Reading: Luke 8:26-39
Let us pray: May we hear your word for us today O God and may we respond in generous faith to all you require of us in Jesus name. Amen.
Jesus asked the man: ‘What is your name?’ He replied: ‘Legion’ meaning many were influencing his life, or in other translations ‘Mob’ giving some indication of the sense of helplessness over the rampaging horde.
‘I no longer know who I am’ is his silent cry – the cacophony of voices in my head means I can no longer hear myself. My name has been taken over by the multitude, the mob.
A man in deep distress, out of control, violent, driven and yet directionless, naked, chained, pleading for his life back before Jesus. It is an evocative passage we have heard read from Scripture today, and with some quite troublesome detail in it.
As is often the case with bible readings, it is very easy to get bogged down in detail such as debating what is meant by demons and do they exist today, or why the pigs – not very thoughtful for the owners and to allow oneself to be persuaded by demons – what was happening there? But I don’t think that would be particularly helpful – so I am going to leave that for you to ponder in your own time if you are interested and rather pursue the question I began with: What is your name? Jesus asking us ‘what is your name?’
It seems particularly appropriate to ask this question on a day in which we have received James into the body of the Church, because in the act of baptism we are shaping the name of who James is to be. And we are encouraging him to hear particular voices – that of Jesus Christ, that of loving family, that of his church family. That man in chains, naked, demented: his voices were altogether different tearing him apart, driving him to acts of violence and, as said in the Message translation of this passage, ‘screaming and bellowing before Jesus ‘What business do you have messing with me?’ Filled with hate, yet somewhere inside knowing enough of himself to get his out of control body into the path of Jesus. To bring himself to Jesus attention. Now that is something to ponder is it not? That the meeting was instigated by the man rather than the demons – because the recognition of the danger and power of Jesus was immediately obvious to the mob voices within but maybe somewhere in there was a small voice of remembrance of self that insisted on the encounter.
I cannot help but think of the young man whose act of unbelievable horror and violence has led to such pain and devastation in Orlando. I cannot help but recognise him as someone who had his own demons driving him to do things and wonder if he too had a small voice inside that just wasn’t able to speak into the rage and hatred that consumed him to the point of absolute inhumanity.
When the demons had gone from the man, people came and saw his sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. Or as the Message puts it: wearing decent clothes and making sense’. And the people’s response? It is interesting again to compare translations: NRSV says ‘And they were afraid.’ Eugene Peterson puts it this way: ‘It was a holy moment, and for a short time they were more reverent than curious.’
What difference if the perpetrators of hate filled violence had been instead ‘in their right mind’? What would be in this world if the voice of God, not twisted extremism had been the voice that guided their lives?
And so the question can be legitimately asked of all of us. What is your name? Is it ‘Mob’ or ‘Legion’ or is it ‘Christian’?
It’s a challenging question for sure. For several reasons.
How do we define mob today? Sure we know it as extremism but is it also consumerism, prejudice, apathy and all those other things that keep us separated from God, that give power to other voices to take us over?
We asked just this question at the first Wednesday Worship but coming from a different angle? What is it that shows we are Christian? Are there certain behaviours we would expect to see in those who profess to follow Jesus and does it compromise our integrity as Christians if we don’t. And particularly with reference to Romans 12, we explored how we show our belief of God with us to the world. In the end it is whose we be that shows the world who we are. The voice of God within enables us to be the loving of God without.
And the ‘what is your name?’ question becomes especially challenging if we believe that the legion of voices that destroy and devastate can be expelled by Christ. That means that we must hold out hope that there may be a spark of connection with God for the gravest of criminals, for the vilest of deeds – and that is a huge ask for some of us. It means that we cannot indulge in huge sweeping statements of derision or judgement because we do not know God’s capacity to cleanse and heal. It means that we must leave judgement to God for we do not know.
It is challenging to for us to remain within the community in which we might have been found wanting – to stand up to the doubters and the finger pointers and whispered ‘isn’t that the one who…..’ and it is a challenge to the community to not be the doubters and the finger pointers and the whisperers when someone is struggling to know their name in the midst of compelling legions of noise.
It means we must recognise the cacophony of voices in our own lives and know when they are of Christ and when they are other. That perhaps is the most difficult for most of us because those voices can be very subtle, persuasive, compelling. Just a little tweak here and there – a small withholding of generosity or compassion, an occasional foray into prejudice or blanket judgement, an acceptance of unjust practice or unfair policy because in the end it doesn’t really affect us, here, today.
And probably the final challenge (although there are plenty more I am sure) is the way in which, knowing our name is ‘Christ follower’, life becomes incredibly disruptive and often uncomfortable for us. When we accept recognition of the healing and saving grace of God in our lives our human instincts sometimes drive us in different directions where alternate voices are always hovering, happy to leap in at the slightest chance. And not listening to those voices will bring us in conflict with a world does listen very closely to them sometimes. I loved the blessing that Joy Cowley gives: ‘May the peace of Christ profoundly disturb us all’.
So, showing infinite compassion whilst abhorring the violence of extremism is something we would all struggle with. But what we can avoid is responding with hatred, sweeping judgement, uninformed prejudice – giving space within us for the voice of fear to take over.
Being the people of Jesus and showing this in our words and actions is not always easy. But what we can reject is thinking that we don’t need to try, that someone else will do it better or we might be taken into uncomfortable places.
Figuring out if the voices within that control our living are of God or otherwise calls for both vigilance and the renewing of our baptismal promise every day. But what we don’t do is think that we can do it on without regular prayer and worship and community, God with us. It was the belief of the day of Jesus that evil spirits cannot survive in water – so they struggle to survive in a life lived immersed in the love of God.
And for this we give thanks to God. Amen.