Proper 7C Sermon (1995)

1st Mid-week in Lent
Text: Mark 5:1-20
Theme: From Brokenness to Healing

CLAIMING YOUR OWN DEMONS

Hi! I’m from a place called Gerasa. It’s on the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee in Palestine. And I’m that crazy person you just heard read about. Obviously, I’ve come a little ways since those days of running naked among the tombs on the outskirts of town. Nice ‘threads,’ heh? Yes, after Jesus healed me, after he exorcized those demons, I’ve made quite a turn around in my life. I went back to school and got my Ph.D. in psychology. Yes, I’m now the town therapist! Pretty ironic, heh?

Perhaps that seems a bit strange. (Or, if you know some psychologists, maybe it doesn’t seem so strange!) But let me tell you more of my story and perhaps you’ll understand. You see, one of the gifts that I have, one that helps me be a good therapist now, is that I’m a very sensitive person. I’m very much in tune to what everyone else is feeling. But that gift can also be a burden. That’s how Jesus first encountered me, when feeling everyone else’s feelings had become a burden that literally drove me crazy.

Perhaps you’ve wondered in hearing that story why it is that those demons named themselves as “Legion,” or many. In other words, it wasn’t just one demon that possessed me. No, it was everyone’s demons in the whole town. That’s why there was so many! I bore them all!

And perhaps that explains better the reaction of the folks in my town. If you had just seen someone exorcize a whole legion of demons into a herd of pigs, who in turn ran headlong off a cliff into the lake below, wouldn’t you be impressed? With someone who apparently had such a power of healing in his command, you might even want to invite him in and see what he might be able to do for you. ‘Hey, Jesus, I have this touch of arthritis right here. If you can exorcize legions of demons, then you can fix this, can’t you?’ But, no! The folks in my town were upset! They were afraid. They wanted Jesus to leave right away. Why was that?

It’s because they had a good thing going with me. I carried their demons for them. I bore the burden of those demons for them. It was a very nice arrangement! If they had any demons of anger and violence to get rid of, they could put them on me. Most of the time, in most other towns like ours, they would have to get rid of those demons by finding some unsuspecting victim from time to time, whom they could pin a rap on and then take out to stone, or run off a cliff, or something. But in Gerasa they had me. How convenient! They didn’t have to find a new victim each time. They simply tied me up loosely, so I could get away, where I would carry out the sentence myself. I would run around among the tombs, crying out with their anger, and stoning myself with stones. Wow! They had it made. Anytime they had more demons to get rid of, they’d chain me up again, and the whole process started over again.

But Jesus put a stop to all that. He exorcized those demons and gave me the kind of healing I needed. He helped me to see what was happening; he helped me to see that I didn’t need to carry all their demons. Now, that realization didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it didn’t become clear to me until I saw the people of Jerusalem do the same thing to Jesus. They put everyone’s demons on him and crucified him. But God raised him on the third day, and said, “Stop! Look what you are doing. This man was innocent but you made him carry your burdens.” That’s when I was really free — when I heard the story of what Jesus went through himself. I was there at Pentecost and I knew that that spirit of Christ could help me find the new life that I needed. It gave me the strength to stop unknowingly take on everyone else’s demons and hurt myself. Now that I know this, I am able to be a healer myself. I am able to take on people’s demons but offer them right back with the encouragement and guidance to face their own demons. I am able to recognize when others are heaping their demons on someone else. My method for healing is basically this: face your own demons. In Jesus, you can have the courage to face those demons. His resurrection is the promise that we can make it through to the other side of healing.

Perhaps some quick examples would help. I began counseling with a family when the parents were worried that their daughter was becoming anorexic [Friedman, pp. 107-108]. She had lost 10 pounds and wasn’t eating. I took a risk and coached them to try “reverse psychology.” That is, they were able to stay loose about this problem by doing the opposite. Her mother did things like serve the daughter absurdly small portions and playfully warn her about calories when she was hungry. It worked; the daughter began to eat normally again in response to her mother’s absurd playfulness on the issue.

It can be risky to try “reverse psychology.” And I think we need to see why it is that this can sometimes work. I think we usually mistakenly assume that “reverse psychology” works because of the child’s resistance to us. We think that the problem was this daughter resisting what this mother wanted for her, which was to eat healthily. So, we reverse that to the mother telling her not to eat healthily, and the daughter resists by doing what her mother wants her to. Right? I don’t think so. I would suggest that what is going on here is that the daughter is reacting to her mother’s chronic anxiety about things. Like I bore the demons for my town, this daughter is bearing the anxiety for her family, with similar kinds of symptoms for hurting herself, only she chose not eating right. The so-called “reverse psychology” worked not on the daughter so much as on the mother. The mother acted less anxious; she took care of her own demon of anxiety, and so the daughter no longer needed to carry it. My further therapy with this family was to work on the relationship between the parents; and the real home run came when the mother was able to face the demon of her relationship with her mother. She was able to finally distinguish her own basically happy view of life from her mother’s constant pessimism. There is little likelihood now that her daughter will become anorexic. Do you see what I mean here? Their daughter’s potential illness was a symptom of not simply their daughter’s own demon, but the demons she was carrying for her family. She got better when everyone else faced their own demons and got healthy.

Think about your own families a moment. Who is considered the healthy one? Who gets labeled the sick one? If you are the one labeled as sick or “crazy,” obviously I am living proof that it need not be that way. Perhaps you are bearing more demons than just your own. You don’t have to. You can learn to name those other demons and offer them back to whom they belong.

But my message this morning is even more for those of you who consider yourselves the relatively healthy one, that someone else in your family is more sick or crazy than you. Jesus tried to get me to do that right away, you know, but I didn’t yet understand. Did you notice in the story that Jesus asks me to go home and tell my “friends.” Boy, did I love that! Some friends! They were making me carry their demons! No, as you may have noticed in Mark’s telling, I didn’t go home. I went anywhere but. I went out into the Decapolis to tell everyone else — certainly not these ingrates who asked Jesus to leave. But Jesus has given me real freedom to go home and to tell the Good News at home. He has given me the freedom to go back and even offer myself as a healer, as someone to walk with them and face their own demons. When they come to me concerned about someone else in their family who they see as sick or crazy, my message is simply this, “Please stop thinking that way!” It doesn’t help, does it? Don’t you feel helpless, anyway? Like there is nothing you can do to change that sick person in your family? Well, the Good News I have to share with them, and with you today, is that there is something you can do. You can face the demons in your own life. What are those things that make you anxious, or angry, or sad, deep-down. Can you heal those relationships? Can you find healing for those wounds? Jesus, the Resurrected One, promises to see you through to the other side. There are other disciples, too, like myself, who will walk with you, as we all seek that healing together. And that perhaps is the most gracious thing that we can ever find out. Just as sickness isn’t a solitary thing, so is finding healing not a solitary journey. Oh, we try to make it that way sometimes. The people of Gerasa desperately wanted to see sickness as a solitary thing. When they could see me as the crazy one, they were able to think themselves sane. Jesus confronted them with the truth, that the demons I carried were named “Legion.” My sickness was not a solitary thing; it involved all of them. But the Good News is that neither is the cure a solitary thing, not since the cross, because the disciples of this healer are able to face their own demons and to take the journey toward healing together. Come join me on that journey. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Emmaus Lutheran,
Racine, WI, March 7-8, 1995

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