurance that new life is possible, even when it seems otherwise.