Reading Luke 8
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes,[a] which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn[b] no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus[c] had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons[d] begged Jesus[e] to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes[f] asked Jesus[g] to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus[h] sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Aristotle believed that courage was the most important quality. The cowardly Lion who followed the yellow brick road found the courage within him for it is within us, more specifically it is in the subgenus anterior cingulate cortex. Therefore it is possible for us to train our minds to face adversity with courage, much like we train our bodies to compete at sport, we train our minds to solve crosswords, so we can with courage. When this is perfected with evidenced based neurological research the world of treating anxiety disorders will be changed forever.
It is not just about facing fear it is about living with risk and uncertainty. We as a family as you know, because you are apart of our family have been living with risk and uncertainty for some months, as Ernest Hemingway put it, Courage is grace under pressure. And we can adapt ourselves. Unfortunately our understanding of religion, and the religious language and symbols that we use can often contradict our ability to train our minds. Firstly we must be vulnerable.
Brent Brown has found that belief in our own unworthiness ensures that we live in fear based lives. Our liturgy in Church is full of sentences like we are not worthy to receive, or the confession. Actually God created us who we are, and loves us for who we are, we have an incarnational theology which means we believe God values and loves us. By doing the I am unworthy, we bow our heads in self protection instead of being vulnerable and saying to ourselves what is the worst that can happen. Brown says courage and vulnerability are closely aligned and having both increases the quality of our lives. That means we must dare to fail- cos actually what are we in fear of.
Secondly therefore we have to acknowledge our fears, that means being honest with ourselves and understanding what we are afraid of. Only then can we be courageous. But being a member of the Church can often mean we are afraid to be honest, honesty begats judgement and although jesus said let he who is without sin cast the first stone, judgement is an unhealthy disease that pervades the Church. Jesus preached forgiveness, that he came for sinners and yet….. And off course we therefore have to ensure we have the opportunity to conquer our fears by exposing ourselves to them. For instance if we fear failing at a job interview, the only way to conquer that fear is to go for a job interview. And when we fail we realise that it isn't as bad as we feared and therefore will have courage to do it again.
Failure is not something that our religion would embrace. In the works of Endo, he writes of the most despicable men who sin again and again and yet he demonstrates that God’s love is for them, and more so for them. And fourthly if we think positively one day we may well get that job, certainly that we all know that thinking negatively can often mean we fulfil our thoughts. There are sports psychologists the world over who make a living out of training there sports clients to visualise winning. By visualising what we can achieve and then acting on it will conquer our fears and anxiety. And yet our religion can confuse that thinking positively negates the grace of God. So how do we reconcile the scientific evidenced based research of psychologists with our religion.
This isn't the age of enlightenment when religion is seen as either an ethical framework or superstitious nonsense on the one hand or the ultimate word of God on the other. We believe that in all things science and religion we can encounter God, and it is those encounters we try to provide for all, and in those encounters open ourselves to God’s love and grace.
We, therefore have to reconcile these seemingly mutually exclusive positions. So let us look at the story of Jesus and the demoniac. The demonic first words to Jesus, other then recognising who he was; are- do not torment me. Basically leave me alone, I am afraid for the future, to risk any change. The townsfolk came out to see what happened and saw the change in the demoniac and were afraid. Change- fear of the unknown. And then that fear spread. The ex-demoniac wanted to stay with Jesus, because anything else was fearful and would have caused great anxiety. essentially he would have replaced one crutch for another, but Jesus sent him away to find the courage to face his fears by ensuring the ex-demonaic was exposed to those fears.
Fear pervades this story, which led me to thinking about this sermon. but God is recognised in not only the compassion, for Jesus did not run from or condemn but treated the demoniac like a person. But also God was recognised in the challenge to conquer the legion of fears which assailed him.God throughout the Bible from Abraham to Jonah, to Jesus and Paul inspires humanity to take some responsibility- jesus said, sin no more to the threatened woman, he said sell all you have to the rich man. Jesus saw in the demoniac the vulnerability but did not say you are unworthy he said what is your name- who are you? And we are called to be honest and say this is me God and jesus released the man from his demons and our honesty releases us. We are no longer afraid and we then allow the grace of God to work within us. It isn't about whether God’s grace or our humanity, it is about both. if our humanity wasn't important and it was purely God’s grace then we wouldn't need the theology of the incarnation that says God indwells within us. If it was just God’s grace then it could be zapped down from above.
Rather it is God’s grace for our humanity that means we should have courage and not be afraid, and respond to jesus’ challenge to the ex-demoniac to return home and declare how much God has done. For the ex-demoniac who had legions of demons leave him was more grateful than those who had just one, for as in the jesus parable from last week that pervades through Endo, the more we are forgiven the greater our faith. Our faith teaches us that to be vulnerable, honest and acknowledge our fears releases us from them, and it teaches us that we cannot hide from them behind Jesus, but actually that very same jesus sent people like us away to conquer those fears. What Jesus taught does not contradict modern science rather gives a narrative to new discoveries of the subgenus anterior cingulate cortex.