Scripture: Luke 8:26-39
I’m sure we have all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” Yeah I know it is a silly saying but it is a very true statement. Kids get this speech from their teachers in school, their parents at home, and their grandparents when they are supposed to be eating their broccoli. It is probably not a statement we expect to hear in church, at least not on a Sunday without a meal following worship.
The concept is filled with deep wisdom, because we consume multiple things. If we were to eat only a single type of food every day our bodies would rapidly deteriorate, we would be more susceptible to illnesses many of which could become fatal. To combat this nutritionists develop trendy ways to promote a balanced diet things like the food pyramid, the food groups, and various diet plans. I am not a nutritionist. If you would ask me what you should eat I would probably ask you how much money you had in your wallet and then suggest the nearest fast food restaurant. Consumption has many faces. We as humans consume not only food but also a whole host of products and services.
Consuming in and of itself is not wrong. Our nations economy is based on consuming. Without a constant demand for food, oil, transportation, and pretty much everything you can buy at our local retailers each of us would be impoverished. Yet again we are what we eat.
This passage is probably one of the most frightening passages in all of scripture. Just imagine for a moment how you would feel if you stepped off of a boat only to be greeted by a naked grim covered man. It is a situation that I would hope none of us would have to experience. Scripture tells us that an evil spirit, a concept that many of us may not be too comfortable, possessed this man. Our culture does one of two things with this, both being extreme. We either disregard the concept as being mental illness, something that today can easily be treated with various behavioral and pharmaceutical therapies. This idea totally negates the possibility of spiritual beings. The second concept is one that promotes evil spirits being behind every aspect of our lives, demons responsible for every vice we partake of. What then was wrong with this man?
There are several issues in this passage that can point the way too the roots of the issue. The first thing to remember is that the people of this community as well as this man, were all of the Jewish culture. Members of a culture have certain expectations. This community as a whole has fallen away from those cultural norms. For one they were raising swine. For us bacon lovers we tend to forget that producing bacon in a Jewish is about as wrong as growing Marijuana today. It is hard for us gentiles to consider bacon a drug, but the consumption of this substance was unlawful. This community has strayed from their roots. They as a community became focused on consumption and the profit that could be gained from it.
The community took a step away from their center. It is not unlikely that members of that community would begin to take more steps away. This man is living in the tombs, living with the dead. Death is unclean; those that spend time around death are not able to participate in the community. The community is marginalizing itself and within that community individuals have taken steps further.
We may not consider these little steps a big deal, but we are what we eat. With each step they consume more, their focus is reconfigured away from God and more on themselves. They become a consumer-based community. With each step they become more consumed by their own desires.
Consumption had taken hold of this man. He consumed until he lost his mind and his soul to the very things he sought to fulfill his desires. The ancient church gave a name to these activities calling them the seven deadly sins. The sins of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony are consumer-based sins. Each of these sins is present in consumer-based communities, each of these are present in all consumption-based cultures. It does not matter if it is a free market or not if there is consumption these sins can creep into the lives of those in the culture.
The scripture focuses in on a single man, but there is much more to the story. The entire community was consumed by sin. The man cried out in the presence of Jesus because the spirits of evil consumed him, and Jesus did not say a word. All he did was take a single step off of a boat and it sent this man into a violent rage. The man was not the only one with a reaction to Jesus; the entire community was in fear of Jesus. Were they all possessed?
Let us bring this closer to home. Each of us are members of a consumer-based culture. We live to fulfill the desires and urges we have. I could mention a word and probably upset ever person in this room, we get upset because that one word is the sin that we ourselves are consumed with. Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony everyone has a hold of some area of our lives. For the corporatist we can easily say they are ruled by greed, for the socialist envy each is consumed by sin. How do we feel? Is pride creeping in as we pat ourselves on the back for not being one of those?
“What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” the man cried out. We too cry that out when we sense judgment, but where is the judgment coming from? We are uncomfortable around holiness, because it shows us that we fall short of the standards God has set before us. We cry out and scream for the righteous to stop their judgment, they do not even have to say a word and we demand for them to stop. Why do we do that? Because we have justified our actions in our own minds, we have built philosophies and theologies around our own sin and claimed that it is right. We then judge those around us through those eyes. I am greedy and those that wish to take what is mine are wrong. I envy so those that have what I want are evil. I lust and if I cannot have what I desire I demand that no one can have it. These are the very things that have caused every war, all of poverty, and probably every argument. We each fall to these because we are human, and when we let consumption take hold and rule our lives we become a slave to it.
Yes a slave to greed, envy, lust and all. I see it every day. I watch people consumed by these very things, I listen to their justifications of their actions, and I see the devastation of their lives when they devote all they have to fulfill their desire and their addictions. And yes I have to say that the stories of the demon possessed man could fit right along side the stories I have at work every day.
Jesus did not initiate the conflict. We initiate it. We have become consumed by ourselves and when Jesus takes a step into our community we demand that he leaves us alone. But how does Jesus respond to this possessed man? He asked for the name. He did not look at the man and demand that he stop doing what he was doing, he met him where he was and asked for the name. He wanted to know the man, to know the deepest essence of who this man was, but we cannot be known when we are hiding behind our sin. When we are consumed and possessed with our sinfulness and rebellion we cannot be know or build a relationship with God because to do so we would have to let go.
The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the swineherd and to be left alone. Jesus gave them permission to leave the man. And all the community was in fear, because not only did they lose their incomes, they too were exposed. This man who was gripped by every sinful desire was left redeemed, the community found him clothed and in his right mind. Yet the community was still in fear, not only of Jesus but this man as well. He now was able to expose them, because there he was restored.
We are all gripped by sin, we may not realize just how much or where that sin is affecting us, but we are gripped all the same. If we get upset at an idea that is different than our own we are being controlled by something other than the Spirit of God. This is why Friends have their queries, why the prayer of examine was developed by the religious orders, this is why the spiritual disciplines were explored by those that seek God. It is through participating in these things that we with the Spirit of God can release the grip of sin in our lives. But it is a process. We are what we eat. We must feast on the things of righteousness and practice the ways of Christ.
Jesus gave this man a new life. He gave him a life where sin did not rule, a life where the voices of the evil ones were quieted by the overpowering voice of the Spirit of God. The man wanted to follow Jesus wherever he went, but Jesus did a remarkable thing for this man, he told him to stay where he was. This man had experienced something, was changed, and Jesus told him that the greatest service that he could do for God is to stay right where he was to live and teach among the people of his own community. Yes some are called to travel to foreign lands to spread the Gospel of Christ, but more are called to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom right where they are.
We each have a story of redemption to tell, a story of hope to proclaim to those around us. Each of us have had struggles in our own ways with the evil desires that want to consume us as we consume and fall victim of them. But in Christ we can overcome the evil one. We overcome by consuming the holiness of God, by living a life of prayer, worship and service. We overcome by turning from sin and living a life loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. We can become victors if we confess our struggles to God and turn from them, by developing a disciplined life of prayer, of study of scripture, and through helping others along their own paths. We beat our bodies to make them a slave to righteousness instead of sin, we press on to the goal set before us, we take hold of that which Christ has taken hold of in us, and we proclaim loudly in word and deed, “to live is Christ and to die is gain!”
As we enter into a time of open worship and holy expectancy imagine this passage imagine what you would feel like if you were there, imagine what you would feel like if you were the man sitting naked possessed by the demons that haunt him. Examine if you dare your own life and explore with Christ where sin has a grip on you. And let us call on Christ to release us from those sins and let them run down into the sea, let us let God take them from us so that we can live among our community proclaiming how God has helped us along our path of life.