Proper 7, Year C, St. Paul’s Church, Murfreesboro

“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (Lk. 8:39).

“I love to tell the story,” goes the old hymn; “`Twill be my theme in glory/ To tell the old, old story/ Of Jesus and his love.” The hymn reminds us of the importance of story in the Christian life, on multiple levels. Our Lord himself told many stories in the course of his ministry: the parable of the Good Samaritan, the parable of the Lost Sheep, the parable of the Prodigal Son. These are all memorable stories that explain the nature of the Kingdom of God; all are inseparable from Jesus’ own ministry of miracle and healing that demonstrate the presence of that kingdom in him.

But the “old, old story” of the hymn doesn’t refer to a story Jesus told; instead it refers to the story about Jesus, the story told in the New Testament and prefigured in the Old. Christians believe that all Holy Scripture points to him. The great narrative arc of the Scriptural story leads us from the creation of all things in Genesis, all the way to the re-creation of all things in the Book of Revelation. In this story the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the central event, the very heart of the story itself.

The journalist Joan Didion wrote that “We tell ourselves stories in order to live… We live entirely… by the imposition of a narrative line” (White Album). In other words, the story, and its telling, imposes order upon events. We create the story that we want to tell. The thing is, the story that Holy Scripture tells is the story that God is telling us. It’s the story, God’s story, not one we are making up for ourselves. This Scriptural story is not fictional, nor is it even one we narrate for ourselves: it is God’s story told to us, and it commands our attention and belief.

Our Gospel reading today, from St. Luke, and Luke’s Gospel as a whole, points us to story and to the value of narrative. On the face of it, it’s a story about Jesus, and a miracle of exorcism and healing: a triumph of the power of God over demonic forces that are terrorizing the man who is possessed by them. The story of the Garasene demoniac points toward the power of Jesus to establish the kingdom by a miracle of healing. It evokes our faith and our belief in him.

St. Luke’s work was conceived as an “orderly account,” as he says in the first chapter of the Gospel, “of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Lk. 1:1-2). Luke actually never calls his Gospel a “Gospel,” but instead calls it the “account” or “narration” of events that had taken place among the early Christians through the power of God. In other words, Luke is going to tell us a story, God’s own story handed on by eyewitnesses.

The story of the Garasene demoniac is part of this “orderly account,” the narration by St. Luke of the power of God. It’s part of the story he tells. But our reading actually goes further and underscores this connection with the “orderly account” by the word used at the very end, when Jesus tells the man what the next steps are. It’s translated differently but it has the same base: “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you *(Lk. 8:39). That is, “declare” or “give an account of” or “narrate” the power of God.

Here’s where we apply this message to ourselves. The man has been healed of what ails him, and Jesus sends him home to tell the story. What better pattern could there be for us, who have also received healing from God? The Garasene demoniac presumably headed home to narrate what he had experienced, of the enormous power of God in his life. Jesus does not let him off the hook. He won’t be able to keep this to himself: he will have to share it with others. He himself will have to join in the work of narrating what God has done. He’ll have to become a storyteller himself.

St. Luke’s “orderly account” catches up, not only the man he heals, but also all of us, in telling the “old, old, story.” It’s a basic tool of Christian life to be able to articulate our faith and “the reason for the hope that is in us” (1 Pet. 3:15) to others. We shouldn’t be telling the story only when we’re singing hymns. At every liturgy of Holy Baptism and Confirmation we promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” Let our confirmands show us the way! By telling the story we become a part of the story, of the great things that God has done.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee