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Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 16 June 2022

First Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9

1I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name. 2I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; 3a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks; 4who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat pig’s flesh, and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels; 5who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all the day. 6Behold, it is written before me: “I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their lap 7both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together, says the Lord; because they made offerings on the mountains and insulted me on the hills, I will measure into their lap payment for their former deeds.” 8Thus says the Lord: “As the new wine is found in the cluster, and they say, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,’ so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. 9I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, and from Judah possessors of my mountains; my chosen shall possess it, and my servants shall dwell there.”

Psalm 3

1Lord, how many adversaries I have! how many there are who rise up against me! 2How many there are who say of me, “There is no help for him in his God.” 3But you, O Lord, are a shield about me; you are my glory, the one who lifts up my head. 4I call aloud upon the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill; 5I lie down and go to sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. 6I do not fear the multitudes of people who set themselves against me all around. 7Rise up, O Lord; set me free, O my God; surely, you will strike all my enemies across the face, you will break the teeth of the wicked. 8Deliverance belongs to the Lord.  Your blessing be upon your people!

Second Reading: Galatians 3:23-4:7

23Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There 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. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

1I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Gospel: Luke 8:26-39

26{Jesus and his disciples} sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28When 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.” 29For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time 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 desert.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. 34When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and 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. 36And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

Satan is Still at Work

Across the sea of Galilee, on what the Jewish people often refer to as the far shore, lies the ruins of the ancient city of Gadara.  In its heyday, Gadara was an urban area — the southern end of the Ten Roman Cities of the Decapolis.  Gadara is no longer a city; nothing is left but low walls indicating where the buildings once stood.  Near the city stands the ruins of a cathedral that St. Helena built hundreds of years ago.  They’re barely recognizable as well, but the edifice was constructed to mark the spot where Jesus cast demons into swine and sent them to their death in the sea.

In the rocky crags just outside the city, there are caves and tombs.  These had been the dwelling place of the man we often call “The Gadarene Demoniac.”  It was here that he had lived among the dead — naked and demon possessed.  The townspeople knew him well, and they steered clear of him.  He was uncontrollable and often violent.  St. Luke tells us that, one day, he and Jesus came face to face as our Lord was passing through the area.  Immediately, Jesus recognized the demoniac’s condition and healed him of the demons.  However, this story of an exorcism is different from all the others.

In a strange twist of the story, the demons begged Jesus to allow them to inhabit a nearby herd of pigs.  Why, we’re not told.  But apparently there was a choice to be made.  Drown with the pigs, or be ordered into the “abyss”.  Jesus acquiesced, and the pigs rushed into the lake and drowned.  It’s here that we learn three things. 

The first thing we need to see is Jesus’ compassion.  The second thing of note here is the power the demons recognized in Jesus.  The third is, Jesus gives us choices.  In this encounter, the demons throw the man down at Jesus’ feet and frantically ask Him, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  There are apparently so many demons possessing this man that they identify themselves not by name, but by number, Legion.  Jesus, they plead, “I beg you do not torture me.”  In this passage we learn that Jesus has the power, and more importantly the authority, to send demons to a place that they fear and dread.  Think about this for a moment.  Even pure evil has a place that it fears.

Really ponder this aspect of this story.  There is a place that demons dread.  It’s a place of absolute evil.  A place of the complete absence of good; a location that is totally devoid of God’s presence.  As our psalmist reminds us, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you” (5:4).  Such a place indeed does exist, Jesus referred to it as “a place of utter darkness”, “a place of wailing and of the gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:28), a location “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).  I for one do not want to ever experience such a place and I have no idea how you would picture this place, but I call it Hell.  Here in this account from St. Luke’s gospel, the demons call it the “Abyss”.

Now most people, when they think of the end times, will recall John’s vision in Revelation chapter 9, that in the eschaton, Jesus will defeat satan and his minions, and cast them into the bottomless pit.  However, we seldom consider that Jesus had the power then, and He still has the authority today, to banish the powers of satan to a place of torment.  Again, really consider this.  Because Jesus had, (and still has!), the power to command and control the destiny of satan’s minions, we have nothing to fear when we serve and work for Jesus. 

