Psalm 103:1-6, Luke 8:26-39
The Rev. Tom Herbek
January 28, 2018
There were two rich, very nasty brothers who were members of a church. A fundraising campaign was started to build a new church. All of a sudden, one of the brothers died. The other brother went to the pastor and offered to pay for the new building, if the pastor would say at the funeral that the brother who died was a saint. The pastor struggled with this, but finally accepted the offer. The next day, at the funeral, the pastor told the congregation that the man who died was a terrible man, cheating his workers, abusing his family, being mean to everyone, and then he concluded the eulogy, “But, compared to his brother, he was a saint.”
No matter how bad we are, how ill we are, it sometimes helps to be able to point to someone else, and say, “Compared to them, I am better.”
Here was a guy who lived in a cemetery, naked, and chained up half the time. Jesus met him as soon as Jesus stepped off the boat and onto the shore. Rather than shaming the man, or driving him away, Jesus compassionately cured him. After the story got out, the whole village came to see if it was true, and to see this person, Jesus, who had made it happen. When they saw “Legion” sitting at Jesus’ feet, fully clothed and healed, the gospel says: “And they were afraid.” And then they asked Jesus to get back in the boat and leave them, which Jesus did.
It is a strange reaction to healing. Joy, amazement, wonder, thanksgiving; these are the reactions we would expect – not fear. Not “get out of here” – except maybe from the owners of the poor pigs! But the truth is that every village needs someone with demons, especially visible demons. Everyone could see the effect of this man’s demons on him. Compared to him, the everyday demons that most of us have, hidden deep inside, are not ever going to be visible. When Jesus healed him, he upset the whole village. Now their cover was blown. Now their neighbors might begin to look around at each other and at them, and might notice each other’s demons and their’s, without the distraction of the crazy, naked man in the cemetery.
The truth is that healing can be as strange as disease, and just as scary, because it changes everything. Family therapist Salvador Minuchin said that most families identify one person in the family as the one that needs to be fixed, when they come for help: “The family has generally identified one member as the location of the problem. They expect the therapist to concentrate on that individual, working to change him. To the family therapist, however, the identified patient is only the symptom bearer; the cause of the problem is dysfunctional family transactions; and the process of healing will involve changing those dysfunctional family transactions. During the family’s common history, rules that define the relationships of family members to one another have developed. Any challenge to these rules will be countered automatically. Furthermore, a family coming to therapy has been struggling to resolve the problems that brought them for some time. Their attempts to cope may have narrowed their life experience. They tend to overfocus on the problem area, and because they are under stress, they tend to overutilize familiar responses.” (Family Therapy Techniques)
It is the concept that families and groups, no matter what they might say, in many ways would prefer to have the child or the parent who is the identified patient (the “problem”) stay the way they are, rather than change.
Sometimes demons are more comfortable than changed people who challenge us and challenge the way we see the world. When one person in a relationship changes, it means that the whole family – or the whole village – must also respond, must change, as well.
The people in the village could all point to the cemetery man if someone accused them of acting crazy. Every guy in the village could always say, “Yeah, but you could be married to cemetery guy!” It’s like the old saying, “If you want to look young, hang around with really old people.” Healing for groups can be just as scary as it is for any individual to be changed, to be healed.
When we have had something that has been a part of us for a very long time, sometimes it’s hard to think about what life would be like without it, even something that everyone else sees as a terrible or negative thing. It is one of the reasons that abused people stay with abusing spouses for long periods of time. It is inexplicable to anyone else, but it is the only “normal” that the abused person knows, and changing that can be just as scary as being abused.
Marianne Williamson, in her book on dealing with our past makes this comment: “The point of a life journey isn’t whether or not we’ve fallen down; it’s whether or not we’ve learned how to get back up. Everyone falls because it’s a fallen world. It’s who gets up, and how they do it, that determines what happens next. In the words of novelist William Faulkner, ‘The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.’ Until we address the deeper drama of our past, we are bound to reenact it. The more we ignore our childhood wounds, the more they fester and grow. Until we heal the child we used to be, the adult we want to be doesn’t stand a chance.” (The Age of Miracles)
Jane Austin, in Pride and Prejudice, wrote: “I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.” In order to be healed, in order to allow ourselves to be happier than we think we deserve, we must often go back to the memories that keep us where we are. Author and theologian Frederick Buechner talks about how he had to go back, finally, to deal with the memories of his father’s suicide:
I am inclined to believe that God’s chief purpose in giving us memory is to enable us to go back in time so that if we didn’t play those roles right the first time round, we can still have another go at it now. We cannot undo our old mistakes or their consequences any more than we can erase old wounds that we have both suffered and inflicted, but through the power that memory gives us of thinking, feeling, imagining our way back through time, we can at long last finally finish with the past in the sense of removing its power to hurt us and other people and to stunt our growth as human beings.
