Look What God Can Do
Scripture: Luke 8:26-39
One of the movies that the family and I went to see recently was Toy Story 4 - and there was a narrative that ran throughout this film that I found pretty fascinating:
Forky repeats a refrain - "I’m trash." He asks constantly, does he have value? Do he have worth?
Forky believes he belongs in the trash. He is not a toy. He does not have value. His purpose is something other than bringing joy to this world.
For the little girl, Bonnie, who delights in all of her creations and her imagination, even trash has value and deserves to be loved.
Spending this past week with middle school kids at Camp Mary Mac, I am reminded the little subtle ways that young people are told that they don’t have value - that they are trash. They are criticized for their weight and appearance. They internalize messages about beauty and value. They don’t feel like they are good enough. They aren’t always listened to. Adults can sometimes reinforce those messages with a harsh word or a quick judgment or an insensitive remark meant as a joke. And then those kids turn around and do what we taught them - they criticize each other for not measuring up. They trash one another.
The stories of teenagers who are assaulted by powerful men but then not believed by authorities and investigators is one of those messages that says to young people - you don’t have value. When a young person is hurt and then there are no consequences by our legal system, it tells our young people that their pain is less than other people’s pains. Then we diminish them to the garbage heaps of our world and grow up to do the same to other people who don’t fit in the approved boxes or have the right connections or physical appearance.
Are you trash or treasure?
Jesus’ ministry among the Galilean people is a ministry among people who may have been told or led to believe that they are trash.
The man in this story is possessed by demons who call themselves LEGION. There are many of them. They overwhelm him and have him behaving in ways that are not life-giving, that are harmful, that are frightening. But just as the man is occupied this force of demons, the whole Galilean countryside is occupied by actual legions of soldiers. This is occupation upon occupation of expectations and violence and power that has the people acting out of their right minds as God’s beloved people.
This man’s family and townsfolk, the people who should be the first to care for him, have chained him up. They’d rather dump him where the dead things are, toss him out with the trash, than figure out a possible caring for him and his problems. I know his family were certainly exhausted - maybe this was the only option they had left - tossing him out to rot among the dead as a way to avoid and forget about this problem.
But Jesus comes along, and Jesus is in his right mind. In Philippians 2, Paul says that the mind of Jesus is that of a servant, one who comes to serve even the lowliest. And so Jesus does not see this man who is bound up among the dead things as someone unworthy of his time - but actually quite worthy of a touch of God’s ability to make trash into treasure. He casts out the demons that possess this man with the life-giving power of God, forcing those spirits of evil down into a herd of pigs. And those swine go rushing into the water in probably one of the stranger images of the gospels.
Those pigs plunge into the waters become a strange sign of God’s reign breaking forth - the unclean things, since the faithful Jews of Galilee may not have been caring for the pigs out of their own freewill, since pork was not eaten according to the law of Moses, were rid of the landscape so that something healthy and new could potentially take root.
This strange act of healing became a sign of freedom.
That Jesus came to free us from our occupying powers - whatever that occupying power might be.
Free us from our critical thinking.
Free us from ways that keep us dominated.
Free us from a life that seeks only to dominate others.
Free us from a life without accountability in how we care for others.
Free us from looking at ourselves only as trash that can’t beloved and can’t bring joy to this world.
Jesus offers this man freedom - and he is suddenly in his right mind. Suddenly, he can see and think clearly. Suddenly he understands that he doesn’t belong chained up but back as part of his family and his community. Suddenly, he knows he is a child of God ready to praise God for the wonderful things the Creator is doing in his midst. This man couldn’t sing a praise song just moments ago - but Jesus changes his life in such a way that he is ready to go worshipping and shouting and proclaiming the good news throughout the city.
Jesus tells this man to go and tell the world what God has done.
Look what the Lord has done for me.
Look what the Lord has done for you.
Look what the Lord has done for those who are occupied by violence, power, pain, and self-hatred.
The man explains what God has done. He has transformed a lowly life into something special.
Kind of like how a little spork can be transformed into more than trash but a friend.
Kind of like how a bunch of middle school kids can experience a week without put downs, with laughter, with counselors who invest in them and love them just as they are, and give them space to get in their right minds.
Kind of like how we a church of a 100+ people can arrive at this table each Sunday as a mess and leave with a little more hope, a little more luster, and a lot more love.
One of the closing rituals of our week at camp is for the older kids to pass the light of God on to those campers in the grade below them. Their act of passing the light is a way of saying - look what the Lord has done. Look what God can do in your life. Look at what God can do in the sacredness of church and community. Look at what God can do with my life. Go and share that good news that -
God can transform trash into treasure.
God can transform even beat down lives into something wondrous.
God can touch lives in this complicated and difficult world.
Look what the Lord can do!
Look upon us, O Lord,
and let all the darkness of our souls
vanish before the beams of thy brightness.
Fill us with holy love,
and open to us the treasures of thy wisdom.
All our desire is known unto thee,
therefore perfect what thou hast begun,
and what thy Spirit has awakened us to ask in prayer.
We seek thy face,
turn thy face unto us and show us thy glory.
Then shall our longing be satisfied,
and our peace shall be perfect.
(Augustine, 354 - 430)