Sermon Notes Pentecost 5C
“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
My friends in Christ, our Sunday lectionary readings repeat in a three year cycle of years lettered A, B, and C. Each year concentrates it’s gospel lessons on one of the synoptic gospels – not surprisingly, in the order they are in the New Testament. Year A is the year of Matthew, year B is the year of Mark, and year C is the year of Luke – this year, we’re in year C.
I’ve wanted to preach this lesson ever since I was ordained ten and a half years ago. That’s 546 Sundays. In those 546 Sundays we’ve gone through three three-year lectionary cycles and I’ve never been on the rota to preach this particular gospel lesson. Finally, that day has arrived! I’ve wanted to preach this lesson so I can tell you folks one thing: In Jesus’ driving of the demon named Legion into the swine, and their subsequent death by drowning, we have the first recorded instance ever of deviled ham. (Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week, two sermons on Saturday and a matinee on Sunday. Try the veal.)
Please understand, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Gospel stories of demon possession are difficult to preach, because we don’t experience demons as described in the Bible. However, all the “demons” Jesus confronts have three things in common: they cause self-destructive behavior in the person, the person feels trapped in that condition, and they separate the person from normal living in the family circle. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Don’t many of us suffer from the same kind of snares and burdens – the same kind of demons?
If we define “demons” as those forces which have captured us and prevented us from becoming what God intends for us to be, we are as surrounded by — yes, possessed by — as many demons as those whom Jesus encountered. Our demons can be of many kinds: mental illnesses, schizophrenia, paranoia, addictions, obsessions, destructive habits, and so on.
Let’s look at the similarities between this demon-possessed man and the demons that possess us. He was totally cut off from family and society. He didn’t live as people, but “in the tombs,” probably in caves that were used as burying places. He was also “driven by the demon into the wilds.” In other words, he was already in a “living death,” separated from normal people and normal living.
Furthermore, the demons were harming him. In Mark’s version of this lesson he was “bruising himself with stones” (Mark 5:1-20). Thirdly, in Mark’s version “no one could restrain him anymore, even with a chain.” Fourthly, and most sadly, he was so totally possessed that though the demons recognized Jesus as “Son of the Most High God,” the man could not free himself.
The point of this story, as well as all the demon-healing stories in the Gospels is that the power of God can cast out demons. The seventy persons sent out by Jesus soon afterward came back and reported, no doubt with astonishment, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”
As many of you know, from the age of twelve until seven and a half years ago, this ornery deacon was an active alcoholic, spreading my own brand of insanity to plaintiff and my children. The key to the success of Alcoholic Anonymous, are the “twelve steps”, and they begin with these three:
1.We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
2.We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3.We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.
Alcoholism is a terrible problem in the former Soviet Union. Before the collapse of the USSR, Soviet officials appealed to American AA members to help them set up AA groups. However, because the Soviet Union was officially atheistic, they asked that these first three steps be omitted in adapting AA to them. The Americans refused, stating that those three steps are basic to their program. All of us, alcoholics or not, need God to free us from our demons.
Those of us in the fellowship of AA also realize that we not only need God’s help but we need the support of people around us. In almost all of Jesus’ stores of healing, there is restoration to families and townspeople. For the healing of demons today, the fellowship of family, congregation and community is a key to restoration. Becoming free from our demons is seldom a “do-it-yourself” project. We need help. We need God’s help, and we need the help of other people.
All this is happening in this story. The hard question – the tough question – we have to ask ourselves is whether it is happening in our parish. During the past few weeks Fr Russ has been looking at the top five goals we have chosen for ourselves in the “Ripe for the Harvest” program.
I looked at the five challenges we found in our church and found such things as gossip/rumors/negativity, poor pastoral care and poor communication, low pride and self-esteem, and resistance to change.
I am going to be bold and name them and call them out as our demons. In many ways, these challenges are demons for they prevent us from becoming a whole and unified parish – a place people want to come to and worship and become a part of. In our prayers and in God’s name we must rebuke gossip/rumors/negativity. We must rebuke poor pastoral care and poor communication. We must rebuke low pride and self-esteem. We must rebuke resistance to change.
I know we can. This parish hasn’t been around for 160-some years without overcoming other demons. So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s rebuke them right now and do as Christ tells the man restored in this Gospel: “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
With that in our midst, let the church say Amen!