The readings for these last few weeks and for the weeks to come are epic and dramatic. I kind of want to get some popcorn, prop up my feet and watch them on a big screen. We’ve had Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel – that sounds like a holy soap opera, doesn’t it? Paul’s been writing to the Galatians with words that are easy to comprehend but oh so hard to live out. He keeps telling them and us we’re free of tyranny – free to be whomever God has created us to be – no longer slaves to convention about religion, gender, class, socio-economic status; easy to comprehend but hard to live out because it calls to be fully human, and fully adult. He calls us to step up and into our inheritance.
Then we have the Gospel for today – talk about drama – it’s a memorable reading. In our world of Zombie kitsch, we can picture this poor guy – animated by something beyond his control. He had to be bound and guarded at all times. Apparently he had broken free to meet Jesus at the shoreline – no one came to plea for him, did you notice that? We’ll come back to that in a minute. He’s free – but not the same kind of free that Paul is talking about. Jesus went directly to work on this poor man – addressing the demons – What is Your Name?
Here is where I want us to enter into this story this year. We all have demons don’t we? We try to hide them – we try to bind them and keep them under guard. We may only let them out when we’re home alone, in the dark, in secret. Drunkenness, Sloth, Envy, Anger, Jealousy, Picking Fights, Abuse of self or others; Addictions to: substances, pornography, control, drama; sexual infidelities – we’re a mess! Everyone here has something that you struggle with – and it’s a mighty struggle. Getting the chains back on that demon gets harder and harder when you are doing it alone in the dark.
Paul tells us –assures us – that we are never alone in that struggle. Christ came to set us free from slavery to those demons. Christ came to exorcise those demons from us – to break the chains – to make us children of God through faith. And here we are. We are faithful people. We are gathered together in his name to hear scripture read, to receive the holy sacraments, to gather together as a community. Christ can set us free of those demons. We just have to be ready to let them go.
And there’s the rub, isn’t it? Our demons may be dark but they keep us company. They may make us feel ashamed, but we’ve had them so long we wouldn’t know what to do without them. They may be demons, but they are our demons. Without Anger or Jealousy as a basic stance in life, how do you approach new people? Without the thrill of the hunt, where else do you find excitement? Do you know how to have a civil adult back and forth conversation without having to win? That takes harder work. That takes maturity as a Christian. And it’s scary.
The people in the village were afraid once the demons were gone – there was a new normal. The predictability was gone. They were so afraid that they asked Jesus to leave! We usually gloss over that part – they asked him to leave. Go on, get outta here, we don’t need you! Being free takes guts, it takes courage to stand up and be all of whom God has created us to be, free to make mistakes, free to step out in faith, free to live into whatever call God has placed on our lives. Free to use that same amount of time and energy we used to give to the demon to look outwards at the world around us and see where we can engage others in fighting their own demons. Free to see societal demons and broken structures – to find where we can enter into the work of the Kingdom. Once our own demons are vanquished and we truly understand our Freedom, we can proclaim it to others.
Jesus refuses to take the Free Man away. He leaves on the boat and tells the Man to go home and proclaim all that God has done. Remember last week: the one who owed the greatest debt is the most grateful? This man owed a great debt to God for restoring him to a real life again – for restoring him to his family and community – for setting him Free. So he went away proclaiming how much Jesus had done for him. Let us go and do likewise. Amen.