The Rev Cynthia K. R. Banks; The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost—PR 7—Year C; I Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a; Psalm 42, 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
We’ve got wild language today. Demons and unclean spirits and pigs gone crazy throwing themselves off a cliff into a lake. Wild language that’s a little hard to connect to. Or from I Kings—we’ve got wind that splits mountains and breaks rocks and quaking earth and fire. Pretty calm here at old St. Luke’s in Boone on a beautiful summer day. How do we enter into these stories?
Let’s start with the gospel. Jesus and his disciples have come across the Sea of Galilee to the country of the Garasenes. [set the scene around the Sea of Galilee] Who knows why they came to this land? Maybe they were wanting a little seaside holiday after all the teaching and healing and feeding that Jesus had been doing on the other side of the lake. No sooner does he step out on land, and a man of the city who had demons met him. He was naked, and he didn’t live in a house but in the tombs—he lived in the cemetery; he lived among the dead. He saw Jesus, and he went bezerk—he yelled at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” You see, Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)
Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. What would you do? This crazy man is in front of you, full of darkness and brokenness and sheer wildness, what would you do? You know what Jesus did? He turned to the man and asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. [name some demons] Those demons begged Jesus not to order them to go back into the abyss, back into that deepest, darkest, lowest, most innermost part of the earth that was where the dead and the demons lived. Funny that even the demons are scared of the dark. They spied a herd of swine—“let us enter these.” So Jesus gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. I just want to note here, I don’t like the fact that the pigs are driven to their deaths—they seem to be innocent by-standers here. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
On the one hand, this story seems far removed from us; on the other hand, this story is way too close for comfort.
“What is your name?” “My name is ‘Legion.’”
Last December, I started working with Chelsea Wakefield’s book Negotiating the Inner Peace Treaty. She’s the person who is coming to present here at St. Luke’s at the end of July. Her premise is that we all have an inner cast of characters, and that any time we are in conflict, it is because two or more of those characters are in conflict with one another. Her book walks you through the Main Players, the Supporting Cast, the Not So Supporting Cast, and so on. She has a list of possible characters in the back of her book as a way to help you start identifying your own characters. Some are easy to identify; others take some excavation work to unearth. Some are positive and full of light; some lurk deep in the shadows. Some have been silent for far too long; some won’t hand over the mic. Some need to retire, or even die. I was on retreat when I first started charting out my inner characters. At the end, I had 67 characters around my round table. “No wonder I’m tired!” I thought—“I have 67 voices in my head.” Another person I know has identified 123 characters, another 16. It varies from person to person. So, I totally get that the demon’s name is “Legion” and actually feel better, because that poor man that Jesus is dealing with has 6,826 voices in his head—67 is no big deal!
We all have voices, characters that live inside of us, characters that hold us captive. Even if you don’t buy into the inner characters framework, most of us can identify three voices that we live with: voices that can’t let go of the past, voices that rest in the present, and voices that worry about the future. The point is, if you have a multiplicity of voices conversing in your head—it’s hard to hear anyone else, it’s hard to hear your own inner wisdom, and most especially, it is hard to hear God. In Jesus’ time, they called them “demons;” in our time, we might call them “inner characters,” but either way, they can possess us. They can chain us; they can shackle us; they can bind us up in unbelievable ways. We guard them, we try to chain them, we try to shackle them, we try to keep them under raps, we try to silence them, and the more we do, the stronger they get. They drive us deeper into the wild until we eventually find ourselves completely cut off from the people around us and completely cut off from ourselves; they drive us deeper into the wild until we find ourselves living among the dead.
Elijah knew something about that. He ended up in a cave a forty days journey from Beer-sheba. That is a long way from anywhere. Why was he there? He was fleeing for his life from Queen Jezebel. Why did she want to kill him? Because in an act of retribution, he, Elijah, had slaughtered all of Baal’s prophets in the Wadi Kishon—this after he had humiliated them in a prophet’s duel about whose god was the real God (we heard that story a few weeks ago). Elijah had been taunting those prophets even then—mocking and berating them. Elijah won that duel hands-done, and then he had all the prophets of Baal gathered up, marched them out to the Wadi Kishon—a wadi is sort of a valley made by a dry riverbed—and killed them. Gruesome. What characters were driving Elijah, a great prophet, to commit such an atrocity? God didn’t tell Elijah to murder those prophets—what caused him to seek such revenge? He flees into the wilderness, and which is exactly where we land when our demons are running the show. Eventually, he ends up in a cave at the mount of God, mount Horeb. But—and if you have ever traveled this wilderness path, you know this—the psalmist is right, “there is nowhere we can go to flee God’s presence.”
Then the word of the LORD came to him saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah gave a well-prepared speech about how he has been very zealous for the Lord and how the Israelites have forsaken God’s covenant and thrown down God’s altars and killed God’s prophets with the sword and how he alone is left and how they are seeking his life to take it away. Did anybody catch Elijah’s omission? Yeah, he left out that little part about where he marched all of Baal’s prophets down to the wadi and executed them.
God told Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, a splitting-mountain, breaking-rocks-into- pieces kind of wind, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire, after the fire, the sound of sheer silence.
Have you ever heard sheer silence? Oh, it’s the most eerie kind of silence there is. I have heard it a couple of times in my life, once on that very same mountain in the Sinai desert where Elijah hid in that cave. Sheer silence will pierce your soul. It is so sharp and so deep that you can hear your own heart beat. And what I know about that silence is that all of your thoughts, all of your voices, all of your characters, even the ones you try to keep pushed way down deep—they are all laid bare, completely exposed—and that is a frightening thing. When Elijah heard that silence, he knew the game was up. He wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And the voice spoke again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He gave his same well-rehearsed speech a second time, exact same words, but deep, deep down, he knew the game was up. Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return your way to the wilderness of Damascus.”
We can run for a long time, but at some point, we will come to a place where the game is up. And it won’t be a great wind, or an earthquake, or a fire that gets us there, but it will be a sheer silence where it is all laid bare, and we know that we can’t run anymore. The difficult thing about our culture is that we are masters at distraction. We are so plugged-in that we can avoid the sheer silence for a really, really long time. But it will find us. Eventually, it will find us.
And whereas we either try to run from our demons/characters or banish them, Jesus neither runs from demons, nor banishes them. Jesus engages them. Jesus asks them their name, and when he does, they are more than willing to be known. They didn’t want to be sentenced to the abyss. They didn’t want to be sent into darkness to fester in the deep, deep places of the earth. Nor do our characters, even our shadow selves, nor do they want to be banished to the dark. They want to be known, and they want to live in some new way. The demons understood that they had to change, but they could only see two alternatives—the abyss or the pigs—they didn’t want the abyss, so the pigs looked good. Jesus was respectful enough that he granted their desire. Jesus told the demons they had to come out, but he didn’t tell them what they had to do once they showed their faces. I wonder what might have happened if the demons could have seen a third option—to be reconnected to the whole. Maybe they could not have tolerated giving up control; maybe they could not have tolerated being in relationship with all the other lifegiving characters in that man without running the show—in that instance, they clearly needed to go. But what if they could have allowed themselves to be brought back into right relationship with the other parts of that man, parts that had long been held hostage by their demonic demands. In my own experience, I have had some characters that have needed to retire, and at least one that has needed to die, but most of my characters, even my shadow characters, are eager to be transformed into new and lifegiving expressions of themselves.
Our demons are too big for us to confront alone. Most of us have been thrashed about by them for far too long. But that is the good news of today’s gospel. Whether we have 2 characters, or 3 charcters, or 16, or 67, or 123, or 6,826, Jesus is not frightened of any of them. We might be scared to death to let parts of ourselves see the light of day, but he is not. He wants to know their name. He will listen to their needs and concerns, even if we have spent a life time ignoring those voices and needs and concerns. He will listen and help them find a way out so that they can stop wreaking havoc in our lives. If we can show our demons the care and concern and respect that Jesus does, maybe most of them can be brought back into right relationship with all the characters we possess. And if there are some who need to plummet to their death, maybe we can allow them the freedom to die and honor them with a good burial. I still think we can find a better way to for them to die than to take a pig’s life with them, but even that is probably truer than we care to admit. Demons on the loose are destructive forces to be sure.
This morning is a call to oneness, an opportunity to regain our right mind. Maybe this is what Paul is actually talking about in Galatians. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” I have always read that as a call to be in right relationship with one another across whatever divisions exist in our society, but maybe it is also a call to be in right relationship within ourselves, to bridge the divisions within ourselves, to know a singleness, a oneness, to know peace within. Jesus had that unity, that singleness, that union, that unitive consciousness within himself—that’s what the demons recognized in him, and that’s why they were terrified of him. They couldn’t stand the wholeness he embodied, and yet, even a piece of them longed for it, or they would have been quite content to be thrown back into the abyss.
If your name is “Legion,” don’t be afraid. Jesus wants to know your name. He wants to know all your names, every last 6,826 of them. He will show you which can be transformed, and which you need to let die to make space for others that have yet to live. It’s a terrifying prospect to be sure—how will you be received if their names become known? How will you be received if you let characters go? How will you be received if you, once again, are in your right mind? There are very real costs involved. But the alternative is to end up living among the dead. Christ made us for oneness—oneness with him, oneness with each other, oneness within ourselves. Bring your “Legion” to the table—they, too, are hungry; they, too, are longing for oneness; they, too, are longing for peace. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
June 23, 2013