The Pursuit of Freedom

Luke 8:26-39

[Watch the sermon here.]

Jesus steps out of the boat onto the shoreline.
A man approaches him wildly. Homeless and naked,
this man lives in the local cemetery. Filled with demons,
he shrieks, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus?”

It’s a violent and feral welcome to a new land.

Yet Jesus has compassion,
softens himself, and asks, “What is your name?”

It’s a tender question.
A searching question.
An empowering question.

What is your name?

This man has been abandoned by his community.
He had been bound, shackled, and left in the place of the dead.
Left for dead.

“What is your name?” Jesus asks.

“Legion,” the man replies, for many demons had entered him.

Legion. What a loaded word.
The man could have just said “many”
because many demons had entered him. Yet he said legion.
Legion had a meaning during the time of Roman occupation.
A legion was a force of soldiers who would come and occupy a land.
A legion was the vanguard of oppressive power.

The man names the systems that harmed him.
Names the harmful forces that have occupied him and his land.

This is not somebody else’s story.

Demonic forces occupy our land, too.

Consumerism. Commercialism. Sexism.
Self-righteousness. Fear of those who are different.
Arrogance. Greed.

How do we exorcise these demonic forces?

We name them. Like the man.

As soon as he says “Legion,”
as soon as he names the colonizing forces,
the demons separate from him,
rushing out onto a nearby herd of pigs.
The herd then rushes down the steep bank into the lake, drowning.

When the swine herders see what happened,
they run off and tell it in the city and in the country.
The people hurry to the scene and find
the man with the demons, free at last.
Like a disciple, he sits at the feet of Jesus.
Clothed and in his right mind.

The people look,
and the people are afraid of Jesus,
just like the demons were afraid of Jesus.
Like the demons, I imagine they want to ask,
“Why are you interfering with us, Jesus?”
They are so afraid that they ask Jesus to leave.

I want to know this:

What are the people afraid of?
Why do they ask Jesus to go away?
What are they afraid is going to happen
when the living God enters into their lives?
Are they afraid of change? Of justice? Of healing?
Of having to do things differently?

It fascinates me that when the man is healed,
the community responds with fear.
The people have the same exact response as the demons do.
And why not? Things will never be the same again.
The revealing of Legion,
and the revealing of God’s liberating power in Jesus,
also exposes them for who they are.
Their terrified response leads one to believe
the entire town is possessed.

What possesses the town?

Greed. Desire for profit.
Don’t make a fuss. Don’t cause a ruckus.

The thing is,
true healing causes commotion.

This is what we see in the passage today.
It is dramatized in the surreal image of a whole herd of pigs
plunging off the hillside into the water;
it is dramatized in the drowning the demon-possessed pigs.
The whole town knows about it.
The whole town cannot not know about it once it happens.

There are economic consequences to the demon exorcism.
Profit will not be had because people are free.

Oh no, the town thinks, what now?
There’s too much commotion.
It’s disrupting our way of life.
Get out of town, Jesus!

Yet, they miss that someone’s life has been changed.
Someone’s life has been revived.

The demonic forces of our land possess us sometimes
in ways beyond our conscious understanding.

I am possessed by the demonic force of greed.
I live in a land possessed by greed, too.
I think of the words by apostle Paul,
“For I do not do the good I want to do,
but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

When I continue to purchase more and more cheap, expendable objects,
I don’t think about the human beings getting me those objects,
and how they are treated. I just think about what I want.

The demonic forces of our land possess us sometimes
in ways beyond our conscious understanding.

If Jesus is really going to exorcise me of all the forces of harm,
a total revolution will happen in my life.

Dear Jesus, that is terrifying.

Dear Jesus, I want to be led out of my tomb.

Dear Jesus, set us free.

The town’s response draws an uncanny parallel
to the pastors who critiqued Martin Luther King, Jr.
He responds to these pastors in the Letter from Birmingham Jail.

The critiques of these pastors remind me
that King was very much hated when he was alive.
In fact, some of his fellow clergy did not see him as a pastor and prophet.
Rather, they accused him of causing a ruckus.

The white pastors had said to King,
Don’t you see, when you come out,
the police come out; the firehoses come out; the dogs come out.
You are making a mess! It’s not time for this yet! Get out of town!

“Why are you interfering with us?”
The white pastors had wanted to know.

This when blacks and people of color had been cast out
to the dead places of the world.
This when young boys were lynched in front of crowds for amusement.
Like Emit Till.

What King was saying in his letter is that the demons are legion
and that people deserve not to live among the tombs.

The real ruckus, King writes, is being caused by the demonic forces possessing America. The ruckus is being caused by the people spitting on Negroes,
even killing Negroes, all to prevent a Negro from eating at a lunch counter.

This is the true force that upsets our nation and needs to be exorcised.
And it has been occupying our land for four hundred years!

King is not causing the ruckus.
Jesus is not causing the ruckus.
The demonic forces of evil that the community lets in are causing the ruckus.
Jesus, King, and modern-day prophets are trying to set us free.

Free. Free. Free.

The occupying force of Legion is making the man suffer.
Legion is on the man’s back, and we are calling him crazy.
No! He is the sane one! He is one telling the truth!

It is the community that needs to listen to him,
so they, too, can be free of demonic possession.
This is why Jesus leaves this man, his new disciple, with the town.
So the town can be exorcised, too.

And the man shows us that liberation begins with naming,
with listening to those who have the least power,
the least possessions. The homeless. The beggars.
Those affected by hate crimes and ablism.

Jesus has the power to cast out our demons,
if only we would ask him for an exorcism.

Liberation requires something.
It invites us to be bold in the face of what makes us tremble.

Like the man returning to the town to tell the truth.
Like the man returning to the town to cast out demons.

Jesus will help us to be courageous.
To stay close to the human.
Far from our own ideologies and righteousness.

This is hard work. It can feel futile so often.
But there is hope.
One can be healed.
One can be set free. Many have been.
The good news is that people have been changed!
People have been revived.

Look at the good things God has done.
Look at what is available to us.

The Spirit of God is with us,
even when our land is possessed by forces that harm.

God promises us fullness. Love. Freedom.
Humanity. Beauty. If we just name the truth.
If we hand over our fears to God.

God has a soft, warm place to welcome you.
To embrace all of your struggles.
You are not alone.

A man leaves the tombs, goes back to town, and speaks up.


This is the resurrection life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: