Path of Restoration
by Terry Pierce
Terry Pierce is a student in the bivocational-priest program of Iona School for Ministry in the Diocese of Texas. She is also a student in the Masters in Spiritual Formation program at the Seminary of the Southwest. This sermon was preached for the Iona School for Ministry program on March 10, 2012. Terry lives in Austin.
“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you” (Mark 5:19).
Two thousand swine rush into the lake and drown. Thundering noise. Waves of dust like a Panhandle dust storm. I come from generations of farmers and cattlemen, but my mom tells about my grandfather deciding to raise sheep high up in the Panhandle. A norther came in the night — freezing rain and wind whipped across the plains. The next morning my grandfather found the sheep huddled in a circle, dead. They had suffocated. Sheep are the kind of animal that might follow each other into a lake and drown.
Pigs are an animal of a different type. Smart, clever. I asked a Hill Country veterinarian what it would take to run 2,000 pigs into a lake. He had a good laugh, but he was stymied. A few might run into the lake, but the rest wouldn’t follow — unless, of course, they were possessed by demons who were under the authority of an irresistible power.
From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the demons recognized him as the Holy One of God and obeyed his commands. In Mark’s story, Jesus commanded them to come out a man. They did, going into a herd of swine and driving the entire herd into the sea.
The swineherds ran off to tell the people of the city and the country what had happened. Imagine the urgency they must have felt. How do you explain that a significant source of the community’s livelihood left in your care has just run into the lake and drowned? The people came and begged Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the possessed man, now clothed and in his right mind, begged that he might stay with Jesus. Jesus refused.
Now What? What do you do with life renewed?
My step-sister is mentally ill. She is also smart, diligent and kind. We were very close as youngsters. She was incapacitated by mental illness as a young adult. Over the years, I have been a helpless bystander as her illness shackled sanity and reason and left her among the tombs. The demons she has encountered are overwhelming and fierce. They have convinced her that evil spirits lurk in her closets, that her medication is poison, and that family members are conspiring to take her life. I’ve encountered lesser demons in my own life – Demons that left me bruised and howling. The man in this story, broken and living in the tombs, bowed down before Jesus and was given the gift of his life. He was healed. He was clothed. He was put in his right mind.
Now What? What do you do when your life is restored?
Here I am. Healed. Clothed. In my right mind. And my demons have just taken 2,000 pigs that don’t belong to me into the lake. The people of my community are afraid. Maybe they’re a little angry too. Maybe they’re hoping that I’ll get in the boat with Jesus and be on my way. Jesus does not offer that choice. He says, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” And Jesus departs.
Now what? What do you do when Jesus leaves?
Tony Baker, a theologian at Seminary of the Southwest, recently published this on his blog: “The truth is the movement of God away from where we are is part of the everyday rhythm of Christian faith.” Tony continues, “The question for us, I suppose: What are we going to do with the emptiness he leaves behind? Fill it with something else, something more easily attainable, something that won’t walk away? Or drop our nets and follow?” Mark’s story tells us that the man began to proclaim in this Greek and Roman area how much Jesus had done for him, and the people were amazed.
I suspect it wasn’t quite that easy. There are times when my step-sister has respite from her demons. I am grateful when that happens and I am holding my breath against the return of the demons. I imagine this man’s friends were holding their breath, waiting to see what was going to happen next. I wonder if some people might have wanted restitution for the lost pigs. Perhaps people avoided him or ridiculed him. How much easier it would have been to start anew by getting in the boat and going off with Jesus. But Jesus said, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you!”
What now? How will they know how much Jesus has done for me?
Our story as God’s chosen people begins with the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the story of how God shepherded a whole people from slavery to freedom so that he would be their God and they his people. Moses called them to teach their children and their children’s children what God had done for them. God’s chosen people were to observe the commandments and the ordinances so that people might see in the way they lived what it was to be God’s people and how much the Lord had done for them. Jesus makes his way through the countryside casting out demons and healing the sick while calling us to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We followers of Christ have many and varied stories; we are not cut of one cloth. Baptized in Christ and called to serve, each of us is living in the Now What? What does one do with life renewed? All of us have made a choice to respond, some willingly and some perhaps reluctantly. By our baptisms, we have each agreed to live visibly in Jesus’ call.
I can imagine myself at the shore watching Jesus’ boat depart: My mind fills with a thousand questions. How exactly I am to live this new life? How will I know what to say, what to do? Can’t I just go with you, Jesus, for a little while? As his boat draws away from the shore, here I am.
Now What? What do I do with life renewed?
Jesus tells us what we are to do with life renewed – Go. Tell them how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy he has shown you!
Reach Terry Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or leave a comment below.