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Sermon for Ordinary 12

Sermon for Ordinary 12 Year C The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

A people living in darkness have seen a great light

Sometimes when we are trying to put something together, we don’t always follow the instructions provided.

Sometimes there is even somebody with us, trying to help by reading things out or making helpful suggestions…

Even when that happens, we sometimes carry on regardless, deaf to any guidance, suggestions or offers of help.

It must have been a bit like that for the Israelites when they returned from exile but seemingly refused to follow the true way of the Jewish faith, not following the ‘instructions’ they had been given but preferring to do things their own way.  As we read the passage from Isaiah it’s a bit like we’re reading about small children playing at being grown-ups in the way they worship and offer sacrifices in their back gardens on bricks and tiles they’ve found and daring each other to go to scary places. 

They seem to say about their rituals, I’m holier than thou!  ‘I’m the king of the castle!’  It all comes across as a bit sad and pathetic.

As they play their games, so God calls down to them and says. I’m here, I’m here’, come to me and we can do it properly.  Do it properly so you can understand the full goodness and glory of God and reveal me to the world.  But they seem to ignore Him, just like someone putting together a piece of flat pack furniture.

It’s a bit like when a striker stands in front of an open goal with his arms aloft pleading with the winger to cross the ball to him, but the winger decides to go it alone and shoots high wide and not so handsome!

Fortunately, God says that although there may be repercussions for the Israelites, His mercy and grace will triumph, and His chosen people shall come to know Him as he intends.  He will reach down and come to them despite all the darkness, self-indulgence and confusion.

There are distinct parallels between the passage from Isaiah and the story in Luke.  Some writers have even said it’s an explanatory commentary on the passage from Isaiah

So thoroughly polluted is this man and this environment that some commentators have suggested the entire story serves as a midrash on Isaiah 65 v1 – 4, where Gentiles are portrayed performing any number of unclean acts -- offering incense to demons, sleeping among tombs, etc. just as their Israelite forebears have done.

And among Christians with a strongly Jewish background who heard the story it would certainly be full of parallels, symbolism and meaning.

But Luke's account emphasizes that Jesus in not in Israelite country but has moved into foreign territory. The Gerasene's country is "opposite Galilee."  Jesus has come to the Gentiles and those outside the recognised faith.

This whole encounter takes place only after Jesus "stepped out" onto the Gentile side of the lake.   It takes place in Gentile territory, not holy land. It’s a land that includes pigs, unclean animals.

The man possessed by demons is almost certainly a Gentile as well.  Even if not, his demon-possession has rendered him unclean.  He lives like an animal -- unclothed and outside, as if in a garden.

He chooses to locate in the tombs -- a ritually unclean place for Jews.   Cemeteries were understood to be the abode of spirits, somewhere to be avoided in darkness apart from anything else.

‘Legion’ was not just a term meaning many, but a designation for one of Rome’s armies.  The one stationed in Palestine had a boar on its standard. In a worldly sense, the people were under its control.

As an unclean spirit it was only natural that Legion request relocation into one of the most familiar unclean symbols -- swine. The presence of a nearby herd once again reminds us that Jesus is in the midst of Gentile territory.

The sea, the abyss where the swine are dispatched was a place a danger, an abode of demonic powers. It was their place if punishment and imprisonment.

But it was also a clear message that Gentiles also belong in the Kingdom of God which is beginning to break through.  A people living in darkness have seen a great light as Matthew would say or as Luke has stated earlier in his gospel through the utterances of Zechariah’s Song, ‘to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."’  Lk 1 v 79

It might be that the Good News was coming to the Gentiles, but we’re all in the same (sinking) boat!!

Just as God reached down to the Israelite and said ‘Here I am, here I am’, he reaches out to the gentiles, in their state of darkness and living among the tombs and says ‘Here I am, here I am.’

It’s easy sometimes to focus on the man who lived in the tombs and try to draw parallels with some of the things that hold us back, take possession of us in one way or another or keep us bound in chains of addiction of some sort or another, all of which can be helpful at times.

But in coming to the land of the Gesarsenes, in meeting with the demon possessed man, if simply asking his name and giving him a new identity with Christ, Jesus shows that none of that really matters.  What we have been, what we have been tied up in is the past.

He stands and simply says, ‘Here I am, here I am’, probably twice because we rarely here it the first time.  Come to me.

And the man, in the most unlikely of circumstances, responds and sits at Jesus’ feet.  The people can’t believe what’s happened.  They clearly realise that a power much greater than their own or one that they have ever known is at work among them.

What they see in the man, in His outward appearance is only the tip of the iceberg as to what has happened to him as he has encountered the power at God at work restoring His creation bit by bit.

And just as God had chosen the Jews to reveal Him and His love to the world but they had seemingly fallen short and gone off track worshiping in gardens and tombs, despite the exhortations of the prophets, so he sent Jesus to show what God is really like, he invites us to join with Him on that journey of revealing God to the world and unlocking life for those who do not know Him and His love.

It’s not about the law or a set of instructions or even trying to make or construct things ourselves, we see the impact of our efforts when we do on our world each day, but a relationship.

God sometimes chooses the strangest people, in the strangest circumstances to do His work.

Jesus instructing the Gerasene man to return to his former home and in so doing calls him to a new vocation, giving a purpose and point to this man's life. Under Jesus' direct instruction, the Gerasene demoniac becomes the first missionary to the Gentiles.

He didn’t even have a degree in theology or vocational training or and probably no real understanding of the Jewish law and prophets, or the bible.  Merely invited to talk about what had happened to him and what God had done.

That was the reality of his freedom.  A freedom resulting in calling out to God because he knew things were not as they should be, not quite right, as a God who said, ‘I am here’ came to meet with him where he was irrespective of his past and invited Him into real freedom and release.

He invites us all into that same relationship and freedom.