Imagine what it is like to be welcomed into somebody’s home.
Imagine if they opened the door smiling then took your coat. Come in and sit down, it’s cold outside! You smell some kind of cheesy goodness wafting in from the kitchen, and here let me get you something to drink. Could be a stranger tells you to make yourself at home. Maybe a six-year-old rushes in to show you the picture she made. Maybe a border collie is making the rounds, counting every person in the room. Now really, the only thing you did was set foot into this house, but look at all the hospitality you’ve provoked! All you did was come into the room, and sit down, and that was everything. Now you’re here, the party can begin, the stranger could be right! You could find yourself at home…
I’m working on a theory which I might have shared with you before. You and I know, in our world there are still situations in which people are dehumanized. It happens to people who are homeless. It happens to people in prison, in the military, sometimes to people at school, or in the hospital, or at summer camp.
Being dehumanized means getting your sense of self taken away, usually one phrase at a time. You lose your name to a number. You lose your clothes and wear whatever they give you. You don’t get to choose when you sleep or what you eat. Each regulation chips away some part of who you are. Now you might be technically and medically alive, but you can see, a person can lose her own life this way. Well. What I’m wondering is, what if the opposite is true?
If a person can be dehumanized by losing his name, his preferences, his pleasure —what if he can be rehumanized by restoring each component? What if hospitality is the power that could give him his life back, one phrase at a time? Go on and wear what you want to wear. We’ll get you a coffee exactly the way you take it. We’ll respect your privacy and honor your choices. We will learn how to pronounce your name.
What if another word for rehumanization is resurrection? Imagine if this were the work of the church, if we made it our business to bring each other back to being human, back to being home, back to being alive from the dead… It could be, this is exactly what we are good at. It could be, the world needs this more than we know.
In the scripture Marissa read, Jesus has just arrived in the Gentile territory of the Gerasenes which is home to a collection of tombs. During the Jewish War, a thousand young men were killed by the Roman army and buried in the tombs. A unit of Roman soldiers was called a legion.1http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4108
Immediately, a man who had been living in the tombs recognizes Jesus and runs right at him. This man is possessed by unclean spirits. Just like all the other unclean spirits, these demons recognize Jesus and accost him with fear.
Now the people in this community had tried to restrain the man with chains and shackles, but it didn’t work. The man overpowered his neighbors; he bent open the chains and broke the shackles. The story makes him sound horrifying, like he’s not even human. Maybe a werewolf? Or the Incredible Hulk? Definitely some kind of monster! Imagine if you were one of the neighbors trying to restrain him, if you found the chains in your garage, but they were no match for his strength. Or his trauma.
In our world, chains and shackles are not just elements from monster fantasies; they’re not even vestiges of slavery. We still use them on people. We train professionals to administer restraints made of chains. Our tax dollars pay for leg irons that get applied to people who are incarcerated, people with mental illness.
And look, if someone made the case to me that we are doing the best we can with the knowledge we have and the tools at our disposal, I could be convinced. It really might be true that we’re doing our best to ensure safety. It’s just, I’m not confident that we have correctly assessed the cost. Notice how much it costs a person to get chained up by another person. Notice how much it costs the professional who’s administering the chains. It might be costing more than we realize.
Wearing no chains and no clothes, the man occupied by demons cries out: “What have you to do with me, Jesus the Son of the Most High God?” Jesus asks the man what his name is, and we never find out. The spirits tell Jesus their name is Legion.
For the first time in our story, Jesus hears begging. Legion begs to be cast into the herd of pigs, so Jesus complies. He sends them into the swine who get driven into the sea and drown.
For a second time, Jesus hears begging. Now the swineherds just witnessed their livelihood plunge into the water, and they’re not taking this quietly! The neighbors see the man who had been possessed —only now he’s wearing clothes and he’s come back to himself. Could there be anything more terrifying? This is the man they had tried to restrain! The people beg Jesus to please leave them alone, so that’s what he does.
For a third time, Jesus hears begging. The man who had hosted Legion, the man who’s wearing his own clothes, who has come back to himself, this man begs Jesus to let him come along. You can guess what Jesus is going to tell him! When the legion of demons begs, Jesus says okay. When the neighbors beg, the Lord says okay. Now the man begs, “Oh Jesus, please let me come with you!”
Jesus says no.
And I can’t tell you why. He looks at the man who survived being tortured and owned by demons, and Jesus tells him: “Go home to your friends…” What home does he have? Who are his friends?! Then Jesus just gets in the boat and sails away as though his work there is done, when really, he’s got to know.
You can live through an incident of trauma, and find yourself alive on the other side, and that’s when the struggle begins. Of course it’s a miracle to get up from the dead, but ask anybody and we’ll tell you. That’s just the first miracle. The next miracle is getting up the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. Coming back to life is not for the faint at heart! Jesus should know.
We certainly do. After you get home from the hospital… After getting out of prison, or making it out of an abusive relationship… After getting rescued… After coming back from a suicide attempt, everybody will tell you it’s a miracle you’re here, and it’s not that they’re wrong. It’s just, what happens now? How are you supposed to pick yourself up and keep going? There is no bouncing back! There’s only coming back to life, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy. And whatever you do, don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.
There isn’t anyone in this room who doesn’t have a story of coming back from the dead. Now of course, we have not all lived through the same trauma, certainly not. But there isn’t anybody here who doesn’t have a story of choosing to live when that was the hardest choice. This means we have what it takes to sit down next to someone who’s facing this same choice.
Now I know, a person really might need more help than we can offer. He’ll need professional counseling, medical care, long term housing. Anybody who says we can’t do everything is right. But we can absolutely do something.
When a person who has just lived through the worst day shows up at our door, we’ll be ready. We will share our casseroles and welcome her to sit with us downstairs. We will learn how to say her name, and we’ll refill her cup. We will listen to her story, and when she says, I just don’t know if I can make it, we’ll say everyone of us has wondered that too. Look, we are a church full of survival stories, and we’ll be here for you. What if this were the business of the church…
May this commitment to resurrection be what we carry downstairs into our meeting. Now I’m sure we’ll talk about the building. I know we’re going to talk about the budget, and we need to. Things will come up during old business and during new business. No matter what else happens, we know what we’re really doing here.
I like to imagine it this way. When Jesus was getting into the boat, he looked at the man who had survived the exorcism and come back to himself. The man begged Jesus to let him come along, and Jesus told him “Go home to your friends…” as though this man had either.
When Jesus said that, what if he broke the fourth wall? What if he turned and spoke those words directly into the camera, not so this poor man would have an impossible instruction, but so that we would hear it…
“Go home to your friends” should get every bell in every steeple ringing. This is our cue! The space between verses nineteen and twenty is for the church to shout back to the Bible: “Tell him he can come here. We will be his home! We will be his friends.” This is what we’ve been training for.
We will keep on bringing each other back to being human, back to being home.
We keep bringing each other back to life from the dead!
We keep learning this from Jesus. May it be so.