In the Gospel we just heard, Jesus asked a man, “What is your name?” He answered “Legion” because he had a legion of demons in his life. We do not use the term ‘demons’ very much, at least we do not use it seriously, as this man was using it. But it is a good word. Our ancestors used it to describe those forces in life that seem to have a life of their own. They used it for physical ailments in ways that we would not, although cancer cells literally have a life of their own inside our bodies. The term ‘demon’ becomes hauntingly accurate when we think of addictions and obsessions, prejudices and preoccupations. The Gospel man knew what was going on in his life. He knew there were forces that had a life of their own, forces he could scarcely and rarely control. He knew about demons and so he stood before Jesus and said, “My name is Legion.”
We are standing before Jesus this morning. And, like the Gospel man, we – from the experience in Orlando and beyond – must acknowledge that our lives have demons in that old sense of the word, realities we scarcely and rarely control. His name was Legion. My name is Legion. Your name is Legion. Our name is Legion.
Our demons, revealed in the harsh flashing lights of police cars and ambulances, have names. One of the best known is called fear. Fear about our own vulnerability as we realize that we and those we love are fragile people in a dangerous world. It is a demon that makes us lash out in protective impulse. When a man caught up in toxic Islam frightens us, we would ban every form of Islam as if the antidote to toxic Islam were a double dose of toxic Christianity, with venomous patriotism as a chaser. Demons do that in our lives.
Another demon is hatred, the kind that makes difference a capital offense. The crudest among us follow this demon into violence. The more sophisticated serve that same demon with indifference. Shooting a room full of people because they are different is considered base and vile. Muting our grief and outrage over victims who are not like us because they are gay or Syrian or live in southeast DC or a place we cannot pronounce is considered worldly and realistic. They both are the work of the same demon.
Presumption is another demon among us—the idea that God would not let tragedy happen to those he loves. The demon whispers to us that faith is a protection plan, a quid pro quo that trades going to church for tragedy exemption. The demon of presumption blinds us to the fact that God did not spare Jesus from suffering, and is quite unlikely to spare us. If Christianity is a protection plan, the cross is a pretty poor logo for it.
And there is the obstinate demon—the one that insists that something that never worked before will somehow work now. Giving out guns to address the danger of guns is like throwing water to a drowning man. It is the kind of logic that says if everyone had a violin the world would be full of music and we would not need orchestras. In spite of that, the demon of obstinacy holds wide sway among us.
Finally there is the demon of freedom. Its name hides its perverse effect. It allows some to love according to their affections and others to hate in accordance with their fears. It allows some to affirm life and others to deny it. Some to build and some to destroy. Its half demon/half angel nature makes it the most subtle and dangerous demon of all.
So what do we do when our name is Legion? Unfortunately there is not a handy herd of pigs to drive them into, as in the Gospel story. We can call God to account for allowing demons to exist in the first place. But God consistently refuses to testify before our committees. The subpoena we keep sending out is called theodicy, the demand that God be accountable to us for the ordering of creation. It does not work, never has, never will. For all of God’s powers he cannot shrink the plan of life to fit between our ears. Demons exist. There are no pigs to send them to. There are no explanations to disarm them. And our name remains Legion.
While an account is not given to us, direction is. In the Gospel story when Jesus was leaving, the healed man begged to go along to get more of what he had seen and experienced in Jesus. But he was turned back with these words, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” In other words, be faithful with what you have already been given. So it was with that man named Legion. So it is with us who are also named Legion.
Be faithful with what we have been given. And what have we been given? Most basically it is Gospel love. Not the Hallmark kind but the Gospel kind. The Gospel love that we have been given is not ours to posses but ours to use. In the face of fear we have love that is willing to be vulnerable. In the face of hate we have love that cares. For the demon of presumption we have love that trusts. For obstinacy we have love that thinks and for the demonic side of freedom we have the generous side of love.
His name was Legion and Jesus sent him to be faithful with what he had already been given. Our name is Legion and we have the same charge—to love vulnerably, caringly, trustingly, thoughtfully and generously. Before such Gospel love the demons cower and the Kingdom of God draws near. Amen.