A Four-Day Hike in the Sawtooth’s

Title Slide with view of Hell Roaring Lake, Idaho
Lower falls at Cramer Lakes

A car approaches from the north. I turn around and stick out my thumb. “Was this a good idea?” I ponder. I haven’t hitchhiked since the summer before, when I completed the Appalachian Trail. And now I could use a ride back to my car at a trailhead. Otherwise, I’ll have an eight to ten mile walk beside hot asphalt under an intense sun. But they’re few cars in this lonely country. The car rushes by, its wind providing a moment’s relief from the heat. With no clouds and no wind, it’s hot, even at this elevation. Heat rises from the asphalt, its waves blurring the scenery. I turn back and resume walking along the shoulder of Highway 75, south of Stanley, Idaho.

I hear another vehicle crest the hill behind me. It sounds like a truck. I turn around and stick out thumb. It’s an old jeep; this will be my ride, I’m sure. Jeeps always pick up hitchhikers.

I recall an autumn day on the beach, six years earlier. I’d been on a conference on Wrightsville Beach. A hurricane was offshore, and we had to leave the island. When I got in my car, I realized that I my gas gauze was on “E.” Shortly after cross the waterway bridge, the car sputtered and quit.

Out of gas, I crawled out of the car and hoofed it in the rain a mile or so to the closest gas station. They lent me a can and I purchased some gas and when I started back when one of those bands of blinding rain hit. About that time a jeep came by, without a top. He shouted for me to jump in, and I did. His windshield wipers worked overtime, but it didn’t make much difference for there was as much water inside the glass as out. I began to wonder if riding his open top jeep was a good idea. But it beat walking. The rain was so hard; I could hardly see my car parked on the other side of the road. I put the gas in and headed home. Thankfully, the hurricane turned and went out to sea.

This jeep in Idaho didn’t stop. “Son of a…” I started, and then thought better. I couldn’t believe he ignored me. I turned and continued walking south. A few other vehicles rushed by, but none of them stopped. Each time, I’d resume walking. Then I spotted a minivan. I didn’t expect them to stop but still stuck out my thumb. The driver flew by, then hit her brakes, pulled over to the side and began to back up. I ran up and noticed that there were kids in the back waving at me. This wasn’t who I’d expected to offer a ride, but I was thankful for not having to walk all the way to my car.

“I don’t normally pick up hitchhikers,” the driver confessed, “but the kids recognized you as the hiker on the ferry when we came back across Redfish Lake. Looking into the back seats, I smile. The oldest is probably eight or nine. We’d played some silly games on the ferry ride across the lake and they were curious about what was in my pack. I thanked her for the ride and told her my car was at Hell Roaring Creek trailhead, just off the highway about eight or so miles south. She then asked about the trip.

Hell Roaring Lake with the “Finger of Fate” to the right of center

“I started out four days ago, spending the first night at Hell Roaring Lake,” I began, “camping under the ominous ‘finger of fate’ peak. It’s a lone bent rock pinnacle could have served as a model for Michelangelo’s “Finger of God.” The lake was surrounded by dead tree trunks from winter avalanches. Many of those trunks were waterlogged, but the ones not provided plenty of firewood. Although open fires had been banned for the summer (Yellowstone and Hells Canyon were being consumed with flames while I was hiking) I counted four campfires along the lake. I was invited over to one’s family campfire. I joined them and was shocked to learn that one of men was a Forest Service employee.”

Trail high in the Sawtooths

“The next day I continued hiking deeper into the Sawtooth Wilderness area, climbing over a steep pass. There were so many lakes, I can’t recall them all,” I confessed. “Imogene, Virginia, and Hidden were some of them, each surrounded by rocky peaks sparsely covered with gnarly trees. After leaving Hell Roaring Lake, I was alone with only the pikas keeping me company at night. I ran into a group of smoke jumpers, hoofing it out after having extinguished a small lightning fire deep into wilderness. We talked for a few minutes, as I picked up my pace to keep up with them, but then they left the main trail and headed to their pickup point.” 

