Unbelievable Change
Luke 8:26-39

At first glance you may think that this text has nothing to do with you, that you have never nor will ever see or experience anything like a man possessed by a legion of demons who has been banished to live among the tombs, chained and naked.  Yes, the man’s situation is extreme, but there are similarities between him and each and every one of us that bring the story closer to home than you may first imagine.  Let’s explore.

We first encounter the man as he encounters Jesus.  He met Jesus on the lake shore; he was naked, had been kept under guard and had often broken free of the chains that had been put on his hands and feet to stop him from escaping. Not just once but many times, he was a hard man to restrain.  It is interesting that this man approached Jesus and yet said to him, “What do you want with me Jesus…I beg you, don’t torture me?” 

I find it ironic that the man who had been suffering this much torment and torture as a result of his being possessed by demons, is afraid that Jesus might torment him.  Here was Jesus, the son of the most high God, who had the power to heal him, to drive out the demons, the answer to everything that was going wrong in his life, and he was afraid of what might happen.

He was living alone, among the tombs, rejected by society, chained probably more for other people’s protection rather than his own.  We don’t even find out his true identity.  In most Bible stories people are given a name and perhaps some background as to who they are related to, but not this man.  When asked his name he replies, “Legion”, the demons that possess him have changed his identity.  He is lost to the world, alone and with no identity yet seems to want to stay that way.

As we heard at our Continuing Education for Pastors and Lay Workers this week, change brings about anxiety, any change, but major ones like this man was about to experience would create huge anxiety.

I wonder whether sometimes when we are in the midst of some kind of torment, be it physical, emotional, spiritual or even financial, if sometimes we are happier for it to continue than to do something about changing things, especially if the answer to our problems might be to turn to Jesus for help.  What would our friends think?  Would we look weak if we went to someone for help?  I can’t talk to the pastor or the lay-worker about my problems, someone might notice and then I would be embarrassed…and what if Jesus did answer my cry for help and he fixed things?  What would I do then?  Could I cope with the change in my life, even if it were for the better?  What might I have to go through for the change to happen?

Well we heard what happened to this particular man after Jesus drove out his demons.   First of all they focussed their attention on some other poor creature, but the real emphasis is on the change that took place for the man they had been possessing.  When the people came to check out whether what the swineherds had told them was true, there he was, just as they had told them, sitting at Jesus’ feet, fully clothed and in his right mind.

No longer was he ranting and raving, no longer tearing at the chains that bound him, he was fully clothed and rational, sitting with Jesus.  The demons were gone; his life had made a turn for the better.  You would think at this point the people would be praising God and thanking Jesus for delivering the man from his oppression, but no, they are afraid.  They even confirmed the facts with the eye witnesses and were even more afraid and asked Jesus to leave them!

Have you ever experienced a radical change like that in someone and wondered whether it was too good to be true.  Do you know a gambler or alcoholic or drug addict or similar that has changed their ways since you last saw them?  Do you feel comfortable with them?  Do you even know how to hold a conversation with them any more?  Do you trust them or are you perhaps a little afraid that they will have a lapse, and fall off the wagon again?  It can be difficult when you have had a long relationship with someone and suddenly there is a radical turn around in their lives.

The people who came out to check up on the man didn’t know how to cope, it was too big a change for them.  They knew Jesus must have amazing power to overcome demons, and that the man they knew had experienced a radical change and so they were afraid.

The man didn’t seem real keen to stay around and spend time with the people who had banished him to the tombs and had chained him up either.  He wanted to go with Jesus, even to the point of begging him to take him along, but Jesus wanted him to stay, to be restored to his people and tell everyone how much God had done for him through Jesus.

That is the challenge for us, to go and tell the people we come into contact with what Jesus has done for us.  Some of us might struggle to come up with that life changing moment that had a huge impact on us.  Many of us have been a part of a faith community all of our lives, have never had any wilderness years, but what about those times when there were other things on that kept you away from worship, or when someone had upset you and you thought it would be better to stay away for a while.  I’m sure nearly every one here has at some point taken a week or two off of worship to give you some breathing space.  The longer you stay away the harder it is to come back.  Sometimes we even feel like we’ve been banished to the tombs by the townsfolk. 
But Jesus is here, calling you back, to heal your hurts, forgive your sins, and drive away your demons.  Don’t be afraid, Jesus is with you, calling you to be healed so that you can have the life he has won for you and tell others about all that you have seen, heard and experienced.

You may never see or experience the kinds of demons described in the Gospel reading, but I’m sure you have all experienced other ‘demons’ that drive you away from living a life of faith with Christ.  I pray that you hear the voice of Jesus proclaiming that you are forgiven, and that you will be restored, clothed, of sound mind, sitting at Jesus feet, listening to his voice.  Amen.