Aspire Week Three
Bless as You Are
Jeff Jones, Senior Pastor
January 22/24, 2010
Mark 5: 1-20
Let’s jump in once again to Aspire, this series about some of our biggest aspirations. We’ve talked about the aspiration to connect to God, and we’ve talked about how we come to him as we are. We’ve covered our aspiration to become the kind of people we want to become and how that happens. That’s a lot, worth the price of admission already. We are throwing another one in today though, another really big one, the aspiration to make a difference, for our lives to matter, for the world to be different because we are here. Last week was Martin Luther King Day, a fellow Christ-follower who made a very obvious difference in our world, and wouldn’t it be great to think that we could as well. The truth is that you and I have actually been placed here with that purpose. God is ready to go, and today we’ll see how we live out this aspiration. We are going to do that by looking at a passage in the New Testament, a story in the life of Jesus, that is very strange, one I maybe never thought I’d preach—but it has become of the most challenging stories in the Bible to me. If you really are the kind of person that wants to make a difference, this is a great story for you, but let me attach the warning label—it’s a story that is very dangerous to the way we may be currently living our lives.
So, turn with me to the book of Mark in the New Testament, chapter five. I’m going to read the whole story, a funky story to say the least, and then we are going to talk about it.
(Jeff will read passage—no slides)
I told you it was a funky story! I know it raises a lot of questions about demons and demon possession, and how all that works. In this sermon I can’t address that very fully, but I will let you know one of the things that really opens you up to demons is making fun of your pastor. I know that, but this message is not about demons and demonization. We did do a series called Man vs. Wild a couple of years ago that you can look up on line if you’d like to know more, or email me and I’ll email you back a sermon manuscript on that topic.
However demon possession happens, for this poor guy it had happened. You think you got issues, and hey, we all got issues. Just for fun, turn to someone next to you and talk about your issues. Not kidding, go ahead. See, one of your issues is you don’t like talking about your issues, so add that to your list. But however long your list is, this guy had it worse. He not only had a demon, but this demon was named Legion, signifying lots of demons. A Roman legion was about 6000 troops—that’s a lot of demons.
His whole life was turned upside down, ruined. Separated from people, a crazed maniac, in constant torment, crying out and cutting himself with stones to feel something else other than the despair he was feeling. This man lived a life of oppression by demons. Underneath that oppression was a wonderfully gifted person, loved by God, created in His image and placed on this planet with a unique destiny to fulfill…but one that would never be realized until the oppression could be lifted.
This man’s oppression is symbolic of so many today around the world who also face oppression that covers over dignity, destiny, and hope--People oppressed by war, poverty, hunger, racism, lack of clean water, slavery, all forms of injustice. In a land of freedom and prosperity, we can look at the billions of oppressed people around the world and naively think, “Why don’t they just change it? Why don’t they just take responsibility for themselves and get out of that situation?” It’s a modern version of “Let them eat cake,” conceived by people who are out of touch with reality. Those forms of oppression drain all initiative, all dreams, all hope. Until the oppression is lifted, those things stay covered over. For this man, this was clearly the case.
It makes you wonder who tried to help the man. We know they tried to tie him up unsuccessfully, but who tried to help him? Did anyone? Maybe, maybe not—but in his case, the reality is that they could not have done much any way. They needed a power beyond themselves. They needed the power of God, the power of the gospel—not just good intentions. He needed more than temporary help. He needed eternal hope (ooh that’s good).
In today’s terms, he needed more than what volunteers can do—and with the oppression around the world today, what is needed is much more than volunteerism. Don’t get me wrong, volunteerism is a great thing, and the recent trends in our culture toward volunteerism by people who want to make a difference is a very wonderful trend. And when you look at volunteerism in our culture you’ll find something that might or might not surprise you. Guess where the vast majority of volunteers come from? A recent large study found that 70% of people in a faith community, such as a church, are engaged in both volunteering time and giving money to social needs. Of those not involved in a faith community, only 30% are involved that way. So, inside the faith community, 70% are engaged in social needs with both time and money, 30% are not. Outside the faith community, 30% are and 70% give 0 hours and 0 dollars. That’s something to think about next time you hear someone slam churches for being self-serving or irrelevant. The objective truth is that most of the good that is done is done by the faith community.
