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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Luke 8:26-39 Gerasene Demoniac
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
June 20, 2004

I feel a bit odd preaching on scripture about a demoniac on Father’s Day. Especially now that I’m a father of two preschoolers. Not that I have anything in common with a man who runs around barking at demons and hearing voices in the night. Just because I talk to myself a whole lot more than I used to, and just because I repeat meaningless phrases over and over and over, like, “Brush your teeth now. Brush your teeth now. Brush your teeth now,” doesn’t mean my mental health is in question at all. Really. My eye has always twitched like this.

Being a parent slowly blurs the line between what’s crazy and what’s not. I understand this now. And I’m a lot more sympathetic toward those parents in restaurants whose food-throwing children ought to be bound in chains and sent to live with the pigs. It’s amazing what you can learn to ignore. Especially if said offspring are the product of your own begatting.

I would imagine that the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes had learned to ignore the wild child that had grown up and become a wild man living among the tombs next door to the pig farm on the hill at the edge of town. Of course they had. They had him chained up and tucked away so they could go out to dinner in peace. A visitor to the town might have asked, “What’s all that ruckus up on the hill?” And any good townsperson might have replied, “What ruckus? I hear no ruckus.” And the good townsperson would then return to reading the sports section and savoring a bagel.

The visitor would scratch his head and wonder who’s the crazy one here? The demoniac on the hill? Or the townspeople who are so expert in ignoring him? Demon, demon, who’s got the demon? Our visitor Jesus blurs the line between what’s crazy and what’s not because he calls into question what we’re used to accepting as “normal.” As fathers and as mothers, as children – as people – Jesus questions not what we’ve learned to ignore; he can cure that stuff with a wave of his hand. No, more to the point, Jesus questions our love of our own ignorance. He questions the way we make our lives easier by pretending problems aren’t there, or by thinking we can lock our problems on a hillside on the edge of town.

“Return to your home,” Jesus tells the man whose demons have now been cast out. “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” Jesus’ final words to the demoniac formerly known as Legion are to go and declare, go and proclaim, go and minister to the ignorance of the people. Help cure their demons before they go and chain up someone else.


A week ago Tuesday I rode with the vanload of church folks who went up to Kentucky for the day to see the Mission Trip workers in action. It was an easy trip up. On paper. Only three and a half hours up the state and county roads that led us through the scenic vistas of Letcher, and Blackey, and Harlan, and Tacky Town. We didn’t actually drive through Tacky Town, but it is nearby. Next trip. We drove up the King’s Highway (its official name) and lost count of the Pentacostal and Apostolic churches along the way.

Unfortunately, just as we were nearing the other side of the mountain from Isom, there was a large, flashing sign. “Road Closed. Consider Alternate Route.” It was kind of like those bumper stickers that say, “Visualize World Peace.” Ok, we’ve visualized it. We’ve considered it. Now what? The problem is, at that point, there ISN’T any alternate route into Isom. Luckily, Andy had his GPS unit with him, so we detoured east through Virginia, where the streets have no names, the roads have no numbers, and the people have nothing to do than sit front porch laughing at the vanfulls of lost church groups. Our three and a half-hours of scenic wonder turned into (this is true) six hours of scenic wandering.

But for people who normally travel only the Interstate highways, for people who’ve become used to thinking “getting off the main road” means driving an extra mile from the exit to Cracker Barrel, this was an adventure. It was eye-opening to realize how far into the country those country roads go. And once we did get to Isom and all the surrounding coal company towns where most of the workers have been let go and most of the coal mines are now mountain removal systems, we had our eyes opened once again by how far parts of our own country have been let go, and for the most part, ignored. The people, and the mountains themselves, are sent a loud and clear message that they aren’t as important as the fuel underneath.

“Road Closed. Consider Alternate Route.” Sometimes it happens. At Session last Thursday night, Don told us about a man, Hargis, whom the Mission Trip workers befriended. Actually, it was Hargis who befriended our Mission Trip workers. They said that this was the first time in a long time since the loss of his job and the death of his wife that Hargis had befriended anyone. He’d been pretty depressed, even by Isom standards. Funny how just having someone show an interest in him, how just getting to share his modest house with some folks who needed a shower and a place to sleep, how just a little attention may have helped chase away at least a few of Hargis’ demons.

I would hope – and I do believe – that the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the spirit that casts out demons, the spirit that breaks down the silent walls of ignorance, works through us when we go into places like Isom. When we venture into the graveyards of hope. But I don’t know if the Spirit works exactly the way we expect it to. The Hargises of the world need healing. That’s for sure. But we townspeople, our need for healing goes just as deep, and about a million times as wide. There’s a whole lot more of us, the ones who travel by the main highways. We’re chained to the demons of our ignorance, chained just as tightly as the people of Gerasa, who said, “What ruckus? Well, you know, Jesus. It’s better this way. For all of us. Would you pass the wine?”


Next Sunday, Tom Currie, the Pastor of Isom Presbyterian Church, is bringing HIS mission trip through Knoxville. They’re going to make a special stop here, so they can worship with us. Ironically, the people from that little holler in Letcher County, Kentucky are going to do some mission work in Atlanta. You’ve got to wonder what they’re going to think. Some of these youth might never have been past Harlan. Is the big city of Atlanta going to look like the Land of Oz? Or once they start working with the people of Atlanta’s poorest areas, are they going to realize that people ignored look pretty much the same, whether you’re in Appalachia, or Atlanta, or Gerasa? And when they sit in the traffic of I-75, and watch the people yelling into their cell phones, are they going to think that people ignoring other people look pretty much the same, too? And once they’ve seen, will they still be able to ignore the demons of prevailing wisdom? Or will they want to return to their home and declare how much God has done for them?

Something those of you who have been on mission trips know is that the greater ministry isn’t what we do for others. That’s ministry, for sure. We hopefully make someone’s life better in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s ministry. But the greater share of ministry is what we bring home in our hearts. Those people we think we’re ministering to minister to us a whole lot more than we do to them. As in today’s scripture, the greater ministry happens when the cured man returns home and spreads the word about all God has done. Having someone you once feared so much you locked him in chains knock on your door, and ask to sit on your couch – or walk in the sanctuary door and sit in the pew next to you in worship – that kind of thing blurs the line between what’s acceptably sane and what’s not. That blurs the line between who’s ministering to whom. That blurs the line enough for Jesus to cross and bring life out of the graveyards of hope.

We all need ministry. We’re all lost on the road to our next mission. We’ve all not only considered but taken alternate routes that have led us long miles astray of where God wants us to be. We have a choice. We can ignore our sinful detours and ride along as if this is the way things are supposed to be. Or we can open our eyes to the love of Jesus Christ, who ignores no one. Who brings an insane amount of forgiveness and hope to people who barely even know they need it.


There’s a wonderful story about the cross behind me, at the focal point of our sanctuary. Some of you were here when this sanctuary was built, so forgive me if I don’t get the story exactly right, but I think I have the basic idea.

When the cross was first put together from these two long, intersecting pieces of wood, it was beautiful. But the problem was, it was too beautiful. It was too clean, too smooth. It wasn’t rugged enough. So the call went out for anyone who had a hammer to come down to the church and pound on the cross, to make it look like the “Old, Rugged Cross” that we sometimes sing about. I wish I could have been here to witness an entire church, pounding on the cross of Jesus Christ. There is something profoundly theological about people beating the daylights out of a cross. Something profoundly true, and cleansing.

Every once in a while, the Holy Spirit moves among us, and we make up our minds that we aren’t going to ignore the sins that get us lost from God. We strike our hand to the cross of Jesus not because we hate it, but because in its bruises we see our own reflection. A true reflection. Not some made-over, paved-over, smoothed-over niceness that bypasses all our problems. But a road that leads right to them, right into the graveyards where we chain up our secret demons. In front of the cross, we can’t hide anymore. We can’t look away anymore. We can’t ignore any one who is crying out for the love and mercy of Christ our Lord. Even if that person is us.

“Return to your home,” Jesus tells the man whose demons have now been cast out. “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” Go back home, to your father and your mother. Go back home to the people who have worked so hard, not to cure you, but to ignore you. Go back home – and cure them.

All that we ignore – the sins of our hands and of our hearts – is standing right before us. What God does with those sins is at the center of our worship and IS the center of our hope forever more. It’s always painful, and it always seems a little crazy, to open our eyes to what we’d rather ignore. But God will clear the way. God will lead us along the rugged paths so that all of us – fathers, mothers, children – all of us can return to our homes, and declare how much God has done.