The sad things that happened long ago will always remain part of who we are just as the glad and gracious things will too, but instead of being a burden of guilt, recrimination, and regret that make us constantly stumble as we go, even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead. It is through memory that we are able to reclaim much of our lives that we have long since written off by finding that in everything that has happened to us over the years God was offering us possibilities of new life and healing which, though we may have missed them at the time, we can still choose and be brought to life by and healed by all these years later.
- A Crazy, Holy Grace
When we look at things differently, we may be surprised by the creativity of those around us, even the creativity of children:
Once upon a time, a nobleman entered his son into a military academy to learn the art of musketry. After five years, the son had learned all there was to know about shooting and, as proof of his excellence, was awarded a diploma and a gold medal.
On his way home from graduation, he stopped at a small village to rest his horses. In the courtyard, he noticed chalk circles on the wall of a stable, and right in the center of each was a bullet hole. The young nobleman looked at the circles with astonishment. Who in the world could have an aim that was so perfect? In what military academy could he have studied, and what kind of medals had he received for his marksmanship?
After considerable inquiry, he found the sharpshooter. To his astonishment, it was a small boy, barefoot and in tatters. “Who taught you to shoot so well?” the young nobleman asked him.
The boy explained: “First I shoot the wall. Then I take a piece of chalk and draw circles around the holes.”
- Allen Klein, Secrets Kids Know
In our world today, there is a great need for creativity, if healing is to occur, if we will be able to look at our relationships with people around us differently. Sometimes we completely misinterpret the things we see. Sometimes we need to transform our relationships. Social worker and author Brene Brown talks about the need for transformation in our relationships, so as not to dehumanize those who are different from us:
In all of my work, I choose to focus on “conflict transformation,” rather than the more traditional term “conflict resolution.” To me, the latter suggests going back to a previous state of affairs, and has a connotation that there may be a winner or a loser. How will this disagreement be resolved? Whose solution will be selected as the “better” one? In contrast, I choose to focus on “conflict transformation,” suggesting that by creatively navigating the conversational landscape of differences and disagreements, we have the opportunity to create something new. At a minimum, we learn more about each other than before. Ideally, we may find new possibilities that had not even been considered before. Conflict transformation is about creating deeper understanding. It requires perspective-taking. As a result, it enables greater connection, whether or not there is agreement.
- Braving the Wilderness
Jesus transformed the cemetery man, and changed the entire village by doing so. I wish someone had gone back a year later to see what both the man and the village were like – where they had changed.
For most of us, the way that the healing of our demons occurs is because of a relationship. Just as the cemetery man finally met someone who saw him as a person and believed that he could be healed, most of us need someone else to help us to move past our own demons, to become healed from their presence. Many of our demons helped us to survive terrible, painful times in our life, but now they get in our way of living life. For many people, the healing begins because of a relationship where acceptance and warmth and compassion can be found.
We all have our demons, shame and guilt, and protective shields that are buried deep inside, and we may no longer need them. We no longer need to live in the graveyards of the past, even if the village would like us to do so.
Perhaps a stranger will step off a boat or listen to our story in his or her office, and help us to experience the healing that, deep down, we all crave. Sometimes we need someone else to help us to experience healing.
Finally, we may come to a time in our lives when we realize that continuing to live in the cemetery is not how we want to live the rest of our life. And whether the rest of the village would be happy or scared by the change, we cannot continue to live in such a dead-end kind of place.
My hope is that this church family will always be a place where the healing of the demons of the past will be encouraged and creatively nurtured, and we will all accept the challenge that change calls forth in all of us, to become all that we have been created to be, and to be transformed.