Bragging Rights, Week 3 — The “What We Are Like Now” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • BEGAN “old school”: we stood and read the Scripture (or, if I was going super UMC collared and liturgical, “the lection”) out loud and together;
  • Repeatedly connected the Mark 5 story of the Gerasene demoniac with the Mark 4 story of the calming of the storm (thank you, Asbury Seminary!);
  • Had a paragraph inspired directly from Timothy Keller;
  • Landed at this bottom line:  Jesus interrupts your story so you will tell his.
  • Announced our next Radical Impact Project — a record-setting (we hope) food drive with our partners at Loaves & Fishes and the Boy Scouts



READ Mark 5:1-20 out loud

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

           Well, good thing THAT wasn’t weird!  We’ve got the Incredible Hulk busting chains amid tombs, we’ve got the voice of Satan himself – we are Legion – we’ve got this enormous PIG SOOEEY & you KNOW that with modern sensibilities more than a few of us are upset at the death even of pigs & so Jesus is in trouble for that, and we’ve got people more scared when Lou Ferrigno becomes Bill Bixby than they ever were when he was the Incredible Hulk.  Weird, weird, weird.

            And the questions!  Is this really a demon or demons?  Why doesn’t stuff like this happen anymore?  Was the guy really possessed?  Were there really 2,000 pigs?  Could it have been 1,999?  2,001?  All these unanswered questions to this bizarre, strange, unsettling, story that could have been written by St. Stephen – King – just as easily as by St. Mark.

            But what if I told you that the questions the concern US are not on Mark’s radar?  What if the WHAT of the story is really just to set up the WHAT NEXT?  What if in our attention to the spectacle we miss the real heart of the story, which is the subtlety?  What if what Mark wants to do with the story is ultimately more interesting than what we want from it and the question we get out of it?  And what if ultimately this tale has EVERYTHING to do with Bragging Rights and especially “What We Are Like Now.”?

            Because it IS pretty memorable and significant that Jesus has JUST calmed a storm at the end of Mark 4, prompting his closest followers, his posse, the disciples to ask, “Who Dat?”  Then, as if to answer, Mark places this story as if to say, “Oh, he’s the one with the power over all the forces of darkness and chaos.”  Because this story is full of darkness and chaos.  Look at this in Mark 5:2-4:  READ.  Now, I have no experience with this.  I know people who have, there’s better than a good chance that I have and don’t realize it.  I want to be very sure NOT to fall into either of the extremes of Demons Don’t Exist on the one hand and There’s One On Every Corner on the other hand.  So we should simply acknowledge that what happens here in Mark 5 is awful and powerful and very real, even if it’s not our every day. 

            Yet I HAVE had experience with this in 5:5:  READ.  Ah, self-destruction.  THAT I’ve seen.  I’ve seen first hand the scars of people who, driven by forces they can neither explain nor control, find strange comfort in self-pain, in cutting.  I’ve seen that.  You have too.  Some of you have seen it in your children.  Others in your grandchildren.  Still others … when you reach out your own arms.  It is bewildering even to those who are in the middle of it, you can’t really comprehend or define it, but that impulse to self-destruct is there and unstoppable.  Maybe the origins are … demonic. 

            And if not specifically with cutting, I’ve seen that same bent towards self-destruction with alcohol, opioids, shopping, gambling, and relationships.  Appointments come into my office and they’re usually driven by crisis and often from the realization that WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.  You know what I’m saying.  Most of us think we have nothing in common with the Walking Dead guy in Mark 5, but we did and we do.

            So look at 5:7: READ.  It’s interesting.  Mark’s Gospel is really what they call an “identity narrative” or a “suspense novel” all centered around WHO is Jesus.  We who read the story know that answer but the characters in it, don’t.  Except for the demons: they know intuitively, in his presence, what Jesus’ own disciples can’t even figure out at the end, much less here at the beginning.  So Jesus returns the favor in 5:9: READ.  By asking the demon’s name, Jesus is exercising his authority over him.  The answer, of course, is Legion, which is a scary, horrible thing, let’s don’t deny it.             

            And then, the part of the story that makes much more sense if you are Jewish, as were the majority of Jesus’ first followers and Mark’s first readers, in 5:11-13: READ.  Great detail … Jesus had calmed the sea with the disciples and now returns it to chaos with the demons. A whole town gets this unexpected interruption! And if you’re Jewish, there’s sort of a symmetry here:  unclean spirit, unclean dwelling (the tombs), and now these unclean animals (don’t give a Honey Baked Ham as a Hannukah gift, just sayin’).  Then the most fascinating part of the story is this much overlooked detail in 5:15: READ they were afraid.  They were COMFORTABLE with his demon possession; they’re scared of his sanity!!!.  We prefer chaos!  Jesus has interrupted the rhythm of their daily lives, and they prefer it the way it was. In the previous story, the disciples were scared of the storm but they were TERRIFIED of the calm!  Whew!  Mark is a genius!  He knows that ppl prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty! We especially like misery in others; we get unsettled when we see it in ourselves.