Yet, what we are committed to is not just volunteerism, not just making a difference through our efforts. We are committed to something much bigger, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, releasing the redemptive power of God. We aren’t here only to do good things, but to communicate and live out the Gospel of Christ. The Holy Spirit empowers that, and that is the only true hope of the world, the only real hope for change.
I will never forget the feeling I experienced the first time I visited Ethiopia, and we looked at the areas where we are now working. I felt so hopeless. Things were so broken and the needs were so great, I remember just blurting out loud this reality, “Without Jesus, this place is hopeless.” But with Jesus, there is great hope, and now when I travel there I am amazed at the power of the gospel, amazed at what God can do through is people empowered by him. Now when I go, I’m filled with hope, because God is powerful, and the redeeming message of Jesus and his redemptive power lived out through his people, is indeed world-changing.
In this man’s life, this demon-oppressed person, he was without hope up until this story. We don’t know if anyone ever tried to help him or not, but what we do know is that Jesus decided to. The fact that Jesus did so is remarkable. The passage says that he went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes, which was not normal. Good Jews stayed away from this region for two big reasons. First, the region was populated by Gentiles, non-Jewish people that they looked down their noses at. Second, the region was known for raising pigs. Pigs were considered unclean, so you never saw a good Jew down at Red, Hot, and Blue eating a pulled-pork sandwich. This region raised pork to feed the Roman soldiers garrisoned in various places in Israel, and it was a despised region.
The fact that Jesus decided to purposely travel to the Gerasenes was a big deal in itself. Good Jews like the disciples would have never done that. But I love the quote I got from Zan Holmes, who will be speaking at Chase Oaks this summer. You’ve got to show up for that. I don’t know where he got it, but he said, “Bridges are just walls turned sideways.” Zan then said, “Jesus never saw a wall that he couldn’t turn into a bridge.” Jesus is a wall-builder, and he just shows up where the needs are the greatest. He does so now through us, but in this story, he builds a bridge to the Gerasenes. And the story simply says he sailed in and then just as quickly sailed out after this man was released from the oppression. Did Jesus come all this way for this just one guy? Maybe. We don’t really know. Yet, he did come.
He lands, and the demoniac comes to him. This man who was isolated from everyone, living among the tombs, comes all the way to the shore to greet Jesus. Notice what he does, he then falls on his knees before Jesus and shouts out, “Jesus, son of the Most High God? Swear to me that you will not torture me?” Who’s doing the talking? Not the man but the demon. Demons are angels who joined the angel Lucifer, now Satan, in rebellion against God. As created beings, Satan or any of the demons are not God’s equals. They can only do what they do underneath God’s sovereign control. The demon, or in this case demons, know that this is Jesus, and they beg not to be tortured, likely asking that Jesus not send them early into the eternal torment reserved for them. Jesus simply orders them to come out of the man and asks the demon to state his name. The demon answers with the Legion answers, and begs Jesus not to be sent away but instead to be able to inhabit the pigs. Jesus obliges their request, and they go into the pigs, 2000 of them, who then quickly charge into the lake and drown.
Sorry about that, animal lovers, but let me assure you that no animals were harmed in the creation of this sermon. I’m kidding. I like animals, and I’m not the one who made them drown. The demons did that.
But forget about the pigs and remember the person. This man was released from his oppression. The love of Jesus transforms a life. This man is now completely released from this horrific oppression. But notice something in the passage. How do the people respond? How many do you see celebrate this amazing life change? No one. Zero. The man is transformed, but that is not what people are focused on.
Instead, what do they do? They beg Jesus to leave their region. Why? Because of the 2000 pigs! Their economy just got slammed. They just lost 2000 pigs from their herds. If Jesus stays around, what might happen next? They are fixated on the pigs. How much is one man’s life worth? Not 2000 pigs! Maybe one or two, but 2000? They just want Jesus out of there. They don’t want their lives disrupted any more than they already have been. They beg him to leave.
