Return To Your Home
Let me begin by saying it’s good to be back. Please allow me to introduce myself as Normie and Neal Harris’ son-in-law. I used to come to St. John’s back in the days that Rick Lindsay+ and Bill Rich+ were here. More to say about that later.
Understanding this odd little episode in the country of the Gerasenes (Luke 8:26-39) is helped if we go back one episode (skipped over by our lectionary) where Jesus says, ‘Let’s go to the other side…” as he gets in a boat. That is, he is crossing the sea from home territory to Gentile territory – that is un-kosher territory. Somewhat surprisingly the disciples go with him. As Jesus sleeps in the back of the boat – after all he has been busy teaching and healing and even God needed to rest on the seventh day – a big storm comes up. That is, you who choose to follow Jesus better be ready to experience rough waters. The disciples panic. Jesus stills the storm. The disciples ask themselves, “Who is this?” Jesus asks them, “Where is your faith?”
Before they can heave a sigh of relief they arrive to the “other side” and are met by a welcoming committee. It appears to be one man – be it one naked, shackled man in busted chains living in the tombs outside the city. The demons within him negotiate with Jesus. He asks their name. We are Legion, they reply. No doubt a reference to the occupying Roman Legions which consist of six thousand soldiers and another six thousand support troops. So the welcoming committee turns out to be just that – literally a cast of thousands: twelve thousand demons to be exact!
Try to imagine for a moment being one of the disciples. After a harrowing journey across the sea, now this – a man considered so un-safe that the nearby townspeople have chained him in the tombs – he lives among the dead, and he has ripped the chains apart! How does it feel to be following Jesus now? You thought the storm was bad enough! This situation seems truly dangerous. Yet, Jesus engages the man in conversation. Or rather, the twelve thousand demons.
They recognize his power is from God. They beg him to be sent into a nearby herd of pigs. Pigs. A sign that we really truly are in Gentile territory. Seems like a simple quid pro quo – the demons leave the man and go to live in the pigs and the man is restored to his whole self, fully clothed “and in his right mind.” Just one problem. The pigs go head first down a cliff and into the sea where they drown. The swineherds run off and tell the whole city who come out to see what has happened. Pork belly futures tank! The local economy lies in ruins.
We are meant to be astonished at their reaction to seeing the man sitting, fully clothed and in his right mind. They are afraid and ask Jesus to leave. Now. No good deed goes unpunished. Yet, it seems they were more comfortable having the man demon possessed and chained in the tombs than in his right mind and moving back into the neighborhood. We might think about just how it is we are like this crowd? Who are the people we would like chained up far, far away from us? Why, even when they are revealed to be just like us, are we still afraid of them?
Ah, there’s the rub! We simply do not want to believe they are just like us because that means we are just like them! Even worse, Jesus tells the man, and all people like him, to return home and tell people his story. The man, now, is no fool. He does not want to go home to these people who chained him up and left him for dead, but rather he wants to follow Jesus. Those people still do not like me he is thinking! He begs Jesus not to send him home.
Jesus knows what we all are meant to know: Once you are made whole and yourself again, He is always with you wherever you go. He is at home with you. He is, in fact, your home. As St Augustine once put it, “Our hearts are restless until we find our home in thee.” Jesus is sending and bringing us all home – home to the heart of God’s eternal love. No more fear. No more being afraid of one’s self or of others. We come from Love, we return to Love, and love is all around. All of life is a homecoming – a coming home to God. Once we are home once again we are to tell our story to others so they too might return home.
So as I said, it is good to be back here again at St. John’s. When I first came here I would sit in the pew while everyone else went up for communion. I had some unfinished business from my high school years in the church I grew up in – the church where I was confirmed. It left my heart and soul divided. I almost left the Christian church altogether to convert to Judaism. The details are not important, but all through college and whenever I came to St. John’s with my in-laws, I would stay away from the one sacrament that is meant to join us one to another and all together with God in Christ.
Until one day, after church, just outside the door here, Bill Rich+ said something like, “You know you are welcome to join us at the Lord’s table.” Maybe it was in the way he said it, or the sound of Jesus’ voice in his, but all at once I was fully clothed and in my right mind again. Or, to use the greater metaphor, I had been welcomed home once again. I could once again feel the Love that is all around. I could return home.
We all have more in common with the Gerasene Demoniac than we like to admit. We all have pieces inside of ourselves that need to be put back together. Those of us who are lucky have someone like Bill Rich+ say just the right thing that reminds us not just who we are, but whose we are. We all will return home again to tell our stories. We can go now, or go later. Those of us who go now have something important to do: tell our stories so others might return home too.
So thank you all for being this saving station, St. John’s, and especially for having Bill Rich+ here on the one day I was ready to hear the voice of Jesus calling me home. If not for Bill and St. John’s I might not have had the privilege of a vocation that lets me tell Jesus’ story, which is our story, and find ways to welcome people home into the household of Love in which dwells that most remarkable family: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the Earth Maker, the Pain Bearer and the Life Sustainer. It is, after all, where we come from and where one day we all will return. We can go now, or go later, but one day we all go back to that place from whence we come – the household of Love in the heart of God’s eternal Love.
Thank you, and amen!