Sunday, June 19, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Caves. The decorations for our VBS theme Cave Quest this year ties in perfectly with our gospel story for today. We want people to get a feel for what it’s like to be inside a cave. How many of you have ever been inside a cave? I’ve explored a few. In Colorado I went to a place called Cave of the Winds. Although the elevation was over 6000 feet, there were still amazing caves in the mountains. In New Hampshire I particularly liked a place called the Polar Caves, where the temperature inside the cave even on the hottest summer day was nice and chilly and one of the caves even had ice in it year round. And one that required a bit of maneuvering to get into was called the Lemon Squeeze. Caves can be fun to explore. And the different limestone formations that create stalactites and stalagmites are a thing of beauty.
They can be a place of safety for many different types of animals. They can be a shelter for people who need a safe place to rest for a while. Many people in the bible hid in caves. People like David in hid in a cave when he was running from Saul. Obediah hid 100 prophets in the caves when Jezebel tried to have them killed. Elijah hid in a cave when his life was in danger. Caves serve many purposes, fun, shelter, and safety. But not always. For some, like miners who experience a cave-in, they can be trapped.
And that explains the condition of the man in today’s gospel story that Jesus meets. In ancient times, people also used caves for tombs, a place to bury their dead. Yet that is where the man in our story lived. He lived a life trapped in the tombs. Living among the dead he was considered unclean. As a result people stayed away from him. They were afraid of him. He lived away from the rest of society, away from any human interactions. He had no friends, and no one to talk with. He was also possessed by demons. He was a tormented soul and when Jesus met him he asked him his name, he had none. The man only said Legion – the number of demons that possessed him – which in the Roman army meant a unit of between 5000 and 6000 men. In other words he had a lot of demons! He had no name, no worth, no identity. He was only defined by what possessed him. That was the painful reality of this man’s life.
That is the painful reality of many people today. Far too often we are only defined by those things that possess us – those voices that plague us. Voices that try to convince us that we or someone else is anything but what God created us to be. Voices that tell us we or someone else is not good enough, that we or someone else is not worthy enough of love and belonging. Voices that tell us people wouldn’t love us if they knew who we really were – less than perfect. Or voices that try and tell us to judge someone else harshly. Voices that tell us to give up and stop trying. Voices that try and tell us that we just don’t measure up or that someone else doesn’t.. Voices that tell us that God doesn’t really love us, that God is punishing us because we are suffering. These voices are demons trying to convince us that we are failures. Or try and convince us that someone else is a failure.
The recent events in Orlando in the past week are an example of the demonic voices that try and convince people that those who are different are somehow less that worthy of love and belonging. People are being killed because they do not measure up to someone’s standards and it has to stop. Jesus came to proclaim the truth to the entire world that we are all precious beloved children of God and in God’s eyes we are all worthy of love and belonging. God’s love is for everyone. That is why Jesus went to the country of the Gerasenes in today’s story. It was in the exact opposite direction of Galilee where he preached to the Jewish people. It was where the Gentiles lived, the people who didn’t yet believe in the God of Abraham, but Jesus went there to show that God’s love was for all people then and today and forever.
And after Jesus healed the man of the demons that possessed him, he left the country of the Garasenes. It would seem that this was the only reason that Jesus went to that place. Perhaps his only purpose was to heal this man. Because while this man felt he had no worth and no name, to Jesus he had a name. To Jesus he was important, important enough to make a special trip just to heal him.
Jesus makes a special trip for each and every one of us and meets us right where we are. We don’t have to go searching for Jesus. He come to us. Jesus wants to free us from the demons that possess us. Those voices and fears that keep us trapped in caves where we don’t want to come out from. Fears that keep us from shining our light into the dark places. Jesus’ light is more powerful than the darkness. Jesus’ light is more powerful than our fears. Jesus’ light is more powerful than anything that may try and destroy us. Jesus is the light of the world.
We are all plagued by demons, some of our own making and some caused by the actions of others. We are all “captive to sin and cannot free ourselves”, but there is One who can – Jesus. He is One who can rescue us from the bondage of sin and death. Jesus, who has already rescued us through the sacrament of baptism. Through baptism we know who we are – children of God. We have worth and value and a purpose in the kingdom of God. We are no longer bound by the false lies that evil tries to persuade us to believe.
We only have to remember our identity as children of God to know the truth. We will all sin. We will all make mistakes, and fall down, but we have the promise of Jesus’ forgiveness. We do not have to do anything to earn God’s grace through baptism. Baptism is a gift from God who reaches into our lives and claims us as God’s own children. We are claimed by the living God and we are sent.
We are sent to proclaim what Jesus has done for us. Just like the man possessed by the legion of demons in today’s gospel was given a new identity and sent to proclaim the glory of God, so too are we claimed and sent to proclaim God’s glory wherever we are. We are not baptized into ourselves; we have been baptized into the entire body of Christ, the church, here on earth. We are called to let our light shine.
When someone says, “Hey, you. What’s your name?” Remember your baptism. Remember you have been marked by the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit and proudly say that you are a beloved child of God. And when you look at others – no matter how different they may be – remember they too are a beloved child of God. No one needs to be trapped in the darkness of the caves forever. Jesus has risen from the dead. The stone has been rolled away. He is alive and his light is waiting to shine into the darkest corners of the world through us.
This week let the light of Jesus shine through you. Be kind. Be loving. Be caring. Return to your homes, your work, your schools, your neighborhoods and tell everyone how much Jesus has done for you. Amen.