Sunday, June 19, 2016

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2016

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 8:28
Theme: Son of the Most High

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

His name was Legion. He was a horde of demons inhabiting this man from the Galilean shore. In him the ancient foe had established a beachhead for raids on the humanity of that district. Jesus stepped ashore into his domain. The Bearer of Light needed no introduction to these minions of darkness. The recognition and confrontation was immediate. “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”1 They begged Him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.”2

Dear friends, through what experience can we comprehend such an account? Our modern Western culture has- for better or for worse- re-defined, re-imaged, and repudiated claims that satanic activity has any basis in a fact. The so-called enlightened mind is told these claims cannot be harmonized with a materialist view of reality. Yet, many uncomfortable questions remain. Can every incident of psychosis, insanity, and vicious assault be accounted for only from a psychological perspective? Perhaps this is why the discipline of psychology has become so overdeveloped, overburdened, and unsuccessful in meeting the needs of society? Are people directed only to therapies when they actually need confession and forgiveness? Sin must be repented of, not simply analyzed.

Note carefully some critical underlying assumptions made here. The reality of demonic activity and the existence of a place known as the Abyss is taken as common knowledge. These assumptions are a challenge to the modern denial of evil as an objective reality and a dismissive attitude of the spiritual realm generally. The spiritual dimension of the biblical world was not the Platonic conception of a contemplative heaven where disembodied souls achieved their highest virtues by endless meditation. Rather, there was penetrating recognition that daily life was lived at the interface of the next dimension- a spiritual realm every bit as real as the temporal sphere.

Both perspectives cannot be true in reality. We can see a parallel comparison in the modern divergence regarding the origin and meaning of life. How did we get here? Why are we here? And, where are we going? It is possible to believe in an intelligent designer from the empirical evidence we have before us. The complexity, the regularity, the immensity of the universe and how it functions all point to divine participation. Advances in science and progress in technology have only strengthened the case by revealing in more detail the incredible sophistication of both living and nonliving things. The honest secularist can, with intellectual respectability, hold to the conclusion that a supreme power is required to account for what we observe. Many do. But many don’t because they’ve already ejected God from the equation. So the evidence doesn’t really matter.

It doesn’t mean, of course, that those who do believe in a higher power believe in the God of the Bible. They may be closer to holding the convictions of major world religions, minus those religions’ particular practices of spirituality. Belief that the Creator of the universe is so attentive to individual souls that He has rescued them from sin and death is a daring faith to be sure! But belief that life somehow originated chaotically from inert material with no purpose or reason is an utterly blind faith. It is soul-destroying.

So, Christians have categorically different convictions; trust that requires the Holy Spirit. We do not believe merely in a supreme power or being, who is an almighty but abstract deity. We believe in the God who has chosen us before the creation of the world and redeemed us in Christ. We have the God-in-the-flesh Immanuel. He is the untouchable God who was embraced in a human womb. He is the God who cannot be corrupted by sin- who can only condemn sin and punish it- who, nevertheless, became completely defiled by bearing the sins of others. He is the origin of life and yet He succumbed to death. He is the unreachable God who reached down to us.

He reaches us now through His word and sacraments. He is deliberate about seeking souls. The Holy Spirit does not work coincidentally. It may seem that way to us. But it’s not a coincidence when the Spirit brings someone into contact with the Word, transforms their way of thinking, or changes their heart. The most unlikely scenario from a human perspective may be preferred approach of the Holy Spirit. That does mean by any stretch of the imagination that the Holy Spirit works randomly or willy-nilly. God is not a make-it-up-as-He-goes reactive Deity. He doesn’t test certain ideas or use a trial and error methodology. He knows the deceitful complexity of the human heart and will. He knows how easily we are led astray. He shepherds us faithfully.

Today’s gospel contains a somewhat vexing chain of events for modern sensibilities. Why would Jesus grant permission for the demons to inhabit this heard of pigs? As unclean animals they were more suitable hosts. But why not a sentence into the Abyss? Is the mercy and forbearance of Jesus the answer? Would the final sentence for these demons be reserved until Jesus’ death and resurrection? Speculation should be kept in check. But clear truths should be underscored. Christ is the Son of the Most High God. He reigns supreme over demonic forces. He has mastery over Satan.

Why did fear seize the locals? Because this well-known, uncontrollable, formerly demon-possessed man was now sitting at the feet of Jesus in his right mind. Imagine what freedom for this intensely tormented soul! Imagine what peace! Why did the locals not rejoice at his liberation? Unbelieving hearts have difficulty coming to terms with God’s power. It was too confronting; too convicting. Is not a person too vulnerable in the presence of this God? Jews and Gentiles alike had seen impressive Rabbis before. None were like this Jesus. No one ever will be. He is the Son of the Most High God, the Saviour from sin and death. He has been crucified but He lives.

Dear friends, we do not stand outside the events of the Bible as observers of theoretical truths. God is not aloof. We are part of the narrative. Baptism incorporates us into salvation history. We are children of Abraham, sons and daughters of the Most High. We are branches attached to the Vine and living stones in the temple. We don’t need to fabricate a reason for our existence. We don’t need to find our identity in temporal and transient things. We can appreciate and care for God’s creation without worshipping it. We worship the Maker.

The Scripture says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”3 Satan doesn’t like what you’re wearing. He doesn’t like the Christian dress code. He doesn’t like what’s on the menu either. “Take and eat; this is My body…drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”4 But we have nothing to fear. Our King has no rivals. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
19 June, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 8:28
2 Luke 8:31
3 Galatians 3:26-27
4 Matthew 26:26-28