Sunday, March 30- Wayward Son

     We used to have a VERY large black German Shepherd named Bud. Bud was known to run off if he got loose, so we tried to keep that from happening. We had a walk-out basement and that was the door we would use to put him out. There was a silicon-covered braided-steel cable in the back yard screwed into the ground. (He was a STRONG dog!) We would snap that to his collar and let him out in the back yard to…well…do his business! 
     One nice summer night, I put him out on the lead and went back in the house to do something. A few minutes turned into several minutes and, before I knew it, he had been outside for over a half an hour. I went downstairs and out the back door…to find him gone! GONE! The cable was gone. The screw-in anchor was gone. The dog was gone! And…panic set in. In the blink of an eye, I envisioned several different scenarios- NONE of them good! I ran out of the yard and into the dark, warm summer night, calling the dog. “Bud! Bud! Come here, Bud!” 
     I ran through the yard behind us and onto the next street over. We lived in the middle of a rather large neighborhood and the truth of the matter was…he could have gone just about anywhere. Finding a BLACK dog in the dark didn’t sound very hopefully. As I ran through the neighborhood, SCREAMING, “Bud!” the panic got deeper and thicker. I could barely breathe. 
     This went on for about 15 minutes- me, running up and down the streets around our house, yelling the dog’s name. Just when I was about to give up, go back home, tell my older son I lost his 5th birthday present, get the car and start driving around and looking…there he was! He was up on someone’s porch, about 5 blocks down and 3 blocks over from our house. Tears of joy and relief began to flow. And Bud? He looked up, saw me out in the street, wagged his tail and said, “Hey! Good to see you? Were you looking for me? I’m ready to go home now!” He had, over a few days, managed to unscrew that anchor from the ground. He then traveled all those blocks, dragging that cable and anchor behind him! Once he got on that porch, he got the cable caught and was therefore stuck. In got him untangled and we went home- another crisis averted, another panic defused.
     Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent- the season leading up to Easter- as we continue our current sermon series- Full Promises. This series will lead us right up to the empty tomb and risen Savior of Easter Sunday. Along the way, we are picking out JUST a few of the high points in the life of Jesus Christ to see what impact these stories, and the promises they offer, have on our lives. Notice that the title of the series- Full Promises. As opposed to the empty promises the world offers, Jesus offers us FULL promises…all built on the biggest empty promise ever- the empty tomb of Easter. Through these promises, Jesus offers to empty us of the things that hold us back, that hold us down. The 1st week’s full promise was that your loneliness will be gone. The 2nd week’s full promise was that your wandering will be gone. Last week’s promise is that your paralysis will be gone. And today’s promise is that your panic will be gone.
     Psalm 91:1-4 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. They say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
     Your panic will be gone. What IS panic? It is a sudden, overwhelming fear, with or without reasonable cause, that produces hysterical, irrational behavior. Panic both dominates and replaces rational thinking. If it is not treated, panic can and will impact your relationships with friends and family. It will eventually lead to withdrawal and feelings of helplessness. 
    Panic is such an inherent, predictable response that architects actually try to accommodate the symptoms of panic, the herd behavior, during the design and planning of a building. They try to figure out the best ways to lead people to a safe exit and prevent excessive congestion. For example, a tall, 1’ wide column, placed at a precisely calculated distance from the exit doors, actually speeds up the evacuation process of a large group by up to 30%. The pillar naturally divides the congestion crowd well ahead of the choke point. 
     I heard someone say recently, “We experience occasional moments that are absolutely free from worry. These brief respites are called panic!” Panic is a real part of life. But what do we do with it? How do we deal with it? What does Jesus say about the topic? To answer those questions, we turn to a rather unusual and controversial story found in the Gospel of Mark. 
     Mark 5:1-20 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.  When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me.” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
     Pride is what you feel when your kids make $143 at their garage sale. Panic is what you feel when you realize your car is missing! This story is often called “The Gerasene Demoniac” or, as I like to call it, “The Creepy One Where the Pigs Drown”! So who was this man? We don’t really know much. In fact, all we know is that he is a naked, crazy man who lives in and among the to
mbs. If he were alive today, he would be institutionalized. But we can’t forget that, at one time, he was somebody’s son, or husband, or dad or friend. But now…he is bound by demons! Notice the strong and evil impact these demons had on him- he is “living” among the “dead”. Do you hear the oxymoron inherent in that statement? The truth is that the devil likes you to be in the tombs, with the dead- maybe not those who are physically dead, but certainly those who are spiritually dead. He wants them to influence you, to drag you down into the pit of panic and despair.
