The evidence comes in two forms. First, one time, we took the green Chevrolet into the mechanic’s shop to have it checked out for a long trip. Came back an hour and a half later, mechanic comes out of the garage and says, “When you brought that car here, it had no liquids in it. It had no gas, no oil, no transmission fluid, no brake fluid, no water in the radiator. That car was not supposed to be able to move. But it moved. Clearly, biker angels.
Second line of evidence. In that car, my dad could get away with almost murder on the interstate. He had a lead foot, so he would be driving, sixty-five, seventy, seventy-five in a sixty mile an hour zone. Police officer would pull him over. Dad would look up at him with that face which made everybody feel comfortable, everybody feel like they could be themselves, that things were probably going to turn out okay after all so hey, let’s have a party. Police officer would say “Just drive slower, okay?” Dad would drive slower, for about two hours. Angels.
Dad would worry a lot at the beginnings of vacations. We would traverse the long red clay hills of central Alabama and southern Georgia. He would say “I don’t know. I just don’t know. The Wilsons say they might move to Birmingham. Who’s going to take over the Sunday School if they do? I think this Jeff and Franci are having trouble in their marriage. Haven’t seen the Fergusons in church for a while."
Worrying can pull us away from our families.
Eventually we would arrive at a hotel in a village in the blue ridge mountains of North Carolina. Mom and my sisters would stay at the hotel with their murder mysteries and card games, and early next morning Dad would take me to a place that they had proclaimed too muddy for them: the emerald mine.
We were late, always. Dad would roar through the windy roads of the Blue Ridge in the green Chevrolet station wagon, biker angels in full throttle. We would turn onto a one lane gravel road, one lane, as in if you meet a car coming the other way you have to back off onto the side. Dad driving, windy, steep slope off the side so if you slide off the road you roll about thirty yards into the trees below. Dad, “Honking, Honking” on the horn as he zooms around the curves so that anyone coming up ahead coming the other way will know to move over quickly, dust and little rocks flying from the rear of the station wagon.
We would break out of the trees onto the pastureland at the top of the mountain, which had been cleared for about a hundred years. You could see over the Blue Ridge, sunlight blazing on the trees, patches of shadow cast by the clouds dappling the sides of the mountains with deep forest green. It was glorious.
Gentlemen, it is a privilege and a blessing to spend time with our children. Whether they are our own children, or the children in our community and world. When we spend time with our children, free of worry, free of concern over whether they are doing it right or we are doing it right, whatever it might be, we are opening a window on heaven. When we spend time in behalf of our children, whether they are aware of it or not, whether they even know our names, or not, the time we spend for them is time we spend being the hands of God.
In the Gospel lesson for today, a man has been driven away from his children, whether his own or those of his community. He is driven off into the tombs, naked, crazy, fleeing, possessed by a legion of demons.
We also have legions of demons around us, who seek to tear us away from our people. Demons of worry, demons of addiction to alcohol or drugs or pornography or work. Work is a good thing, but sometimes we use work an excuse to run away from problems at home. “Sorry, honey I have to work.”
Anger is a good thing. God gave us anger to defend ourselves and our families, keep the peace and stand up for the weak in our community and world. But sometimes we would rather feel angry than helpless, rather feel angry than hurt. A man is not supposed to feel helpless and hurt.
When we deal with people, and especially children, we will have times when we feel helpless and hurt. It’s a part of the journey of the cross to simply be there with our children even though we don’t feel strong.
Lots of demons seek to separate us from our families, drive us into the tombs. Here’s some good news. Jesus comes to us amidst the tombs. Jesus does not just wait for us to get it together to find him in church. Jesus is in the church. As long as we proclaim Christ crucified and risen for the world, Christ will be in the church, even when the church fails, even when we disagree, Christ is still there. But Christ is not just in the church.
Christ comes to us amidst our addictions, in the height of our anger, in the depth of our busyness, in the bondage of our worry, Jesus confronts us.
Now, I wish I could say that Jesus waves a magic wand and makes the demons go away. But we all know that Jesus does not usually work that way. Demons do not come out quietly. What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.”
The demons negotiate with Jesus to be thrown into this herd of pigs. Pigs go crashing down into the lake. Some people say “Hey wait a minute, that’s not very nice to the pigs.” Others say, “That’s expensive.” Which is true. Pigs recently are eighty-seven dollars a head. Over a thousand demons in a legion, so that’s over eighty seven thousand dollars.
It’s chaotic. People will be afraid if we change. People in the village are afraid. Give up addiction to alcohol, our drinking buddies, won’t like it. Give up addiction to worry, people are going to act strangely around us, because we are different, changed. It can be expensive, chaotic, strange.
But isn’t it worth it? Isn’t it worth every penny to sit, at last in our right mind, clothed, at the feet of Jesus? Jesus sends the man back to his community, not possessed any more, but as a blessing. Jesus sends us back to our families, to be a blessing too.
My father and I would descend from the mountain top to a little nook in the hills, where the emerald mine sat. It had been operated by Tiffany’s in the early part of the twentieth century. Now, unlike other tourist mines in that region of the country, they did not put gems into the rock and mud that the tourists sifted through. All the emeralds came from that very stone.
Workers would rev up a diesel powered winch attached to a long steel cable, which would pull a mine cart out of the tunnel on steel tracks, like little railroad tracks. We would line up along the tracks, and they would dump the rock and mud between them. Then my father, who spent the rest of the year encouraging people to love one another and to set the values of family and relationship above the lure of greed, got to elbow and shove his way around, grabbing as many stones and shoveling up as much mud as he could possibly get his grimy hands on. He loved every second of it.
We would bring our full buckets down to a pond nearby and wash the rocks and sift out the mud in screens. Every once in a while, we would pull out a green emerald, wet and brilliant in the sun, usually of no particular worth, except for the inestimable, priceless value of the time that we had spent together, finding it.
Gentlemen, Jesus meets us among the tombs, casts our demons, and sends us back to family and community in our right minds. He does that every day. Watch for the priceless gems around us, the moments of connection and honor and love. Watch for the God that saves us.