Sunday, June 19, 2016

Out of Darkness...LIGHT!

The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Proper 7+Year C                                   
19 June AD 2016                                                         
St George Parish, Savannah
Isaiah 65:1-9                                                                                                            
Psalm 22:18-27
Galatians 3:23-29                                                                                                        
Luke 8:26-39

On January 17, 1994, the Northridge earthquake rocked Southern California. Pastor Jack Hayford, the founding pastor of The Church on the Way, Van Nuys, California, remembers the emotions he experienced after the quake:

"When it was over, our family was safe and our home virtually untouched. Yet in the days following the disaster, I was gripped with a fear I had never known.

After four days, I desperately sought God in prayer. 'Lord, I can't understand myself! I am not afraid for my life, and I am not in doubt of your presence and protection. Is there something wrong with me?'

Instantly, I sensed an inner whisper: "My son, there is nothing wrong with you. I allowed you to experience the depth of the trauma and fear that has gripped multitudes so that you might comfort them beyond their fears."

It was the words of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. “God uses his children who have endured difficulty to become strength to others experiencing the same trial. We comfort others not from the foundation of our superior faith, but from the commonality of our mutual struggles." 
"O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­ kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen."

Who are those whom You have set upon the sure foundation of Your loving kindness?  According to out gospel and epistle readings this morning, it is US! I believe that in this late age of the world, there has come a certain malaise, a blurring of right and wrong, good and evil. 

How appropriate that we should have this gospel reading the Sunday after the Sunday when not a Gadarene demoniac, but an Orlando demoniac unleashed unmitigated evil on a group of unsuspecting people. We have yet another wakeup call that our lives, this present life, this world that we grow so dependent upon being predictable and somewhat controllable. Jesus, the Jewish itinerant rabbi proclaiming the coming kingdom of God, goes to an unclean land to meet a man possessed by an unclean spirit living in an unclean place.  He had no particularly compelling reason to be there in the natural realm.  The town was a gentile town yet Jesus made a point to going there.  As we observe Jesus in the gospels, Jesus always moves with purpose.  The purpose was a most unlikely cause: a person possessed by demons.  Now I know that demonology is “poo pooed” in some circles, however in the Bible demons are very real.  To Jesus they were real.  When we say that we believe in a devil, a fallen angel working against the forces of good in this world, then we also must believe in demons.  For some reason, in this telling, Jesus saw this man as someone he wanted to reach out to and to deliver.   

Upon landing, he is immediately confronted and verbally accosted.  The spiritual entities make the first move. Jesus immediately asks his name.  Interestingly, he does not give Jesus his name but rather that name which is used of a large segment of the Roman army.   I read it technically, refers to the whole of the military of the Republic of Rome!  With this we are again confronted with the question, what is the cause of such mass murder?  What causes it and will that enable us to stop it? 

One commentator wrote: This is, in short, the very last place Jesus should be. Which, when you think about it, is where God usually shows up. At our moments of profound doubt, grief, loss, and defeat. And – and this is the one that often surprises us – among those who may to this point have little interest in, let alone relationship with, God

I saw a young man telling a story of his experience on the football team as a high school senior in a Catholic School. He really had no time for God or anything else although his parents were always inviting him. It wasn't until his last game before the team was to go to the playoffs that his life changed. He have a plan to take on the other quarterback. The plan executed, and his play was effective. Unfortunately after the play finished, all of his limbs were immobilized. He went to the hospital with a traumatic neck injury. For the next few weeks his parents and friends hoped, prayed, and visited him. It wasn't until one night at 3 in the morning after the team chaplain had come to give last rites to someone else in the hospital, then everything changed. The priest came in said “it was a great play, too bad what happened.” He then tossed a New Testament on the young man’s chest and left the room. As he left he gave him two scriptures to read Psalm 6 and Psalm 136. Problem was he couldn't move any of his limbs. He said then his nose began to itch and he spent the next several hours trying to get his hand to move up and scratched his nose. Finally and suddenly his hand moved to his nose so hard he gave himself a dislocated nose. Later after the nose had  been tended to , he read the Bible. As he read the word "Lord rebuke me not in your anger, nor chasten me in your wrath.  Be  gracious to me oh Lord for I am languishing. Lord Heal me for my bones are troubled. My soul also is sorely troubled. But thou oh Lord how long?" He said that he knew that whoever wrote this had been there where he was now. He begins to cry out to God and read God's word every day since. God showed up. Carl Jung once famously said "bidden  or unbidden, God is present".

We are led back to fundamentals of good and evil.  In John 16, we have Jesus speaking to the disciples of the world after He is gone.  I’ll wager that few if any of us have heard a sermon mentioning this:  Jesus says the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.  Is there mental illness Yes.  Is their evil?, Yes.   Are there fallen angels? Yes.

In his work The People of the Lie Psychiatrist Scott Peck speaks of the sources of human evil and their manifestations.   He writes: Evil then, for the moment, is the force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”  The book is definitely worth a read and a good bit different than his most well known book, the Road Less Travelled.

As the story progresses, the spirits ask Jesus not to cast them out of their country but let the go into the pigs in the field which He allows.  For all that this means, do your own research, just note what the effect is on the people.  This is interesting.  The Swine herders ran off to the town to tell what had happened and of course the whole town went out.   We read: when they came to Jesus, they 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.

Why were they afraid?  They were accustomed to the demoniac but they were afraid…of Jesus!  Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

We live in a spiritual and supernatural realm.  As evil grows, we and the world need Jesus, but some hold back. Is the devil they know better than the Christ they don’t?  The Jews, Christians, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Church have all been fugitives, persecuted and suffered.   We have had it relatively easy in this United States since our founding, yet now, the voices are being raised against Christianity.  Jesus and Stephen as they were dying both prayed: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

An Eastern Orthodox Prayer, recited every evening says: Lord, we pray… for those who hate us and those who love us.”  Having lived under both repressive Russian and Moslem rule, they know something about persecution.  Was Jesus in Orlando?  Yes he was there.  He was reaching out to the fearful, to the victims as they died  and now to the families and friends in their grief.  We commend the souls who died to the Father.  We pray for their souls.  Jesus will not always stop evil, he rarely does, but to those who reach out to him in faith and hope and help, He is there.    We know that the evil spirits fear God, they fear Jesus and they fear the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts. 
Their biggest weapon is fear and they are surely good at making people afraid .  They seek the evil in humanity, they use selfishness, greed, anger and a myriad of other human weaknesses and sins to magnify evil in this world.  That is but one reason the world needs Jesus.  The world needs us!  We are the Jesus with “sin on” as some have termed us. 
We represent, we re-present Jesus in this world.  Jesus calls us to love our enemies, even those who do the greatest evil to us, but we don’t do it alone.  A very unexpected and no doubt unanticipated thing happened there in Orlando, I’m sure it was a surprise to the Devil!  The ones whom the LGBT community felt the most condemned by, religious people, rose to the challenge!  Instead of saying things like: “serves them right”, Christians, Jews and even some Muslims came out in loving caring and supportive provisional roles. God showed up!  Maybe God will bring a softened, more loving and gentle understanding to those who just DON’T UNDERSTAND THE LGBT THING!   We all share the human journey of brokenness and hardship but God is present. Out of darkness has come the Holy Spirit’s LIGHT!  We know that Light. The Spirit of God works in and through us and by the love that gave His all even for the ones who killed him literally.  He loves us!  Let us love others with Him as we fight the good fight with God’s armor of LOVE. AMEN

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