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

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Tales Of The Bizarro World

2016-06-19 Lk 08 26-39

Tales of the Bizarro World

I've been watching this new show on AMC called, Preacher.  

If you've been watching it, too, please don't admit it, especially not in church.  

It's awful. Horrible, disgusting, violent.  

The product of deeply disturbed minds.  

I know because I've seen every episode.  

I'm intrigued because it's about a preacher and I'm always looking for role models.  

I have a professional interest.   

If it were called, Sewer Line Inspector, I never would have watched.  

Like The Walking Dead, Preacher is adapted from a comic boo… - excuse me - graphic novel.  

It has alien forces, at least one vampire, and demons.  

And a scary preacher.

His superpower is that he can make his congregation do what he tells them.

I'm not totally sure what's going on, but that's how the show hooks you.  

You keep thinking, (a) what IS this, and (b) it's gotta get better.


I bring this up because today's scripture reminds me of Preacher.  

The Bible takes us to a bizarre place of demons, ironic humor, superpowers, and a scary preacher.

(a) What IS this and (b) it's gotta get better.  

That's how I feel about a lot of things, these days.  

Maybe you do, too.  

Things are happening that we wish just weren't real.  

The demons are legion and everything seems upside down.  

Which is exactly what happens in today's scripture.

This story is often called, "The Geresene Demoniac."  

But you could also call it "Scary Preacher Jesus."  

It's just weird.  

Luke begins with a big clue to the oncoming strangeness.  

Verse 26:

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.

"Which is opposite Galilee."  

Geographically opposite, maybe.  

The gospel writers were men, a gender not known for directions.  

But socially, culturally, ethnically opposite?  


We are entering a place opposite Galilee.  

This is Bizarro World.


If you're a fan of comic books or Seinfeld, you know Bizarro World.  

It's the planet where everything is the opposite of earth.  

The superheroes are super-idiots.  

Their version of Batman, Batzarro, is hailed as the World's Worst Detective.  

And that's a good thing.  

Instead of a globe, the planet is shaped like a cube, because Bizarro Superman made it that way.  

Society is ruled by the Bizarro Code which states  

"Us do opposite of all Earthly things!  

"Us hate beauty!  

"Us love ugliness!  

"Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!"

Which is kind of like the Bible's view of the Gentile town of Gergesa, home of the World-famous Geresene Demoniac.  

This is the opposite of the world Jesus and his disciples are from.  

These disgusting people raise pigs and eat bacon, for heaven's sake.  

Things no self-respecting Jew would ever dream of.  

In fact, in Luke's version of the Gospel, this is the only instance of Jesus taking his ministry outside the community of the Jews (Ringe, Sharon H., Luke, WBC, p. 119.).  

Jesus is in opposite-land.  

This is Bizarro World.  

It's bizarre.  

How bizarre?  

Just listen:

As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.

If you're a Jew in Jesus' time, or really anybody in any time, and a crazy naked man from the graveyard is the town's welcome committee?  

Our church has a Welcome Committee.  

We give out peppermints.  

In Jesus's culture, public nakedness and association with the dead are not just bad manners, they're forbidden by the Law of God.  

Illegal. Unclean. Just gross.

Also, did we mention the crazy naked man had superhuman strength?  

Yeah, that, too.  

He repeatedly broke his chains and shackles like Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk, minus the stretchy purple pants, ergo, nakedness.

Jesus then asked him, 'What is your name?' He said, 'Legion'; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

(The abyss means the land of the dead, by the way. It's not hell, but it's not Dollywood, either.)

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.

Is this Jesus showing sympathy for the devil?  

Well, maybe.  

But the joke's on the demons.

Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine -- and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.


That's the problem with demons.  

Poor decision-making skills.  

Demons just don't think things through.

Of course, all this weirdness in opposite-land scares everybody to death.  

The whole town was "seized with great fear."  

Over JESUS.  

The one we see as salvation, they see as a curse.  

They beg Jesus to leave. BEG.  

That's totally opposite what you're supposed to do.  

Everybody knows that.  

It's bizarro.

"Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect (or healed, or demon-free)...."

The whole scene is all cartoony and sadly comical.  

If it weren't in the Bible, you'd never believe it.  

Or would you?

Latin night at a gay nightclub in the amusement park capital of the world,  

and an Afghan-American born in Queens and carrying a legally-purchased assault rifle pledges allegiance to Islamic State over 911,  

then commits the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history.

