The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Luke 8:26-39

AFTER THE BERLIN WALL CAME DOWN, AND THE SOVIET UNION WAS STARTING TO OPEN UP TO THE WEST, I WAS PUT IN CHARGE OF A FIRST CONTACT MISSION BETWEEN THE PROTESTANT WOMEN OF THE CHAPEL AND THE WIVES OF THE STRATEGIC ROCKET FORCES OF THE U.S.S.R IN OMSK, SIBERIA. THIS WAS THE FIRST CHRISTMAS OPENLY CELEBRATED SINCE THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION. WE WERE MET ON THE AIRFIELD, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FREEZING NIGHT, BY A GENERAL AND A COUPLE OF COLONELS IN FUR HATS AND GREATCOATS. ONCE WE ARRIVED AT OUR LODGINGS, ONE OF THE COLONELS, THE MEDICAL OFFICER IN FACT, SAID, “ALL COLONELS, FOLLOW ME,” AND WE FOLLOWED HIM TO ANOTHER ROOM. THERE, HE SMILED, AND SAID IN BROKEN ENGLISH, “COLONEL’S MESS,” AND OPENED HIS GREATCOAT TO SHOW US THE VODKA BOTTLES LINING IT FROM TOP TO BOTTOM. THESE WERE THE GUYS IN CHARGE OF THE MISSILES AIMED AT US.

ALCOHOLISM WAS SUCH AN ENDEMIC PROBLEM IN THE SOVIET UNION THAT, ABOUT THIS SAME TIME, THEY SENT REPRESENTATIVES TO AMERICAN ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS TO HELP THEM SET UP AA GROUPS. THEY KNEW THAT THE 12 STEP PROGRAM WORKED BETTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE, AND THEY REALLY NEEDED HELP. NOW THE KEY TO THE SUCCESS OF THE 12 STEP PROGRAM IS IN THE FIRST THREE STEPS. 1. WE ADMITTED WE WERE POWERLESS OVER OUR ADDICTION AND THAT OUR LIVES HAD BECOME UNMANAGEABLE. 2. WE CAME TO BELIEVE THAT A POWER GREATER THAN OURSELVES COULD RESTORE US TO SANITY. 3. WE MADE A DECISION TO TURN OUR WILL AND OUR LIVES OVER TO THE CARE OF GOD, AS WE UNDERSTOOD HIM.

THE SOVIETS ASKED THAT THESE FIRST THREE STEPS BE OMITTED IN ADAPTING AA TO THEM, AS THEY WERE AN OFFICIALLY ATHEISTIC NATION. AA REFUSED, TELLING THEM THAT THE FIRST THREE STEPS ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE PROGRAM. WE NEED GOD TO FREE US FROM OUR DEMONS. ALCOHOLISM REMAINS A MAJOR PROBLEM IN RUSSIA.

IN THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, THE DISCIPLES LAND THEIR BOAT ON THE GENTILE SIDE OF THE SEA OF GALILEE. THEY HAD JUST BEEN THROUGH A TERRIBLE STORM IN WHICH THEY WERE CERTAIN THEY WERE GOING TO DIE, WHILE JESUS SLEPT CALMLY IN THE BOAT. WHEN THEY FINALLY WOKE HIM, HE STOPPED THE STORM WITH A COMMAND, AND, NOW, THEY WERE IN AWE, AND A BIT OF FEAR, WONDERING ABOUT WHO THIS JESUS WAS. AS SOON AS THEY LANDED, A CRAZY MAN RUSHED RIGHT AT THEM, AND THREW HIMSELF DOWN IN FRONT OF JESUS. WHILE THE DISCIPLES MAY HAVE WONDERED ABOUT JESUS, THE DEMONS POSSESSING THE POOR MAN HAD NO DOUBT. AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS THE MAN YELLED OUT, “WHAT HAVE YOU TO DO WITH ME, JESUS, THE SON OF THE MOST HIGH GOD? I BEG YOU, DO NOT TORMENT ME.” THIS WAS CLEARLY THE RECOGNITION OF A POWER GREATER THAN THEIR SELVES, AND, EVEN THOUGH THEY DID NOT WANT TO OBEY JESUS, WHEN CONFRONTED BY HIM THEY HAD NO CHOICE.

WHEN JESUS COMMANDED THEIR NAMES, THE REPLY WAS “LEGION,” THE TERM FOR THE ROMAN MILITARY UNIT OF ABOUT 6000 SOLDIERS WITH AN ADDITIONAL 3000 CAVALRY AND SUPPORT TROOPS. THIS WAS A HEAVY LOAD TO CARRY INDEED. NOW, THE STORY GETS EVEN STRANGER, AS THE DEMONS BEGGED JESUS NOT TO SEND THEM BACK INTO THE ABYSS, BUT TO BE SENT INTO A LARGE HERD OF PIGS NEARBY. JESUS GRANTED THIS REQUEST, AND THE PIGS, FULL OF THE DEMONS, PLUNGED OFF THE CLIFF AND DROWNED. ONE SEMINARY PROFESSOR SAID THAT THIS WAS THE FIRST RECORDED REFERENCE TO DEVILED HAM. (SORRY – I COULDN’T RESIST IT)

