2nd Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 7) LSB #’s 849, 541, 846
Text – Luke 8:37a
Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked [Jesus] to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.
SEIZED WITH FEAR
Right next door to my childhood home, was my grandmother’s farm, & behind her house was a barn. During the winter our typical herd of outdoor cats would get fed there. During one nighttime feeding, by flashlight since there was no electricity, some kind of creature made its presence very clearly known by a loud scrambling noise as if it was startled by my presence.
All I remember is shining the flashlight toward the noise & seeing a large, dark object above me on one of the beams that the barn was constructed of. I made no further efforts to determine what it was. Adrenaline took over & I simply ran as fast I could back to our house. It’s the earliest memory I have of being seized with fear.
Do you have stories like that of times when fear possessed you & your rational mind lost all control? In my case the cause of the fear was probably nothing more than a racoon, but I was not in any mood to try & find out. Our cats no doubt wondered what happened to dinner that night.
All of us, in fact all sinful beings, know what fear is. The very 1st human beings learned it the moment they sinned. God came calling for them & Adam replied, “I heard the sound of You in the garden… & I was afraid…” (Genesis 3:10 ESV) As a result, throughout Jesus’ ministry He is frequently saying the words, “Do no fear!”
In the world of today, fear is often caused by something evil. Think terrorist attacks, whether it’s 9-11, or bombings like in Oklahoma City & at the Boston Marathon. The mass shootings that have gone on with increasing frequency this year, or in years past, cause innocent victims to be seized with fear. Even a lone person wandering the streets at night & yelling may cause fear to enter another person’s heart. However, that is not at all the case in the Gospel reading from St. Luke.
Rather, a man possessed by demons lived among his community, naked for many years, whom they had tried to chain & shackle, yet he always broke free & ran off to live in the tombs at their cemetery. Holy Scripture never mentions that they are afraid of him. He’s been such a part of their community for so long that it’s just how things are.
However, when Jesus heals the man, & sets him free of the chains & shackles of demon possession, now the members of the community are afraid: “Then people went out to see what had happened, & they came to Jesus & found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed & in his right mind… & they were afraid.” (Luke 8:35 ESV)
After listening to witnesses of the miracle, “…all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked [Jesus] to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” (Luke 8:37a ESV) And in the familiar events of Luke’s Gospel, right before the lesson of today, Jesus is sleeping in the boat when a violent storm hits the Sea of Galilee.
As the boat was filling with water the disciples wake Jesus & tell Him, “We’re going to drown.” Nothing is mentioned about the disciples being afraid. Jesus wakes up & orders the wind & the waves to stop. Do you know what happens? The wind & the waves stop! That is when the Word of God says of the disciples, “And they were afraid…” (Luke 8:25b ESV)
All the people of the Gerasenes were seized with great fear, & Jesus’ own disciples were afraid, not because they’d seen a ghost; not because of an evil deed or some kind of terrorist act; not because a mad gunman was callously shooting people. They were afraid because Jesus brought out into the open – for all to see – the power of the almighty God. Jesus was doing good things & they are afraid. Are you afraid of Jesus? If you are not, consider this, “Could that be a sign that you are not normal?” Don’t be afraid of answering that question. In this case, it is a good thing to not be normal.
The reaction a person has to the miracles of Jesus reveals their faith in God or their lack of it. The herdsmen & townspeople & disciples are afraid. The man who was freed from the demon possession is not.
He had been the epitome of what it meant to “be unclean.” He was a Gentile, raised in the futility of pagan worship, possessed by a demon, living in tombs at a cemetery. Still, Jesus reaches out to this most unclean person, cleanses him & raises up faith. This man becomes part of the new creation & he does not reject it in fear.
From the perspective of God’s fallen creation, while the man was demon possessed, he was normal. Like the rest of the world around him, he was lost in sinful unbelief. Jesus changed all of that, & now the man knows who Jesus is & is able to trust Him.
On the other hand, recognizing Jesus for who He is & that He will overthrow them on the Last Day, the demons are startled & terrified that this future time has been projected into their present in the person of Jesus. Wherever Jesus goes, the new creation arrives there with Him. This rightly terrifies the demons & all human beings who reject the Son of God.
Those who have received the faith that Jesus creates are no longer normal & they are no longer seized by fear because nothing can be taken from them. Believers are not of this world & nothing in this world belongs to us. Everything God’s children possess is of the next world – heaven. That’s what the new creation has done to us. It has made us abnormal.
The text from Luke is honest, the people drove Jesus away, not simply because they hated Him or His teachings, but because they were afraid of Him & the power He displayed. We see people in our country who speak bravely about their conflict with the teachings of Jesus, yet beneath all their bravado is great fear. This demonstrates why Jesus did not come with might & power on complete display. Rather, He came in humility & weakness trying to counteract the normal fear of children like Adam & Eve, & you & me, who were once lost in sin.
Our calling here on earth is not to spread more fear, but to share the love & humility of Jesus Christ. All the sins of the whole world have already been paid for. There is nothing left in this life that is worth clinging to, even whether we live or whether we die, we entrust to the hands of God. If you know people well, that attitude certainly is not normal.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18a ESV) Amen.
“Away from us!” the demon cried when Christ, the Lord, drew near. “Our dark, disordered world is lost when You, the Light, appear!” But Jesus spoke with God’s own power; “Come forth!” was His command; for evil cannot bear the Light nor sin the Truth withstand. O risen Christ, God’s Living Word, to us, we pray, draw near. Come, speak the truth that cleanses sin with love that conquers fear. Amen. LSB 541:1-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet