Where Has the Wonder Gone?
My father told me the story of a time when he was young and the world came into your living room through the radio. T.V. was still years away, so families gathered around the huge Philco to take in the ball game, or laugh at Jack Benny, or cry over the latest soap opera, or listen to Franklin Roosevelt’s “fire-side” chats. One Halloween night Dad said they heard something so shocking that it caused women to scream, men to load their rifles and children to hide under their beds.
They heard it over the radio so it must be true. The Martian had landed! Worse than that they were attacking our major cities with energy beams directed from flying saucers.
Throughout this program, “War of the Worlds”, the director, Orson Wells had repeatedly told the listeners that it was only a radio drama. But, the format of the program sounded so real it was later determined that of the 6 million who heard the broadcast – 1 million believed it to be true. I can vouch for that. Lots of times I have said things that you have never heard – or you have heard things I never said. It’s just the way we are.
People couldn’t pull themselves away from the radio because we have both a sense of fear and fascination with the unknown and the unexplainable and the dangerous. We hunger for something, anything that is out of the routine, yet we are also a little afraid of those things that are mysterious. That’s why Stephen King novels are so popular. That’s why thousands and thousands flock to Roswell New Mexico to pay twenty dollars to look at a patch of desert some say was the site of a U.F.O. crash. That’s why we must look at the automobile accident when we drive by.
The story we will explore from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark weaves that blend of fascination and fear and danger. When Jesus enters the scene the routine becomes anything but…The ordinary becomes extraordinary. A new sense of wonder and awe replaces the old of cheap thrills. It is the difference between the water falls at Niagra and the Water Slide at Adventure World.
Before we get on this ride, let us pray:
God of Wonder; we live in an age of wonder. Some of us here remember the beginnings of radio and T.V. and automobiles and airplanes. Most of us remember the advent of computers and satellites. Now we take these things for granted. They have become routine.
Yet, our thirst for wonder continues. The absence of awe gnaws at our spirit. Re-kindle within us, we pray, that sense of amazement at your grace which supports us and guides us and ultimately saves us through your son Jesus Christ. For it is in his name that we pray. Amen.
Although they probably never heard the expression, the disciples of Jesus certainly knew the feeling of being thrown “out of the frying pan and into the fire”. They had just come through a storm that had transformed the Sea of Galilee into a washing machine. They had seen their lives “flash before their eyes” as they watched the waves crash over the bow. They had stared at fear square in the eye and they blinked first; fear won – faith lost.
But, the sovereign power of Jesus prevailed. With a quiet command, “Peace, Be Still” the lion turned into a lamb. Whitecaps became gentle waves lapping at the boat.
There wasn’t much time to take it in or reflect upon it, or digest that experience when the bow gently scrapped the shore. They had landed smack in the middle of a cemetery in the middle of the night. From the shadows and beyond the tombstones there came an eerie inhuman moan, and the rattle of chains.
Glances were exchanged and palms became sweaty when the source of the sound appeared in the form of wild man with fire eyes and tattered clothes and dangling chains. The broken chains were leftovers from the time when the people of the region tried to subdue this creature through the power of restraints. But, they’d yet to build a prison that could control his anger. People treated him like a wild animal, and he acted like one. The tattered remains of his clothing symbolized the wreckage of his life. He is condemned to live out his days alone amid the decaying bones of the dead, with no one to love him and no one to love.
It was scary enough to make the disciples want to get back in the boat and take their chances with another storm. When they saw the madman come toward them they were petrified. When Jesus saw him – he pitied. For Jesus saw and still sees beneath the surface appearance to that which really troubles an individual soul. The description of this man reveal that he is as storm-tossed by the demons as the disciple’s boat had been by the storm.
For when this man possessed saw Jesus he ran over to him and the Bible says, he “worshiped him.” (vs 6) Now there is worship which is born of love and worship which is born of fear. This was obviously the latter for the man cried out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (vs 7) Recognition of Jesus could only have come from the spiritual realm, from the demonic. If this man’s problem were only psychological there is no accounting for his special knowledge as to who Jesus really was. Up until this time Jesus had made it a point to keep that aspect of his identity under wraps. Those whom he had previously healed he had cautioned to remain quiet about the source of their healing. (1:44, 3:12) Yet, the wild man with the fire eyes knew who he was and the power he held..
Wherever Jesus goes his holy presence, like some chemical catalyst, triggers an immediate reaction from the unholy. The demons plead “send us into the swine, let us enter them.” (vs 12) They obviously expected worse from Jesus so they were asking for a moment of grace. The Bible says Jesus granted their request for grace and gave them leave to enter the swine, “the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand panicked, and rushed down the steep bank into the sea.” (vs 13)
Up until this point, this story mirrors that of every western you’ve ever seen. You know the plot. The town suffers under the domination of one really bad guy, or a whole bunch of really bad guys. Then the new sheriff comes to town, and cleans up the town and kicks them out. The sheriff kisses his horse; and the people in the town cheer.
That is essentially what Jesus did. He came to the cemetery, kicked the bad guys, the demons out. However, in this story the people of the town don’t pat Jesus on the back. Instead, they are afraid of him. This is the ironic part of the story. When the cemetery man was acting wild and crazy and “out of control”; the people around were afraid, but they thought they could control their fear with the chains. This was the blend of fear and fascination and danger I spoke of. However, they sensed in Jesus a power they could not control or chain in any way. They could predict what the demon possessed man would do. They could not predict Jesus. So, the Bible says, “they begged Jesus to leave town.” (vs 17) Instead of giving Jesus the key to the city, they gave him the cold shoulder.
A frequent battle-cry of the human mind is “Do not Disturb!” We almost hang the sign around our necks as we do on our hotel door knobs.
Do not disturb my comfort.
Do not disturb by beliefs.
Do not disturb my livelihood.
Do not disturb my relationships.
I like the status quo; the way things are.
Well, Jesus disturbed all of that; because he was not and is not interesting in tinkering around with life. He is not looking to make minor repairs. Jesus does not just want to slap a fresh coat of paint on the rust and send you out on the road again.
Jesus was and is interested in building whole new lives, in going under the hood and completely re-building that which makes you go. That is why he told a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus, “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) By that he meant that we are going to start at the beginning. We are going to create a new way of life together.
That is exactly what he did with that cemetery man. You remember his name? When Jesus asked, he said, “My name is Legion for we are many!” (vs 9) A legion was a Roman military unit numbering 6,000 men. The meaning was clear. There were a lot of demons in this man. C.S. Lewis used this same term to describe his own life before his conversion. He said he was, “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.”
Another preacher put it this way, “I feel like 6,000 soldiers inside me…sometimes they all march left and sometimes right…sometimes in all different directions. I’m pulled one way, then another. There’s an army inside me, and I think I’m losing the war.”
To the demons in that cemetery man Jesus did not say, “I want half of you to leave.” Jesus did not say, “I want most of you to go.” Jesus did not say, “One of you can stay.” He said, “Everybody out of the pool.” And they went out of the man and ended up in the sea.
There’s another reason why the people of that town wanted Jesus out. His compassion toward the man named Legion had impacted their livelihood. Some of you may have been wondering why that herd of pigs were there. Certainly, in Israel swine were seen as being “unclean” and not “kosher”. There would be no reason to keep them; except if you were raising them to feed to someone else.
The Roman Soldiers who occupied the land had no compunction against eating pork chops or Virginia cured ham or bacon with their eggs. These pigs were probably raised to sell to the occupiers of the land. When the swine crashed into the sea; their pocketbooks were hit and hit hard. Their message was clear. Our money is more important than that poor man stuck in the cemetery. Jesus had stopped preaching; and was now meddling in their financial affairs.
Calvin Stowe, was a professor of biblical studies who lived in the shadow of his more internationally famous wife, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author the poignant denunciation of slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When she toured England, he preached before a large crowd gathered to observe Anti-Slavery Day. He told the listeners in no uncertain terms that they were hypocrites. They were proud that slavery had long since disappeared in England, but 80 percent of the cotton picked by slaves in the southern states was bought by England. He said slavery would die in America if England would boycott its cotton, and he went on to ask, “Are you willing to sacrifice one penny of your profits to do away with slavery?” The crowd booed. (C. Douglas Weaver, A Cloud of Witnesses, Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys, 1993, pg 139)
For many of us our concern for the bottom line may outweigh our concern for those caught in the grips of suffering. There is no quicker way to get Christians fired up in a debate than to bring up the subject of the use of financial resources to make a statement about perceived evil.
I remember early in my ministry, the little grocery store across the street from our church began to carry pornography. Most of it was much stronger than Playboy, and it was displayed right by the checkout line with no cover or wrapper. Our Session struggled with the question, “Is it any of our business?” Some elders said “Yes, it affects our children and the spirit of the community; so we should encourage our members not to shop there.” Other elders said, “No, it is not our business.” There were two motives at work there. A few did not want to drive a further distance to get their groceries, so making any kind of spiritual or religious statement would have been inconvenient. A few others believed that the Church had nothing to say in any matters that related to business; that business was none of the church’s business. We were only to be about saving souls and making sure people went to heaven.
We eventually decided to speak with the store owner, and he sided with the elders who said it was none of our business. In fact he sided with them in a rather loud and threatening manner. Then, we went to our congregation. Some continued to shop there. Some did not. But, everyone began to think a little more about the spirituality of their checkbook.
One critic put it this way: “What troubles me is that by attempting to fight the demons “in the air,” evangelicals and charismatics will continue largely to ignore the institutional sources of the demonic. By so doing, they will fail to do the hard political and economic analysis necessary to name, unmask, and engage these powers….” (Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992 pg 314.
In years past Presbyterians took seriously the demands to engage evil in our culture. We sponsored boycotts against the Nestle corporation for its aggressive marketing of Baby Formula in third world countries which resulted ironically in infant malnutrition. Presbyterians have boycotted lettuce picked by immigrant workers for low wages and so supported their case for better working conditions. We have guided our investments away from South African countries during the years of Apartheid in an attempt to apply pressure for change. You may have agreed with some of these actions. You may have disagreed with some of these decisions. But, the point was and remains: we need to keep our priorities straight. We need to think about them, argue over them, and act upon them. If we are willing to tolerate the demons so that our pocketbooks may be lined; we line up with those who were ready to ride Jesus out of town for making a man whole once more.
When that man whole left the cemetery and entered life once more; he told the story of what Jesus did. The Bible said, “people marveled.” (vs 20) The wonder they felt was different than the thrills they experienced when his eerie moans filled the cemetery. The awe they experienced this time was the same you experience at the base of the Niagra Falls or overlooking the Grand Canyon or when you listen to someone sing and really believe, “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see.”
Our God is an awesome God. He does not tinker around with life. He is not looking to make minor repairs. Jesus does not just want to slap a fresh coat of paint on the rust and send you out on the road again.
Jesus was and is interested in building whole new lives, in going under the hood and completely re-building that which makes you go. He said, we are going to create a new way of life together.
 (Surprised by Joy. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1955. Pg 226)
 (Eugene Lowry, ACries From the Graveyard: A Sermon,@ in The Daemonic Imagination: Biblical Text and Secular Story, eds. Robert Detweiller and Willima Doty, Atlanta Scholars: 1990, pg 30.