2015 Evensong Sunday 8th February Luke 8:26-39
At the age of 15 I read the book 'The Cross and the Switchblade' - it was considered to be the story for all teenage Christians to read and was subsequently made into a film. It told the story of a minister in New York City, and centred on the life changing story of Nicky Cruz, who was considered to be a hopeless case. Brought up in a rough part of Puerto Rico, even his spiritualist parents found his behaviour too much to handle. His mother labelled him Satan’s child and sent him to live with his brother in New York. But Nicky ran away and began a life of violent crime fuelled by drink and drugs, eventually becoming the leader of a notorious 1950s New York gang. He was arrested countless times and a court psychiatrist is described in Nicky’s own biography, Run Baby Run, as saying the only future for Nicky was the electric chair.
But his life was not doomed. Through the work of the street preacher David Wilkerson, he discovered the love of Jesus and became a Christian. His life was utterly transformed; he has spent the last fifty years working as a worldwide evangelist and has set up organisations to help troubled teens overcome the problems that once cursed him.
This evening, we heard of another man who was considered a hopeless case and how an encounter with Jesus transformed him, too.
Luke shows us that this was no chance encounter, Jesus, he tells us, had made a decision to cross over the Sea of Galilee into this Gentile territory. His journey appears to have had the sole purpose of meeting this desperate man.
Luke has described Jesus dealing with demons before, but this is an extreme case. This man was tormented by not just one spirit but a legion, indicating a vast number, as a Roman legion consisted of up to 6,000 men! People had tried to prevent this man from hurting himself by restraining him in chains but he was so strong when worked up into a frenzy that he’d simply snapped his bonds. He lived as a wild man where no one else dared to go: amongst the desolate and deserted tombs – naked, howling and harming himself with rocks (is how Mark in his gosple describes him.). He was beyond human help.
Yet Luke shows Jesus transform this desperate man. Christ had a power to help that others had not, for Christ’s power was of God. He exercised divine authority over evil, terrifying this horde of demons and driving them out with a simple command. This troubled man, considered beyond hope, was now restored to full health. Indeed, he is even described as sitting at Jesus’ feet – a sign of a committed disciple. It is no wonder that shortly after this event, Peter, the disciple, finally understood that Jesus was not just a teacher, but God’s Messiah (Luke 9:20).
Many people think of Jesus as just a good man. Luke makes it clear that he was much more: he was divine. Christ possessed God’s incredible compassion and his almighty power. Jesus demonstrated God’s boundless love when he crossed over a tumultuous stormy sea into a foreign land with the sole purpose of helping just one desperate man. Christ showed he possessed God’s authority and power over even the most terrifying evil by driving out a host of unclean spirits, completely transforming this man’s life.
But are such dramatic transformations things of the past? Is the compassion Jesus had for the desperate and the power he had to change their lives something only effective when Christ dwelt on earth? Luke would say no, for in the book of Acts he describes Christ as continuing to turn lives around even though, by then, he had ascended to heaven. He shows Christ doing this through the activity of the Holy Spirit and by the Spirit’s empowering of his disciples to carry on his transforming work. Furthermore, the amazing conversion of Nicky Cruz demonstrates that God’s Spirit is still revolutionising lives today.
People had given up on both the demoniac and Nicky Cruz. They had tried to help them again and again but without success. We too may know people and encounter circumstances that seem beyond hope: people whose problems appear completely insurmountable, circumstances that seem so black that there seems no escape from them, places so desperate that life there goes only from bad to worse. The stories of the demoniac and of Nicky Cruz and many more, possibly our own; encourage us to have hope even when faced with the hopeless: to keep on praying and seeking the power, compassion and wisdom of Christ in these situations, believing that God does care, that he can work through us and he can change things – for if God can transform these two desperate men, God can change anyone and any situation. WE are not called to keep this good news to ourselves. Jesus made a specific journey. He had heard of a particular need and went to help. What are the needs that surround us - where might God be calling us to help either as individuals or as his Church? One of the things that I am very keen to hear at the moment are what are the specific needs of our community here in Uckfield. Where are the gasp in provision to support people in their lives. So that as God's church we might be able to provide services that meet those needs for the unemployed, those in debt possibly, or those who have relational difficulties , estranged fathers who wish to meet their children. What are the needs - where are the gaps where we can help - so that like the demoniac, like Nicky Cruz, others may come to the feet of Jesus as his disciples.