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Identity Theft
Luke 8:26-39  9-13-20

Now that every piece of personal information about us is somewhere out there on the cloud, identity theft has become one of the fastest-growing crimes.

In a matter of minutes, someone across the world can clean-out your bank account and ruin your credit.

But spiritual, social and personal forces have long been at work trying to steal your identity.

Today’s passage is set on the east side of the Sea of Galilee in a Gentile area considered unclean and profane by Jews, doubly so because it is a village of farmers raising the most unholy of animals: pigs.

Worse yet, the narrative unfolds among tombs where a faithful Jew would never set foot.

Jews were so concerned with keeping their distance from tombs that they would whitewash them as a way of making them visible, thereby preventing someone from inadvertently stumbling upon one.

It is here in the most unholy of places that a shackled man possessed by an army of demons convulses and thrashes around in an insane rage.

Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to intervene … even storms that the previous verses describe as threatening to swamp his boat and drown the disciples would not stop him.

You know, before this man was tormented by demons, he had been known as somebody’s son – maybe even somebody’s brother or husband – but now all that is left of his identity is “the demoniac”.

A demon can be anything that takes control of your life – whether it is a spiritual entity or a metaphor for some attitude, unhealthy relationship, or compulsion that controls you.

Many of the things that eventually take over our lives start-out as good things like food, work, sex, taking care of people, or a cold beer on a hot summer night.

But they become demonic once they start to compel us to lose the wholeness of our life in order to primarily serve them.

There are a legion of temptations vying for control of our lives.

For years I heard a voice driving me to work harder and harder.

That was a good thing because it made me productive.

But over time it began to taunt me with guilt whenever I backed-off and moved towards a balanced life.

It was my health and my family that were sacrificed on the altar of workaholism.

Maybe you get inner messages telling you that you are not successful enough, not thin enough, or not smart enough.

Each of those voices can so twist and distort the image of God in whose image you are created that you can no longer recognize the holiness of your life, which means you no longer know who you are.

If we go way back to the first human beings, we recall that God gave Adam dominion over the animals of the earth by giving him the power to name them.

Naming is the first step in gaining control over something.

You get a new puppy and the first thing you do is to name it … and then it is yours.

You experience a strange ache and upset stomach and you fret and worry until you get a diagnosis that names your problem.

Once your ailment is named you can manage it.

This is true for us, and it is true for the demons that would possess us: they seek to claim us by naming us with their identity.

That is why racial slurs are so damaging: they take away our humanness and reduce us to a weakened or hated stereotype.

The same with other demeaning labels – fatso, fag, bimbo, incompetent – once we start to accept that identity, we begin to blur the image of God that is our true self.

In today’s narrative, the first reaction of the demons was to name Jesus to try to gain dominion over him,

Luke 8:28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”

Interesting, isn’t it?

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the world was so accustomed to lies and suffering that they had trouble recognizing Jesus as the Messiah.

For most of the gospel, it is demons who first recognize Jesus as the Son of God.

Instead, Jesus turns the table and gets their name – the rage, the confusion of half-truths, the worried, sleepless nights that had become a chaotic mass called “Legion”.

Satan is called the Prince of Lies because distorted truths and lies are the ready tools of demons and despots.

On the other hand, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

The man may be breathing, but his humanness is nearly shut-down.

Jesus exposes demonic forces for what they are by shining His light upon the lies of their promises.

Walter Wink says, “The victory of faith over the powers lies, not in immunity to their wrath, but in emancipation from their delusions.”

Pay close attention to what happens next.

The demons understand that they are no match for Jesus, so they shift gears and try negotiating.

 

Verses 31-32 And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them….

Maybe the demons figured they could just hang-out with the pigs for a bit until everything blew-over; I’m sure they didn’t expect to be drowned.

Once we’ve begun to exorcise the demons from our life, they will try to find a way for us to accommodate them so they can return to fight another day.

“I don’t need to quit altogether, but I’m really going to cut back on my drinking.”

“I’m only flirting a little, it’s just for fun … I won’t do anything serious this time.”

“I know my credit card is maxed-out, but I’ll just take a quick look because this sale is too good to miss.”

“If I just work harder and give more of myself away, then they’ll love me, then I’ll feel accepted.”

Their repertoire of rationalizations is legion.

It turns out that Jesus is not the domesticated version of Savior our Western churches have created.

Dorothy Sayers wrote, “We have very efficiently clipped the claws of the lion of Judea, certified him ‘Jesus, meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale priests and pious old ladies.”

Our domesticated Jesus protects us from the fearsome power of God and the hard challenges of growth, but would leave us unhealed.

The real Jesus doesn’t negotiate with our demons.

Of course, just because Jesus exposes and names our demons does not mean we will get healthy.

We aren’t passive recipients of God’s healing.

We are co-creators along with God of our lives.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck concludes, “The number one problem most people have in life is that they are finally unwilling to do the things that would bring a positive change to life.”

There is a parable about a farmer who had a barn that had gotten old, drafty, and leaky.

Concerned for his animals’ wellbeing, he built a new barn and was comforted to know his animals were now safe and dry.

One night a storm swept through the area.

The farmer decided to check on his animals, and was shocked to find that the barn door had been pushed open, and all the animals had left the new barn and were huddled in the storm within the frame of the old, familiar barn.

It turns out that it feels safer to hold-on to what we know than to face the new.

This may be why the villagers were not ecstatic that their demon-possessed neighbor had come to his right senses.

We get used to how our system works.

We count on people failing in certain ways, and we find it convenient to have a crazy relative as the scapegoat to all our family problems.

We think, “Our life may not be perfect, but we have found a way to manage, so please leave us alone. Do not remove our excuses for why things must be the way they are.”

What I find more alarming than the thrashing of the demons is that when the villagers ask Jesus to leave, he did!

Jesus came to comfort the afflicted, but also to afflict the comfortable.

We welcome the first, but still cling to our comforts.

A while back, I was sitting with someone who was going through a series of difficult problems.

As they were ticking off various losses and challenges, they turned to me and asked, “Where is Jesus in all this?”

My best answer was that Jesus doesn’t promise to save us from all hardship, but he will strengthen us and reveal to us how to get better, do better and be better … and that Jesus sticks with those who stick with him.

Jesus drives away the demons, but then it is up to us to invite him to fill their void.

Whether particular demons are spiritual, psychological or emotional, they all seek to rob us of our identity and make us their own.

They may not force you into the tombs, but it is only a matter of time before they rip you apart with anxiety.

Why would we put up with that when a Savior is in our midst?