Gerasene demoniac June 23, 2019

So imagine Jesus has been going through the towns of coastal Maine with his disciples, gathering Christians from all denominations to listen to him speak from the gazebo on the green here in Brunswick. In the earlier part of today’s chapter in Luke’s gospel, he’s also been going from town to town, doing his usual teaching through parable and example. But just before today’s reading, Jesus and his disciples have left town to head across the Sea of Galilee to the country of the Gerasenes.

So, reworking the story for today, One day Jesus said to his disciples,

“Let’s go to Lewiston.” They all tumbled into the beat-up high-profile van that belonged to one of the disciples who was a contractor, but almost as soon as they turned off route 1 onto the Durham Road, Jesus fell asleep. A wild wind and rainstorm suddenly swept down on them, the van was blowing all over the road, and the disciples were terrified that route 136 would be flooded and they’d get swept into the Androscoggin River.They shouted at Jesus, “We’re about to die on this road!” And he woke up and spoke to the wind and the rain — and the storm abated — and there was a calm.  He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And the disciples looked at each other and said, “Who is this guy that even the storms listen to him?” (Hint: he’s God’s eternally begotten Son)

When they got to Lewiston, they went straight to the Jubilee Center, where there was a woman standing outside yelling obscenities at all who passed by. Her uncontrolled behavior and fear of enclosed spaces kept her outside all year round. Her feet were bare and she wore an old terrycloth bathrobe. When she saw Jesus, she yelled things I can’t say here, called him an obscene savior, and told him to leave. He asked her name, and she said, “The demons have stolen my name.” So Jesus called on the demons to leave her, but they begged not to be sent back into the abyss.  Looking around, he saw a swarm of mosquitoes overhead, so he sent the demons into them. Forgetting how to fly, the mosquitoes all crash landed on the streets of Lewiston and were squashed. (An aside: I like pigs, and I already think mosquitoes are slightly demonic).

Jesus went into the Jubilee Center and gathered up clothes for the woman. When he went back, he asked her again what her name was.

“I was named Annabelle, but that was a long time ago.”

“You are still Annabelle,” Jesus said, “and you are a beloved child of God.”

“But I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God,” Annabelle said.

“It doesn’t matter,” he answered.

“Can I come with you?” she asked.

“No,” Jesus replied, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Your calling is to stay here, and to tell others what God has done for you.”

People from the surrounding neighborhood came out to see what was going on, and they were astonished to see the possessed woman sitting there talking with Jesus, dressed and in her right mind.

And, in case you’re wondering, by using Lewiston as a destination, I’m not calling it an unclean place. It’s actually one of the most compassionate places in Maine in terms of how it welcomes strangers, feeds the hungry, houses the homeless. I simply chose Lewiston because route 136 can be such a daunting drive in bad weather….

At any rate, you know the rest of the story. Jesus left Lewiston after that single encounter, and came back to Brunswick. He had made the trip in the midst of a storm to help one person, who wasn’t even a Christian.

Jesus over and over tells his disciples that he is the living image of God, and that what he does is of God, which means the most profound message of today’s gospel is God’s desire to be with and heal those in the deepest need. It doesn’t matter whether those in distress are Christian, whether they believe in God at all. The Gerasene demoniac was a gentile, an unclean man living among the dead, possessed by unclean spirits. Jesus’ difficult journey to this gentile territory was to show there is absolutely no place that God will not go to be with those in need. There is no person, no matter how depraved or despairing or outcast or “unclean” by today’s shifting standards who is beyond the love of God. There is nothing we need to do to earn this love, and if we have forgotten this or never learned it, it doesn’t matter. God knows our names, and they are written on God’s heart. God will find us.

–So, when Jesus got back to Brunswick, he once again climbed the gazebo steps and looked out over all the people who had gathered to hear him, and he had compassion on them, and he loved them. “God is in this place,” he said, “not only because I’m here, but because you are. I know that some of you are lost and broken, scared, tired, or lonely – and some of you are well and strong enough to tend the ones in need. Whoever you are, and whatever brought you here today,” Jesus went on, “ remember what my apostle Paul wrote to one of the earliest church communities: nothing – absolutely nothing in all of creation – nothing can separate you from the love of God. Your job is to live this love. There are asylum-seekers in Portland, homeless people in Brunswick, hungry children facing a summer without school lunches, people of all ages who just need a friend.” Here he paused, then went on. “Listen to where God is calling you, to those places of deep need, and go there, knowing that I go with you.

“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. I’ve got your back.”