Chance Encounters: Christ’s Power to Restore
Topic: Positive Change Scripture: Psalm 13–13, Mark 5:1–5:20
I received a devotional book as a Christmas gift. I love the book. Even more, I love what it represents: a reaching out by someone in our extended family. After some years of distance, the book is a sign of reconciliation. So it means a great deal to me. I give great credit to Leslie for she persisted and never gave up trying to establish a positive relationship.I did some math and realized that if 2018 is our church’s 150th anniversary, then 1968 was its 100th anniversary. What a year that was: war and violence, racial conflict, the assassinations of Dr. King and Sen. Kennedy. It seemed like things were falling apart. Rev. Dick Watts was the pastor that year. It’s been my privilege to read some of his sermons. Throughout that year, and that decade of upheaval, he preached the gospel of peace and justice. I’m grateful for his service and for the witness of the church.
Today we have a challenging text. Few, if any of us, have seen a demon-possessed person. I’m all but certain we haven’t seen demons cast into a herd of pigs, who then jumped off a cliff. It seems a different world from the one we live in today.
However, many of us have known people who were hard to reach. We couldn’t break through to them, though we really tried. They seemed to be doing destructive things to themselves and others. They appeared to be out of touch with reality. Nothing we said or did had an impact. This person probably didn’t live among the tombs and the scent of death, far from society, but there were definite similarities. We believed there was a good person in there. We wish we had the power that Jesus had to free that God-created person inside.
If you’re dealing with a person like that, we pray for you: that you’ll experience God and others sustaining you when there are no quick or easy answers. We hope for some progress for your loved one and also help and comfort for you, the caregiver, often overlooked.
Friends of ours went through something like this. The husband began misspending wildly and spending time and energy with people who weren’t trustworthy. Meanwhile, he was neglecting home base—his wife and family, and his own financial well-being. He even began to look like the lost soul out by the tombs. For a time he was homeless and slept on people’s couches.
Husband and wife were separated, and she at least was able to get her life back together. By God’s grace, the husband has stabilized for the moment, has a job and a roof over his head.
We learn that after a crisis, things can sometimes get better. The smallest improvement, the tiniest act of courage, the smallest of baby steps, can be cause for hope. It’s true in our personal lives, and in our life as a nation. We as a country are in danger. Those who attack the integrity of others do great harm. We need to be praying for our country, and for courage, and for the truth to prevail.
Gospel stories illustrate the power of Christ to bring new life. Things change when Jesus steps into the picture. The tormented man is again himself, his true self, calm and peaceful, and feeling loved and cared for, in Christ’s presence. In fact, he wanted to stay with Jesus and go wherever he went. Jesus instead, sent him back to the community that had rejected him. Tough assignment! How would they receive him? Not well.
When someone changes, even for the better, others aren’t necessarily thrilled about it. The alcoholic becomes sober, the black sheep turns into a good citizen, and those closest to him or her might not like it one bit. “I preferred you safely in that box of ‘bad person.’ Now that you are fully functioning, I’m uncomfortable. Who might be my scapegoat now?”
If we see positive change in someone, can we affirm it? Can we nurture it? It’s a sign of the Holy Spirit. In contrast to the chaos, lies, turmoil, and threats of the demonic spirit, the Holy Spirit brings inner peace, integrity, and joy.
This passage urges us to focus on the Life-giver, Jesus. The passage leaves us with that image: a person restored, in the presence of Jesus, being sent, share that powerful peace with others. This is our true faith.