Proper 7C’19
23 June 2019
Luke 8.26-39
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone+

Loving God you know that what we want is to stay the same, but you know what we need is to change: break down our resistance until we are entirely ready for you to have your way in our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How many of us here today realize that there are things about ourselves, our families, and our communities that need to change? How many believe that if those changes happened life would be so much better for us? How many of us like change? How many are ready to change today? Just as I suspected, the majority of us realize that we need to change, the majority of us believe that our lives would be better off if change occurred, but the majority of us do not like change! As a result, we are all resistant to change. What is it about us that makes us so resistant to change?

An experiment was conducted with five monkeys to show how resistant most of us are to change: A group of scientists placed five monkeys in a cage with a ladder at the center with bananas at the top of the ladder Every time a monkey went up the ladder to get the bananas the scientists soaked the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, every time a monkey went up the ladder the other monkeys would beat up the one on the ladder. Eventually none of the monkeys were willing to go up the ladder.

The scientists then decided to substitute one of the monkeys for a new one. First thing the new monkey did was to run up the ladder. Immediately the other monkeys beat him. After several more beatings the new monkey learned not to go up the ladder even though he never knew the original reason why.

 A second monkey was substituted and the same thing occurred with the first monkey joining in on the beating. The third monkey was changed and the same thing was repeated, a beating. The fourth was replaced and the same thing happened again with another beating. Finally, the fifth monkey was replaced. What was left was a group of five monkeys that even though they had never received a cold shower, continued to beat up any monkey that climbed the ladder. If it were possible to ask the monkeys the reason for beating up any monkey who went up the ladder, their answer would probably be: “We don’t know, that’s just how things are done around here!”

Even though it was painful and even though none of the monkeys knew why, it was familiar, predictable and maintained a certain order of things. The pain and monotony were preferable to facing the fear of the unknown that change would bring.  The beast we know is better than the beast we don’t know!

 Counselors and family therapists who are engaged in the healing process for dysfunctional individuals and families are not surprised by this, they see this type of resistance to change on a daily basis.

This type of resistance is what Jesus encountered in the village of Gerasa (jehr-ah-sah) in the country of the Gerasenes (jehr-uh-seens).

It is a beautiful story of healing but with a twist. You have a man possessed and oppressed by demons whose life has become so dysfunctional that he no longer wears clothes or lives in a house but lives in a graveyard (I envision something like the above the ground tombs like they have in New Orleans). Jesus as always is moved with compassion to see someone suffering so intensely. The demon speaks to Jesus and requests permission to enter a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus grants them permission; the demons leave the man and enter the pigs who promptly run down the hill and are drown in the lake below. The pig farmers who saw this spectacle ran into town and told the townspeople what had happened. A bunch of townsfolk wanted to come out and see what the hysteria was all about.

When the pig farmers and villagers arrived, they came upon Jesus and the poor man, what they encountered was someone who had been freed from his demons with his mind restored, his body clean and dressed in a new set of clothes, and sitting at Jesus’ feet.  Ironically, this scared them, this was not what they were used to! They could handle it when the man was behaving erratically and having to be chained up in a cemetery. What power could bring about such a drastic change? The pig farmers told them the story of the man’s healing and how the pigs were drowned by the demons. The townspeople then did something that was both tragic and predictable – they asked Jesus to leave Gersara!

This miraculous healing had brought about some unforeseen changes. The person that had been like the ‘town drunk on steroids’, the one on whom they could place all of their collective evil was now bathed, dressed, and of sound mind. They would no longer be able to use him as a scapegoat for all the evil that they themselves were doing but not willing to look at. Without a scapegoat they would have to look in the mirror and perhaps for the first time, see themselves as broken people in need of healing.

In my work with families as a counselor I have actually heard family members of a sober alcoholic say, “We liked you better when you were drunk.” The healing of their family member had brought about a change that had upset the status quo. They no longer had someone else to draw the focus away from their own dis-ease and codependency. The relationships that had been focused on the disease of the alcoholic now required change from the entire family. The family role of scapegoat was now vacant and they simply didn’t know how to function! The townspeople of Gersara were totally disoriented.

Another unforeseen complication of the man’s healing was that a whole group of pig farmers livelihood had been totally decimated. They would have to start all over again – they were furious with Jesus! How strange – how odd – and how similar to today. We say we need and want healing but we want healing on our own terms, in our own timing, and in our own way, with minimal disruption to our lives and equilibrium! The problem with that is that God always has something bigger in mind than the temporary relief of our symptoms, God wants to cure the disease at its roots not merely alleviate our symptoms.  I believe God is doing a work of healing here at St. Luke’s! When Jesus does a healing work it can be like it was for the citizens of Gersara. People are going to be affected in many different ways, and some of these ways and changes we might not have counted on.

Even the life of the man with the demons was forever changed. After being healed, he wanted to escape the village and join Jesus followers on tour to exotic lands. Jesus instead tells him to go home and to live the new life he had been given and to share with all around him the good things God had done for him.

Another unforeseen consequence of healing, he would have to get a job, earn a living, and make a house payment. He would now require a clean set of clothes each day and there would be much more expected of him – he would have to start ‘adulting.’ He would now have to change roles from “the town demon – the problem child” to that of a “functioning adult” with real rights and real responsibilities. Dysfunctional cycles would cease, the monkey’s ladder drill would be coming to an end for him.

It is always easier to remain a victim and blame others for the problems that we experience as individuals and as a community, but what is required of us is to claim and receive our healing and then take life by the horns and walk into life as responsible adults, filled with God’s Holy Spirit, and to bring healing to so many around us who are desperate for the same miracle we have received.  The poet Alyssa Underwood in her poem “Whom the Son Sets Free” gives us words as we cry out for our own healing and for those we love:

Jesus, please set my bound heart free
Let not this world my prison be
Where fear and shame would pull me down
To suffocate and cause me to drown

‘Stead loose my soul that it may soar
Heavy, fettered, chained no more
So You can lead me to the hills
Away from where ‘perfection’ kills

In You alone my worth is found
What joy immense, this truth profound
To know I’m precious in Your sight
My strength, my hope, my life’s delight

Surrendered now to Your control
‘Tis love which heals my wounded soul
Convinced that I can trust Your heart
Toward me, to You my cares I impart

And selfish may I no more be
But lend me eyes that I might see
The wounds which other souls still have
To give to them Your healing salve

That You might take their tender pain
And turn it to eternal gain
So suffering may not wasted be
But used to set our cold hearts free

Then we who in triumphant praise
More closely on Your face may gaze
Beholding all Your beauty vast
Held tight to You, content at last![1]