Based on Luke 8:26-39
Written By: Rev. Kris Russell
Demons! Today in our scripture reading, Jesus confronts the demons in a man in a Gentile town. Listen to the story from the Message translation:
6-29 They sailed on to the country of the Gerasenes, directly opposite Galilee. As he stepped out onto land, a madman from town met him; he was a victim of demons. He hadn’t worn clothes for a long time, nor lived at home; he lived in the cemetery. When he saw Jesus he screamed, fell before him, and bellowed, “What business do you have messing with me? You’re Jesus, Son of the High God, but don’t give me a hard time!” (The man said this because Jesus had started to order the unclean spirit out of him.) Time after time the demon threw the man into convulsions. He had been placed under constant guard and tied with chains and shackles, but crazed and driven wild by the demon, he would shatter the bonds.
30-31 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“Mob. My name is Mob,” he said, because many demons afflicted him. And they begged Jesus desperately not to order them to the bottomless pit.
32-33 A large herd of pigs was browsing and rooting on a nearby hill. The demons begged Jesus to order them into the pigs. He gave the order. It was even worse for the pigs than for the man. Crazed, they stampeded over a cliff into the lake and drowned.
34-36 Those tending the pigs, scared to death, bolted and told their story in town and country. People went out to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had been sent, sitting there at Jesus’ feet, wearing decent clothes and making sense. It was a holy moment, and for a short time they were more reverent than curious. Then those who had seen it happen told how the demoniac had been saved.
37-39 Later, a great many people from the Gerasene countryside got together and asked Jesus to leave—too much change, too fast, and they were scared. So Jesus got back in the boat and set off. The man whom he had delivered from the demons asked to go with him, but he sent him back, saying, “Go home and tell everything God did in you.” So he went back and preached all over town everything Jesus had done in him
Not only did Jesus deliver this man from the demons that tormented him, but he sent him off to preach the good news. The man offered to be a follower, but Jesus sent him on a mission. In researching this scripture, I found lots of sermon topics. The fear the people had of the change, the fact that it was a gentile town, the geographic information about the placement of the town and the different stories in the gospels so yes, there are lots of little bits of information in this story but I’d like to concentrate on Jesus and the demons.
Demons were the ancient explanation for disease and mental illness. Lately the Christian Church is in a debate about mental illness and it’s a disease that needs its stigma removed, especially among the faithful. Let’s talk today about mental illness, alcoholism and demons.
Mental illness and alcoholism are demon like maladies in that they control the victim without their consent. Unlike other diseases that a person can basically be themselves during the course of the illness, mental illness and alcoholism are diseases that take over the body, mind and yes the soul of the afflicted.
Let’s look at some statistics about these diseases. My statistics are from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Nami and the United States Centers for Disease Control. 1 in every 5 adults in America experience a mental illness and 1 in 25 live with a serious mental illness. ½ of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14 and ¾ by the age of 24. Mental illness and alcoholism affects everyone regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in those 10-24 and 90% of those had an underlying mental illness. LGBT youth are 3 times as likely to succumb to suicide. 2.4 million adults in America live with schizophrenia, 6.1 million with bipolar disorder, 16 million with major depression and 42 million with anxiety disorders. 10.2 million have co-occuring or mental health combined with an addiction.
26% of homeless adults live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders. Serious mental illness costs America 193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. Individuals living with mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. Adults in the US living with serious mental illness die an average of 25 years earlier than others largely due to treatable medical conditions.
Some statistics about Alcoholism include 88,000 people die every year from alcohol related deaths each year. Alcohol impaired driving accounts for 30 percent of all driving fatalities each year. More than 15 million people struggle with an alcohol use disorder in the United States but less than 8 percent of those receive treatment.
As you all know I am a recovering alcoholic/drug addict and being treated for depression and anxiety. My recovery is all about Jesus and outside help reaching in and healing. I think it’s significant that Jesus spoke to the demons in the man in our story not to the afflicted. He spoke to the disease, not the sufferer. Listen to that statement again; he spoke to the disease not the sufferer. In other words, alcohol abuse and mental illness is not a moral or character flaw but an organic disease that takes over the victim in profound ways. Jesus taught us how to approach these maladies in our brothers and sisters. With love and healing and an understanding that it is a disease that affects them not a personal failing.
It’s important to remember that I was responsible for my actions in picking up the drink or the drug but once that substance was in my system the disease kicked in and I was unable to stop using and drinking because of the nature of that disease. Definitely like a demon possessing all I knew. The final step in Alcoholics Anonymous, the twelfth, counsels us to carry the message to those who still suffer, and this is exactly what Christ asked this man to do. Carry the message of his healing to others.
So to keep this sermon brief what do these statistics and scripture tell us today. First of all, everyone is touched by these maladies. More people suffer than we know and for every sufferer there are family and friends who are touched. Spread the love and understanding around to all and carry the healing message to all. Remember that healing is not always a cure but a comfort and we should not overemphasize the eradication of the disease but rather the control of it.
Secondly, let’s bring love and hope to all. Let’s remove the stigma of mental illness and addiction from our suffering brothers and sisters in the faith. It’s not a lack of prayer or not enough faith it’s an organic issue the most often have no control over. Let’s be the hands and heart of Jesus for our afflicted family.
Lastly, let’s not share in the fear of this little Gerasene community. As it said in the Message translation, too much change too soon. Let’s welcome the changes of open hearts and minds and hands for those who suffer. And when the healing touches us, let us go to our own and proclaim the good news of the healing touch of Jesus. Amen
Diana Hunter is our Senior Pastor;