I can’t stress this enough, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).  Another verse, I believe is important for us to consider today, comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:12).  Satan and his subordinates may be a formattable foe, but Jesus has already overcome satan, and as our psalmist reminds us, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (27:1).

The second thing of note in this passage is, we also see the compassion of Jesus.  As I previously highlighted, Jesus had the power to condemn these demons to the “Abyss”.  He had the power and authority to condemn these evil spirits to a place where they could no longer cause problems, but instead Jesus chose to allow them to choose their own fate.  I want to be careful here, I don’t want to go too far with speculation, but, we also do not know what happened to these evil spirits once the pigs drown; so I’ll simply leave this here.  The point is, Jesus has absolute authority over the spirits of darkness and Jesus is compassionate.  This is very important for us to remember.  If Jesus can show compassion to those who have already been condemned, how mush more will He show mercy to those who love and obey Him?

The final point that we need to see in this passage is Jesus didn’t force the demons to a certain end.  Yes, they had to leave the man, but Jesus didn’t force them into the Abyss.  We have a major difference here; when satan is in control, we no longer have a choice.  Oh sure, satan will allow us to think that we’re in control, that we hold all the cards, that we can make all the choices, but this is an illusion.  When we allow the devil to have influence over us and our lives, we are indeed in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.  Contrast this condition with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

When the Spirit of God dwells within us, He comforts us, guides us, and helps us to recall all that Jesus taught us.  When we surrender our lives to God, God will strengthens us for service in His kingdom, empowers us to love and serve our neighbor and gives us the promise of eternity with Him.  As St. John reminds us, “that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5b).  Therefore, since there is no darkness in God, since our Lord is always with us, then we have no fear of satan or of the Abyss, the place of torment, of the place of utter despair.  Yes, we are free to choose; we can choose to serve God and enjoy the blessings of being His child and eternal life, or we can choose to serve satan, and become a slave to sin and be destined for the Abyss.  God will not force Himself on anyone.  Here’s the hard question, and a challenge for us today. 

Where in the Bible do we find that Jesus bound all the forces of evil for all time?  We do know that after Jesus returns, He will defeat the forces of satan and will judge each person for the deeds done in this life.  However, there’s nowhere in the Bible that I can find, that until the second coming, that Jesus stopped the influence of satan.  To further this point, that satan is still active, all we need to do is look around and see that the devil is working hard in our world today.  Remember St. Peter reminds us to, “Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  For me there are just way too many examples of the devil at work in our world today for us to simply dismiss the actions of some people to simple sinfulness. 

I’m sure we can all come up with our own examples, by watching the news, of what could be called purely evil acts.  Acts of greed, acts of violence, and demonstrations of hatred so egregious that they can only be explained by demonic influence.  A few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a mini seminar given by Pastor Phillip Gagnon, the Assistant to the Bishop for Domestic Missions, and the author of the book, Deliver Us from Evil: A Manuel of Exorcism

Pastor Gagnon has spent a good many years study and training with representatives of the Roman Catholic church in exorcisms.  Now before I go any further, I do need to stress the point that, according to Pastor Gagnon, full demonic possession, like the kind highlighted in our gospel reading for today, is rare, very rare.  This is also the findings of the Roman Catholic church.  However, the three levels, or grades of demonic influence, that is, the amount of sway the he has on people, is much more common.

According to Pastor Phil, demonic influence can be seen in three stages or phases.  The first stage is the kind of influence that Pastor Phil calls ordinary; this is the kind of influence we experience each and every day, temptation.  Day in and day out, satan places temptations in our path to get us to take our eyes off Jesus and focus on our own selfish wants and desires.  Because we are naturally prone to sin, the devil doesn’t have to work too hard to get us to fall prey to sin.  For the great majority of people, this is enough for the devil to accomplish his mission.  The second stage of influence, infestation, is, as you might expect, one where the devil exerts more control.

