from Luke 8:26-39
on June 24, 2007
at Batesville Presbyterian Church
Our shadow selves lurk around and leave a corrosion effect on our inner lives. Sometimes our shadow selves break through to the surface and manifest in unhealthy behaviors and activities. Let us take as an example a 26 year old Grammy Award winning pop singer, songwriter, dancer, actress, and author. She was born in McComb, Mississippi, and raised Southern Baptist. She was an accomplished gymnast, attending gymnastics classes until age nine and competing in state-level competitions. She performed in local dance revues and her local Baptist church choirs, and was auditioning for the Disney Channel's The New Mickey Mouse Club by the time she was eight. Her career skyrocketed during her teenage years and she has now sold over 76 million albums worldwide according to TIME magazine. The RIAA ranks her as the eighth best-selling female artist in American music history, having sold 31 million albums in the United States alone. Recently, she has been in the press for less flattering reasons. In January, she lost an aunt with whom she was very close, after a long battle with breast cancer. That shock sent her into a nosedive. Since January she has checked in and out of a drug treatment center, shaved her hair with clippers in a possible show of solidarity with her aunt, and now is back in treatment.
This week her lawyers have demanded a Florida radio station remove "offensive" billboards which feature her with a shaven head. The billboards, meant to advertise a Florida radio station, included the slogans: "total nut jobs", "shock therapy" and "certifiable", which ran across a picture of a bald Brittney Spears. Due to our jealousy at her success, we may join the throngs who now look down on her. But the truth is, if we look deep enough inside ourselves, we all need treatment. Thomas Keating refers to centering prayer as divine therapy. We all need divine therapy to rescue us from the shadowy mob that inhabits our inner lives. We all need spiritual freedom. Jesus dishes out spiritual freedom.
One day Jesus and his disciples sail to the country of the Gerasenes, directly opposite Galilee. Apparently they have not landed right at the town, since the first person they meet is a man with a disordered mind who lives among the tombs. Tombs where Jesus lived, in Palestine, were often caves, where an outcast could find shelter. This distraught man, who lived in the cemetery caves, hadn't worn clothes for a long time. When he saw Jesus he screamed, fell before him, and bellowed, "What business do you have with me? You're Jesus, Son of the High God, but don't give me a hard time!" (The man said this because Jesus had started to order the unclean spirit out of him.) Time after time evil energies threw the man into convulsions. He had been placed under constant guard and tied with chains and shackles, but crazed and driven wild by the cryptic energies, he would shatter the bonds.
This story raises the question of how we understand malicious energies. In our Book of Confessions, part of our Presbyterian constitution, we find a belief in rebellious angels. The Second Helvetic Confession, written in 1563, says "Consequently we teach that some angels persisted in obedience and were appointed for faithful service to God and men, but others fell of their own free will and were cast into destruction, becoming enemies of all good and of the faithful ..."1 The Larger Catechism, written about 100 years later (in 1647), warns against "all compacts and consulting with the devil."2 Of course these confessions were written before the scientific age that we live in. Later Presbyterian creeds and confessions do not mention such specters. We prefer to focus on the love of God expressed in Jesus Christ. But our Bibles can not be tamed, nor can they be silenced, and our Bible story today finds Jesus speaking to the demons who are infesting a man.
Jesus asks a very important question: "What is your name?" The man can only answer, "Legion," and Luke explains that many demons had entered him. "Legion" is an interesting name. The Roman army occupied the Jewish state of Israel during Jesus' lifetime. A Roman legion consisted of 6000 foot soldiers. The demon-possessed man says his name is "Legion." Perhaps that means he is possessed with 6000 demons. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, suggests the man's name is Mob. "Mob. My name is Mob," he said, because many demons afflicted him. And they begged Jesus desperately not to order them to the bottomless pit. (Luke 8:30-31, The Message) Our false selves fear transformation. Our shadow selves shirk from recognition, remaining hidden from us if possible, so they may continue to drag us down and hold us back from a fuller life of freedom in Christ.
The first step toward spiritual freedom is to name whatever has us tied with chains and shackles. We may name it addiction. We may name it gluttony. We may name it greed, jealousy or anger. We may name it bitterness. We may not even know what to name it. Even so, we can identify something in ourselves that is not holy, something that is fragmented and in need of healing. Then Jesus can provide us with spiritual freedom even as he did with the tormented man in our Bible story today.
A large herd of pigs was browsing and rooting on a nearby hill. The demons begged Jesus to order them into the pigs. He gave the order. It was even worse for the pigs than for the man. Crazed, they stampeded over a cliff into the lake and drowned. (Luke 8:32-33, The Message)
Those tending the pigs, scared to death, bolted and told their story in town and country. People went out to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had been sent, sitting there at Jesus' feet, wearing decent clothes and making sense. (Luke 8:34-36, The Message) Jesus' response to the man is not only to make him whole again. He finds the man some clothes as well. A small, simple, necessary gesture that there is a human being worthy of respect. Jesus even commissions the man as an evangelist—a gentile evangelist: "Go and tell." It was a holy moment, and for a short time they were more reverent than curious. Then those who had seen it happen told how the demoniac had been saved.
Later, a great many people from the Gerasene countryside got together and asked Jesus to leave. He had brought too much change, too fast, and they were scared.
So Jesus got back in the boat and set off. The man whom he had delivered from the demons asked to go with him, but he sent him back, saying, "Go home and tell everything God did in you." So he went back and preached all over town everything Jesus had done in him. (Luke 8:37-39, The Message)
Jesus has power, power even to defeat our ultimate enemies. He boldly confronts those forces which bind us and commands them to come out form us, to leave us, to unbind us, and let us be free. Jesus is more powerful than any addiction, any shadow self, any false self. Jesus would not let demons control the Gerasene demoniac, and he will not let negative forces "get" us. When we name the negative energies that hold us back, and ask Jesus to heal us, we are healed. Jesus grants spiritual freedom from the negative energies that would bind us. Let us claim God's free gift through Christ and begin living a fuller and richer life today.
Spiritual freedom means seeing clearly whose we are and the nature of the world in which we live. We belong to God, whether we live or die, according to Paul. We are children of God redeemed from sin and death. Jesus freed the Gerasene demoniac from the mob of demons that bound him. We have our own issues that web us up and tie us down. Jesus furnishes spiritual freedom when we are willing to confront our shadow selves.
1The Book of Confessions, 5.033
2The Book of Confessions, 7.215