St. Matthew’s Sermon 06-19-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 06-19-2016

Released and Re-possessed

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Today’s Gospel reading is the middle of three consecutive stories, in Luke’s account, that tell of Jesus’ power over things no one else believes can be controlled.

In the first, Jesus “…rebuked the wind and the raging waves…” of a storm that was sinking the boat he and his disciples were traveling in; “… [and] they ceased and there was a calm”. The Disciples response was “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

In the last, “…a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years…” was cured just by touching the fringe of Jesus’ clothes and Jesus raises the daughter of Jairus from death. The common thread in both of these stories is Jesus’ power over the forces of nature; wind and waves, sickness and death; are all threatening forces of the natural world.

Here in the middle we hear of Jesus’ power over evil spirits which are also threatening forces of the natural world. In Christ’s time it was believed that evil spirits inhabited the earth; roaming around unseen looking for a weakness, a vulnerability, in anyone or anything that would allow them to enter and take control of their victim. It was believed that your religious strength was the protection from them and that, once they managed to enter, little could be done to evict them short of invoking the power of God himself.

So, as the story tells us, Jesus no sooner steps out of the boat and he meets a man possessed by demons. But, in this case, it wasn’t one or two; they were a “legion”. That word not only tells us there were many; a Roman legion was a division of military forces numbering 5 to 6 thousand men; but it also allows us to envision the kind of demons inhabited the man; they were warring demons, as if the poor fellow had a constant battle going on within his mind, body, and soul. And it tells us that Jesus wasn’t up against just any demon, he was about to take on a well trained fighting force that outnumbered him thousands of times over. But Jesus doesn’t cower from the threat; he’s ready for the fight and orders them out!

Then something peculiar happens. The demons beg Jesus not to send them into the abyss, which would be where they came from, but into a nearby heard of swine. Jesus, seeming to acquiesce, allows them to do so.

Odd, we might think, that Jesus would do anything less than destroy them all. He knows he has the power so there is no need to negotiate. And the demons know it to; they just addressed him as “the Son of the Most High God”. But as soon as the demons enter the swine, what happens? They all run down the hill and drown in the lake! Jesus wasn’t negotiating with them, he was ceasing an opportunity; the chance to allow evil itself to demonstrate its own destructiveness. When left to its own devises, this powerful force destroys even itself and Jesus, alone, wins the fight with no weapons but faith and love!

But the story’s not over yet; something even more peculiar happens. The story spreads through the land quickly and everyone comes out to see for themselves. There they find the possessed man released from his torturous demons, sitting at Jesus’ feet, in his right mind and even wearing clothes just like any other right minded person. We would expect them to offer Jesus praises for what he had done; ridding them of this disturbing maniac and bring peace to their region. But no; rather than finding peace they find fear in their hearts. They can’t believe what has happened; the impossible being accomplished, the worst of the forces of nature mastered by one man. And instead of welcoming Jesus and his Disciples they ask him to leave. It’s easier, they think, that this unbelievable power leave them rather than require them to find a way to fit it into their preconceived notions of reality.

So Jesus prepares to leave, but where the demons had begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss, the man they had possessed now begs to go with him, actually to “be” with him; as to be one of his disciples. Jesus refuses.

Again we might be perplexed. Jesus had many followers beyond the 12 chosen, why not one more? And why not this one who could be held up as an example to all the people as one healed from the most powerful of evils?

It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want him tagging along; Jesus sees an ability for him to serve elsewhere. Where the Disciples had just asked “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”, this man knows the answer! The demons’ words had come out of his own mouth; “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Jesus knows that this man, who a moment ago was released from his possession, was ready to be possessed by a new spirit, The Holy Spirit, and thereby ready to go into the world spreading the Good News of Jesus the Christ.

And, did you notice at the end of the story, when Jesus tells him to “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”  the man goes out “proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” It’s not that he got the message wrong! Again, there is emphasis that he understands perfectly well who Jesus is; even better than the Disciples who had asked themselves “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” This man, released from the control of the evil spirits, is now re-possessed by the Holy Spirit, and now knows that Jesus is not only the “Son of the Most High God”, he is the very presence of God on earth, active in his life!


Today, we don’t tend to think in terms of demon possession yet many of us suffer as the man from Gerasene did. In our modern era, we think of it in terms of mental anguish; be it depression, bipolar disorder, unreasonable fear, the regrets of a past we cannot change, or any number of other things we may battle with, I suppose we all have or have had our struggles with demons to one degree or another. And if we take a look at the world around us and see things like last week’s shooting in Orlando, the constant presence of gang violence, and the senseless wars being fought between nations and religions all around the world, it’s clear that the demons are active everywhere. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

In this story, Jesus shows us that there is hope; that even a “legion” of troubles are no match for the power of faith in God! And he shows us that we don’t need to outnumber them and we don’t need weapons to be victorious over them; we – only – need – love!

For those of us who have personal struggles, we need to love ourselves as Christ loves us! And for those who have been blessed with prevention from such torments, or who have been blessed with healing from them, we need to love the afflicted and proclaim how much God has done for us! Silence is not an option; silence only masks the need for love.

When those who are struggling with their demons remain silent they believe they are the only one who is troubled and they prevent others from giving them the healing love they so desperately need. Likewise, when those who have been healed remain silent they too leave those who struggle thinking they are the only ones to ever know such anguish. The possessed Gerasene did not remain silent, “…he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”” He spoke, he was loved, he was released and re-possessed.

If we speak in faith, and if we love in faith, one by one the demons will be cast out until the whole world is released and re-possessed.

May it be so. May it be soon. Amen


Luke 8:26-39
8:26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
8:27 As 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.
8:28 When 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”–
8:29 for 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.)
8:30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.
8:31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
8:32 Now 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.
8:33 Then 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.
8:34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
8:35 Then 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.
8:36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.
8:37 Then 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.
8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying,
8:39 “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.


Galatians 3:23-29
3:23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.
3:24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.
3:25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,
3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
19:1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.
19:2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
19:3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
19:4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
19:5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”
19:6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.
19:7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
19:8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
19:9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
19:10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
19:11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;
19:12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
19:13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
19:14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
19:15a Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.

Psalm 42 and 43
42:1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
42:2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
42:3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
42:4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help
42:6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
42:7 Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
42:8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
42:9 I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”
42:10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
43:1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me!
43:2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you cast me off? Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy?
43:3 O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.
43:4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.
43:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God