“Recognized as a Person of Worth”

Scripture – Luke 8:26-39

Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones

Sunday, June 19, 2022


Deep within our psyches, there is a powerful hunger to belong. We are not meant to live as isolated individuals who only occasionally bump into other people out of necessity. We are incomplete without others, and they are incomplete without us.

Of course, living with, working with, and interacting with others makes life a good deal more complicated. We must learn the give-and-take that relationships require. Not always getting our own way shapes us in positive ways and helps us to avoid isolation and loneliness.

Priest and poet John O’Donohue wrote that when we “are cut off from others, we atrophy and turn in on ourselves…(Belonging to family, to friends, to community) is the natural balance of our lives. (Who doesn’t feel wounded when you are excluded?). Belonging suggests warmth, understanding, and embrace. No one was created for isolation. When we become isolated, we are prone to being damaged; our minds lose their flexibility and natural kindness; we become vulnerable to fear and negativity.”1

Today’s passage tells the story of a man who was painfully cut off from others and banished to the outskirts of town. To our postmodern ears, it is a bizarre tale. And if confession is good for the soul, I confess that I was tempted to flip the page and look for another passage to grapple with this week. Now that I’m here in the pulpit and you’re waiting to hear a lucid word, I’m thinking perhaps I should have! You’ll be the judge.

Today’s story informs us that Jesus and his disciples have sailed across the Sea of Galilee from their home territory to a foreign region. This is the gospel writer’s way of saying they have left Jewish land and entered Gentile territory. They have traveled from what is known to what is unknown; from what is familiar to what is strange. No doubt their anxiety level was high because they had no idea what to expect. There were no Rick Steves travel books listing the best hotels and restaurants.

Jesus had barely stepped out of the boat and onto dry land when a man rushed up to him – a man, we are told, who was demon-possessed, and who lived on the margins of town in the cemetery.

The writer paints a disturbing scene of a man who was naked and lived among the tombs. The Gospel of Mark, which also tells this story, includes details that the man howled and mutilated himself with stones. It is a gruesome and horrifying picture.

It seems evident that our story describes a man with severe mental illness. Of course, this was centuries before modern psychology and a scientific understanding of diseases of the mind. So the writer used available categories to describe the man’s condition. Severe emotional disturbance was believed to be the result of being possessed by demons.

Today, we know otherwise. However, if you or a loved one suffers from mental illness, describing the disease as a demon may sound accurate. Mental illness is a dark force that can disrupt – and in some cases destroy – people’s lives. And not only the lives of those who possess the disease, but it can devour family and friends.

Some who have a mental illness will tell you that it feels as if a demon is tormenting them. It can require enormous energy to do things most of us take for granted – rising from bed in the morning, fixing breakfast, choosing what to wear, and speaking to people.

One of the reasons living with a mental illness is so challenging is because the majority of people fail to understand illnesses of the mind. If you suffer from anxiety, it does not help for someone to tell you that you will be fine if you will simply do breathing exercises. If you suffer from depression, you cannot climb out of the dark pit simply by thinking of bright sunshine. If you suffer from anorexia, you cannot recover simply by tanking up on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

If you break your hip or you are diagnosed with cancer, people will empathize with you. If you have mental illness, some will write you off as having a weak character.

The last two+ years of COVID have produced a rise in anxiety, depression, insomnia, and fear. If you are living with any of those, do not suffer alone. Please seek help.

Returning to our story, the man fell at the feet of Jesus and screamed, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.”

The demon that possessed the man was shouting and Jesus asked, “What is your name?” The demon responded, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him.

“Many” is a bit of an understatement. The word ‘legion,’ borrowed from Latin, refers to an army unit of four to six thousand troops. The gospel writer is employing hyperbole to describe a man who was saturated with demons.

The narrator tells us that there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter the pigs rather than being cast into the abyss. So the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd stampeded down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

The first century audience who heard this story heard it on two levels. On one level, they heard a story about Jesus healing a man possessed by demons. On another level, they would naturally think of the legion of Roman soldiers occupying their land. They undoubtedly thought of the occupiers as swine and looked forward to the day that those demons would be vanquished.

So, one way of understanding today’s passage is to hear it as a story that exalts Jesus for healing a man with mental illness. Another is to hear it as a message of hope to those living under persecution that one day the occupying army would be destroyed.

However, to bring this story closer to us, I want to share what I read recently about fourth century monks who left cities in Egypt for the silence of the desert. I know, on the surface, that doesn’t sound like closer to us, but stay with me.