YOU MAY WELL WONDER WHY THERE WERE SO MANY PIGS AROUND. THIS WAS A GENTILE AREA, PRIMARILY GREEK, AND THE LOCAL ECONOMY WAS BASED ON PROVISIONING THE ROMAN LEGION IN THE AREA. AS A SIDE NOTE, THE EMBLEM OF THE LEGION IN THAT REGION WAS THE HEAD OF A WILD BOAR. AS THE MAN WAS POSSESSED BY THE LEGION OF DEMONS, THE PEOPLE OF THE AREA WERE POSSESSED BY THE LEGION OF ROME. WHEN THE SWINEHERDS RAN BACK TO THE TOWN TO TELL WHAT JESUS HAD DONE, THE ENTIRE TOWN CAME OUT TO ASK HIM TO LEAVE. THEY DID NOT CARE ONE WIT ABOUT THE MAN WHOM JESUS HAD RESTORED TO HIS HUMANITY; ALL THEY WERE CONCERNED ABOUT WAS THE LOSS OF THEIR INCOME, AND THE POSSIBLE WRATH OF THE LEGION COMMANDER.

WHILE YOU MAY NOT BELIEVE IN THE REALITY OF DEMONS, AND C.S.LEWIS WROTE THAT THE DEVIL’S GREATEST TRIUMPH IS TO CONVINCE US HE DOESN’T EXIST, YOU MOST CERTAINLY MUST BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE CAN BECOME POSSESSED. ALCOHOL, DRUGS, PORNOGRAPHY, MONEY, PRIDE, EVEN THE DESIRE FOR SECURITY CAN POSSESS US TO THE POINT WHERE WE HAVE NO CONTROL OVER OUR ACTIONS. WE DO THINGS WE DO NOT WANT TO DO TO THE POINT THAT WE NEED SOME SORT OF INTERVENTION FROM OUTSIDE OF OUR SELVES. WE NEED GOD TO FREE US FROM OUR DEMONS. AS THE TOWNSPEOPLE SAW THE MAN JESUS HAD FREED FROM HIS DEMONS, THEY WERE FRIGHTENED BECAUSE THEY COULD NOT CONCEIVE OF A LIFE FREE FROM WHAT POSSESSED THEM; THEIR GREED AND THEIR NEED FOR ECONOMIC SECURITY.

THE MAN WHO WAS FREED FROM HIS DEMONS WANTED TO GO WITH JESUS WHEN HE LEFT, BUT JESUS STOPPED HIM AND TOLD HIM, “RETURN TO YOUR HOME, AND DECLARE HOW MUCH GOD HAS DONE FOR YOU.” THE MAN DID SO, AND WHAT FAITH AND COURAGE THAT MUST HAVE TAKEN TO DO THAT. HE RETURNED TO THE PEOPLE WHO HAD DESPISED HIM AND TRIED TO KEEP HIM CHAINED; HE RETURNED TO THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS WHO HAD ABANDONED HIM, AND DECLARED WHAT GOD HAD DONE FOR HIM. THE HIGHEST POWER OF ALL HAD SET HIM FREE, AND IN THAT FREEDOM HE COULD DO THE UNTHINKABLE.

WHEN WE TURN OUR LIVES OVER TO A HIGHER POWER, THE CARE AND WILL OF GOD, THAT WHICH WE COULD NEVER DO OURSELVES BECOMES POSSIBLE. AS THE FORMER DEMONIAC, FOLLOWING THE WILL OF JESUS, COULD DARE TO RETURN TO HIS HOME, AND AS THE FRIGHTENED DISCIPLES COULD DARE TO BECOME THE APOSTLES OF THE LORD, SO TOO CAN WE DO WHAT WOULD OTHERWISE BE IMPOSSIBLE. WE CAN BE FREED FROM WHAT POSESSES US BY THE POWER OF THE RISEN CHRIST, AND WE CAN BE FREED TO BE HIS AMBASSADORS TO THE WORLD.

SOME FORTY YEARS LATER, WHEN THE ROMANS HAD DESTROYED JERUSALEM, AND EVICTED ALL THE JEWS TO MAKE IT A ROMAN CITY, THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS WERE ALSO EXPELLED; THE ROMANS THOUGHT OF THEM AS JUST ANOTHER FORM OF JEW. THERE WAS ONE PLACE THEY WERE SAFE AND WELCOMED; THE CITY OF PELLA. THE CITY OF PELLA, THE SITE OF THE FIRST PURPOSE BUILT CHRISTIAN CHURCH BUILDING, WAS NOT FAR FROM THE SITE OF OUR GOSPEL ACCOUNT, SO THE DECLARATION OF THE MAN FREED FROM DEMONS HAD A GREAT IMPACT ON THE AREA, AND ON THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH.

GOD HAS SAVED ALL OF US HERE; THE WORD IN GREEK CAN MEAN SAVED, HEALED, OR RESTORED. GOD, THROUGH JESUS, SON OF THE MOST HIGH GOD, HAS RESTORED US THROUGH HIS BLOOD AND SET US FREE FROM OUR DEMONS AND OURSELVES. SO GO HOME, AND DECLARE HOW MUCH GOD HAS DONE FOR YOU. WE MIGHT ALL BE A BIT SURPRISED AT WHAT HAPPENS. AMEN

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