20 June 2010/Proper 7C - 1Kings 19:1-15a * Luke 8:26-39
Often after all is said and done there are only questions. Only questions remain. As Elie Wiesel has often suggested, God loves questions - it is only we who are left unsettled. So we turn to stories like the ones before us this morning seeking answers to our questions, only to discover that God has other questions for us.
Like, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Despite God not being in earthquake, wind and fire, despite God's emerging from " a sound of sheer silence," we can imagine that when God asks this question it reverberates like rolling thunder across the plains of the mid-west, shaking every thing and every one in its path. Addressed to us it should at least make us shudder: "What are you doing here?" It appears that that is what God wants to know. What are we to say? What is our answer? What are we doing here? Or, for that matter, what are we doing anywhere? Anywhere at all?
All the times one might wish for an encounter, a verifiable experience of the Almighty, seem to vanish in a mist when once we are face to face with God and the questions are put directly to us. Unless we can answer as Elijah does, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts..." our answers will no doubt fall somewhat short of God's expectations. Or, if God does not have expectations, which is altogether possible after an eternity of trying to communicate with us, God must at least have hope - hope that perhaps this time we have something to say for ourselves.
Suddenly we identify with the "man of the city who had demons." When faced with God's questions for us we want to shout out, "What have you to do with me? I beg you, do not torment me!" After all, we all have demons of one sort or another. Sure, after generations of practice we manage to keep them locked up and out of sight deep down in some mysterious place inside of our selves - or so we want to believe until those unexpected moments when they just come flying out, striking out at whatever or whomever is in our way.
God, aka Jesus, however, refuses to be intimidated by even the worst of our demons and asks what strikes us as an easy question, but one that means to get to the very essence of our being, "What is your name?" Anyone who doesn't believe that these gospel stories have been carefully crafted and edited has no idea how loaded the man's answer really is. For when he says, "Legion," it means a whole lot more than the implied "for many demons had entered him." Legion is a word the people in the Roman Empire knew all too well - a Roman Legion was comprised of about 6,000 soldiers and an equal number of support troops. To any and all residents of the Roman Empire these legions represented an occupying force whose presence meant loss of control over every dimension of their own society and lives.
The Tenth Roman Legion, by the time Luke tells this tale, had utterly destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple - and isn't it curious that the symbol flying on the banners of the Tenth Legion was that of a Boar - a pig, a sign of being unclean, of being gentile, of being "other" - now the recipient body for the demons named legion that tumble headfirst into the sea and drowned. Sometimes Bible Study and Exegesis does pay off in a deeper understanding of these otherwise quaint and provincial stories.
One expects a cheer to go up from the crowd! The man is clothed and in his right mind. The Legion of demons are gone. Someone who has the power to challenge the forces of darkness and vanquish them is in the neighborhood. But no. The Pork Futures market has just collapsed. The man who was previously under some sort of control, ostracized from the rest, is now uncontrollably back in their midst. So all the people, not some of the people, or even a lot of the people, but all the people ask Jesus to leave. And without as much as a moment's hesitation, Jesus complies with their request.
Understandably the man, now healed, now made whole, asks to go with Jesus. Obviously he has not heard how the voyage over had almost capsized the boat and drowned the disciples like the pigs. He does not ask to go, we are told that he begs to go with them no matter how dangerous it might be to do so.
Our text has Jesus telling him to go home. The word there is oiko - household - from which we also get oikonomos - household management, or in English, Economy; and oikologia - study of the household/household relations, or in English Ecology. It turns out this story does have something to say about the economy and about ecology.
"Go home and tell others what God has done for you." And that is just what the man does. As Jesus and the disciples head back across the sea, the man tells the story of what God has done for him.
With any luck we are left to discover that vanquishing the Tenth Roman Legion, seeking righteous revenge, is not, at the end of the day, the lesson embedded in this tale. Nor does following Jesus mean fleeing where you now find yourself. To follow Jesus can mean to stay right where you are to tell the tale.
Leaving us, as always with God's questions for us. What has God done for you? Have you told anyone your story and God's story? Which is just one more way of God asking, What are you doing here? Believe it or not, God really wants to know, God hopes we have something new to say - for the future of the whole world depends on our answers to His questions. Amen.