A reflection on Luke 8:26-39 by The Rev Karla J. Miller
26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
My Name Is
I want to talk about your name.
And what is in a name.
Do you like it?
How many of you were named for a relative, or have a “family name?”
Do you know why you were named by your name?
If you have children, how did you go about choosing their names? Did you wait til they were born? Did you pick out boy/girl names before? Did your in utero baby have a special name until coming into the world?
Tell me (let congregation respond)…
I have asked my mom why my name was what it was…and frankly, she just liked it, and it went well with Kari, my twin sister’s name. Kari and Karla. They were popular girls’ names in Williston, N. Dakota at the time. In my graduating class of 100, there were at least 5 Karlas and several Kari’s.
The thing is, has any one ever called you by the wrong name? The bummer about being a twin is that quite often, people can’t keep your names straight, even if one twin is bald and tiny, and the other chunky with a shock of red hair. Are you Kari or Karla? One of my aunties just resorted to calling us each Twin, so she wouldn’t have to stop and think. It was sort of nickname.
Do you have a nickname?
My mom’s brothers called her “Dot” and “Dottie” instead of Dorothy. She hated that growing up…but now, even in their senior years, they still do it. Just to bug her. I guess that’s what happens when you have brothers.
Do you know if other people have your names??
If you have a computer, you can google your name.
You will be happy to know that a. something about Eliot Church comes up right away—on Boston. Com…..then next the Eliot website, and then, something about Amanda Kaipo (our soprano section leader.)
But did you know that other PEOPLE have your very given name???
I learned that there are Karla Jean Miller’s from Alabama to Texas to California to Brooklyn…
And we have all kinds of professions…
From nursing to campground owners to recycling specialists in California to lectueres at Oxford in England.
When I lived in Raleigh, there was an attorney named Karla Miller. When I introduced myself to my neighbors, they would ask, oh, are you the attorney. “Mmmm, not so much” I would reply….
Most of us would agree that our names are important.
Our names embody our identity, if you will. Sometimes, there are those who don’t think their names fit, so they go through a very extensive process to change their names in order to truly be who they are.
This is very common in the transgendered community. The first transgendered ordained person changed his name from Miriam to Malcolm. In fact, the documentary about his life and spiritual journey is entitled, “Call me Malcolm.”
It is important that our names fit who we are as people. Malcolm was never Melissa, ever. He knew he was Malcolm….and thank God, he had a pastor who affirmed him. She told him, “you know, I think that transgendered people get the essence of God—male and female in God’s image.” Born female, Malcolm knew she was Miriam…female, yet male. Miriam, yes, but really, Malcolm.
In biblical antiquity, we know, names were extremely important, as we know from the multitude of genealogies we find in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Testament. What house name you came from indicated where you came from. For example, Joseph ben Jacob, means that Joseph, is the son of Jacob. In the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, we find women mentioned, which is very unusual of the time. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus ben Joseph and ben Mary was someone different. Someone to be noticed—from a long line of patriarchs a lineage of women who bear to be noticed.
So, in our text today, when we Jesus meets the man possessed by demons, it is no small thing that Jesus asks his name. This poor man, banished to the tombs, homeless, possessed by demons…today we might think he suffered from mental illness, schizophrenia, or worse…lost on the streets because no one could harness his illness.
I remember one very cold winter evening, in NYC, on the upper east side near Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue, a woman, lying on the sidewalk near Crate and Barrell, STARK NAKED, cracked out on drugs, shivering, begging for money for her next hit and the world, including me, averting eyes and not doing anything….she was this demoniac that Jesus met in the tombs…
No one knew what to do.
Jesus knew how to meet this person possessed.
He knows that he is more than possessed.
He knows that he is more than a crazy person.
He knows that he has a name.
And he asks the man at Gerasenes.
“What is your name?”
I wish he had been with me in NYC 13 years ago.
I didn’t ask her name….
No one did.
When the man replies, “My name is Legion”
Jesus knows that is not his real name.
Legion knows that, too. They know who they are dealing with.
It is Jesus.
The one who Knows.
They beg to be released into a herd of swine, instead of the abyss, which Jesus gives permission for. They end up into the abyss anyway.
Those poor pigs.
The socio-political reading of this text is clear.
Legion was a term for a Roman battalion.
Jesus, speaking truth to power,
Turns power upside down.
He sends the occupying forces of Israel
Into that which is unclean,
Those occupying forces,
And Israel is liberated.
This is the hope of those living in Matthew’s time,
And it makes sense.
But there is more.
This poor man of Gerasenes has taken on a name that others’, that society has given him.
Jesus knows that isn’t the right name…
And so his love banishes that name into the rocks…
Into the abyss….
And this transformation
Heals this person…
And those around him are afraid.
Transformation is fresh, new, and scarey.
Even for those transformed.
This man, no longer Legion,
Begs to go with Jesus…
To be a disciple, perhaps?
To cling, perhaps?
Yet, Jesus, says no.
You have a new name, I imagine Jesus saying.
Legion is no longer here.
But You are.
I give you a new name.
You are my Beloved.
Your name is Testimony, telling others what God has done for you.
You are Mine.
Share this Good News with those around you.
Sisters and Brothers,
We all have a name in the realm of God.
It is not shame.
It isn’t “not good enough”
It isn’t even “Eliot”
Our name is Beloved.
Our name is Testimony.
We are charged by Jesus,
Our healer of hurts and disease and shortcomings…
to share this good news of hope and justice and love.
We are Testimony…
We need to tell the world…our worlds,
That all are Beloved
And hold the promise of God.
What is your name?
Beloved of God.
Sharer of the Good News.