Jesus Crossing Boundaries: Sermon on Luke 8

Jesus Crossing Boundaries

Luke 8:26-39

By the Rev. Anna Doherty

 13041435_1159982794033037_1825211134944730220_oJesus crosses a lot of boundaries.

 And I mean literal boundaries, as well as social ones.

 In crossing the sea of Galilee and arriving at the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus is literally crossing over from…

 Jewish territory, from home territory, into Gentile, non-Jewish territory.

 The Gerasenes are people who believe in a different God, with vastly different sets of religious and cultural practices.

 And even if our knowledge of ancient Judean geography isn’t always exact, we know that the country of the Gerasenes is Gentile territory…

 Because of the herds of swine that occupy the land.

 Ancient Jews, as with Orthodox Jews today, viewed pigs and pig meat as unclean.

For Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries, the country of the Gerasenes was a strange and pagan land, with abhorrent practices, like the keeping of pigs.

And as if these geographical and religious boundaries weren’t enough, Jesus also crosses as emotional boundary.

Gerasa, now the modern day city of Jerash, in Jordan, was one of the famous cities of the Roman Decapolis.

It was one of the ten cities in the Judean area where Rome had its greatest stronghold.

But, the original occupants of Gerasa, in the country of the Gerasenes, resisted Roman occupation.

So the Roman army sacked the city, slaughtering its inhabitants.

Contemporary accounts of the sacking of Gerasa describe thousands of people being murdered by Roman soldiers,

One account describes the Roman army crucifying some 800 men and killing their wives and children in front of them.

Gerasa was a city whose history carried a lot of painful emotional weight.

For the original audience of Luke’s gospel, the words “the country of the Gerasenes” would have conjured for them,

a place where something violent and awful had happened, where a lot of people had died.

Kind of how we react emotionally to the names of places like Gettysburg, Waco, or now Orlando.

Something bad had happened there.

It was a place of destruction and fear.

And for Jesus to travel there, voluntarily, crosses a lot of boundaries, geographical, religious, and emotional.

But Jesus, it seems, goes right to the places where fear and violence dwell.

And not just for communities and groups of people, but for individuals as well.

The man possessed by demons in the country of the Gerasenes, is, in many respects, an individual manifestation of the kind of collective fear the community must have experienced.

The man lives in tombs, he literally dwells in a place of death.

He is kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles, but it seems, repeatedly breaks his bonds and roams the countryside.

The man physically represents an out of of control world, where we face painful realities beyond our ability to manage.

The man and his demons cannot be contained, they represent constant threat not just for him, but for the people around him.

And into this place of threat and danger comes Jesus Christ.

And Jesus does things we do not always expect.

When reflecting on today’s gospel story, many people, myself included, find themselves confused by the detail of the pigs.

After all, a whole herd of swine rush to their death in order for the possessed man to be healed.

Jesus, it seems, has more compassion on the demons than on the pigs.

And as if that isn’t complicated enough, we can sometimes be taken aback by the economic cost of the man’s cure.

Pigs, in today’s modern society, go for about $86 a head.

So, a large herd of swine rushing to their deaths, the more so for ancient peoples, represents a huge financial loss.

Or else we are sort of taken aback, not by the economic loss, but by the means of the cure itself.

Can’t Jesus heal someone without anything being lost or changed, a sort of net neutrality when it comes to transformation?

That, unfortunately, is not the way that transformation works.

When someone is changed, even when it is change for the better, things never stay the same.

And the herd of pigs, represent that Jesus is willing to go to any cost to restore a person to wholeness.

Ultimately, as we ourselves know, when we are restored to wholeness at the cost of Jesus’ own death on a cross.

At any cost, Jesus will heal those places and those people that need healing.

And healing results in change, transformation.

What frightens the people of Gerasa and the surrounding countryside, is not ultimately the loss of the pigs.

But the fact that the man, who once was possessed by demons, naked and out of control, now is free of demons, clothed, and sits at the feet of Jesus in his right mind.

The threat that they once tried to control, however unsuccessfully, is not only removed but has now returned to dwell among them.

This man is now to be their neighbor, he cannot dwell in a place of death anymore.

Jesus has disrupted the Gerasenes’ old way of controlling the world they knew.

And even if it was a world of threat and fear, at least they knew their place in it.

Jesus invites them into a new reality, a re-ordering not just of their community but of their entire reality.

And it is no wonder that the people of the country react in fear, and ask Jesus to leave them.

Jesus brings transformation, and change, at any cost.

We find ourselves today in a place where we sympathize deeply with characters of today’s gospel.

Either the man possessed by demons, or the people of the country of the Gerasenes.

We have just experienced, collectively as a country, the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

A violent attack on members of the LBGTQ community, is also an attack on our own sense of security and our ability to manage our own reality.

Our world really does feel out of control.

And however we may feel about the political, moral, and even the religious issues involved, we can sympathize, in today’s gospel,

with both the man who is freed from the demons that haunt him…

and with the Gerasenes, who recognize that they must do things differently, and find that it frightens them.

We long to be free of the violence that plagues us, and yet we struggle with what ending this violence looks like and what it means for us in our society.

In this midst of all this, there are two lessons from today’s gospel that are helpful for us to remember.

The first is that Jesus is unafraid to enter into those places and situations that are scary, even violent, and to heal them at any cost.

Knowing this, we can trust and know that God is with us in the midst of our shock, grief, and fear.

We are not alone, and God can and does bring healing to the darkest places, no matter what.

The second lesson from today’s gospel is that we have a choice about how we react to the healing that God brings.

We can fear it and refuse to accept the transformation that is offered to us, like the people of the Gerasenes who ask Jesus to leave them.

Or we can respond as the man who is healed of his demons.

The healed man enters his new reality, freed from oppression, and not knowing what the future brings…

and yet proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus has done for him.

In the midst of a terrible tragedy, we can remind ourselves how much God has done and continues to do for us.

We hear stories of the courage and compassion of those under fire.

We are part of an outpouring of love and support for the LGBTQ and Latino communities, in Orlando and at home.

We are beginning to grapple with our new reality, as peace-makers, politicians, and ordinary citizens seek creative solutions to the problems of violence in our world.

God is doing good things for us, even as we grieve, even as we step into an unknown future.

As people who have been transformed by God,

our job is not simply to recognize what God is doing in our midst, but also to proclaim and live out God’s presence in real ways.

Like the man healed of his demons, we go forth into the world proclaiming what God does and will continue to do for us.

Even as we step into an unknown future.

We know that God is working with us and for us, and that we are called to work with and for God, bringing God’s peaceable kingdom ever closer…

…to becoming reality on earth.