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The possessed man, to Jesus, in the country of the Gerasenes…
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”
Luke 8.28

We, first of all, have to put the story in context: it follows immediately on (in all three of the Synoptic Gospels) from the stilling of the storm.  Jesus and his disciples emerge, from out of the mortal danger of wind and storm in a small boat, into the calm – and on to landfall – and safety.

Safe, they may be, but they are in a strange land.  They have crossed the Sea of Galilee, they have left behind the familiar safe havens of Capernaum, Magdala, and Tiberius, they’re all on the western shore, back in Galilee.

And here they are now on the eastern shore – a foreign shore – they are now outside of Israel, and are at the very edge of the wilderness – where there may well be dragons, or, at the very least, demons!

There is a city there, a city of sorts (somebody has to live at the edge of the world!), and the first local they meet, true to form, has lots of demons, legions of them, in fact.

He was a strange man, this ‘Legion’: a deranged nudist, living down among the dead; a storm of a man himself, who had to be tied down for his own safety, or maybe, perhaps, just out of fear.

And yet this foreign, non-Jewish, possessed and troubled soul – recognised what had washed up onto his shore, recognised the person (and status) of Jesus; and recognised that he wasn’t there just to sightsee.  “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

This in stark contrast to his disciples we note, who just prior to landfall, had exclaimed (Luke 8.25):  “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

And contrast all this to the prophet Isaiah (65.1).  There we find a God who is desperate to be sought, and found, and recognised, by those, as it were, ‘on the other side’, almost jumping up and down in his eagerness to be noticed:
“I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, ‘Here I am, here I am.’ to a nation that did not call on my name.”

To a people indeed:
“…a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks;
who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places;
who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels…” (Is.65.2-4)
– all those who just pay lipservice to God’s covenant love.

 Jesus, on the other hand, crosses over boundaries, into alien and hostile territory – setting free those shackled by their own demons, snatching them back from the brink of the abyss, re-clothing them with dignity and respect, and restoring them to humanity.

 St Paul, who had himself crossed over from Judaism to become a follower of Jesus, and who clearly had his own demons to contend with, knew that we all have to be set free, re-clothed, and restored, in Christ, in order to become who we truly are, who God has destined us to be:
“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ.” (Gal.3.27-28)

 We all have to cross that storm-swept sea.
We all have to step out onto that foreign shore.
We all have to live, for a while maybe, down among the dead men.
We all have to cry, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
– in order to discover ourselves, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in our right minds.

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“In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week,
the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews.
Jesus came and stood among them.
He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.”
John 20.19

 “…the doors were closed…for fear of the Jews.”…!

 Fear is a very powerful human emotion…
          – and comes in two ‘varieties’…

 ■        ‘Outside Fear’…
          – fear that originates mainly ‘outside’ of ourselves…
          – fear of something real and threatening…
          – fear that has good reason to be…
                   – standing in the middle of the fast lane of a motorway
                   – climbing into a cage of hungry lions…
                   – being at the receiving end of an artillery bombardment…
          – a variety of fear that is relatively uncommon
                   – stuntmen, lion-tamers, and residents of the Middle East excepted…!

■        ‘Inside Fear’…
          – fear that originates mainly ‘inside’ of ourselves…
          – fear that starts in our hearts or our heads…
          – fear, not of ‘what is’,
                   but of ‘what might be’…
          – fear of the possible,
                   but not necessarily of the probable
          – fear that has little or no reason to be…
          – a very common variety of fear…

 The way that fear works is different for each variety…
         – the different sorts of fear have different sorts of power…

 ‘Outside’ fear releases adrenalin…
          – makes us alert…
          – gives us energy…
          – the ‘fight or flight’ response…

 ‘Inside’ fear, on the other hand, shackles and binds us…
          – makes us prisoners…
          – prevents us from living a full and free life…
          – disables and cripples us…

 When John writes that “the doors were closed…for fear of the Jews”
          – he means more than the physical doors of the room…
          – he means the emotional state of the disciples…
                   – abandoned/bereft…
                   – the doors of their hearts shut too…
                   – locked in by their own fear…

 We all have these ‘inside’ fears that shut and lock our hearts…
          – fear of humiliation or ridicule…
          – fear of what others might think of us…
          – fear of being shown up, or making a fool of ourselves…
          – fear of saying/doing the wrong thing…
          – fear of failing (ourselves/others)…
                   – the list is endless…

 Some of these fears may be grounded in reality…
          – many/most are not…
          – they are fears that exist only in our own heads
          – but they can still disable and cripple us…

 “Jesus came and stood among them.  He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.”

 Jesus comes to set us free…
          – he comes to break all the shackles that bind us…
          – he comes to unlock the gate to new/true life…
          – he comes to bring his peace to us…

 His resurrection demonstrates that the greatest limitation in life: death itself…
          – has been overwhelmed by his victory…

 And if the greatest limitation of all has been eradicated…
          – then so too all the lesser limitations…

 He has broken open, not only the closed doors of the tomb…
          – but also the closed doors of our hearts and lives…
          – we no longer have anything to fear…!

 Love has conquered death…                                                                             1Jn.4.18a
          – “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…”                                       

 A rider to all this…
          – the Church has used the power of ‘inside’ fear…
          – particularly the fear of the consequences of sin…
          – and despite the clear assurances of Jesus that he has taken away our sin…

 When Jesus says…                                                                                           Jn.20.23
     “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;
      
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

 …we perhaps too readily equate them with the ‘power of the keys’ given to Peter…     Mt.16.19
     “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,
     
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

 …and interpret the words as meaning that the apostles can turn forgiveness on and off…!

 I think that Jesus more probably means that the more we hang on to the notion that our sins
(and those of others) can remain unforgiven, then the consequences are the same as if they were unforgiven…
          – in other words, we can, through an unwillingness to let sin go,
         actually feed that inner fear that shackles and locks us up…

 Jesus has forgiven our sin…
          – he has released us from it…
          – but we still seem to have the knack of hanging on to it…
          – and thereby letting it hang on to us…!

 Jesus comes and stands among us…
          – and says to our hearts: ‘Peace be with you – you are set free’.

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