Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Luke 8:26-39

The people at the nightclub in Orlando thought the party would never end. It was almost closing time, but they could continue elsewhere.  There would be another time, another place.  Little did they know.  Some people would judge them, saying they didn’t deserve to live because so many of them were sexually mixed-up, even deviants. Or their party had already lasted far too long.  If they intended to go to church, they should have left the party by midnight. 

We cannot blame them for their own death.  But the catastrophe of it all — whether a car crash ends a family holiday or a headache turns into a stroke, or a chest pain signals a heart attack – is that there is no warning. We can never absolutely predict that any of us has another week or month or year to live.  It is never too late to ask whether we are moving toward the kingdom of God.

Who can tell us truth about life?   Jesus Christ alone can tell us about ourselves, about who we truly are, where we are headed, and what life is all about. Not only can we learn from Jesus Christ what it means to be human, but his life tells us about God.  In a world filled with fear and superstitions about the cause of illness, Jesus focuses his attention on just one man. With so many who had unclean spirits, mental illness, or demons, did Jesus suppose he could make a difference in the world?  Don’t we ask the same question today, in a world that becomes more unpredictable every day? We must ask, “What can I do to bring the kingdom of God to bear upon a sin-sick world with so many problems?”

A man on the beach saw another man bending down every few steps and throwing something in the ocean. As he came close, the first man said, “What are you throwing?”  Again, the man bent over and picked up something.  “These starfish were stranded by the high tide.  They’ll die if they don’t get back into water.”  The first man said, “Are you crazy?  Do you know how many miles this beach goes?  Do you think what you are doing will make any difference?”

Our man replied, “It makes a difference to this one.”

Just so, Jesus healed one man who came to his attention, and thereby he showed us what kind of God we have. Jesus kept his eye and his attention on one point of true value. He focused all his power to bring God’s kingdom to this world. He understood his mission and nothing kept him from it.

The mission of Jesus makes a difference to us because he is still reaching down to show us who God is. In Bible times, illness, mental illness, or sickness of any kind was about the worst thing that could happen. In the case of unclean spirits (mental illness), there was no cure and very little hope.  If time and patience on the part of the family did not at least bring some relief, then the situation was hopeless.  With superstitions about mental illness, family and friends often faded away; with the individual abandoned to become the original street people.

Who wanted to be around someone with an unclean spirit? Something might rub off or reach out and grab another victim. After all, people in every age and culture have had to make allowances for people who are considered “different” by most other people.  Are not all humanity children of God?

It has not been too many years since families kept a mentally ill or handicapped person in a darkened room, unwilling to bring such a person, quite literally, out into the light. Is that how we feel about those who are different from us?

Jesus, by his presence, must have triggered something in the man who was deranged. The unclean spirit, the demon in him, spoke out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus Son of the Most High God?  “I beg you, do not torment me.” Here was an unexpected insight that went beyond what Jesus was ready to reveal.  He did not plan to bring attention to his ministry by spectacular, wonderworking miracles, not interested in dazzling people with his power.

Yet he wanted to heal the sick because the relief of suffering was such a good way to demonstrate the coming of the kingdom. The healing miracles were signs, that is, signals that the time had come for God to enter the battle in a new way, taking on the forces of evil as personally and powerfully as possible.

The healing miracles were not intended for compliments. They were God’s deliberate way of saying his intervention in human affairs has now begun. The miracles are God’s way of demonstrating his personal interest in this world.  Biblical miracles say the kingdom of God is tied to Jesus Christ.  His appearance in the world says God has moved himself into the troubles of his people. He is still waiting, able, and ready to come to people in trouble, to touch and to heal our disasters often without giving a cure, but with healing that will allow us to overcome in our minds and in our spirits whatever happens to the body.

God is walking along the beaches of the world throwing one starfish after another back into the healing waters. Too many of us who live seemingly in daylight know about darkened rooms within ourselves, keeping something out of sight, and we wish to God it could be kept out of mind.

Let’s give God a chance. God’s kingdom is filled with suffering people who bear witness to his healing power.  Does God keep only successful healthy, youthful, clear-minded, beautiful and free-spirited people?

The bus going to God’s kingdom has a seat for everybody, including the outcasts of society, those who are unhealthy, those who are broken or blemished, those who have live with unsolved grief and misery, those with secret sins and private terrors, those who have skeletons in their closet, those who have ancient misdeeds of which they are not proud.

With authority never seen, Jesus Christ commands those unclean spirits and they obey him.

Jesus Christ has entered the world in God’s great self-revelation, showing in his suffering that he shares with humanity the love of God.

We need to keep asking ourselves, day by day, what is reality? Who tells truth about life and death, sin and goodness, success and defeat?  Automakers, and shampoo merchants, and clothing manufacturers tell us that the important things of life are status symbols and youthful appearance.

The violence industry tells us that muscle power and an AK-47 can solve our problems. Street drug merchants tell us our problems can just go away.  Who then tells truth about human life?

Is the world better if we become personally satisfied?  How long has it been since we did something, anything, that we did not want to do, but we did it because we are connected to a higher priority than our personal satisfaction?

Jesus healed the man because the kingdom has arrived.   Who tells truth about daily living?  The reality of life is not found in keeping ourselves back from God. His touch alone can heal us, give wholeness, complete our growth into the fullness of Christ, and bring us to our rightful place before God in eternity. The kingdom, the truth about ourselves, and God’s gifts of grace, come to us in ordinary congregations.  Here we realize that God is serious about wanting to set us over onto a different track.

When people assemble for the saving presence of God’s word, bound together in prayer as a reflection of God’s mercy, where Jesus Christ is among us, we find the meaning of life. We do not live by bread alone but by the reality of God. There is a long line of witnesses whose priority on the kingdom carried them through every storm and disaster, exactly as God is watching over his people today.

God’s power still reaches out to touch broken lives, one life at a time. In Jesus Christ we find the new and bold teaching that this world belongs to God alone and that his love, his grace and mercy can overcome unclean spirits in all of us.

When we realize God’s healing power for our broken lives, then we shall understand that God is the ultimate reality in this world.

Jesus comes to heal the unclean spirit within us. Then we also will declare how much God has done for us.