The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

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 religion.

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 community.

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 be killed.

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.

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 our sewerage.  

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 society!

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