July 16, 2023

Last week, I talked about Restorative Justice, and how Restorative Justice repairs harm that was caused. Repairing the harm allows people to heal from transgressions cause by others, and from their own transgressions. Today, I would like to talk about the power of God to heal us, even in our most broken places.

This sermon was written a little bit different. It is a joint sermon with someone close to me, who has gone through a long period of time healing his own demons. He now spends a lot of time helping people heal from their own demons, so I asked him for his perspective on this story. His comments are interspersed throughout the sermon.

I choose today’s reading, because to me the possessed man represents one of the most broken people in the Bible. This, is a man filled with many demons, these demons represent many things. They represent spiritual illness, mental illness, drug addiction, or intense physical or psychological pain. These demons can also represent smaller afflictions, such as shame or low self-worth.

Whatever these demons are, they control this man. He is living outside of his village in the tombs. They have isolated him from his friends, family, and other support systems. They have cause him to rip off his clothing. They have even driven him into the wilderness, perhaps the physical wilderness, or perhaps into the wilderness in his own mind. Even other people’s attempts to control him have failed. He has been shackled and bound, only to break free of those shackles. That is how strong his demons are.

His demons refer to themselves as Legion, meaning a vast multitude, but it doesn’t start out as a legion. It’s a development of one demon that is not attended to. It maybe a childhood affliction of abuse that was kept secret, bullying that progresses to loneliness, loss of a job and a hit to our pride. A marriage gone bad. Sadly, we find there are so many reasons to isolate, as the Garasene demon does. Once we isolate, we are left to our own thoughts, which only invite more demons of self-pity, self-loathing, and depression.

Our own demons, maybe not be as severe as this man’s, but I’m sure many of us have gone through times where we felt lost in the wilderness of our own pain, grief, addictions or whatever it may be that binds us. The things that we have tried to shackle ourselves to so that we can control the demons fail, and it seems we are left to deal with these demons on our own. But we don’t need to end up in that situation where we hurt so badly, we seek temporary relief or worse, lash out as a hurt person hurting others.

We also don’t need to be alone. Jesus sends people our way to try to help us look past the pain, but like the Garasene demons we chase them away. The residual pain of what first afflicted us is so far removed from what ails us currently, we can’t even identify the source of that pain without help. Yet, our pride kicks in and pushes people away. Our pain becomes so aggravated we scare people off and we want to hide when the bell of hope and help rings.

But them something happens. Jesus is at the door. Jesus the physician, the healer. Jesus the savior. When Jesus arrives, our demons, like the Garasene demons know who is at the door.

It is the demons, not the man, but the things tormenting the man, that recognize who Jesus is and sees that Jesus has the power to expel the demons, and heal this man. The demons know that Jesus has power over the things that afflict this man, a power that this man himself didn’t have. Jesus banishes the demons and heals this man down to his very soul.

The next thing that happens is that Jesus sends the demons into a herd of pigs who run off a cliff. The pig herders tell the villagers what happened, and the villagers come to see. There’s a part of this story that I missed until recently. I was always so focused on the exorcism of the demons that I didn’t pay much attention to the response of the villagers.

The story says that when the villagers saw the formerly possessed man clothed and calm, they were frightened, and told Jesus to go away. The Garasene individual did not want to hurt anyone.  He sat at rest, and it was the people around him, who may have given up on the poor guy, who were so confused by the order of events that they choose to banish Jesus.  Like many of us do, when we need to place blame onto somebody or something, Jesus is the easy target. Sadly, by banishing Jesus, the cycle only continues, as the demons see a Jesus-free soul to attach to.

Sometimes healing can be scary. Sometimes affliction is our comfort zone. It’s something that we are so used to feeling, that not having it is uncomfortable. It’s like losing a part of our selves. This can go for our own afflictions, or for the afflictions of those we can about. Sometimes the discomfort caused by these afflictions is so normal, we would feel lost without them.

Healing does not always happen quickly and easily like it happened in our story this morning. It’s often a long and difficult process. A passage that always resonated with me when I went through difficult times was Psalm 23. Most people are familiar with this one. It’s starts off very reassuring “The Lord is my Shephard, He lays me down in green pastures and leads me to still water. He restores my soul and leads me on the right path.”

It’s the next verse (verse 4) that has really helped me through difficult times. This verse says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley. I fear no evil. For you are with me. Your rod and your staff comfort me.” This verse, to me, is where deep healing really happens. Sometimes we have to go into the dark shadows to get to the place we need to be.

I have always known, this dark valley, as “the valley of the shadow of death.” This is the place of things lost and broken. This is the place where things go to die. Not the healthy parts of ourselves, but the broken parts of ourselves. There are things that have to die, or end, in order for us to be reborn anew and healed. We need to go through the valley of death, all the way through, if we are to be fully ourselves, fully whole, fully the person God created us to be. We need to go through the death process in order to have new life.

It’s easy to hang around at the entrance to the valley. Maybe we go in a few feet; stay a few minutes and then come right back out. We know we need to go through the valley, but it’s hard and its uncomfortable, maybe even painful. So, we hover around the entrance hoping that will be enough to heal us. Sometimes, we are dancing around the edges, thinking we’re doing the hard work when we’re only just touching the surface.

But we need to enter fully into the valley, and go all the way through so that we can reach the end of the healing process. We have to go all the way through, so that we can be fully healed.

What the psalm tells us is that God is with us all the way through to guide and comfort us. God does not leave us to walk through the valley alone. Jesus finds us in our most desperate situation, and comes Himself, as many people who have been forced into that dark valley by life circumstances, such as people on the streets or in prisons, have found.

The good news is that Jesus heals. The good news is that when Jesus removes our afflictions, we are not left empty, but are filled with the spirit.
We just have to enter the valley of death, and trust Jesus along the way.

[email protected]