Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Defined by our demons. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 2, Proper 7C, preached on Sunday, June 23, 2019.

    There is a common idea today that the most important thing in life is to be true to yourself and own your desires and let those desires define you.  So the first words out of our mouths is not a name but an identity – from sexual identities such as gay, straight, transgender, queer, to other identities such as disfigured bodies to economic status to experience to a thousand other things.  Hi, my name is Larry and I am . . .   The demons within do not shame us but have become our pride.  The desires that once were secret, we now shout form the mountain tops.  The hidden things in us have become the first words we say to introduce ourselves to someone else.  Our demons have become our names.

    Jesus encounters a man with demons.  These demons had held the man prisoner for some time.  He had cast off all the man’s modesty and the demon abandoned clothing to walk around naked.  The demon had cut the man off of house and home and he lived in the places of death with the graves and tombs of the dead.  The demon had been cut off from family and friends and lived only in the company of other demons.  He wandered in loneliness and shame and misery.

    In today’s world, this is not a bad thing.  Better to admit and even flaunt your demons rather than live a closeted life in which you wage a personal battle against whatever sin and desire lurk therein.  Our modern world would rather see us naked and exposed on social media, controlled by the forces of our demons, rather than live pious, upright, and self-controlled lives.  Our modern world parades our weakness, our desire, and our shame, giving into the demons instead of struggling against them.  But not Jesus.  We let our demons name us but Jesus names the demons to set us free.

    The demons knew that Jesus had not come to accept or affirm them.  They beg Jesus not to torment them.  They knew that Jesus had come to command the demonic to come out and depart from this man.  And the first step in this exorcism was to call out the demon by name.  The demons came out and entered a herd of pigs.  Remember that pigs are unclean according to the Mosaic law.  The unclean spirits came to live in an unclean herd of unclean animals, to hide in darkness because they cannot live in the light where they are exposed.  Into the herd they went and off the cliff and down into the depths of the sea.  The man was freed from his demons and went home to start a brand new life.  For what had prevented his life were those demons and they had ruled over the man’s heart and mind and life until Jesus set Him free.

    Friends, the world invites you to let your demons, your sinful desires, and your weaknesses rule over you but God has come to rid you of your demons and to teach you to live holy, upright, and self-controlled lives.  Our Lord has come to set you free.  Within this freedom, the rule of Christ leads you past beyond your weakness and shame and sets you right with God your Father so that you may live in the Spirit and under the Law where right is right and wrong is wrong.  This is His gift of freedom.

    The world wants you to live according to your demons as if these demons can fulfill you, fill the emptiness within, or answer your loneliness.  The world says whatever sexual desires you have are good as long as they are consensual.  There is no right or wrong, only the right time and the right person.  The world says it does not matter the coarseness of your vocabulary but only that it feels good to you.  The world says that happiness and contentment come from doing whatever you please when you please.  The world says your body is your raw material to be remade as you desire.  But these are lies.  The man was not free while his demons ruled, but captive to his demons.  He was a prisoner to evil.    

    Christ comes into our lives not to affirm what is wrong but to call it out and give it a name and then to cast it out.  This is not a mere story.  This is what our Lord continues to do.  He finds us prisoners of our desires and captive to our sins.  He finds us lost and alone, living an empty and lost life.  And Jesus calls forth our demons, leads us to repentance, and sets us free through forgiveness.  The fruits of this forgiveness are lives lived in holiness and righteousness, in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord who died to set you free.  The outcome of such a life restored from demonic power is a people who live self-controlled lives, no longer willing to be pawns of the devil or to be defined by their demons.  This is YOUR life, redeemed in Christ, reborn from the waters of Holy Baptism, led by the Spirit of the Risen Christ, fed and nourished by His Word and at His Table.  You are the people whom He has called from darkness into His marvelous light.  You are the free who no longer have to live in bondage to your wants and desires.  He has set you free to be defined by the brand new life and future prepared for you instead of by the past that once cast its long dark shadow over you.
    In the rite of Holy Baptism the pastor calls out the demon.  I command you to come out and depart from this servant of Jesus Christ.  This is not some antiquated language from another more ignorant and superstitious time.  This is current language and a current power to address the powers of the devil that still afflict us, still tempt us, still tie us up in knots of lies, deception, fear, and shame.  This is the Word of the Lord speaking to a people still battling with our demons and still the victims of all our sinful desires.  His claim over us is broken not by our desire or even by our efforts but by the power of the cross and by the Word of the Cross still preached into our ears and hearts.

    For only Christ can unleash us from the chains that bind us.  We do not battle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.  The devil still walks about like a lion seeking whom he may devour.  His greatest power over us is our sins.  He tells us the lies that our sinful hearts want to hear as he once did to Adam and Eve in Eden.  Say it, do it, become it. . . Whatever that desire is, no matter how wrong it is, do what comes easy and natural to a people marked by sin.  To these lies, Christ speaks the truth.  To the power of the devil, Christ holds up the cross.   To the shame that holds us captive, Christ’s blood cleanses us and makes us perfectly clean.  To the guilt that hides in us, Christ bestows the gift of a clear conscience through His holy and mighty word of absolution.

    Do not give into the desires of your hearts.  Do not let your feelings become your facts.  They are prisons in which your lives are stolen from you, your past dominates you, and you future is lost to you.  Instead, live in the light of Christ.  This is why we come to Church.  Christ’s light and life are here in His Word and Sacraments.   This is why we confess our sins.  We name our demons and admit all that we have thought, said, and done wrong.  This is why absolution is so central.  Only by forgiveness can the shame of our past give way to the joy of the present and the promise of a whole new and eternal future.  This is why He sets His table in the midst of our enemies and feeds us His flesh and blood.  Here we are strengthened by His grace so that we do not return to the prison of our wants and the captivity of our desires.

    What shall we do in response to all He has done?  Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.  This is what Christ said to the man held captive by his demons so long ago and set free by the power of Christ.  This is what we hear every Sunday.  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.  We have a purpose.  We have calling.  We have a vocation.  We have a new life to live.  That life centers not on what we were or what we did but who we are in Christ and the life we now live in Him.

    No one wants a pastor who lives by his desires.  Pastors have demons, too.  I have many demons within – just like you.  I live no charmed life nor is it easy for me to deny those demons and live the new life Christ gave me in my baptism.  That is why I have to be here every Sunday -- so that His Word lives in me and His body and blood define me.  This is who I now am.  I am a child of God by baptism and faith.  The name I wear is not the name of my demons but the name of Christ splashed over me in baptismal water.  I am His own and now my daily calling is to live in Christ the new life that He has given me, living under Him in His kingdom, now and even forever more.

    Let's be blunt.  We live in a world of self-indulgence to things not neutral at all but evil.  People of God, refuse to be defined by your desires or to wear the name of your sins.  Release them to the power of His blood and live in Christ the new life that He gave you in your baptism.  This is the only true freedom and the only real life that will not end in death.  Amen.

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