Christ and Chaos
By Dr. Randy L. Hyde
Are you comfortable, sitting there in your padded pew? Good, good. That’s one of our goals, you know… to make sure you’re comfortable. Especially if you’re a visitor. You might not come back if, when you get up later to leave this place, you had a crick in your neck or something. Or a pain in your backside. No, no, we can’t have that.
There are different kinds of comfort… and discomfort. For example, we don’t want to say anything that is controversial. We’ve got a rather diverse congregation here, you see. Republicans and Democrats, people who think and bleed “green” while others think this whole global warming thing is nothing short of a communist plot.
We have folks who drive big cars and that’s the way they want it, as long as the petroleum holds out, even at these outlandish prices. Then, we have those in our church who scrunch into their little cars in order to save as much as they can, not only in terms of their pocketbook but the world’s resources as well.
So, we’ve got to be careful what we say. When you have people from all ends of the spectrum, to say anything out of line will surely offend somebody, and we don’t want to do that. Nosirree. It might upset the balance of things.
But you know what? We also have some people here today who don’t worry about their comfort because life for them is already so difficult that nothing we can do or say will likely make it a whole lot better. Yet, they are here because they still hold out hope that maybe something will be said or done that will bring a measure of relief, some purpose to the pain they are now experiencing.
For these folk, comfort isn’t a goal anymore. The only thing they’re focused on is survival.
Life gets that way sometimes. You’re not worried about whether the Democrats have the answer or the Republicans. The problems you’ve got go far beyond political considerations – at least immediate political considerations – because we all know there is no immediacy to politics. It grinds exceedingly slowly.
You’re hurting so bad right now, the only thing you know is the churning of your stomach and the pain in your heart. You’re not sure you’ll even make it through the day, so you just sit here in this place hoping you will hear a word – just a word – of hope. Something that will keep you going, something that will make sense of the chaos. What you want more than anything else in all the world is help. Pure and simple, that’s your only goal: help.
Well, if it does nothing else, our gospel story this morning shows us where Jesus operates and what Jesus does best. It illustrates very clearly that Christ plunges into the chaos of life and brings to it a sense of calmness and peace.
You who are sitting there already calm and comfortable might not relate to this story we read earlier, but those for whom life has been extremely difficult of late… they know what I mean. They’re searching for answers, relief from life’s daily, throbbing difficulty. And they’ve come here, thinking that maybe – just maybe – Jesus is the One who can give it to them… can offer them peace, real peace, even when life is nothing but chaos.
And it may just be the story we read from Luke’s gospel that is the catalyst for that to happen. And the man who has come down in biblical history to be known to us as the Gadarene Demoniac may be the one who represents the chaos that some in this place this morning are experiencing. After all, for him, life is nothing but chaos.
Consumed by his own personal demons, he has taken on the name of Legion, for he is not one whole person but is a living, breathing composite of many different wicked personalities. Those people who dare get near him can do nothing but try to confine him in chains. But his demons are so powerful, the chains cannot contain him.
Knowing they are being confronted by a stronger power than they, the demons request of Jesus that he do anything with them but send them back to the place from which they have come – the abyss, or netherworld… wherever it is that demons are born. “The pigs,” they cry out to Jesus, “Send us into the pigs,” an appropriate place for demons, don’t you think? So Jesus sends them into the swine, which promptly jump into the sea and are drowned.
In a strange twist to the story, the people who tend the pigs demand that Jesus leave the area. He has removed their means of support, which seems to be more important to them than the healing of this tormented man. In other words, they would prefer to deal with his craziness than to lose their bank accounts.
It is a terrifying story, so much so that often we try to make it more acceptable – to mask the terror – by joking about it. I had a seminary professor, for example, who delighted in telling his classes that this was the first known instance of deviled ham. As far as I know, he never made it on Comedy Central.
But truth be told, there is nothing funny about what is happening here.
Let’s talk about the pigs. Even though this is Gentile country, it’s close enough to Galilee, you’d think, that pigs aren’t welcome even here. But they’re all over the place. Why? They are there to feed the Roman soldiers, the Roman soldiers who are an ever-present reminder that these people who tend the pigs are in bondage to their captors, the Roman soldiers who lend this tormented man his name: Legion. And as if that weren’t enough, the wild boar was the logo of the Roman legion stationed in Palestine.1 What do you know… and we thought us Arkies were the only Razorbacks!
When you scratch the surface of it, you discover that there’s a lot of symbolism in this story. But when life is just another word for chaos – and you are experiencing your own demons – there’s little symbolic about it. Pain isn’t symbolic; it’s just… well, it’s just pain.
This story doesn’t promise you that Jesus will overcome your pain as quickly as he took away the demons from the man named Legion. But this is what Christ will do: he will come to you in the midst of your personal chaos and offer you his divine and healing Presence. At least – at the very least – you will know you are not alone.
For those of you who will, in just a moment, take up the bread and the cup with trembling hands – and it has nothing to do with palsy and everything to do with the chaos you are experiencing in your life – believe and trust that in that bread and cup you will find the presence of One who can calm your fears and bring you peace.
You see, when Jesus encounters the demoniac, he has just come from an incident on the sea where he had calmed the storm. From here he will heal a woman of her long-standing hemorrhage and resurrect a young girl from death. It is not by accident that Luke places all these stories together. He is telling us that Jesus is more than just a teacher. He doesn’t just talk a good game, he delivers as well. Jesus knows what to do. Jesus brings calm and peace to that which is chaos.
Even in the midst of this chaos – maybe especially when your life is chaotic – Jesus knows what to do… for you. Let the bread and the cup be his Presence to you, so you will know that even when life is hard – really, really hard – you are not alone.
Be present to us, O Lord, as we partake of the bread and the cup. Come into the midst of our personal chaos and bring peace. We pray this in the name of the One whose presence makes all the difference, Christ our Lord, Amen.
1M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), p. 210.
Copyright 2007, Randy L. Hyde. Used by permission.