Scholar Dan Clendenin recently caught COVID, and while he was isolating at home, he read about the fourth century monk John Cassian. Cassian left his home in Romania to visit monasteries in the desert of Egypt. He was curious about what these eccentric Christians would discover when they fled the corruption of the city and settled in the loneliness of the desert. He found that they experienced a raging battle in the human heart, a legion of disturbing inner voices. Here is a list of some of the struggles that Cassian observed among the monks: lethargy, sleeplessness, bad dreams, impulsive urges, self-justification, self-deception, seething anger about trivial matters, pious pretense that masked as virtue, crushing despair, wild mood swings, lust, and vanity.”2

Who among us cannot relate to some of those thoughts and feelings stirring within? You do not have to have mental illness to have destructive thoughts. Who has not experienced the demons of greed, jealousy, envy, selfishness, or a passion for revenge?

We are children of God created in God’s image, but demons prompt us to question who we are. We are meant to be creatures who know they are loved and who extend love to others. But demons raise doubts in our minds.

In the novel The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, Sam was born with a condition that left his eyes red. He was ashamed of his eyes. The school bullies would call him “The Boy with Devil Eyes.” He even had a teacher who belittled him in such fashion. But to Sam’s mother, he was perfect. He says it this way: “From the moment of my birth, my mother considered me normal.”

In the hospital room, when Dr. Pridemore came to conduct his examination, she asked the only question that mattered to her: “Will it affect his vision?”

“All I can say is that Samuel’s eyes are very rare.”

“Not rare, Doctor,” his mother corrected, “extraordinary.”3 And she told Sam that over and over again.

Sam graduated from high school and bought colored contact lenses so that his red eyes would appear brown. He studied hard and became – what else – an ophthalmologist. He made trips to treat children in Latin America, and that is where he met Fernando. Fernando with red eyes.

When he first saw Fernando, he remembered every moment of his childhood. He said, “Fernando, can I share a secret with you? It is a secret that no one else knows. Tus ojos son extraordinarios.”

Fernando lowered his chin. But, the doctor said, “Muy especial.” When Fernando retreated into his shell, he said, “You don’t believe me?”

The young boy shook his head. “Ellos son los ojos del Diablo.”

“No,” the doctor protested, “They are not the devil’s eyes. You are one of God’s children…I have been all over the world, Fernando, and I have searched for someone with eyes so extraordinary, but you are the first person I have found to be so blessed. Are you ready for my secret?”

The doctor walked to the sink and removed his brown contact lenses. When he returned to his chair, Fernando’s eyes widened.

“They used to call me the devil boy,” the doctor said. “But you see, I am not the son of the devil, and neither are you. God gave me extraordinary eyes so that I would live an extraordinary life. And I have, Fernando. If God had not given me these eyes, I would never have met you. God did not make you different, Fernando. God made you special.”

Perhaps you are haunted by an internal demon that tells you that there is something wrong with you. There is another voice, it might be faint, but it says, “You are special.”4

You are bound to know people who need to hear a healing word, who need to be included and hear that they are special. Might you be the one who delivers that word?


  1. John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes, (New York: Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 1999), p. xxii.
  2. Dan Clendenin, “God’s Gentle Whisper,” net, 12 June 2022.
  3. Tom Are quoting from Robert Dugoni, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, (2018), p.16.
  4. , p. 382-383.



Prayers of the People

Gregory Knox Jones


Gracious God, on this day when we remember our fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers or any men who played the role of father for us, we express our gratitude for all they did that was right and good and supportive. We are grateful for their love that expressed itself:

in providing a home for us,
in caring for us when we were young and unable to care for ourselves,
for disciplining us when we risked hurting ourselves or others,
for drawing boundaries for our safety,
and for showing us solid values by which to live.

Forgiving God, we also pause to forgive our fathers for the mistakes they made;

for the times they were too impatient with us,
for the times they lost control of their anger,
for the times they were too overbearing
and for the times they failed to provide the guidance we needed.

We forgive them for their human frailties and pray that our loved ones will also forgive us for not being anywhere near perfect.

Loving God, we are deeply grateful for the ways our fathers encouraged us to do our best, for challenging us when we needed a push, for backing away when we put pressure on ourselves, and for celebrating our accomplishments.

We who are fathers, stepfathers, and grandfathers pray that we may discern your guidance and wisdom, and become more patient and loving whenever we carry out fatherly roles.

Eternal God, accept the thanks of each of us for our fathers: for their faith, their love, their time spent with us, their encouragement, and for their hopes for us.

And, on this Father’s Day, we remember how Jesus prayed to you as Father, and now we come to you as our loving parent who desires the best for us.

We thank you for your parental love, always willing to forgive, always accepting us for who we are, and always challenging us to be more than we are.

Now, hear us as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.