If it weren't true, no one would believe you.  

The demons inside the perpetrator were legion.

To call him mentally ill is a disservice to the mentally ill.  

I want to say he's from a place opposite.

But he was not. Not really.

Sarah Condon wrote last week: "[In comic books], bad guys wear capes and have villainous names. They are handily defeated before anything becomes too scary. They are easy to distinguish. They are different from us.  

"Real life does not have the neat convenience of cartoon villains. People who kill one another are other people." (http://www.mbird.com/2016/06/the-love-that-will-not-let-us-go/)

In the real world, it's much, much harder to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

And that's terrifying.

Terror thrives on fear and uncertainty.  

We're afraid of the places where we should feel safe because we're uncertain when and where an attack might occur. (Resnick)

So we retreat to places and arguments where we do feel safe and do feel certain.  

Which is one reason we hear people repeating the same things over and over.  

When our hearts are scared, our minds go into hiding.  

Our thoughts crouch behind the thick wall of what we already think.

Psychologists back this up:  

[One says,] "In the wake of terror, people become surer of their core beliefs.  

"It's likely a survival mechanism to make us feel grounded when the world's been turned upside down" (Resnick).

In other words, there's good reason why the word "petrified" means scared senseless AND turned to stone.  

When we're shaken and stirred we cement ourselves to the things that make us feel safe.  

Like, long-standing opinions.  

And guns.

Is that bad?  

Science says it helps our species survive.  

I guess it depends on how you use your opinions and your guns.  

But this is also true: if you're clinging to one thing for dear life, you have to let go of something else.  

What does fear cast out?

The Bible says, "True love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18)  

But what was the thing the scared people of Gergesa decided to cast out?  


They prefered their demons to Jesus.  

That's bizarre.  

But petrified people are about as smart as a box of rocks.  

The first thing they toss out is Jesus.  

They might swear they don't.  

But they do.  

We do.

True love casts out fear, but fear casts out Jesus.

Why? Because Jesus is bizarro.  

Jesus turns everything upside down.  

Jesus said crazy things, like:  

38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'[h]39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  

43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Matthew 5:38-48)

You say, "Well, Jesus didn't have to contend with ISIS or Al Qaeda."  

That is true.  

But he did have to contend with the Roman Empire, the tyrannical regime that hung him on a cross between two "bandits" (which was their politically correct word for terrorists).

True love casts out fear, but fear casts out Jesus.  

His WHOLE-world-opposing ways are always the first to go when the demons break loose.

Does that mean it's sinful to be afraid?  

Of course not.  

You can't stop having fear.  

It's part of what makes us human.  

Fear helps us survive.  

Fear can even help us seek God.

The Psalm we read earlier was written by a person in terrible fear that even God had forsaken him.

O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! (Psalm 22)

But what the Bible doesn't tell us is was he really afraid of literal swords, dogs, and lions?  

Or was he afraid he might deliver his soul to the sword, his life to the power of the dog, his mouth to the roar of the lion?

We're still making those very hard choices.  

What will we keep?  

What will we cast out?  

To whom will we pledge ourselves?  

From whence will our help come? (Psalm 121)


Freddie Mercury sang: "Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?"

Frederick Buechner wrote "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen."

Somedays it's hard to tell what's what.

Things are so messed up.  

People are so messed up.  

So angry. So scared. So lost.  

Who's right? Who's wrong? How can you tell?

The Bible says, "For now we see through a glass darkly" (1 Cor 13:12, KJV).  

And in other versions, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly" (NRSV).  

Pick a winner.  

Dark or dim, nobody sees things perfectly.  

We see the world through the lens of polarizing opinions, and we see ourselves in broken mirrors.  

The "real world" (quote, unquote) is a dark place, and our own self-awareness is pretty dim.  

So sayeth scripture, and anyone keeping up with current events.

But in this valley of shadows, Jesus the scary and loving preacher says,  

"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

"I am the light of the world."  

But he never says he's a floodlight.  

He could be just a flickering candle.  

But when the darkness is so very dark,  

when you don't know which end's up,  

when everything seems upside down and you're dizzy-sick of this bizarro world,  

even a tiny candle can be enough to help you get right-side-up.


For further reading and viewing:



Buechner, Frederick, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABCs of Faith.