Some think it is helpful to begin a sermon with a little bit of humor. My family would have called the following “a groaner”…
Although both Mark and Matthew have parallels to this text, these parallel texts are not assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary. So Sunday’s Gospel contains the one opportunity the lectionary preacher has of saying, "This is the first reported case of deviled ham." Ho, ho, ho.
We all have “our demons.” Some of them are easier to spot and control than others. Some of mine are clear to you; some of yours are clear to me. Mine don’t include deviled ham, but I do struggle over chocolate, French fries, and much of what some stronger folk call “junk food.” This is not the type of “demon” that Jesus struggled over.
If we define “demons” as those “forces” which have captured us and prevented us from becoming what God intends us to be, we find that we are as surrounded by them-- yes, maybe even possessed by many of them—some like those Jesus speaks about and some that look quite different.
Our demons may be many different things: addictions, obsessions, destructive habits, mental illness. We might also add things with less scary names like bad habits, selfishness, and generally “messed up” values. Often our problems are rooted in ourselves and our relationships with others.
One of the most common of our “messed up” values is related to the desire to accumulate and foolishly spend money. Twice within the last month I have waited behind someone in the grocery store who was spending over $100 on Lottery tickets. One of these purchasers required a bit of purse cleaning to find the $120 in small change she was spending that morning. I realized that a person does not get dressed up to go to the 7/11, but it was easy to think there were other things the woman might have done with the same money. I wonder if she had bus fare home.
As I look around my home I notice how many things I’ve bought that I really didn’t need. Not even a little bit. Why did I buy all this stuff? Often because I was thoughtless and didn’t choose to recall that I already had something that performed similar functions. Sometimes I was thoughtless and conveniently didn’t even remember my storage space was already full. How many red sweaters does a person need? Does one more make a person happier or favorably influence the life of others? How often does a person have to learn the value or lack of value of “things?”
Back to the food. Food is something we consume that sustains us. Do we live to be sustained by junk or by the Word of God? How are we fed? How and what do we help feed others? When we are fed at God’s altar, we are sustained and equipped to help fed or brothers and sisters.
It all boils down to identity. In our baptism, as Jesus reaches out across time and claims us as his own, our identity is established. It is re-established as we recommit to living our lives in Christ. God loves and forgives us. With our identity established in Jesus, by Jesus, we can go out, like the man from the country of the Gerasenes ,... and declare what God has done for us.
There are so many voices trying to possess and discourage us that we might still call them Legion. Yet above all of them we can hear the call of the still, small, but mighty voice of the one who still crosses oceans and boundaries to tell us of God’s love and bring us back, from what ever our deviled ham represents, to our right minds and grace-filled identities.
The Gerasene man Jesus encountered had lost his identity as God’s child amid the legion of demons, but Jesus gave it back to him. So also Jesus gives us our identity. It’s the identity first announced to us at baptism, when we were washed with water, marked with the cross of Christ, and sealed with the Holy Spirit … forever.