“It’s all beautiful,” I said, “but my favorite had been the Cramer Lakes, each with a waterfall outlet that spilled into the next lake.”

“We were there,” she said. “We took the ferry across Redfish Lake and hiked up to Lower Cramer for a picnic and a hike up to the falls.” 

I’d been looking back at her kids as I talked. Suddenly she yell, “Oh my God.” I turned around and looked out the windshield. There was that jeep, lying on its back in the edge of a field. The dazed driver stood. 

“I’ll check it out,” I said. “Park down the road a way.” 

Jumping out as she slowed down, I ran over toward the jeep yelling, “Are you okay?” Another car pulled up. The driver, shaken and with tears in his eyes, begged for a fire extinguisher. No one had one. Drops of gas dripped onto the ground and the fire was began to burn under the jeep and in the grass. Without a fire extinguisher or other equipment, there wasn’t anything we could do. I told them I’d get a ranger and ran back to the awaiting minivan. I knew a ranger’s station was across from the trailhead from where I’d left my car. We flew down the highway, turning off and leaving a trail of dust on the dirt road up to the ranger station. I reported the accident and the fire. The ranger called it in and got into his truck. 

High in the Sawtooths

Then the lady in the mini-van drove me over to my car. Rushing, I thanked her for the ride, I dropped my pack in the trunk and headed back to the accident site. There, I helped the ranger, and several other men dig a line around the fire. Luckily, as dry as it was, there was no wind, and the fire didn’t get out of hand. With everything under control, a fire truck arrived and hosed down the jeep and extinguished the grass burning inside the line we’d established. All that was left of the jeep, that I was so sure could have been my savior, was a charred pile of metal.  I got back in my car and headed back to camp. 

I think it was C. S. Lewis who said, “we’ll spend half of eternity thanking God for prayers not answered.” And I was thankful this jeep had not stopped to offer me a ride. 

Another story of a solo backpacking trip during my Idaho summer of 1988

A Healing and a Resurrection

Title slide with photo of Laurel Fork with Mountain Laurel in bloom

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
June 9, 2024
Mark 5:21-42

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on June 7, 2024

At the beginning of worship:
A group of retired men gathered regularly for breakfast and solving the world’s problems. One morning, the day after they had sadly said goodbye to John, who’d been a member of their group, they nursed their coffees and reflected on all the good things said at John’s funeral. Then they began to reflect on the end of their own lives and what might be said of them. 

One guy, a retired physician, said he wanted to hear about all the babies he delivered who are now adults. Another, a lawyer wanted to hear about his honesty and hard work to protect those often overlooked within the legal system. A teacher wanted to hear from the students he taught. A contractor wanted to hear about the joy of the homeowners found from those houses he built. Around the table they went. 

Everyone had chimed in except for Paul. All eyes turned to him. Finally, Paul shrugged his shoulders and said, “I want to hear someone say, “Look, he’s moving.” 

If you caught the weird news of the week, you probably heard about the woman in Nebraska. She had been pronounced dead, her body was picked up, I’m assuming in a body bag, and taken to the funeral home. There, to the surprise of the undertaker, it was discovered she was still breathing.[1]

Our text today contains two miracles: one involves a healing, the other a raising of the dead. The latter, I suggest, is different than misdiagnosing death as happened in Nebraska. 

While our Christian hope involves life everlasting, we live out our faith in this life and in these bodies. Even the story of the raising of the dead found in today’s text is more out of a concern for the grieving parents than for the life of the one restored. 

