My Name Is Legion - June 20, 2010

Luke 8:26 - 39
Ordinary Time
Michael (Mickey) Miller

[ … a man of the city who had demons met Him. v. 27b ]
My name is Legion. My problem is what have been called demons.

The man who called himself Legion in today’s story believed in demons, demons as spiritual beings in rebellion against God. They could tempt, even take over, human beings. They could deliberately cause us to act in ways disobedient to God, and harmful to ourselves and to others.

We moderns like to think those who believe in demons are unsophisticated, naïve, superstitious. But we also sometimes experience uncontrollable, or nearly uncontrollable, impulses to do things we know are wrong, and are harmful to ourselves and others.

We talk about other causes – nature and nurture, hereditary and environmental influences, or such physical or psychological things as bio-chemistry, Freud’s id, or the reptilian sub-layer of the brain. But isn’t it interesting that in our modern world, with little room for “spiritual beings”, we still speak of demonizing people, and of people having to deal with their demons?
My name is Legion. I’m here to tell you that there is more out there, and more within us, working against our better selves, than just some neutral and powerless “absence of good”. There are powerful forces that lead us as individuals and as groups to act in ways we know are not right, in ways we know are harmful.

They sure feel like demons!

In the days of today’s story, they isolated people possessed by demons, got them away from other people. They chained them at times, and even used guards if necessary. Today, there are tranquilizers and other medications, jails, hospitals, therapies, behavioral modifications. The goal is the same – to control these powerful forces.

[ “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
I beg you, do not torment me.” v. 28b ]

One day Jesus came along - in today’s story, and in my life. Not just the fairy tale Jesus in many people’s minds. The real Jesus. Alive! Powerful! Holy!

What has He to do with me? When I experience His Presence, or His Peace, or His Power, or His Purpose, even partially, even momentarily, I am filled with an inexpressible joy! But I also experience shame, for how far short I fall of living the life He lived, and the life He intends for me to live. If I am honest, my first thought has to be, “What have you to do with me, Jesus?” “Don’t torment me.”

[ Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?”
He said, “Legion”…. v. 30a.b ]
Jesus asked me my name! The man in today’s story has no name. He is only “the man who had demons”. The name my parents gave me is not important in this story. I could be David Rockefeller, or Joe Schmoe. It doesn’t matter. I’m not defined by the name my parents gave me. I’m defined by my demons. Lots of people are, even today. Liar. Thief. Cheater. Adulterer. Abuser. Narcissist. Appeaser. Addict. Sexual offender. Sociopath. The list goes on and on.

But Jesus asked, “What is your name?” What could I tell Jesus? In Hebrew culture, especially in Biblical times, a person’s name is a reflection of the core of that person’s character. What was the core of my character? A Legion was the largest unit of the occupying Roman army, 3000 to 6000 foot soldiers plus cavalry. That’s a very large number. My name, in a real sense, was Legion. A Legion of demons was at the core of who I was. So I told Jesus my name was Legion.

Even today, I am visited by many of those demons by which we define people, and many others. Legion. Godly Play asks, “Where are you in this story?” I’m right in the middle of it!

My special demon was anger. I’ve been told that, as a child, I was seen, out in the yard, straddling my little brother, holding him by the ears, and banging his head on a tree root. I can recall times, as a child, having to choke back rage, feeling I had been terribly wronged, and that justice itself had been outraged. What more likely was going on was that I simply was not getting my way.
That’s anger. That’s the Seven Deadly Sins kind of anger. A demon in control.

I won’t confess any of my other special demons, right now. But that doesn’t mean anger was the only one needing Jesus’ help.

Jesus knew about my demons. He knew I couldn’t control them, all by myself. But He didn’t condemn me, or even scold me. To Him, I wasn’t defined by my demons. To Him, I was – and am – a beloved child of God. To Him, I am someone intended to, and who can, live a meaningful life, a life that will please God and help others, despite my demons, and despite the wounds my demons have inflicted upon me. Those wounds, you know, continue, even after the demons have been cast out.