In the second stage of demonic influence, a stage that is gradually reached over time, a person is much more quickly given to sin.  This is the person who has perhaps repeatedly gotten away with certain things.  Examples of this is a person who is actively cheating on their spouse, a habitual thief, or a liar.  These are folks that have become, for the most part, somewhat numb to the effects of their conscious, opening themselves up to further influence by satan’s powers.  The third level, obsession, is of course, one where the forces of evil have an even greater influence.

In this third stage, Pastor Phil also refers to this as partial possession.  The demon or demons influencing a person do not have complete control of the individual, but they do have a great deal of influence over a person.  These are the people who have a seared conscience.  These are people who have no problem committing crimes against others, or even violent acts.  These are the people who seemingly enjoy being evil.  They think only of their own desires and pleasures, and their thoughts and actions are heavily influenced by the devil and they are ready, even eager, to commit acts of aggression, deeds of self-satisfaction, or even violence. 

These people are driven by the alure of power, who flaunt their hypocrisy, people who refuse to acknowledge they could be wrong and who want to force others to accept their version of the truth and reality.  I insist that we see far too more cases of this level of influence in our world today then we want to acknowledge.  Again, I bring this up because no where in the Bible can I find that the powers of satan have been bound in this current age.  This means then that satan is still at work today, still on the prowl looking for someone to consume.  The question for us today is, what are we to do about this information? 

First and foremost, we need to remember, and thank God, that we know and serve the One who has the true power and authority, Jesus.  Remember what Jesus said just before He ascended back to the Father?  He told the disciples, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).  The all authority Jesus is talking about in the passage is absolute authority.  In every encounter we read in the Bible, the demons knew exactly who Jesus is, they knew His authority and they feared Him.  In many of the stories we read, Jesus refused to allow the evil spirits to speak.  However, in every case they had to submit to His absolute authority, and they left the possessed individual.  You and I serve the almighty God, the One that has all authority in all times and places.  Therefore, we have nothing to fear from the forces of satan when we faithfully serve God.

I’d like to highlight two specific stories in the Bible that will help us in dealing with the cosmic forces.  First is in Acts 19 where the seven Sons of Sceva were trying to cast out evil spirits in the name of Jesus and Paul.  In verse 15, we read, “But the evil spirit answered them, Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”  The reason I bring this to your attention is that when we follow Jesus and are filled with His presence and Holy Spirit, even the evil spirits recognize the One who is in us. 

Paul was faithfully doing the work of the kingdom and as such, was given the power and authority he needed to accomplish his mission.  When we’re faithful and busy working in God’s kingdom for His glory, we too will be given the power and authority we need to accomplish God’s work.  Satan knows this and he will recognize Jesus’ authority in us.

The second story I want to bring to your attention comes from Mark chapter 9 (14-29).  A father brings his deaf-mute son to the disciples to have an evil spirit cast out.  In this case the disciples couldn’t command the spirit to leave, so the father brings the boy to Jesus who command the spirit to “come out of him and never enter him again.”  When the disciples later ask Jesus why they couldn’t command the spirit out, Jesus replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”  What we learn here is that sometimes there are situations that require us to pray and be patient. 

There could be many reasons for this, an unwillingness by the person under satan’s influence, our weak faith, or something else.  However, we still need to remember, Jesus has the authority over even the toughest of demons and when we pray God will answer.  It may simply take time, patience, and lots of prayer on our part.  Satan is alive and busy in our world today and we must be prepared to meet the challenges of the cosmic forces.  This is why we must begin our day in prayer.

We don’t know what evil we will encounter as we go about our daily routines.  It could be someone who is simply struggling with everyday temptation, or it could be that person who has surrendered to the forces of the devil and enjoys sinning.  But whatever cosmic force we encounter, we must be prepared. 

In Ephesians chapter 6, Paul reminds us to put on the whole armor of God.  St. Paul writes: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

Today as we celebrate Father’s Day, more than ever, we need Christian men willing to dedicate themselves to prayer, to studying the word of God, men who are willing to be living examples of a faithful Christian life.  The forces of the evil in this world may be formattable, but when we stand together as God’s children, empowered by the Holy Spirit, clothed with the armor of God, we have nothing to fear.  It’s satan who is afraid.


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