Before reading the text: 

We have already seen a couple of examples of one of Mark’s favorite literary techniques, the sandwich.[2] This is where Jesus starts with one topic or project, then goes off on a tangent, before returning to the main theme. This happens in our story today. We have a grieving father whose 12-year-old daughter is dying, and an older woman who has been ill for 12 years. Jesus cares for both. Our story can also be found in Matthew and Luke, the other two synoptic gospels.[3]

These stories conclude a set of three set of miracle stories which began with the calming of the waters, followed by the healing of the demoniac. In a way, chapter 5 of Mark’s gospel, while not only including several major miracles, focuses on the ritually unclean. These are desperate people. One commentator suggested that chapter 5 should be the “St. Jude Chapter,” as Jude is considered the “saint’ for lost causes.[4] But Jesus never met a lost cause.

All three of the miracles in chapter 5 require Jesus to ignore the Jewish restrictions. He encounters both the man of the tombs, which made him unclean,[5] as well as the deceased girl and with women with ongoing menstruation. Jesus, whose continually places people over rules, immediately acts to relieve the suffering of others.  

Another interesting tidbit about our text comes toward the end. When Jesus awakes the girl who was dead, we’re given the words Jesus used in Aramaic, a later version of Hebrew, along with its translation which was originally in Greek. In most English translation, the Greek is translated, “Little girl, get up,” while the Aramaic words remain as Jesus would have used them. It seems odd to have the original language and a translation, since Hebrew or Aramaic speakers wouldn’t need the translation. This has led some scholars to suggest that Mark is writing to an audience that’s more Gentile than Jewish.[6]

Read Mark 5:21-42

One interesting thing about this text is that, except for the girl’s father, it involves women. In the Old Testament, we have stories of those ill and ritually uncleaned who are healed as well as those dead being restored to life.[7] But they are all men. In the Roman world, women had little status. It was even common for girl infants to be abandoned, kind of like female infants in China during their one child per couple era. While such practice would have been considered an abomination among Jews, for pagan gentiles it would have been less so. 

One way the early church set itself apart from the pagan world was to adopt and care for these abandoned children.[8] In his ministry, Jesus showed the value of everyone. 

Jesus is now back on the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee. Unlike on the other side, as we saw last week, where people wanted him gone out of fear, he’s welcomed back on his home turf. Again, as has happened throughout his Galilee ministry, a crowd swarms around Jesus. 

Amid the crowd is a leader of the synagogue. He’s probably not a rabbi, but a local lay leader of the synagogue, who took care of the business end of the enterprise.[9] But this also indicates he’s someone of status. The rest of the synagogue has placed him into a position of authority. He’s obviously also one who believes that Jesus has special powers, for his daughter is ill and he comes to Jesus for help. He believes that Jesus’ touch will be enough to save her. 

But don’t forget that the crowd presses in on Jesus, so much so that he can hardly move. And while he heads off to help the girl, a woman in need comes and touches his robe. She was someone who had status. She had wealth, but in the past twelve years in which she had bleed, she had spent everything she had on doctors, hoping to find a cure. Now, she’s broke and Jesus is her only hope. She believes that if she can just touch the seam of his robe, she’ll be healed. 

This interruption places tension in the story. The girl, we’re told is at death’s door. Jesus needs to come fast to save her. And while the crowd pushed in, Jesus realizes some of his healing power has left him, so he stops and asks who’s touched him.

To the disciples, this is an absurd question. Everyone has been touching Jesus; they can’t help it. It’s like being on a crowded train into Tokyo during rush hour, one of those where the attendants along the tracks push those crowding into the cars to make more room for everyone. But Jesus has felt his healing power leave, so he looks around, and the woman who had reached out to Jesus confesses that she was the one. She’s honest, but also afraid and only confesses with fear and trembling as she knees before Jesus. 

Jesus, using endearing words, says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace and be healed.” 

This interruption has cost precious minutes and now the father of the girl receives word that she died. They advise the father not to bother Jesus anymore. It’s time for him to begin mourning; but Jesus encourages faith and belief as he heads off with the man and the disciples to his home. There, the funeral home has already arrived and begun to arrange things. We can imagine neighbors and members of the synagogue hauling in food while crying out in grief.  