In my life as Mickey Miller, this first encounter with Jesus was at a Methodist church youth camp. Let’s continue to pray for those at Montreat, and other church camps this Summer. Let’s pray that they will meet Jesus there.

[ They begged Him not to order them to go back into the
abyss…. v. 31a
So He gave them permission.
Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine,
and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake
and was drowned. vss. 32c, 33 ]


I don’t know why Jesus didn’t just destroy the demons. I don’t know why He let them do damage to the pigs and to the livelihood of the people in the area when the pigs ran into the water and drowned. I don’t know why Jesus lets the demons keep coming back, why I still have to contend with them, even after Jesus has broken their control over me.

Maybe that’s what free will is all about. Maybe God leaves the demons there, as part of life’s challenge, part of our pilgrimage. Maybe a part of our calling as human beings, and as followers of Jesus, is to recognize the demons and to resist them.

Maybe that’s why the serpent was in the Garden of Eden story in the first place. Maybe we can’t choose to live for and with God, unless we have a real choice to do the opposite. Maybe God gives us that choice, as we give our own children freedom to make decisions, knowing they are likely to make some bad choices, but also knowing they never can grow up unless they have that choice.

Anger. I recognize that demon. I see it at work in others. Some continue to struggle with it more, or in different ways, than I. One of my demons tempts me to look down on those fellow pilgrims, as if I were in some way better than they, just because they have different coping mechanisms than I.

Ah, the pride demon never is very far away. Even when I can be of genuine help to someone going through a struggle I’ve been through, the temptation is to be a little smug, a little condescending, in my attitude, if not in my words and actions, as if all of life were a competition, and I am ahead of that person in the competition.

The really BIG demon, you see, the one who tempted Jesus Himself, goes after us right where we live.

Someone wrote in a college church publication, back when I was in school, saying our basic moral and spiritual problem is that we are “perched atop the vertical pronoun”. “I” It’s like a default position on a computer. I climb down from my perch of self-centeredness, to do something genuinely good, or kind, or selfless, and then, blink, in the twinkling of an eye, I am so very proud of myself, and I’m right back up on that perch.

Look at the temptations of Jesus. Make bread out of stones. (Use your miraculous powers to satisfy your own hunger.) Jump off the pinnacle of the Temple. (Show off as God’s special Son.) (Make one little compromise - bow down to Satan just once) and you can rule the world! All three are just different ways of saying, “Fight for the top of that vertical pronoun! Enjoy it! Flaunt it!”

We need not to be distracted by the junior-grade demons, from the life-long task of climbing down from our own vertical pronoun, and staying down among those who need us. Jesus did it perfectly. And the saints have done it so much better than we.

Why do we identify Mother Teresa as a saint? We learned after her death that she spent many years yearning for a vital sense of Jesus’ Presence, and being frustrated in that yearning, time and again. But in the meantime, she had an unwavering sense of Christ’s Purpose for her life. She climbed down, from her vertical pronoun, and stayed down, with the poor, and the sick, and the forgotten, loving them in simple and concrete ways, as Jesus did. She’s with Him now, experiencing His full Presence, for which she so yearned in life, and also experiencing other joys I can’t even conceive.

Legion. A large number. A lot! There are not just lots of demons. There are also lots of people, with demons. I said earlier that I am right in the middle of today’s story. Are some of you in there with me, by now?

WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT THOSE STILL-BUSY DEMONS?

One form of piety, in the history of our faith, has been to assume a life of anxiety and sadness. Some have seen it as their duty to engage in physical self-flagellation, whipping themselves, as a form of penance, for giving in to the demons from time to time, or even for just being tempted by them. Others engage in psychological self-flagellation, whipping themselves mentally, never forgiving themselves, even long after God has forgiven, and forgotten, the wrong.

Jesus didn’t say anything to me about whipping – or not forgiving – myself. So may I suggest another form of piety? What if we looked upon the continuing presence of the demons, and our God-intended response to them, as a Divinely-instituted, and permanent, game of Whack-A-Mole, or Whack-A-Demon?

Am I feeling critical of my neighbor, without even trying to understand? Whack!

