THE UNWELCOME GUEST – SERMON JUNE 23, 2019 – REV. PAUL DAKIN

THE UNWELCOME GUEST

A sermon on Luke 8:26-39

First Baptist Church of Lynchburg

June 23, 2019

By Paul Dakin

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

 

There was a quotation that I used to see prominently displayed on the walls of homes in a lot of my friends and acquaintances back in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. I haven’t seen it much lately though. I’m not sure why that is. I do not know if it is because the sentiment has fallen out of fashion nowadays or if I’m going to the wrong houses or if there is some other reason. It’s still available from various websites and probably from some Christian bookstores as well…

 

The words were sometimes artfully decorated on framed prints that would be hung of the wall of the kitchen or the dining room. In other cases, the words would be engraved on a plaque. It is an anonymous quotation that goes like this: “Christ is the head of the home, the unseen guest of every meal, the silent listener to every conversation.” (Anybody ever see that phrase displayed in someone’s home …or maybe even in your own home?)

 

However it is displayed, it is meant to be a gentle reminder that Christ is Lord and is present among us as we go about our daily activities. It is meant to be inspirational and it often is.

 

However, in the course of everyday life in the home, I wonder how many times the sign was more ironic than true. Perhaps when heated arguments arose among the folks around the dining room table…Or when words were exchanged that should have never been spoken out loud…Or when attitudes were expressed that were not kind…or loving…or fair. At times like those, I imagine that lots of people would avert their eyes to keep from being confronted with the truth of the words on the wall…

 

As we read through the gospels, it is obvious that Jesus was the kind of person that seemed to naturally draw people to him. The truth is that Jesus was a popular guy for much of his ministry. Right up until the very end, we are told that crowds flocked to him. They were attracted to his teaching and they were astonished at how the power of God seemed to flow through him. On more than one occasion in the gospels, we are told that “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” (Luke 4:22) And one would expect that the people whom Jesus healed would also sing his praises. In some cases, we are explicitly told that they did.

 

But in the country of the Gerasenes, where today’s story takes place, there is a different dynamic at work. In this instance, Jesus was not welcomed by the people, in spite of his teaching and in spite of the healing that he performed. In today’s passage, Jesus is not the unseen guest. Instead, Jesus is the unwelcome guest…

 

Up to this point in the gospel of Luke, Jesus had not strayed from the area in which he had grown up—the part of Israel known as Galilee. At the beginning of this passage, we learn that Jesus left that area—left the area that he and his disciples knew and loved—to travel to “the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite of Galilee.” So he leaves his home base for the first time. Jesus became a guest in a foreign land. And according to Luke, this is the only time in his ministry where he ventured into Gentile territory.

 

Our Lord and his disciples crossed over to the land of the Gerasenes by boat. And as soon as they arrive on the other side, they encounter a man who was demon possessed. We are given a little bit of his background in verses 27 and 29. He was a man who was apparently well known to the people of the region. He was a wild man who lived out in the graveyard, naked and alone. They had tried in the past to confine him with chains and even posted a guard. But nothing it seemed could restrain him. The man was totally out of control, living in completely uncharted territory.

 

After a verbal exchange with the demon possessed man, Jesus casts the demon (or more correctly, “demons”) out of the man. When word got out about the healing, the townspeople came out to see for themselves what had happened. And they were shocked by what they discovered. Verse 35 tells us, “When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” Then note the next phrase: “And they were afraid.” Luke continues in verse 37 in case we missed it the first time. He wrote that “All of the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them: for they were seized with great fear.” (In Matthew’s and Mark’s account of the same story, they say that the people “pleaded” for Jesus to leave. It is a much stronger word in the Greek than the polite word that Luke uses for “asked”…)[1]

 

I find the phrase “They were seized with great fear” to be a remarkable statement. Think with me for a moment. Jesus went to the land of the Gerasenes. One of his first acts when he arrived was to heal a man whom no one in the city could control and no one could help. The news of the healing went viral throughout the region. And what was the people’s response to this wonder of grace? Did they praise God for the mighty miracle that had been performed in their midst? {NO.} Did they marvel at this One who had control over the forces of spiritual darkness? {NO.} Did they want to find out more about this divine power that had been displayed in their midst? {NO.} Did they even bother to stop and thank Jesus for what he had done for this man and what he had done for their community? {NO.}

 

                The answer is NO to all of those questions. There is nothing in the scriptures to indicate that the townspeople did any of those things. Instead they did something else. They told Jesus that they wanted him to go away…and to leave them be. In a short amount of time, Jesus had gone from being a visitor to their city to being the unwelcome guest in their community. Having Jesus among them made them afraid…

 

So what is it that they were afraid of?

