Sermon: Sharing the Story: We Begin Right Where We Are!
Scripture: Luke 8:26-39
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Pres Fort Lauderdale
Date: June 23, 2019
Jesus is on the move and is stirring things up as he goes. He has been teaching, healing, casting out and traveling all over Galilee. Today we find Jesus and the disciples on the far eastern side of the Sea of Galilee where the modern Golan Heights are today. Listen to the Word of the Lord!
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes which is opposite Galilee. 27 As 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. 28 When 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”— 29 for 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.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demonsbegged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then 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.
34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then 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. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenesasked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesussent 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.
Our Story in Luke is one of the longest single stories in the Gospel. In it, Jesus boldly goes to a place no upstanding Jewish man would ever go! The King James version translates verse 26 as, “Jesus went to the Gerasenes which is over and against the Galilee.” The point is made: This is spiritually and culturally polluted Gentile territory. For a good upstanding Jew, there would need to be a very strong reason for you to even go there in the first place. Why is Jesus even going there in the first place? The placement of our Story speaks a lot to that issue.
In Luke 8, Jesus has thus far told the parable of a farmer who goes out to sow some seed. Some fell on the path and got trampled down. Some seed landed on rock but was not able to sustain itself because it could not put down deep roots. Some of the farmer’s seed landed in the thorns and brambles where it could not grow because it was choked out. Yet, some seed falls on good soil where it grows and multiplies a hundredfold. Frankly, in Luke’s Story thus far, Jesus the Sower of the seed has been sowing the Good News of God pretty liberally up to this point but the peoples’ response has been to trample on it, to not stick with it long enough to let the roots of faith grow deep, or the religious officials and those in power have tried to choke Jesus’ message because it challenged the spiritual, economic and political systems. So, Jesus takes a boat ride whereupon you and I are introduced to a foil in the narrative – the water. The water, the abyss, was a scary place for the ancients. Nothing could tame the power of the waves and the water, the very elements of creation but God himself.
So, while on the boat, Jesus falls asleep and a horrible storm blows up and nearly swamps the boat with Jesus and all the disciples. Jesus appears to be sleeping at the wheel and the disciples are getting all frothed up like the storm and wake Jesus up with the news they’re about to perish. Jesus rebukes the wind, the rain, and the sea and everything goes quiet. The disciples are in awe because they realize Jesus has just done what only God can do and that is to bring order to the chaotic waters. “Even the winds and the water obey him!” they mutter (v. 25). Soon thereafter, Jesus and the others land on the other side of the Sea of Galilee and step out into another country, a country which Luke goes out of the way to describe in very unappealing ways; the grand irony is, however, that this is the unexpected place where the seed the sower throws out lands in good soil and grows.
Jesus and the others land, not at a lovely ship terminal but at a place where the Chamber of Commerce would rather you not see and experience. It is the one place in the community people only go to if they absolutely must – the cemetery and tombs. If you were a spiritually and ceremonially clean Jewish person, you stayed away from all the dead people.
Not only that, the community’s welcoming committee is not a delegation from the likes of the Fort Lauderdale government and Las Olas planning commission, Jesus and his companions are met by the town’s naked, homeless, dirty, unkempt and out of control wild man who spits, yells and attacks people. We discover that Jesus is met by a guy that has hit as rock bottom as a person can get and who is possessed by a legion of demons and evil spirits. And here is the kicker of the Story!
It is this foreigner, the town’s outcast, it is the community of demons who rightly identify who Jesus is when members of his own Jewish community and establishment cannot. The anti-Jesus immediately recognizes the Son of God in their midst as soon as Jesus demands Legion to leave the poor man. They plead with Jesus not to send them into the watery abyss (for the demons feared the chaos waters of the lake as much as the disciples did) and so Jesus allows them to enter a herd of pigs. Unfortunately, the pigs, being pigs, ran down the bank immediately into the water and drown, killing all the demons with them.
Now the scene slows down and narrows. It’s Jesus, the disciples and the naked guy who is sitting calmly now in his right mind. Can you think of what was going on in his mind? Can you place yourself into his shoes and just imagine what he is feeling? Thinking? Understanding? But the healed man’s moment only lasts briefly because the pig farmers have just seen their livelihood get wiped out. People from the nearby towns hear of this Jesus, this economic killjoy and demand he get the heck out of there!
Never mind the miracle that has just been wrought. Never mind this possessed, ill, naked homeless guy is now healed and whole and can rejoin the community again. Jesus disrupted their economic way of life and they wanted him to immediately leave; nothing else mattered. So, Jesus obliges.
It’s right at this point, beloved, this Story becomes our Story – the Story of your personal life as well as the Story of this church. The healed man begs to go with Jesus as Jesus gets into the boat. He wants to go with Jesus, to continue hanging around with the One who brought him back to health, who restored him to his people and society again. He pleaded to go with Jesus to the other side but Jesus says, “no.”
Jesus had his work to accomplish and he reminded the healed man he himself had work to do as well. Jesus gives him his evangelistic mandate and marching orders: Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you. Go back to the people you know, your people, and let them see how God has cared even for you, the pariah Gentile who was no good for anybody but who proved to be of great value and concern to God nevertheless.
This Story becomes our Story because we learn that we each have a Story from our life whereupon God in Christ brought us wholeness and helped us reestablish relationship with God, our self, and with others. God is not asking each of us to leave what we are doing and travel to foreign street corners and convert people to follow Christ. Far from it! Remember the lesson from our healed man in scripture today.
He’s to go back home to the people he knows.
He is told to simply tell them what God has done for him. He is not to convert, cajole or convince. He is simply asked to recognize what God has done in his personal life and share that with others. He did not tell others what Jesus could do for them in their lives; the healed man was given the directions to only share what Jesus has done for him personally. Period. The healed man’s Story and proof of a restored life was all that was necessary. God would do the rest.
Why do we think evangelism is so hard? Our Story today tells us what that scary word evangelism is: It’s to tell our story of what God has done for us to people we are familiar with in our everyday life here in Broward County. It’s to let the tone and tenor of our transformed life in Jesus show others that we are a different type of person because of our encounter with Jesus. Why is that so hard? Why isn’t this church, any church, bursting at the seams clamoring with people who want to praise God with their Story?
Well I suppose, it can mean one of two things. First, we don’t know our personal Story of healing and restoration to God in Christ. Second, we know our life transforming Story in Jesus but we are not sharing it. People are not seeing in you and me, in our churches, a winsome, refreshing, healing presence of lives transformed by Christ; people instead see American churches as places of stuffy and stiff people, a place of shame, guilt and judgement in lieu of places of grace.
The late Archbishop Oscar Romero preached, “God’s best microphone is Christ, and Christ’s best microphone is the church, and the church is all of you. Let each one of you, in your own job, in your own vocation, married person (or single)…priest, (elder or deacon), high school or university student, day laborer, wage earner, business woman – each one in your own place live the faith intensely and feel that in your surroundings you are a true microphone of God our Lord.”
Beloved, let this Church, let each of us, be that microphone that shares the love of God demonstrated and proven in each of our lives. Evangelism is not rocket-science my friends. Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Pres Fort Lauderdale
401 SE 15thAvenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 3330
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love. Compiled and translated by James R. Brockman, S.J. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), 187.