You know, one thing about grief is that emotionally we shift around quickly. I’ve known this all along, but it became more evident with my dad’s death.[10] One minute, we’re crying, the next, we’re laughing. 

When Jesus asks about the fuss going on and suggests the girl is going to be fine, the gathered crowd goes from grief to laughter. They’ve seen the dead and the dead don’t crawl out of the casket, something Jesus’ ministry will challenge. 

The wording here gives us pause to ponder if she was really death. Or perhaps she was like the woman in the Nebraska funeral home. Jesus says, she’s just asleep. But Mark is also making a point that Jesus’ power extends over death, so I take it he means that she is sleeping in the way we speak of the deceased “eternal rest.” Or maybe, as one commentator suggested, he speaks of her asleep to say she’s not “irrevocably dead.”[11]

Taking only his top three disciples—Peter, James and John—along with the parents, Jesus goes inside to where the girl lies.  And here, with his words which mean “Little girl, get up” he takes her hand. She rises and walks about. Jesus then tells them not to tell anyone what happened, but to get the girl something to eat. There’s aways a practical side to Jesus! 

Mark may have placed these miracle stories—the calming of the waters, the healing of the crazy man, the healing of the woman, and the raising of the girl—back-to-back to point out Jesus’ divinity. But we also learn something else from these stories, especially the one we looked at today. 

Jesus is concerned with individual lives and his concern extends even to those sidelined within the Roman world.  If Mark, as many suggest, wrote primarily to a Gentile audience, the idea no one is excluded from Jesus’ love is welcome news. And it should be good news to us, too. Amen. 

[1] See https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2024/06/03/nebraska-woman-declared-dead-alive-funeral-home/73964988007/

[2] For examples see Mark 3:20-35. (https://fromarockyhillside.com/2024/04/07/the-unpardonable-sin-baseball-doing-the-will-of-god/) and Mark 4:1-20 (https://fromarockyhillside.com/2024/04/28/the-parable-of-the-sower/).

[3] Matthew 9:18-26 and Luke 8:40-45.  Both maintain the “sandwich” structure found in Mark’s gospel. I preached the  Luke text in 2022. See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/17/do-you-have-faith-or-are-you-just-a-spectator/

[4] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002),161. 

[5] See my sermon on this text: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2024/06/02/jesus-and-the-man-living-in-the-tombs/

[6] Edwards, 167-168.

[7] See 2 Kings 5:1-19, 1 Kings 17:17-24, and 2 Kings 4:18-37. 

[8] Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville, KY: WJKP, 1996), 68.`

[9] Edwards, 161.

[10] https://fromarockyhillside.com/2024/05/11/a-tribute-to-my-dad/

[11] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (1991, Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 150.  

Laurel Fork in the early morning

Up North

Title Slide with photo of me along the shore of Lake Huron

I’ve been wanting to post something about my time in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but things have conspired to keep me from writing about it.  After a week of Continuing Education, I took a week of vacation to head further north.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Looking at the Presbyterian Church in DeTour Village, MI
Union Presbyterian Church, DeTour Village, MI

After finishing up with the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, I meet up with Bob, a friend of mine from my Michigan days. I had invited Bob along on this trip, as I have always enjoyed spending time with him. Professionally, he’s an editor and a saxophone player. He has incredible knowledge of plants, with a fondness of carnivorous plants. And he’s a storm chaser. Bob had a friend bring him up from Hastings, so he wouldn’t have to worry about where to leave a car. He threw his sax and his suitcase in my car, and we were on the road. As it’s over five hours, I wanted to get as much driving done before dark as we headed north. 

As the sun began to set, we could see we were entering a different climate zone, as farmland disappeared and hardwoods gave way to forest of paper birch mixed with pines and spruce.

