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    Jul 10, 2016

    Finding God in the Chaos - Healing the Demons

    Passage: Luke 8:26-39

    Speaker: Vivian McCarthy

    Series: Signs and Wonders - The Healing Stories of Jesus

    Category: Faith

    Keywords: chaos, compassion, demons, fear, grace, miracle

    The man who met Jesus as he got out of the boat on the Sea of Galilee was naked, talking crazy and tormented. He was somebody's child and a Child of God. Jesus met him with compassion and love, healing him.

    I’ve been thinking about this healing story and how to end this series for a long time – months.  If I tell you the truth, I’ve never really liked this story much and was a bit surprised that I actually chose to include it in the series.  As those weeks and months passed, getting closer to today, I have found that many things I have read and conversations I’ve had have spoken to me about this difficult story.  And then, on Monday as I sat down at West River to begin actually writing the story, I was gazing over that beautiful river, relishing the fact that so many of our terrific leaders and wonderful young people were there with me, and God spoke yet again.

    Jesus and the disciples were getting out of a boat, so I naturally wondered how far they had traveled.  Unlike my view at camp, they probably could not see the other shore since they had traveled at least 8 miles and West River is not nearly that wide.  And it just might be that the water was just as calm as it was on Tuesday morning since this story comes immediately after the story when Jesus calmed the storm when the terrified disciples woke him from a sound sleep.

    As Jesus got out of the boat, he was met by a man whose life was a total mess.  HE was a total mess.  He lived in a cemetery.  We don’t know much about him except that his life had fallen apart.  I imagine it had spiraled down, down, down.  If he were living today, we would probably assume that he had fallen into one trap or another:

    • Little arguments with his family leading to total separation
    • Social drinking leading to dependence on alcohol – or maybe it’s drugs
    • Craving the next, the newest, the coolest toy leading to financial meltdown
    • A self-image that was non-existent – or maybe the opposite – a self-image so puffed up it was impossible to maintain or allow for healthy relationship

    It’s likely that his life went slowly but inexorably from not-so-bad to horrible.  It wasn’t just one thing.  It was many, many things – or as the scripture says, the issues were legion, and he couldn’t see a way out.  Eventually, the demons took over and he simply stopped showing up for his life.  He moved into the cemetery.

    Once, he must have been a beloved child.  He didn’t start out this way.  His mother likely had hopes and dreams for this child – this SON.  Those dreams were shattered as wandered around, naked and talking crazy. 

     So, just imagine Jesus approaching this man who was probably understandably shunned by the community.  They were probably afraid of him.  But Jesus approached – calm, peaceful, loving, grace-filled, and definitely unafraid.

    Remember that I said I had heard God speak in a number of ways leading up to today’s message?  One of those messages was found in a book that I’ll be using for the next series – a series on the questions that Jesus asks in the Gospels.  The writer, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, was actually reflecting on the story of Peter failing to walk on the water to meet Jesus.  She wrote:

    Stormy waters in Scripture (and I would add demons) are the very image of chaos, the unknown – that turmoil and darkness that must be kept at bay.  So when the disciples were caught in a tempest, they thought it more likely that the figure walking toward them was a ghost than the Son of God, since God couldn’t possibly be present in such difficulty and fear and uncertainty and instability and chaos.  So, perhaps Jesus’ question to Peter pertained…more to Peter’s doubting that God could be present as he struggled with the darkness and chaos of the human experience.

    That’s why the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus walking on the water.  (And, I would add, that’s why people shunned the man whose life was totally out of control.)  Chaos is no place for God.  And when we are close to God, so to speak, then things in life should be calm and peaceful and not at all sea-monster (or demon-) –like.

          Maybe the point is that God is in the chaos with us to begin with.[1]

    We often blithely say that God is everywhere – that God is always with us.  We wonder about miracle and why we don’t see them every day like the Bible seems to indicate.  People that we love get sick.  People that we love get so sick that they leave us to mourn them.  Our children get in trouble or perhaps they don’t always live up to our expectations.  Marriages fall apart.  We stumble into conflict in unexpected places.  We can’t find a job or we lose a job unexpectedly.  Hearts get crushed.  Somebody makes us mad.

    It is precisely that God IS always with us, always in our chaos – and we don’t always see it or even live as though we expect it.

    In the same book where I came upon the wonderful passage by Nadia Bolz-Weber, there is a chapter by Carrie Newcomer, a Quaker songwriter and performer.  I’d like to close our series on miracles with a passage from her chapter.