And here is where this story challenges the heck out of me. How much is one life worth to me? How much disruption am I willing to introduce into my life in order to help release someone from oppression, whose life is covered over by hunger, poverty, slavery, or injustice? How much am I willing to disrupt my way of life, my own economics, my own comfort, to see lives transformed?
In the case of the Gerasenes, economic concerns made the status quo more valuable than change. Change might be good, and they’d be for it. They’d rather see someone released from oppression than not. They are not mean people. But at what cost? Not at that cost! If you think about it from a macro perspective, economics is what almost always blocks change leading to justice, that keeps the status quo in tact. Those with the money and power conclude that change is just too costly.
From a micro perspective, a personal perspective, it’s the same thing. How disrupted am I willing to be? This Christmas season we participated in the Advent Conspiracy, which culminated in an offering for our global fund during the Christmas Eve services. I was so focused on the services, that on that day I realized Christy and I hadn’t decided the amount we were going to give. We had talked a little about it, but hadn’t made a definite conclusion. I couldn’t reach her to talk about it, and I knew they were coming to the service in an hour or so. I was able to reach Caleb, and I told him the amount I thought we should give to tell his mom so she could write the check. Later that night, after the service, I asked her if he had told her and if she was okay with that. She said yes and told me the amount, which was almost twice what I’d actually told him. My loveable goober son had messed up the amount, and it was a lot more than what I was going to do. At first that bugged me, but then I thought, “Why? So, a little more disruptive than I’d planned, but not life-changing. Why am I bothered, in consideration of what the money will actually be able to do in other people’s lives? Why not celebrate?” So, Caleb was off the hook, but I was still on it, because my heart isn’t quite there.
The big question of this story is this: If Jesus starts disrupting our lifestyle, do we still want him around? This group was not willing to be disrupted that much, so they beg him to leave, and he obliges. We don’t even know how much more he would have done and we will never know. Jesus starts to leave, and the former demoniac begs Jesus to be able to get on the boat and do with him. And who can blame him? I would want to leave those people too.
But listen. The newly transformed man was seeing following Jesus as an escape, and following Jesus is never an escape. Following Jesus is never about escaping your environment, your relationships, but about injecting the love and truth of Christ into them. Following Jesus is realizing that you have been placed with a purpose.
So, Jesus tells him to go back to his people, his circle of relationships: He says,
Slide: ___________________ ) Mark 5: 19
“Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And the man does go, as we read:
Slide: ___________________ ) Mark 5: 20
So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
We’ll talk more about this in a coming week, our opportunity to impact people where God has placed us. This man is able to do just that, and God uses him to make a difference in his world.
How about you? Do you want to make a difference in this broken world? In a world where so many lives are covered over by oppression in various forms, both in our own community and around this planet, are you up for making a difference? Let me ask the question this way: How disrupted are you right now? How disrupted are you willing to be?
Let’s think about that.
Speedometer on White Board
On this simple graph, kind of like a speedometer, with 0 being no disruption and 10 being highly disrupted, right now put one line on the graph that would signify where you are right now. How disrupted is your life in terms of time spent, money devoted, lifestyle challenged, by those here and around the world who are oppressed? How disrupted is your life in the goal of lifting others out of that oppression in the name of Jesus?
Now write another line of what your aspiration is. Where would you like to be on the scale? Write that out. Then look at the gap.
What one step could you take this week or this month to fill the gap a little bit. That step could be to engage one of our local bridges, which you can learn about online. It could be to join a LifeGroup that is focused on various needs in our community. It could be to join one of our school partnerships, become a mentor to a child who right now has no dream for his or her life, or serve some other way. It could be to give financially to the global fund or disaster relief fund, even if it disrupts your lifestyle. It could be to be open to a mission trip this year. Think about it. Pray about it. Choose a greater level of disruption, and in the process say yes to a greater level of impact.