            Then 5:16-17, for more of the same: READ.  We were fine before.  Please leave. You have interrupted our normal flow of events; please leave.  And the guy, naturally, is like, “hey! I gots clothes!  I’m Bill Bixby! I’m normal!  Let me go with you, Jesus, and I can be one of your disciples! I’ll have both fame and a platform, so I can help you!”  Jesus is like, “no, I don’t think so.”  And THAT’S when, that’s when Mark reveals that the story is about much, much more than demons and pigs.  Look at 5:19:  READ.  Ah.  Brush away the spectacle, dig through the noise, and here’s the heart of the story.  I’ve done this for you so you will tell about me.  That’s it.  That’s why.  I have interrupted your story, altered your narrative.  You’ve gone from self-destruction to self-discovery and I’ve done it.  Now it’s time for self-emptying and for you tell what happened when I interrupted your story of your life.  That’s what Jesus commands in the calm to a guy with a level head and all his clothes on. The msg to Bill Bixby.

            Because here’s the real reason Mark tells the story as he does; the real reason Jesus has so much power over this man who was naked, isolated, inhabiting the realm of the dead, chained, and crazily crying out.  How does Jesus’ own story culminate at the end?  With Jesus chained, with Jesus stripped, with Jesus isolated, crucified OUTSIDE the gates, with Jesus crying out “My God, my God!” with Jesus inhabiting the realm of the dead.  No detail in Mark 5 or Mark 15 by accident, all of it link.  Jesus had such power over the man because Jesus exchanged places with him.  Mark is a brilliant and Jesus is beautiful. 

            Here’s the truth for any & all of you on this journey from What You Were Like to What Happened to What We Are Like NowJesus interrupts your story so you will tell his.  Yep. For everyone here whoever WAS or even still IS self-destructive: Jesus healed you not so you could hoard it but so you could honor him.  So you would be a living, breathing advertisement for his intervention and his healing.  If that sounds like too big an assignment, think of it this way:  if Jesus has your life, it’s because someone told you.  Someone who knew the power of being bought, told you.  That’s all.  Jesus interrupts your story so you will tell his. 

            You know what is so great? Look where he was called.  To go home.  To his own people.  Now: we lift up missionaries and we should.  We love to raise up and to support those who have that compulsion to take the Gospel to places where it is not.  Yet for the majority of you, you mission field is more HERE than THERE.  Your home, your people as Jesus himself says.  And some of you are all “Whew!  I’m glad God people to Timbuktu but I’m even more glad that it is not me!” 

            You know what?  Your home, your people may be more convenient but is also harder.  Here’s why.  Like with me, I’m fine on a platform with 2,000 people.  I can be bold and emphatic.  But one on one?  A little less bold.  One on one with a family member?!  Stomach clenches, palms get wet, I choke.  You know what I’m saying.  It becomes very, very difficult.  But the fact remains that this story is such great news because it is what we call The Great Commission for the rest of us.  Strip away spectacle, get to the heart, and Jesus wants us to be story telling people … our story, his story, and the miracle that ensues when they intersect.  Jesus interrupts your story so you will tell his. 

            Because there are stories all around this place that have been interrupted.  Depression lifted.  Alcohol delivered.  Shopping compulsions freed.  Marriages restored.  And maybe more than anything else, that sense of wandering through life, aimless, reversed and so you have that purpose of Paul: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  A lot of you GOT FOUND without really, truly knowing just how lost you were.  That’s what it was with me.  Really, most of you in this place are like this salad dressing.  Huh?  Yeah.  What does it say?  (AV)  Shake well before using.  That’s you.  You’ve been shaken.  You’ve been stirred.  Who knows?  God may have ensured you got to that place of pain so the promise and the deliverance would be that much sweeter.  However you got there, you got out because he interrupted and you now tell.

            You’ve got news.  Good news.  Hey – when you get engaged, when that baby comes, when you get that promotion, when you have fabulous news, what do you do?  You tell.  As quickly as possible.  Gosh, with some of my good news over the last few years, it’s been Julie, then staffers, then friends, then every family member in Texas.  BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.  The story you have is better because it is forever.  I’m not talking about a canned speech.  Not a rehearsed presentation.  I’m talking about what you’re like now and who is the one who made it happen.  The fact that you are the living, breathing rescue project of the resurrected king who is resurrecting you.  Jesus interrupts your story so you will tell his. 

             At GS, we’ve got to move from story keepers to story tellers.  You all keep, hoard the stories you’re living.  Or you share them with only folks who believe like you do already.  This deal of sharing faith … it’s the great GET TO (not have to) for all of us.  Not just the pros, not the preachers.  You all are usually better at it anyway.  But can I let you know something?  The opposition will be subtle.  And not.  But do you know the source of the opposition?  Same as in Mark 5:  people were scared of dysfunctional you, but they will be TERRIFIED of stable, saved you.  They had grown familiar with and accustomed to messed up you; it’s missionary you that weirds them out.  AND THAT’S OK!  Your GET TO is to tell the story in a loving way; the response is up to them.  You just tell them about the new you and whose interruption did it.  Jesus interrupts your story so you will tell his.