The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r179.htm
s179g13 Sunday 12 23/6/2013 Leeston
'in the tombs' Luke 8.27
The legion of demons which possessed this man forced him out of
society, to live alone. When he was cured he is sent
back into society, back to his own home. He is not
to follow Jesus around the countryside.
What a fascinating thing this is! It is, of course,
not the only time Jesus discouraged followers, so this had
nothing to do with the man's previous history or uncertainty
about his continuing stability. We will read about
others dissuaded from following Jesus next Sunday.
(1) Indeed I take it to be a mark of Jesus'
confidence in the exorcism that he is sent home. As
a hospital chaplain, I know that the last thing the hospital
wants is to have people linger. They want patients
discharged - sent home - to resume ordinary life, making a
contribution where they are enabled, by their
healing. For the hospital, people are not healed
until they are in their usual homes and communities.
This is in stark contrast to the church which wants people to
return again and again.
And my experience of mental illness is that sufferers are often
exiled - by others and by themselves as stigma and as others are
uncertain as to what to say and how to respond. I know
that my recent episode of depression meant I only wanted to
crawl up in bed by myself and I had to drag myself to
work. (Incidentally, I am now much better)
But of course the socially acceptable withdrawal from society is
that which drives religious fundamentalists and sectarians,
which is the real point of what Jesus is on about.
The whole motivation for the Pharisees was to proclaim their
separateness from ordinary society. The word
Pharisee means 'the separated'. Jesus calls
Nicodemus to be born again, to renounce the religion that
separated himself off from others and return to ordinary
society. He is called to embrace the uncleanness of birth,
to embrace a state of dependency on others unfettered by
And I was interested to read of Kathleen Taylor, 'an Oxford
University researcher and author specialising in neuroscience
(who) has suggested that one day religious fundamentalism may be
treated as a curable mental illness.' (2)
Unfortunately religious delusions are the most difficult to
change. I have heard it said of elderly male clergy,
last century and across 'the Ditch', that they were the worst
drivers! The Lord had to stop Saul in his tracks on
the way to Damascus in the most dramatic of ways, because he was
going to persecute others in the name of 'god'.
I have often thought that my work and the skill-set I bring to
others is really just the framework, even the excuse, to be
human with another person. Of course, in this
culture, the bible and prayer are looked at as if someone wants
to make someone else religious, when the main thing we all want
is human companionship, reassurance that we are doing the right
thing, and that we are not alone.
The last thing a psychologist wants is for a patient to become
like the psychologist. The therapy is but the skill-set
that forms the framework of being human with another
person. And the same is true for the 'christian'
minister. We look askance at a medical practitioner
who simply writes out a prescription with no 'bedside
manner'. Why should someone be impressed when we
trot out an appropriate biblical passage or 'extempore' prayer
and leave as if everything is thereby fixed?
Interestingly, last night I went to my first rugby match - the
All Blacks verses France. (We won :-) And I
thought - rugby - a way for socially acceptable intimacy in
The orthodox and the devout had Jesus killed. They
wanted to stop him being human, they wanted to contain his
spirit, they wanted to entomb him.
And Jesus called those who separated themselves from others to
be simply human and to appreciate others. They are
invited into intimacy, and again, this is not essentially
personal - it is corporate. As an introvert, I know
how easy it is to hide behind religion and spirituality to mask
my shyness. Shyness is fine - looking down one's
nose at others in the name of God - is not.
Yet the spirit of God cannot be contained and resurrection is
essentially inevitable. Intimacy and humanity cannot
So the curing of this man of his demons was to bring him out of
exile and return him to the comforts of society and humanity,
and this is the mission of Jesus for all - to restrain those
demons that demand we be separate, special and privileged and
return us to the comfort of society and humanity.
For the 'god' who demands us to be separate, special and
privileged is no less a demon than those that ruled this man's
Life amongst others is infinitely easier. In the world in
which I live, mostly it is others who provide the food we eat,
the medicines that restore and maintain our health, the
electricity to power our homes and keep us warm, the jobs where
we earn money to afford these things. There are the
teachers who have brought us literacy and journalists to inform
us about the wider world. Someone whose name we will
probably never know drives a truck past our homes and collects
our rubbish weekly. Someone builds plants to treat
So where do we choose to live? In the tombs amongst
the dead, or amongst the living? Sure, we have
disagreements with others from time to time, but one of the
earliest thoughts of God is that it isn't good for anyone to be
alone. (3) Why then would God require us to separate
ourselves off, both personally and corporately, from others?
More to the point, we are given the power and the freedom to
choose where we live. Again, this is perhaps a
function of living in the 21st century that we are free to
dismiss as irrelevant and demonic a church that demands us to
separate ourselves from others. Perhaps it is the
secular humanists who are the ones who have been cured by Jesus
of their demons and allowed to remain in their homes and
So do we belong to a church whose prime concern is how often we
are in worship or are we in a church whose prime concern is to
return us to society and make our contribution there?
And it is important to realise that we don't follow Jesus by
coming to church. The Pharisees would have thought
this. No, we actually follow Jesus by leaving the
church and being part of society.
Thanks be to God that we, unlike this demoniac before he met
Jesus, have the choice of where to live - in the tombs with the
dead or amongst the living!
(1) Matthew 8:19-22
(3) Genesis 2.18