     Notice the condition of this man. He couldn’t be tamed- he was wild. He was crying out, cutting himself with stones. He wants to destroy himself- he doesn’t feel worthy to live. 
Day and night, this is his existence. Nothing ever changes. A constant state of panic. And then, one day, everything changed. As he careens between the headstones, he looks up…and sees Jesus far off, headed his way. He runs to Jesus and falls on his knees before Him. “What do You want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” It’s as if he is saying, “Please don’t torture me. No more panic!” When we are in a diminished, panicked state, things like healing and normalcy can seem like torture. 
     Jesus, in true Jesus form, seems to not notice, or ignore, the comment. SEEMS to! He asks the man, “What’s your name?” It sounds like a rather harmless, if not unnecessary question. That is, until we hear who actually answered the question. The answer that comes is, “My name is Legion/, for we are many.” Did you catch that? MY name is Legion for WE are many- from the singular “my” to the plural “we”. It’s not really the MAN who answers…but the demons INSIDE the man. Legion. The actually quantity of a Roman Legion changed throughout history, but the average understanding is that a Legion of Roman soldiers was 5,400. This is NOT just a slightly troubled man- his problems are Legion.
     Oddly, the man begs Jesus NOT to send the demons away- NOT to! The devil you know versus the devil you don’t know. Meanwhile, there is a herd of pigs nearby. Pigs- considered unclean. (Although I wonder how anything that takes table scraps and turns them into BACON can be unclean!) The demons, sensing that their time with this man is about to end, literally beg Jesus to NOT just send them away but instead send them into the pigs. That way they can stay around, waiting for the next hapless victim to come along. And Jesus is MORE than happy to oblige! But to quote that great theologian Pablo Cruise- things didn’t turn out way they planned. Once they are sent into the pigs, the pigs…rush into the water and are drowned taking the Legion of demons with them! Those tending to the pigs run and tell others what happened. When they return, the find a truly amazing thing- this crazed man is now sitting quietly at Jesus’ feet, fully clothed and in his right mind. His panic is gone and he is healed. Nothing could help this man…until Jesus showed up. Then, his life was never the same. 
     In 2002, a movie called “Panic Room” came out. Jodie Foster played a woman who lived with her daughter in a New York City brownstone. Their home was complete with a panic room- a fortified hi-tech room that is intended to keep the occupants safe in case of intruders. But it turns out that the panic room is both a haven…and a trap.  That which keeps her safe is also that which keeps her trapped. So I wonder- where’s your “panic room”? Jesus intrudes our space, invades our secure hiding place, breaks into our panic room. He butts into our most secluded places and intervenes in our well-fortressed lives. But He does so with a promise- He will not leave us abandoned or forsaken. And He will bring us peace in place of the panic.
     Some of the people in this story were appalled. Some of them were afraid. Some were amazed. But the man who was saved was grateful. When we read this story, we often fail to realize that Jesus came across the Sea of Galilee…JUST for this man! Seriously! He stepped off the boat, healed this man and then went right back. He came for solely for this unclean, unkempt, uncontrollable, panicked demon possessed man. He came for this man who had been rejected by everyone- his family, his community, his life. Jesus came to end his panic and leave him in his right mind. The old controls on his life were released and he was now controlled by the spirit of God. 
     Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
     One of the greatest baseball managers of all-time, Dodger legend Walter Alston, said, “Look at misfortune the same way you look at success – Don’t Panic! Do your best and forget the consequences.” Who controls your life? Panic controls many- that sudden abandonment of “us”…the going over to the enemy of our imagination. Is panic in control of your life? Or is Jesus in charge?  Are you allowing panic to cause you to miss out on life?
     Did you see the metaphor in the death of the pigs…and the demons? It happened…in the water. There is a powerful cleansing nature of water- but why is that? It is because Jesus is the water…the Living Water. Without Jesus, life is dry, barren and full of panic.
     But I am here this morning to tell you that Jesus is still in the business of turning around hopeless situations. Are you anxious, panicked? Jesus can bring you the peace you so desperately seek. He brought you here today to be changed, to have your life flipped upside down- or, more accurately, right side up. And He makes this offer- to take away your oppression, your loneliness, your insecurity and your panic. And He offers to replace it with companionship, courage and a confidence in the living Christ. Whom the Son sets free is free indeed. Are YOU free…from panic? 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
     Tomorrow- More Questions Than Answers

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