 

It seems to me that these folks were afraid of Jesus—someone that they did not know and did not understand. That’s why he had to go. Jesus was the one which the demons had called “The Son of the Most High God.” He could not stay there because his presence was unmasking people, terrifying them. There’s no telling what he might do or say next. The man who had been delivered? Well, no problem there. He could stay. But not Jesus. He had to go so that people of the town could breathe easy again…

 

Can it be that he presence and power of God can be a source of fright? Apparently so.

 

I wonder if even those of us who are religious would find that to be true if the presence of God were to physically manifest itself on Sunday morning even as we were engaged in the act of worship. Do we just assume that if Jesus were to show up at one of our worship services that he would smile and nod approvingly upon everything that we said and did here? Maybe Jesus would be pleased with how we do things and that this is the way that he wants to be spoken of and worshiped. Maybe he would…

 

But I have a sneaking suspicion that if Jesus really did show up in the flesh at First Baptist one Sunday morning, that he would prove to be pretty unsettling, perhaps not too differently than the people of the Gerasenes. I imagine that he would likely shock and surprise us by what he did and what he said. We might come to see just where and how we are significantly out of alignment with his desires for us. What might Jesus uncover in us if he were to physically come here and closely examine our hearts and our worship? How might things be different? How might things change?

 

The thing about having the One True God in your midst is that you have this feeling that, whatever he does, it may just be the tip of the Divine iceberg. And who knows what might be next? I daresay that to lose that illusion of control would be scary for most people…

 

Of course whenever God is present and begins to shake things up, it is really a grace that he brings to us. Although it may not seem that way to us at first. It is a gift. It is a way that God uses to help transform us and recreate us from the inside out. It goes without saying that the healing of the demon possessed man was an act of Christ’s grace and mercy. But so are the other things that Jesus can do for us in our lives. They may not be as outwardly dramatic, but they are no less significant. And no less important…Sometimes the way Jesus shakes us up is to show us our need to change the course of our lives…or to give up certain things that we would rather not give up. Meeting the Risen Christ face-to-face can be a painful experience. And yet the promise is that, once we are following what Jesus wants us to do, then he will draw us closer to him.

 

As Luke 8 concludes, Jesus and his disciples sail away back to Galilee even as the folks of the Gerasenes return home. As best as anyone can tell, the people of the Gerasenes are unchanged after their encounter with Jesus. Picture the scene with me. After the excitement has died down, there is just one man is left standing on the shore, waving goodbye furiously in gratitude to the man who saved him. Only now he’s got a job to do. Jesus has commissioned him to tell the people back home about the great things that God had done for him.

 

What do you think? Do you suppose that anyone among the Gerasenes listened to him?[2]

 

*******

The closing hymn comes from the pen of 19th Century American newspaper editor, abolitionist and poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier was a New England Quaker, and although he was one of America’s best-loved poets of his generation, he has never really been considered to be in the first rank of writers by most observers.

 

Whittier never set out to write any hymns. He was probably as surprised as anyone else when some extracts from his writings were fashioned into hymns and they began to appear in hymn books to be sung by congregations. Such is the case with “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.” This hymn includes several stanzas from a much longer work, a poem entitled “The Brewing of Soma,” which was first published in 1872. You will find the hymn at #427 in your hymnal. I invite you to turn to it as we look at it together…

 

The hymn is a prayer that makes a number of references to the story of Jesus and the demon possessed man that formed the basis of the sermon. In the first stanza, we ask for God to “reclothe us in our rightful mind”—that we will set aside the destructive things that distract us and get us off track from following Jesus. As we sing and pray, we continue to ask the Lord to deliver us from the strain and stress that we all experience in our lives so that he may bring order out of the chaos—to bring to our souls a quiet confidence in what the Holy Spirit is doing in us and through us, that we may experience his “peace that surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)

 

The final stanza references the Old Testament passage from 1 Kings that was read earlier in the service. As you recall, the prophet Elijah was hiding in a cave on Mount Horeb, when outside the mouth of the cave, there was a great wind that broke open rocks, an earthquake that shook the ground and a fire that raged on the mountain. But it was not in any of those things through which God spoke to the prophet. Instead, there was a still, small voice after the fire out of which God spoke. We pray asking that God would make us sensitive to hearing that voice when he speaks to us, that we may be the kinds of followers of Jesus that he wants us to be. I pray that it will be so in each and every one of our lives today…

 

To God alone be the glory! Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Matthew 8:28-34 and Mark 5:1-20.

[2] I am indebted to Scott Hoezee of Calvin Seminary for much of the material in this section.

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