Luke 8: 26-39, 5th Sunday after Pentecost C, June 23, 2013
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
What is in a name? Well, a lot, actually. A name is identity, and with a name comes a personality. So, when someone asks you, “What is your name?” the answer may not always be so simple. Depending on the context, the question may be loaded. Sure, we are often expected to respond with our first and last names. That isn’t always so simple, though.
Another example, during my field education experiences in seminary, because I was not an ordained pastor yet, my title was “Vicar Julie.” Of course, some people called me “Vicar,” and others called me “Julie.” One time, one of my beloved parishioners had a slip of the tongue. Instead of calling me by all four syllables of my title, she dropped the inner two syllables. Instead of calling me “Vicar Julie,” she called me “Vickie.” But if one of her friends asked me my name, would I say that my name was “Vickie”? No, of course not. My name is Julie.
The man possessed by demons in the gospel lesson today is not so lucky to have his real name confused with a nick name. This man has so little control over his body and mind that when Jesus asks his name, the demons reply, “Legion,” for he had many demons in him. This man did not share his name given at his birth because he no longer had control of that identity. This man’s name is Legion.
David Lose says, “I find it devastating that he has no name, no identity left, except for what he is captive to. It’s not Elijah, or Isaac, or John, or Frank, or Jo-Jo; it’s Legion. He has been completely defined by what assails him, by what robs him of joy and health, by what hinders him and keeps him bound, by all those things that keep him from experiencing life in its abundance.”
We may not be plagued by demons like the Gerasene man was. Yet, sometimes our lives are flung out of control just as if we were possessed by demons. Evil spirits may not be taking over our lives, but something else is – sin. Our sins keep us from experiencing life in its abundance.
Today, if Jesus asked you your name, would you say, “Sinner”?
We know that we are sinners, and that is why we confess our sins often and receive the forgiveness that only God can give. We cannot remove our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, but God can – and does – forgive us from our wrongdoing. Jesus sends out the demons inside us, so that our name is not Legion.
During our baptism, God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, washes us with water, and cleanses us from all our sins. From our baptism on, our name is no longer “Sinner” but now is “Child of God.” God has claimed us as God’s own, freeing us to live out our lives faithfully.
Just as the Gerasene man did, we can live out the life that Christ has set before us. Freed from our demons and claimed as Christ’s own, we also can embrace our families, do God’s work in the world, and be a positive influence in our communities.
Like this Gerasene man, we are no longer labeled as "Legion" or as "Sinner," but as "Child of God." We have our own names given at birth, and with each name comes a different calling in life. God calls each of us to beautiful ministries.
When asked, “What is your name?” I do not reply by saying, “Vickie,” “Legion” or “Sinner.” My name is Pastor Julie, child of God.
When you fill out a name tag, you do not write, “Sinner,” but you do write down your name. Next time that you write your name down on a name tag, I want you also to write “Child of God,” for that is who you are.
In worship, we will continue to confess our sins, and we also will continue to give thanks to God for our baptism. Each time we do so, we proclaim that our names are no longer "Legion" or "Sinner" but "Child of God." When we leave worship, God sends us home, now known by our own names, and charged with proclaiming the good news to all who will hear. Amen.