Monday, June 24, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost 5: "Strange But True"

+ 5th Sunday after Pentecost – June 23rd, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C, Proper 7: Isaiah 65:1-9; Galatians 3:23-4:7; Luke 8:26-39
(Special thanks to Pastor Bill Cwirla for the "weird" idea. I was thinking the same thing as I read Luke 8)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

It’s okay to admit it. I know you’re all thinking it. I sure am. Today’s Gospel reading is weird. Jesus hits the beach after calming a storm and immediately he’s confronted by a demon possessed man.  And not just one demon, but a legion – that’s 4-6 thousand by Roman counting. So there’s demon possessed men, a strange conversations, and demon pigs rolling in the deep. Well, it all sounds a little creepy. Weird. Downright strange.

And the story of this man is just as weird and creepy. For a long time, he ran around naked, which, in the Gospels, is almost always a sign that something isn’t right. Recall in John’s Gospel, that young who fled Gethsemane on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest and ran off naked. Streaking may be a funny college prank but, it’s no joke in the Gospel. 

But his story gets stranger.  He lived – not in a house - but among the tombs, with the dead. Apparently things were so bad off he was frequently bound in chains and fetters – probably because he ran around naked cutting himself with rocks. But a metal straight jacket was no match for the demon legion that possessed him. So they drove him out into the desert, to the caves of the dead. The wilderness.  Where Satan tempted Jesus. It’s the devil’s playground. 

In Luke 8, Jesus steps foot onto the devil’s turf. It’s D-Day for this legion of demons. Jesus lands on enemy occupied territory loaded for Beelzebul. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.”

It’s true, the demons know Jesus’ name. A good confession, for a demon, I suppose. But that’s the problem, in the devil’s hands, the truth is always a lie. The Devil loves quoting Scripture to you. Remember Jesus’ temptation? He’ll twist Scripture any which way just to get you to jump, to bite, or to bow down. In the hands of the devil, the Bible will always be used in service of the lie. He’s a liar and the father of lies. So as a baptized child of Christ, don’t be afraid to call him what he is.

Because in addition to being a liar, the devil –and his legions - is also conquered. Destroyed. Defeated.
Jesus came to undo the works of the devil and his demons, to cast them into the eternal pit, which is what hell was prepared for by God. Not for people. For the devil and his demons. And the devil was defeated by Jesus dying on a cross and descending into Death. Christ stormed the prison like a divine Burglar, bound the devil and freed the captives – you and me and the rest of humanity. 

That’s why Jesus says to the man, “What is your name?” Knowing the name is synonymous with power over them. After all, he is their Lord too and they know it. They’re terrified. And for good reason.
They beg Jesus not to send them into the “abyss,” where they belong. They know what Jesus is there to do: to destroy them. That’s exactly what he does. In a strange turn of events, Jesus sends the demon pigs plummeting to the abyss. It’s a picture of the Last Day – the unclean, the demons cast into the abyss like Revelation 20.

And then the herdsmen find he formerly demon possessed man sitting with Jesus. He’s clothed and in his right mind, and he wants to join Jesus’ followers. But Jesus sends him back to his own people as a living testimony to God’s mercy. And what a testimony it was! A demon possessed man who used to live among the tombs and cut himself now goes all around the ten cities of the Gentiles, proclaiming the good news.

I told you this was a weird story. Strange…but true. And oh, so wondrous.

For in Jesus, you can resist the devil. In Jesus you stand firm in midst of temptation. Jesus is stronger than the devil and his legions of demons. Whatever darkness plagues you; whatever way the devil seeks to tempt you and lead you astray, you are safe in Jesus. And no one – not a horde of demons or the devil himself – can snatch you out of Christ’s hands.

But don’t be fooled, the demonic realm is real. The devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking to devour you. C.S. Lewis was right when he said that there are two equal and opposite errors in which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors… (Lewis, Screwtape Letters, p.3). 

Apart from Jesus, we don’t stand a chance. And just because the devil doesn’t show himself like this all the time doesn't mean his work isn't all around us. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes subtle. But it’s all around us.

This story, strange as it is, actually happened. It’s also a reminder to us that the spiritual realm is both wonderful and terrifying. And the only firewall protecting us and saving us is the death of Jesus, His blood, His baptism, His victory. Christ is your rock, your refuge, your mighty fortress. And your Savior.
Jesus went to the tomb for you, the living One among the dead, for the dead. He was scarred and wounded– not by rocks – but nails and spear and the cross, for you. He died naked in humiliation for you so that by his suffering and death…you are now clothed in His righteousness, joy and eternal life. His scars heal all your sinful wounds. But there’s more.

What Jesus did for the Gerasene man in Luke 8, He does for you in Baptism. He speaks His Word and the devil is cast out. You go down into the water a crazed, naked demoniac hell-bent on destroying yourself and others, but you come out of the water a new man, clothed in Jesus’ death and resurrection for you, and you sit at his feet in your right mind, the mind of Christ, who gave everything that you might be his own and live under him in his kingdom. Your transfer papers are complete: out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light. Out of death into life. Out of slavery and bondage to sin, death and the devil, and into freedom, life and service in Christ. 

The devil’s reign over you is ended. You have a new King and Lord: Christ the Crucified. And what Jesus did to that legion of demons that day in the Gerasenes is a picture of what He will do at the end, when He comes in power and glory and might. He will make His victory won on the cross visible, and bind the devil and his demons forever and cast them into the lake of fire prepared for them.

And as we wait for that day…there is nothing to fear for you who are in Christ Jesus. He’s got you covered. You’re baptized, covered with Christ, filled with His Spirit, safe in His death and life. His wounds are your healing; His cross is your victory; His righteousness is your clothing. Your sins are put far away from you, as far as the east is from the west. As far as that legion of demons from the poor man.

It’s all in Isaiah: “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to found by those who did not seek me. Those who sit in tombs and spend the night in secret places; who eat pig’s flesh and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels.” The gentiles. The outsiders to Israel. You and me. How strange and wondrous it is that one of Jesus’ greatest and weirdest displays of divine power and authority didn’t even occur in Israel but across the sea, in Gentile territory. The same happens here today...once again Jesus is doing marvelous work by His Word in Gentile territory, by the sea, here.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

But these words aren’t for your ears alone. They’re for your neighbor’s, your family and friends’ ears. Do not be afraid. Christ goes with you.

“Return to your home, and declare how much Christ has done for you.” You’ve been rescued from sin and death and every evil simply by that weird and strange work of God in the water, word, bread and wine. You are at Jesus feet, clothed in his death and resurrection. Yes, it’s all rather strange, but true…and weirdly, wonderfully so.                                  

 In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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