Monday, June 24, 2019

Sermon June 23, 2019

When the kingdom of God comes, then we are set free. Only a free person can worship and obey God. 

Second Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 7C

Luke 8:26-39
26[Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Jesus comes into a town which has a demon-possessed man who has been living among the dead, who has been terrorizing the town, who has resisted every attempt to restrain him. His family must have been at their wits’ end, his friends didn’t know what they could do for him. And Jesus comes into the town and deals with the demons. He casts the unclean spirits into the unclean animals, and the animals, driven mad by the demons, plunge themselves into the sea.

One might expect a deliverance so great to be met with joy, celebration, gratitude. And yet, there is no celebration – there is no joy. There is fear. The people ask Jesus to leave. Leave at once. They tell him to turn around and go back where he came from.

We might think that there is something wrong with the townsfolk. That they are ungrateful by nature, or that they are possessed themselves. Something like that. But that's not what's in the text. The people are afraid. 'Fear has seized them.'

When the townsfolk see that Jesus has cast out the demons, they come to realize they are in the presence of great power. It’s not only conceivable, but reasonable that their assumption is that Jesus has the most powerful demon of all – and that he’s come to assert dominance over the other demons, and could possess them all. Imagine not only one man enslaved to demons, but an entire town.

We have been taught from birth that we don’t need to be afraid of Jesus. But these folk don’t know that. They respond in the only way they know how – to beg this one with great power to leave them alone, to please spare them.

In the Gospel of Luke, the eleventh chapter, some people accuse him of casting out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons. It seems altogether reasonable to assume that these are not the only people who believed that something like this could occur.
But what does Jesus say? He says, ‘If by the finger of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come among you.’

This is not demonic power at work, but God’s power. For the man from whom the demons had gone was sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. Those who had been driving him to self-destruction had themselves been driven away. He no longer needed to be controlled, but was in mastery of himself. He was no longer seeking death, but life.

Demons are not necessarily the scary creatures that they are portrayed to be in movies. The power of evil is most dangerous, perhaps, when it is more subtle. Perhaps it keeps us chained to our anger, our fear, our cravings, our desires. It may keep us tied to the regrets of the past or to the fear of the future.  It can be as simple as the voice that says ‘you need this to be happy.’ Or it can be the voice that says your pride demands revenge. The demonic whisper can be as simple as the voice that says, ‘Everyone is doing and saying this, and you need to do and say this too in order to be well-thought of.’ In the story of the garden, the first words that the tempter spoke were, ‘Did God really say, you shall not?...’

But Jesus gives the man life, and freedom, and a place to be. Jesus does not dominate him in his turn, but releases him from bondage. The word 'Lord,' in Latin is dominus, and yet perhaps the one who does not dominate is the only one worthy of the title dominus.

When the kingdom of God comes, then we are set free. Only a free person can worship and obey God. This leads us to the very last part of the story, when Jesus agrees to the townspeople’s request  to leave the town and go back across the lake.

The man who had been freed from demons begged to be with him. Again, we might reasonably discern some possible reasons for that desire. Perhaps it was his gratefulness at Jesus having saved him. Perhaps he felt the call to discipleship. Or perhaps he was still fearful in his turn; if Jesus left, if he was not with Jesus, would the demons not return and enslave him again? Would he not be worse off than he was before?

We may find it strange that Jesus does not allow the man to follow him. After all, this is the call to discipleship – to follow Jesus. But the call to follow Jesus looks very different in this case.

Jesus tells the man to return to his home and declare how much God has done for him. This is the scary part of faith – obeying the call of Jesus, not knowing what will be the outcome. And yet, he obeyed, returned home, and remained free to praise God. This served as the guarantee, not only to him, but to the people of the town, that Jesus, the man of power was not a demon, but he was of God, and that the kingdom of God had come among them.

Jesus sets a man free from the forces that would conquer and control him - so that he might praise and obey God. By the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ power is in the world still today to liberate us from sin, death and evil and give us peace. Thanks be to God!