This is an oral event–not an essay
“Possession is 9/10ths of the law”. That is one of those idioms, those sayings many of us learned when we were younger—along with “finder’s keepers, losers _______”. We used those phrases to defend our playing with a sibling’s baseball cards, legos, doll or when we “found” an action figure that strangely resembled the one the kid down the street was playing with the other day.
This reminds me of a story from my own childhood. As I share this story with you, I ask that you put yourself in the story, not as one of the characters, but like in many cartoons—as the model antique. It’ll start to make sense as I tell my story.
When I was a little girl in third grade at King’s Highway School in Zionsville, PA, our teacher must have told us to bring in something that we had made. Kind of like a group show-n-tell. Well, I had no interest in bringing in one of the several latch-hooks that my mom had bought for me to craft. Instead I wanted to bring in a model car. However, in the Winzer household girls hooked yarn and boys built models. Even at my tender age of 8 or 9, I didn’t like that one bit; I knew it was unjust and unfair. So the morning we were to bring our item, I snuck into my older brother’s room grabbed one of his model antique cars, put it in a shoebox, and off to school I went. It’s almost as if I can still picture this prized possession perched right on the edge of my desk, that is until another kid walked by and accidentally knocked it to the floor.
In tears, I gathered up the shattered plastic pieces, put them in the shoebox. And, when I got home from school that day I determined I needed to hide everything—the stolen and wrecked car, the lie). So I stuck the shoebox in the back of my closet. A closet, that I also happened to share with my younger sister Jane, who a few days later went rummaging in, opened the shoebox, and quickly alerted “the authorities” (our parents) to the whereabouts of the missing model car and the most likely culprit—me.
The story could end right there, but one of the few things we people don’t want to own is our faults, our mistakes, weaknesses and complicity. We do not want to own our own sin. So in tears I declared something like the teacher specifically requested us to bring in model cars. I am not sure if my parents actually believed me, but for some reason my father decided to go to school and have a talk with that teacher while I sat and waited in the car. After what seemed like an eternity, I saw my father walk down the school steps, open the car door, and I thought—oh no. Here it comes.
But instead of yelling and screaming, instead of the usual swearing—there was just silence. Silence so thick and heavy it weighed on me. It turned out that the innocent and sweet daughter my father thought he had, was gone. Instead he sat next to a girl who stole and lied. The silence was full of disappointment, betrayal, and loss.
This sermon could so easily have been about how we are possessed by our possessions—in good churchy language how greed or coveting that car consumed me and led me down the path of degradation. Or, how the oppression of sexism invaded my family system causing all sorts of evil. And, in our gospel the man has been occupied by a legion of demons. Of course, a legion is also the name of between 3000 – 6000 Roman soldiers. Imagine the message that sends to the people of Jesus day, of Luke’s day, of any day when we feel possessed, especially in these days when our country feels like it’s been taken over by violence and vitriol. When schools, congregations, and clubs—places that should be safe are targets. We yearn for that Jesus who with his mere words can send the occupiers fleeing and flailing into the abyss of the sea. As scholar Jeffrey Johns notes: “The miracle story is not just about a personal exorcism. It is about the promise of God’s ability to defeat and re-order the disordered powers that afflict individuals and communities”.
Whether this story touches you as a personal healing or as a vision of God’s world order—at the heart of it is a car, a man, a you—a some body so valuable, claimed, owned, a precious possession—that is you.
The thing is, it’s not whether or not we are possessed. It’s who possesses us. In our household, that antique car model was going to be owned by my brother or by me the one who stole it. It’s the same in our world, in the household of God or the household of the world. Each day, each moment we are in a very real struggle to see who’s going to own us—or the economy of this world of hate and violence, apathy, and fear. The systems that seek to run us, use us up like cogs in some machine, producing and consuming—a mere number or label—of our disease or our deficit.
Like the man from Garasene. Perhaps we can make just one symbolic step to acknowledge that even when possessed by demons he was still claimed as one of God’s own.
In so many translations he is labeled a demoniac—as if he was born that way. We don’t say “a cancer person”. We say a person with cancer. We have enough forces, enough corporations, political organizations, ideologies, trying to own us, that at the very least in our language we don’t have be possessed, owned, defined by our condition. In the very least, from this moment let the man Jesus frees from demon possession, be freed of that label—the demoniac—as well. And while we’re at it, how about we remove poverty’s power to take over and possess. In our own words we can declare that there aren’t poor people, but there still are people who are poor, or who live in or struggle with poverty. We can say that there are no longer “the mentally ill”, instead there are people who have depression, or have mental illness. You can be, as Lady Gaga sings, “Born this way” as in gay, straight, black, white, Latino. That is how you are created as a child of God.
And that is what is at the heart center of this story, that the man from Garasene, a man discarded by his own people, a man with lots and lots of demons is even with all that still a child of God. Too many in our world today seem to have forgotten this. That we, each one of us, no matter our diagnosis, no matter our identity. We are God’s precious possession. Claimed by God’s will, mercy, forgiveness, and love. Possession may be 90% of the law, but we are 100% in the heart of God.