Am I blaming all the country’s problems on the other political party, or its leaders? Whack!

Do I spend my time and energy trying to assign blame to others, rather than to find solutions? Whack!

Do I want to check out just a little on-line porn? Whack!

Do I want to read, and contribute to, a hate blog, or participate in a hate conversation?
Whack!

Do I want to pass on just a little poisonous gossip, dripping just a little poison in the well? Whack!

What a wonderful day it will be, when we all know, and love, each other well enough, so that when one of us is being tempted, and our family and friends see it before we do, they will feel free to sidle up to us and ask, not “You gonna eat that pickle?”, but “You gonna whack that demon?”
[ And they were afraid….
Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes
asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. vss 35d, 37 ]


At first I wondered why the townspeople weren’t mad at Jesus, for the loss of the pigs, why instead they were afraid.

But then I remembered that they, as I, experienced the Presence, and the Power, of a person who could change our reality, who could do the impossible, and whose value system brought into question everything we believed and thought we knew, and everything we owned and valued.

Remember, in the Bible stories, that whenever angels appear, or when God appears in the burning bush, or when Jesus walks on the water, that people are afraid? Remember that they have to be reassured, usually by words beginning “Fear not”?

The authentic experience of the Holy – of God, or the Spirit, or the Living Jesus, or even just angels, is disorienting to our everyday reality. And being disoriented is very frightening.

No wonder the townspeople were afraid. They didn’t want to argue with Jesus about the pigs. They just wanted Jesus to leave!

[ The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Him;
but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home,
and declare how much God has done for you.” vss. 38 – 39a ]

In today’s story, I wanted to be one of Jesus’ close followers, one of those who gave up everything - their livelihood, their families, all they had. The payoff, of course, would be that I would get to be constantly in His immediate and wonderful Presence.

But that’s not what He wanted from me, or for me. He didn’t tell me to give up everything. He didn’t tell me to whip myself. He didn’t let me live in His Presence all the time.

He told me instead to return to my home, and to declare how much God has done for me. Returning to your home, though, once you have met Jesus, is not just going to a house somewhere. Jesus – the abundant and eternal life that Jesus is and shares – now is my home - even when I can sense His Peace, or His Presence, or His Power, or His Purpose, only partially, or only occasionally.

Yes, we may have problems of bad genes, or bad life experiences. Yes, we may have bad biochemistry. Yes, we may have to struggle with Freud’s id, or with a reptilian core layer of the brain. And yes, there is a need to utilize the medications and therapies of modern healing techniques.

But beneath all of that, at the very deepest part of who we are, there still is a hunger for God, like that of a deer dying of thirst, panting for water. Deep still calls to deep – God’s Spirit still calls out to us, and our spirits still call out to God. Augustine was right, when he said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our souls are restless till they find their rest in Thee.”

The Good News is that God loves us. God is still reaching out to us, as we seek for Him. The demons will not win the battle. Jesus will not let us go.

My name is Legion. I am a work in progress. Jesus broke the control of the anger demon over my life. He didn’t cast it out, in the sense that it was never to be heard from again. But He did cast it out of the driver’s seat. It still tries to come back, and to regain control, from time to time. But it doesn’t define who I am. And it doesn’t monopolize my attention, or my energy, any more.

I have learned that the best way to keep the demons out, and also the best way to declare what God has done for me, is to open my heart, and my mind, and my life, asking Jesus, every day, to come in and to live there, and to transform me, one baby step at a time, even kicking and screaming, into His very image. There’s a long way to go. But it’s a wonderful journey.

If you are struggling to control a demon today; if you are wanting to stop whipping yourself, and start playing Whack-A-Demon instead; if you are wanting to climb down from atop your vertical pronoun and live where Jesus lives; if you want to tell the world what Jesus has done for you; or if you want to do all of the above today;

I invite you to begin by joining the children and me as we sing, and pray, once more:

Into my heart,
into my heart,
come into my heart,
Lord Jesus.
Come in today.
Come in to stay.
Come into my heart,
Lord Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.