Sermon – Pentecost 2 (Proper 7) – June 23, 2019
Luke 8:26-39; Galatians 3:23-4:7 ‘Clothed and Free’
CT: Apart from Christ we are all naked, homeless, and chained by our sinful nature, yet God in His love has sent His Son to free us and clothe us that we might tell what He has done for us.
Intro: A demon possessed naked man, refusing to be clothed, breaking chains and shackles, and living in a graveyard. That sounds to me like a science fiction movie, or something out of ‘The Walking Dead’, not a Gospel reading. But this event is our Gospel reading. Think about what this event meant to the Jewish people. Everything about it was unclean; a man with an unclean spirit, living among the dead—definitely unclean, and amidst a herd of swine—unclean animals owned by foreigners—not God’s people. What was Jesus even doing there? We, like this man in our Gospel lesson might want to ask, “What does this have to do with me?” And as hard as it is to admit; it has everything to do with you and me.
Chained: To begin with, both the Old Testament and Epistle reading speak of things that enslave and shackle us. In Isaiah 65 God’s people had made themselves a stench in God’s nose by their worship of false gods. They were called to be His people and yet they succumbed to the temptations of the world around them. They did not fear, love, and trust God above all things; that’s 1st commandment stuff, and as such did not deserve His favour or mercy. How often have you failed to keep the 1st commandment? What’s in your life that you put ahead of God? If you’re not sure, Timothy Keller asks you to go over your calendar and bank book and see what consumes the majority of your time and resources; there you will find your gods. And we all have them! As guilty as these people were, and as guilty as we are, God promised to bring forth offspring for Jacob and Judah; a people—His chosen—to possess His mountain. He will give them and us what we don’t deserve!
And not only does our false worship and deeds reek of sin that cannot be swept under the rug or avoided, the Law makes sure our noses are held to it. Paul’s letter to the Galatians points out how we are chained to the Law. The Law is good and it’s there for our good, but it holds us captive, accusing us…until the coming of faith. What God asks of us we cannot do for our sinful nature is bent inward; it’s all about me, while God’s Law continually reminds us of our need for relationships outside of me; first of all with God and secondly with others. But on that cross shaped thought that is written into the very fabric of the Law, God sent His Son. In Jesus Christ we are set free to love God and each other. God has taken care of the ‘me’ problem; my sin and its curse of death.
Possessed: We don’t like to think of ourselves as possessed or unclean, but Scripture says otherwise. Not only that, we live among the dead. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians wrote that we too “were dead in our trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience….” (Ephesians 2:1-2) Martin Luther in his book, ‘The Bondage of the Will’ commented on Psalm 73:22: “I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you,” saying that our will is like an untamed beast, and if Christ is not riding it, shaping our consciences, then the devil is. There are no other alternatives!
Grace: The man in our Gospel lesson was overpowered by a legion of demons. If Christ is not present there is room for much evil! Yet this demon possessed man came to Jesus yelling: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you not to torment me.” The man’s question is ours; who are we to deserve the attention of God’s only Son. I think of Casting Crown’s song, ‘Who am I that the Lord of all the earth would care to know my name… Not because of who I am, but because of what you’ve done; not because of what I’ve done, but because of who you are.” We too are unclean Gentiles, living among the spiritually dead, accused by the Law, and enslaved to the devil and the things of this world. Without God’s favour we too are bound for the abyss of unending torment; not a place you would wish on your worst enemy. But Jesus in His mercy set the man free, cast out the demons in a remarkable way that left a huge impact on those herding the pigs, and those keeping them. In fact, they were afraid! This passage points us to Jesus’ mission for the whole world. Jesus said He came for the lost sheep of Israel, but that He has other sheep who are not of this fold that He must bring also. (cf John 10:16) And John the Baptist said that God is able to raise up children for Abraham out of stones, and this by faith. (cf Matthew 3:9) Jesus went to the most unclean of the unclean and made him clean. God can and does overcome any obstacle to make you and me into hearers and doers of His Word. The man who was driven into the tombs of the dead now sat at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind.
Clothed: In Galatians we read: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.” It’s easy to think of what we wear as something we choose, and thus reason God’s work to be our own, even to thinking that the garments of God’s forgiveness and righteousness would be something that wears out, fades, or is replaced and duplicated at will. There is only one Baptism for the remission of sins, and Baptism is God’s work and gift for all people, regardless of race, social status, or gender. No that verse is not about the emancipation of slaves, ending racisim, or removing the glass ceiling on women in big business; it’s about our standing before God—the level playing field of our sin and how all become God’s children in the same way. Never mind the ‘Men in Black’ and “it’s the last suit you’ll ever wear.” The robe of Christ’s righteousness is the only suit we must wear to be forgiven, set free, and live.
Like the man in our Gospel, we are clothed by Christ and by His grace given our right minds; that is having consciences shaped by Christ, able to know God and see the world as He sees it. Exorcism is not so foreign to us; we do it at every Baptism. “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” And we answer: “Yes I do renounce them.” And in exchange for the devil’s grip on us and the despair of his chains, we are given Christ’s righteousness; His blood bought gift of forgiveness, and freed to tell others what God has done for us. You don’t need to be seminary graduate to tell others about Jesus’ work and promise in your life—and you have much to tell and like the man in our Gospel lesson, every reason to tell it!
Jesus told the man to return to his home; something he hadn’t been able to do for a long time, and there “declare how much God has done for you.” The man went and proclaimed “throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” The man got who Jesus is! Like the demons that possessed him, the man knew the strength of the One who had set him free, but also the grace that made it possible. That, my brothers and sisters in Christ is who Jesus is to you. Because of what God has done for you in Christ Jesus you are forgiven, you believe and are free to live and tell.