    There is a creek that runs through the woods where I live, and it is filled with these amazing rocks.  In Monroe County, Indiana, geodes are as common as corn, and yet each one is a wonder.  I have a friend from New York who came out to visit me in the wilds of the Midwest.  I took her for a walk thinking we would pick up a few geodes in the creek.  

    She kept looking around, saying, “I don’t see them.  Where are they?”  Finally I picked up one and showed it to her.  I said, “See, they look like lumpy, brown brains on the outside.”  Then she stopped and looked around and said, “Oh my gosh, they’re everywhere.  They are absolutely everywhere.”  Now that she had seen the miracle, she could not unsee it.  

    All these things that we call familiar,
    Are just miracles clothed in the commonplace
    You’ll see it if you try in the next stranger’s eyes,
    God walks around in muddy boots,
    Sometimes rage and that’s the truth,
          You can’t always tell, but sometimes you just know.[2]
    [An excerpt from Newcomer's poem Geodes:]



    Today we spent a significant time in prayer for our country and our conflicts around police shootings and the killings this past week in Dallas, Minnesota and Baton Rouge.  Following is the introduction to our prayer time:  We invite you, reader, to enter into prayer with us.

    I spent the last week at camp, leading a group of children aged 5 to 11 and their grandparents who spent the week with them.  We…

    • talked a lot about peacemaking, even though that wasn’t the theme
    • worked at covenant-making and covenant-keeping when the campers didn’t act out the covenant that they wrote
    • talked a lot about love and grace
    • woke to the horrors of 3 places where senseless death occurred again

    There is something broken in our country.  Some of us see reports of the shooting of another Black person and think that he or she must have been doing something to warrant the shooting.  Others of us – in our faith family, in our circles of friends – hear or see reports and fear for their own lives. 

    I do not pretend to know a lot about these events except that there are families that are grieving – families who have lost someone they loved as well as families who are left to wonder whether fear was the overriding factor that caused their loved one to pull a trigger.  I have listened to people I care about who are not like me – people whose skin color is different and people whose sexual orientation is not the same as mine. They have told me that they have been hassled in stores by clerks – watched and followed – and pulled over time after time or challenged by someone on the street – not necessarily a police officer, by the way.  I can say that I have experienced that only once in my own life -- when I was in a Black neighborhood in Baltimore with a taillight that was out – two blocks from North and Pennsylvania Avenues having been working in a nearby church. 

    What I DO know is this.  We are called to bring light and hope and peace and grace.  We are called to build relationships with our brothers and sisters – white, black, gay straight, young, old, Methodist, atheist, Muslim, Jew, Catholic, liberal, conservative, centrist – categories don’t matter.

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dedicated -- and lost -- his life witnessing to the need for us to treat each other with respect and love.  He stood up for injustice, knowing that if no one spoke out and challenged the way things were, things would not change.  His strategy was to challenge but always to do so non-violently.  His witness changed things in this country for the better.  In a 1963 speech entitled Strength to Love, he said this:

    Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
    only light can do that.
    Hate cannot drive out hate;
    only love can do that.
    Hate multiplies hate,
    violence multiplies violence,
    and toughness multiplies toughness
    in a descending spiral of destruction....
    The chain reaction of evil --
    hate begetting hate,
    wars producing more wars --
    must be broken,
    or we shall be plunged
    into the dark abyss of annihilation.

    Let us pray:

    Holy and ever-present God, we live in a time when the questions don’t seem to have answers – or they have so many answers that we are drowning in emotion and often in fear of one another, paralyzed.  We all recognize the names and the places where people have been killed.  This week it was Dallas, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge.  But the list is much, much longer and includes our own city of Baltimore -- New Orleans and Sandy Hook.

    Our emotions are mixed, and mixed up.  We eye each other with suspicion and fear.  Yet we know that you have called us to do better – to BE better – as individuals and as a community. 

    We know that there is a balm in Gilead.  Scripture tells us so.  We know that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  Scripture tells us so.  We know that we are not to hide our light under a bushel.  Scripture tells us so.  But when we live through times when no balm can soothe, no peace is found and little light is visible, it is easy to slip into that spiral of suspicion and destruction, allowing evil to creep in and damage the fabric of community. 

    Great Shepherd, we are your sheep.  We will fear no evil.  We will walk with you, bearing your light, your grace, your peace, and your love into the precious life you have given us and all of your children.  Show us the path, God, and light the way.  In the mighty name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

    [1] Elizabeth Dias, Editor.  What did Jesus Ask?  Copyright © 2016 by Time Inc. Book.  Page 35.

    [2] Ibid., page 106.