Taking A Stay-Cation
Mark 5:18-20
July 12, 2015

Back several years ago, Ann Marie and I decided that we would save some money when it came time for our annual vacation. Rather than going to the beach or the mountains or to another popular vacation destination, we decided to spend a week at my family’s farm in South Central Tennessee. That secluded, peaceful spot has a nice little A-Frame cabin on it that is perfect for an overnight or a weekend and we had done that several times before. But, it had never been a place that we had considered spending a whole week.

In the end though it was a very enjoyable time and it remains a summer vacation that lives in vivid color in my memory. We watched movies, had more time than usual for afternoon naps, went to some out of the way eating spots that were nothing fancy but had good food and we visited two or three old homes and small towns that were within an hour of the farm.

As many times as I have been to the farm over the years, I had never been to most of those places, and, truth be told, I have not been back to any of them again since. In short, we saw things and did things that week that made it a totally unique experience when compared to all of our other summer trips and we did it all while virtually never leaving home.

During the recent recession, a term developed that mirrors to a degree our week at the farm experience. The term, which you have likely heard before, is “stay-cation”. It derived as a way of describing the decision by lots of Americans and Europeans to save money by spending their summer vacations at home. The trend identified by stay-cations was that families are still taking time off and away from work but more than ever they are choosing to spend that time at home catching a movie, going to a museum or taking a day at a local park. In turn, like our experience at the farm, through stay-cations, many families have discovered a world of opportunity for fun right at their backdoor that they never knew existed.

In our text for today, Jesus suggests a stay-cation for the man from Geresa who has just been healed by demons. This is one the great miracle stories of Mark which is the gospel of miracles among the four. Most of you have heard the story and studied it on countless occasions in Sunday School, worship or your own private reading of the scripture.

The story is set in the Decapolis, which was an area of 10 towns situated very near each other where the population was more Gentile than Jewish. There in a local cemetery lived a man possessed by demons. The cemetery was his home evidently because he was no longer seen as someone who could safely live in public or near other people. Evidently, he was beyond anyone’s ability to help.

Yet, Jesus, showing his power in a remarkable way, comes and heals the man. Jesus does what no human had the power to do and thus in a remarkable about face this man who had been out of control and so dangerous that he had to live in a cemetery is suddenly in his right mind, in control of all of his faculties and able to live in peace.

When Jesus prepared to leave him and travel on to the next community, this newly healed man wanted to go with him. He wanted to become a part of Jesus’ missionary endeavors and to live as exhibit “A” of what Jesus was capable of doing. Jesus, however, tells the man to go home.

Interestingly, Jesus did embrace the man’s desire to be on mission but rather than living as a missionary among those that he didn’t know and serving in places he has never been, Jesus challenged him to be what some have called the first home missionary in the gospels. He challenged him to see his own people and his own town as his mission field and he invited him to do one basic thing – to tell everyone his own story of what Jesus had done for him.

What is fascinating is that all of these centuries later, we are still prone to make the same mistake that this man made. Just as when we hear the word vacation, we immediately think about traveling somewhere a good distance from home, the term missions almost always conjures up in our mind work in far off places. And, truth be told, often times it does and without question as a congregation we should always be involved in and support missions and missionaries all over the world.

But, what this passage invites us to also embrace is the idea that the greatest mission field that any of us may ever have the chance to serve on is the one that exists right outside our back door. It may very well be the most fertile place for us, as it was for the man from Geresa and yet in might be every bit as challenging and dangerous as any other place on earth.

What do I say that? I do so because sometimes the call to work among those who know us the best can be every bit as daunting, frustrating and challenging, if not even more so than going to a new place and working among strangers.

Fred Craddock who was a professor at Emory for many years and the author of numerous faith related books loved to tell a story on a regular basis about a chance meeting he had one night with former Tennessee governor Ben Hooper. It happened in a restaurant in the Smoky Mountains and at the time that they met, Craddock had no idea that Hooper was a former Governor of the state. In the encounter, Hooper shared very openly about the fact that as a boy he came from very humble beginnings and that his family was that talk of the community because of poor choices they had made and due to the fact that neither of his parents were known for being very upstanding citizens. In short, no good parent wanted their children spending the afternoon playing at the Hooper home.

One day though a minister took an interest in Ben Hooper as a young boy and convinced him over time that his identity was found in Christ not in his humble beginnings or in the questionable folks who happened to be his biological parents. Ben Hooper, this former governor, wanted Craddock to understand that his life achievements were a result of claiming this belief of his identity in God rather than the identity that the locals gave him.

In that personal story, Hooper put his finger squarely on the hard work of seeing home as our primary mission field. It is simply because this is the place where we are assume that those who know us best will never get beyond the identity they have already created for us. Our sense is that they will never see us for what we have become in Christ.
That may be true in some cases, but, I honestly believe that much of the time we are the ones, not others, who struggle the most to get beyond our past and the image and identity that we have created of ourselves. We are often our own worst critics and thus sharing our faith, telling our story, being truthful about who we have become in Christ is harder for us to buy into than it is for anyone else. Sure, there are always going to be those who will never give us that second chance but we are often the ones who horde grace – grace for ourselves.

The interesting thing is that the Demon possessed man who we encounter in Mark 4 did not resist Jesus’ challenge. Instead he embraced it. He did go back home. He did spend the rest of his days simply telling his story. And, according to verse 20 both the man and his family and neighbors were able to get beyond his past. For according to the text, Jesus’ guidance was proven wise as we learn that people responded to the man and his story with amazement.

Despite what we might think, telling our story at home to those who know us best and seeing our home – this place where we live – as our place of mission can also have the same results.

One of my favorite things to do when we visit my parents back in Alabama is to go dig in the dirt. I mean that literally. My dad has a metal detector that he keeps in his shop and I love to spend an afternoon playing around with it. You see, the property where my parents live has been in our family for years. Old family home places have been on the property for a long, long time and though they are no longer there, dad has shared with me where they once stood. So, it is very common to find old nails, farming implements, kitchen items, old cans and other aspects of life buried under the soil.

By and large, what we find isn’t valuable and yet it has deep family significance. It always strikes me that it sits there waiting to be discovered resting quietly beneath our feet – hidden, if you will, under layers of dirt.

The same is true for all of us. The years, dirt and grime of life in many cases has buried deep within us God’s image, God’s hope and God’s dreams for us. In turn, we need each other, to help move away the dirt, dig through the grime and discover together again who God calls us to be. It happens as we tell our stories and as we remind each other not of who we are or what we see on the surface but rather as we remember and remind one another of what we can be in Christ. Amen.