We had a great conversation, talking about several topics along with listening to some Robert Raurk short stories from The Old Man and the Boy. We didn’t stop until after dark, picking up fast food at Burger King in Kalkaska, a town featured in two short stories by Ernest Hemingway. A hour or so later, we stopped for gas in Petoskey. These were our only stops and we arrived in DeTour Village a little after midnight. 

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Ship heading up to the Son
Heading toward the Soo

In a way, my time off was a busman’s holiday. The church in DeTour has a nice manse overlooking the St. Mary’s River. I agreed to preach (I reused sermons I’d preached in January) for the opportunity to stay in the Dmanse and to relax for the week. This meant that we had to get up early on Sunday morning. Knowing that I was arriving late the night before, some people in the church provided food in the refrigerator so that Bob and I could enjoy bacon and eggs with toast for breakfast the next morning. 

Church came early the next morning as we were both exhausted. I preached and Bob excited the crowd by playing a couple of songs on the sax. Afterwards, we had lunch and the Mainsail, one of two restaurants open this early in the season in Detour. Afterwards, we both retreated into our bedrooms and took a nap, before going out and spending some time exploring fins along Lake Superior.  These wetlands that were separated from the shore by dunes are diverse with plant life, most of which was left over from last season. Bob pointed out several carnivorous plants: pitcher plants and sundews.  While he continued to look around, I hiked out onto the rocks jutting into the water and discovered a nest laid by Canadian geese. 

We can back to the manse for a nice dinner of cabbage rolls made by another Bob, along with his wife Nelda, members of the church. As Bob had never seen “A River Runs Through It,” and there was a DVD of the movie in the manse, we watched it. 

Canadian Geese Eggs along the shore of Lake Huron

Monday, April 15, 2024

Monday, we set what would be our routine for the week. We spent the mornings in the manse. While Bob would work on his edits, I spent the time reading and writing. We’d take an occasional break to watch a ship make its way up or down the St. Mary’s River. Bob was especially excited when I pointed out the Arthur Andersen, the ship that was behind the Edmund Fitzgerald the night it sunk in November 1975.  On my first day, I read The Cellist of SarajevoLater in the week, I started reading Danielle Chapman’s Holler, along with sections of Augustine’s City of God, along with some writing.  The afternoons were reserved for hiking. 

In the afternoon, we spent time exploring some of DeTour and the trails nearby. Then, as the day sun dropped lower into the sky, we drove to Cedarville for the grocery store. We had dinner at Snows Bar and Grill, located above Snow Channel, along the north shore of Lake Huron. The place was wonderful. I had the walleye special and a Great Lakes Brewing CEO Stout while Bob had the UP special, a Cornish pastry. Afterwards, we went back to the manse and watched “The Jesus Revolution,” a movie I had brought along with me to watch in preparation of using it on a movie night at church. Bob, who is more familiar with contemporary Christian music, knew more about those portrayed in the movie than I did (Chuck Smith, Greg Laurie, and Lonnie Frisbee).  We discussed this movie several times over the week. 

Walleye Dinner
Walleye Dinner at Snow’s Bar and Grill in Cedarville, MI

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Hiking in Michigan's UP

Tuesday afternoon, we hiked to around Cranberry Lakes to Caribou Lake, a walk of about 6 miles which I had done before. The trail takes us through cedar swamps with high ground consisting of paper birch forest mixed with spruce. It’s too early for wildflowers, but lots of smaller plants under the canopy have begun to brighten up after the winter.

After our hike, we head back to Snows Bar and Grill, where I enjoyed a wonderful Pepper Jack Burger with an Atwater Dirty Blonde. The burger was great, but the CEO Stout of the previous night I felt was superior to the Dirty Blonde. As there were a set of movies that featured Sandra Bullock. Since we both like her, we watched “Two Weeks’ Notice.” We were surprised to see Donald Trump in the movie, as he was featured much in the news with the beginning of his latest trial, as well as we recalled Sandra Bullock’s refusal to back him for the Presidency. 

Cranberry Lake
Cranberry Lake

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Wednesday was a rainy day.  I still did a couple of miles hiking in the rain, coming home to a hot shower.  We stayed close to home for dinner, eating a great burger in the DeTour Bar and Grill, where we got into a conversation with locals.  We watched Sandra Bullock in “Ms. Congeniality” in the evening. 

The Arthur M. Anderson freighter
Arthur Anderson, a freighter built in the 1950s
and the last ship to see the Edmund Fitzgerald afloat in 1975

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Thursday morning, I received a text from my sister, telling me that our father would be having surgery. I called, but he was already being prepped for surgery for a blockage in his intestines. I talked with my sister and brother for a bit. Little did I know this event would change my plans for the next month. She later texted to say he came through the surgery and was doing fine. We went for an early evening dinner at Snows in Cedarville, followed by a stop at the grocery store there for food to serve that evening. A group of people from the church came over and we had desert and a Bible Study.  

a 1000 foot freighter
1000 foot freighter leaving Lake Huron

Friday, April 19, 2024

Friday, Bob and I spent the day on Drummond Island. After talking with my father in the morning, we caught the ferry over the island. David and Sandra, members of the church in Detour, picked us up and toured us around the island. Then they dropped us off at Maxton Plains for a hike.  

Hiking in Maxton Plains

Hiking in Maxton Plains
Bob hiking on Maxton Plains

I was hoping to make it to the cliffs along the northeast side of the island, but the recent rains had created ponds on the alvar surface. Alvar is limestone pavement. The glaciers of the last ice age had smoothed the limestone leaving only a minimal amount of topsoil. At places the pavement is like smooth finished concrete, allowing plant growth only in cracks. Unfortunately, for us, water takes longer to work though the rock, so the rains of Wednesday and Thursday have resulted in ponds which we have to work around. We make it almost to the cliffs, when we are blocked by a larger impoundment of water due to beaver activity.

Alvara pavement
Alvar pavement
Beaver dam
A beaver swamp blocking our path

As it’s getting late and we’re scheduled to be at a dinner at 6 PM, we hike back. This is my second failed attempt to make it to the cliffs, as I’d tried to find them when in the UP in 2021.

We were picked up at the trailhead by Dave and Sandra and taken to a home on the lake where a group from the Lighthouse Church on Drummond was holding a potluck. There were a few musicians present, Bob got to play the sax with them. I spent the evening getting to know new friends, especially Scott, the pastor. A former Episcopal priest, he’d been the pastor on the island for 10 years and joked about how he no longer dresses up on Sunday morning. Instead, he just finds a clean pair of jeans. We had a good time with everyone and caught the 9:30 PM ferry back to DeTour. 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

A ship going through the St. Mary's River, MI
A “Saltie” (grain hauler),
making it’s way up toward the Zoo

On Saturday, winter returned. We had several snow squalls. Bob was working on a project for a new client, so I left him and hiked out on DeTour Point, through a large Nature Conservancy protected area. At times the blowing snow, mixed with sleet, pelted against me. Then the sun would make a brief appearance before the wintry mix returned. I saw several ships, both salties (ships that travel across the oceans and enter the Great Lakes through the St. Laurence Seaway and the Wellington Canal, and lakers (ships that haul mostly iron ore, coal, and limestone and are too large to leave the Great Lakes Basin. I arrived back to the manse around 6 PM and grilled steaks for dinner. Then we began to pack up. 

Photo of shoreline along Detour Point
Between snow squalls
DeTour Point Lighthouse in fog
DeTour Point Lighthouse in fog

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The next morning, we had a joyful time at church where Bob again played the sax. We then went out to lunch at the Mainsail, before packing up and heading back south. I dropped Bob off in Hastings, then drove to friends in Portage Michigan for the evening. On Monday, I drove back to Virginia. 

An old laker heading south toward Detroit or maybe Cleveland

Previous posts on trips to DeTour Village

July 2021

September/October 2022

Photo of author of blog in a snow squall
Selfie during a snow squall

Jesus and the Man Living in the Tombs

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
Mark 5:1-2
June 2, 2024

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, May 31, 2024

At the beginning of worship: 

Bob lived on the edge of society in Virginia City, Nevada. Some people were afraid of him, but most just took pity on him. He was never known to harm or threaten anyone. Bob mostly wanted to be left alone. He lived outside of town in a shack but would come into town and dumpster dive for food and alcohol. He carried around a gallon glass jug. Going through the dumpsters behind the saloons, he’d search for whiskey or wine bottles and pour the dregs into his bottle. He drank this gross cocktail. 

I once tried to invite Bob into a potluck we were having at church. He ignored me. A member of the church then suggested that we fix a plate of food and sit it out on the steps by the boardwalk. We did this about the time Bob would be heading by the church on his way out of town for the night. When the diner was over, the plate of food was gone. That was Bob’s way. He didn’t want a handout. He just wanted to be left alone. 

I’m not sure of all of Bob’s problems. Some said his mind was fried on drugs. He had once been somewhat normal. In the early 70s, I was told, he had even run for sheriff.[1] There are things that happen to individuals that we may be unaware. We must be compassionate, do what we can, and ponder what Jesus would do. 

Today, in our gospel story, we see that folks like Bob and those even in worse shape didn’t scare Jesus. He saw something worth saving and using his divine powers, interacted with them and freed them from their bondage. 

As the old saying goes, “God don’t make no junk.” And while we are not able to help everyone, we shouldn’t give up on anyone. Instead, we pray for them and do what we can (or what they will let us do) for them. As followers of Jesus, we should be known in the community as those who care for even those who society deems as unlovable. 

After the reading of Scripture: 
Last Sunday, we explored the passage of Jesus calming the storm as he sailed with the disciples across the Sea of Galilee. After the tempest calmed, they sailed on and arrived across from the water from Galilee. It appears evil wants to keep Jesus out of this territory. As I noted last week, large bodies of water were seen as evil’s domain in the Hebrew world view. So, the storm could be interpreted as evil’s attempt to keep Jesus away from this new territory. And, as we’ll see, once Jesus walks on shore, a man seriously infected with evil spirits confronts him. 

Jesus and the disciples are in a territory unlike Galilee, which includes many gentiles. While not mentioned in the text, we know a Roman garrison is included among the gentiles. They stand ready to move into Galilee or to Jerusalem if trouble arose. Rome kept a smaller presence in the predominately Jewish enclaves to appease Jewish sensibilities. 

As I read this passage, I encourage you to consider the humor in the story.[2] I’ll explain what I mean in my sermon.

Read Mark 5:1-20

What does Jesus have against pigs? Four thousand hams and enough spareribs to feed Carroll County washed to sea. And think of all the bacon. Having come from Eastern North Carolina, where pig pickings are major social events and eating “high on the hog” isn’t an empty phrased, I’m saddened by such a lost opportunity. Just thinking of all those ribs sauced up and slow roasting over hickory coals makes my mouth water.

Of course, it’s obvious what Jesus had against pigs. As an obedient Jew, he followed the law which prohibited the eating of pork. As Christians, we can be thankful for Peter’s vision at Joppa, where he learns that such things are not profane.[3] But that came later. When this incident occurred, the God-fearing people were under the old law. 

Jesus and his disciples had crossed into gentile territory. Since gentiles didn’t adhere to Jewish law, they eat pork. I wonder if the presence of so many pigs, an incredible number of animals in the pre-factory farm days, was to feed the Roman garrison? It’s possible, and if so, those who hear of the story would chuckle at denying their enemy of a barbecue. 

But let’s go back to the beginning of the story. Jesus steps off the boat and immediately a crazy man runs up to him. The guy must have been quite a sight, running around howling. Strong, he broke chains used to subdue him. He lived in a tomb, which makes him unclean from a Jewish perspective.[4] But it may be the only place he can live because he’s been banished from the city. After all, who wants a werewolf running around. At least, as far as we know, the dead didn’t complain about his demeanor. 

The dialogue begins, seemingly between Jesus and the man. However, it soon becomes apparent the dialogue is between Jesus and the evil spirits residing in the man. Mark provides enough detail about this encounter to show the power of evil. This possessed man is strong and uncontrollable. But Jesus’ power is greater.[5]

There’s a jockeying for position going on. As I pointed out in an early sermon with Jesus confronting demons, in the Biblical worldview, names were thought to have special powers and to name someone or something implied domination.[6]

So, the demons address Jesus as “Son of the Most High God,” as if by calling him out they can control Jesus. But Jesus has power and demands his name, which the demons respond, “It’s Legion, for we are many.” A legion was a unit within the Roman army that consisted of 4,000 to 6,000 men. 

Of course, Jesus’ power from God transcends all other powers. He orders the demons to leave the man, but grants them their wish not to disappear, but to inhabit a herd of swine. For a Jewish audience hearing of this encounter, they would have thought this hilarious. The demons enter the swine and then do what evil does best. It destroys. Not only are the demons done in, but they also take with them a bunch of pigs to their deaths. Of course, Jesus doesn’t address the economic loss here.[7] Instead the purpose of the story to express Jesus’ power. 

There are three theological truths I’d like you to glean from this text. The first is one Mark has been making, Jesus is divine. As God in the flesh, Jesus has power to evil and has come to set about a change in the world. He dethrones evil. 

Because of Jesus’ power, we can trust him to cure any troubled soul, and there was none so troubled as this man. 

Second, the story confirms the nature and intent of evil, which is to destroy. Eventually, the demise of the pigs would have been the man’s destiny had Jesus not intervened. Evil seduces and then destroys. It often masquerades as good or desirable, and then, once in position of power, shows its true face. Scripture takes evil seriously, but at the same time shows us we shouldn’t fear it. When we sign up for God’s side, we are assured of the outcome. God’s power is greater than any combinations of evil spirits. 

A third theological truth we learn from this passage involves the man. He was a victim. Jesus never blamed or condemned him. He needed help. Instead of blaming the victim for his own plight, as we too frequently do, Jesus freed the man from that which kept him in bondage. 

The man is thankful and wants to travel with Jesus across the sea. But Jesus instead gives him a calling to tell what happened to his own people. Mission always starts in our backyard. 

In addition to the theological truths of the passage, there are practical applications. Just as the man ran from the hills to meet Jesus on the lakeshore, we too are to take our troubles to him We don’t have to bear the burden of bondage by ourselves. We can trust Jesus. 

And those of us who have experienced the grace of our Savior, like the healed demonic, have a story to tell. We are to proclaim and tell others what Jesus has done for us. 

Finally, this passage reminds us that no one is beyond God’s grace. God’s love extends even to those shunned from society. So don’t write people off. Love them, like Jesus loves. Amen. 

[1] Long after I left Virginia City, I heard that a local sheriff deputy had a confrontation with Bob. Feeling threatened, he shot him. Bob died. People were so upset at the deputy, for no one had ever seen Bob be violent toward others, that the deputy had to leave town.  

[2] For a discussion on humor in the passage, see Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville: KY: WJKP, 1996), 65.

[3] Acts 10.

[4] According to Jewish law, contact with the dead required a period of cleansing. See Numbers 19:11-14. 

[5] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (1991, Hendrickson, 1997), 142. 

[6] See my sermon on Mark 1:21-28.  https://fromarockyhillside.com/2024/01/21/jesus-in-the-synagogue/

[7] For a discussion on this see James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 159. 

St. Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah GA, with azaleas in bloom
St. Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia during the Spring