6/20/04, P3C, Father’s Day
Wild and Crazy Guy
ou could see him walking through the neighborhood day and night: Intense, in a hurry, purpose driven. But suddenly he would stop, as if he had forgotten something, and turn right around and go marching off in the opposite direction. None of us were afraid of him, he was a “happy go lucky” kind of guy. I first met him in the gas station where guys sat on Coca Cola crates around a pot bellied stove in winter and spit tobacco juice against the stove to hear the sizzle. “Is your name really Dolly, I asked?” He responded, “Yeah, I'm Dolly, what your name?” “My name is Bobby.” I said. Dolly responded, “Bobby is a funny name!”
The folks in Gadara had a Dolly, except he was dangerously full of demons and the neighbors were afraid and kept their distance. He screamed in the night from his hiding place in the tombs. They called him “Legion,” or “Mob” in Peterson, and some of the other modern editions, which meant that he was full of a legion; or, mob of demons. Note that his real name given by his mother was lost and Legion had been identified by his demonic possession. Eugene Peterson says that Mob “was a victim of demons.” He did not ask for demons, but they were somehow thrust upon him. We still identify persons with their demons: alcoholic, druggie. The good news of this story is that Jesus can forgive and set us free from forces that control and destroy our lives.
Although all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, the three that correspond with each other more closely than with John, contain this story, Matthew leaves many parts of the story out, and Mark, which is the most abbreviated gospel, gives the most details in this particular story. This probably means that Mark felt that the healing of a demonic gentile was a significant part of Jesus' biography. Or, perhaps Mark was there and was especially moved by this spectacular event. Mark even adds that the number of pigs that were temporarily demon possessed and then quickly drowned was “about two thousand.” (Mk. 5:13) That is a lot of pork. We do not have to wonder why the pig farmers were upset.
Note that the citizens of Gadara were afraid when they realized that Mob had been set free of his two thousand demons. They had learned to cope with the wild and crazy guy, but now that he was healed and was able to converse logically, they were afraid that he would shake up their comfortable life style.
Legion wanted to follow Jesus as a disciple, “Let me get in your boat and follow you.” However, Jesus assigned Legion to the Gadara circuit: “Go back to your own people where you can speak the language and evangelize them by sharing your story about what Jesus has done for you. Legion did go throughout his homeland witnessing and when Jesus came back to Gadara he found a large group of persons who had responded to Legion's evangelistic efforts. There are believers still today in Syria who trace their Christian roots back to the witness of Legion.
During my six years preaching in the heart of one of America 's great cities I got to know a lot of “Street People.” That was the name that they preferred. They saw the “homeless,” as young couples down on their luck sleeping in their car. Or, a homeless person was perhaps a mother who had been abused and was on the run with her kids. The Street People would give homeless folks money. The dirty old follows that we see wandering aimlessly throughout downtown Atlanta are living a lifestyle that they have chosen. We could classify some as victims since all are addicted to alcohol and drugs. Some would quit their life on the street for a while; perhaps go home for a funeral, or to keep an important appointment. One old boy inherited money and went to the reading of the will, but was soon back reclaiming his sleeping position in the door of our church.
When I was boy I heard my Dad remark that a preacher is not supposed to make personal references. However, Fred Craddock, and other professors and preachers have changed all of that. We now know that personal experiences in the daily life of the Gospel working in our lives, is the most powerful tool we have. Legion's testimony about what Jesus had done for him evidently bore great results.
However, not everyone received news about Jesus gladly. “…a great many people from the Garasene countryside got together and asked Jesus to leave—too much change, too fast, and they were scared.” (Peterson v. 37) Fear of authentic religion is a dangerous thing. Yet, folks are typically afraid of that which they are unfamiliar with. This is where we leave it with the Holy Spirit. After all, our witness, our sermonic best is lost unless the Holy Spirit takes it up and applies it.
The highlight of this year's North Georgia Conference for me was the two sermons presented by Dr. Bill Hinson, recently retired from Houston 's First United Methodist Church . He was recruited there from the South Georgia Conference. Bill had the craft down. He has a great voice and delivery. At times there is hardly any South Georgia drawl. But when he gets to re-telling his stories and applying them to his text and topic, he is at his best. Yet, he repeated several times how he was utterly dependant upon the working of the Holy Spirit in the hearer's hearts. This is the end of fear. Folks who hear the Gospel through the power of the Spirit have no fear and are able to catch the vision.
No fear. This was the difference in Legion. After the eradication of his demons he was refilled with the Holy Spirit and folks must have felt his love and grace.
This was the joy that surrounded our Dolly back in Asheboro . I used to sit with Dolly in the balcony of my Daddy's church. One night an evangelist from Georgia was preaching and Dolly was moved by the Spirit to respond to the altar call. He stood up straight and walked down the balcony stairs and then straight for the altar rail where we knelt together with hearts open.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor