Pastor for Faith Formation
Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
There is so much on our minds. This has been a difficult week, as we and the nation have tried to grapple with the massacre at the Pulse club in Orlando, Florida. 49 young adults and the shooter lost their lives and 53 were injured last Sunday. The lives of the other 200 club visitors and of everyone’s families have been changed forever.
In Houston like in countless other places we gathered for vigils and expressions of grief, love and support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.
In a frenzy the police and media have tried to investigate and report details of every conceivable aspect, and politicians added their judgments and opinions. The relentless coverage of news and changing news has been tiring in itself. The dimensions of where we find ourselves as a society with easy access to guns capable of mass murder are only beginning to dawn on us.
On Friday we commemorated the anniversary of the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina last year at the Emanuel American Methodist Episcopal Church when nine black persons lost their lives.
Today happens to be Juneteenth, the day when in 1865, two and a half years after the abolition of slavery General Granger arrived in Galveston to announce the news for the first time in Texas.
Today also happens to be Father’s Day – like Mother’s Day a day to reflect on the relationships to our closest kin, a time to reflect again on how we raise children, what we model, what we value as a society/country, how we can lavish love on those who need it most, how we can stay involved in the paths and journeys of our young ones when we see them trail off.
And it is World Refugee Sunday today, a topic that in itself weighs heavily enough. I commend to your prayers the litany on the insert in the bulletin.
So much is on our minds. It is a good day to hear the gospel speak to us.
The prayer of the day set the tone, imploring God to set us free from the chains that bind us, and to defend us from everything that is evil.
Rattle do the chains of those things we cannot change, that keep dominating us. “Deliver us from evil” is the last, most comprehensive petition in our Lord’s Prayer, a fervent plea. It is the power of the kingdom of God that will bring this about. Your kingdom come!
We know who the God is whose kingdom has arrived through Christ’s breaking the chains of death and resurrection. It is the God who fervently calls out to the people of God in Isaiah 65, Here I am, Here I am. Do you not hear me, do you not know me?
Our God, sisters and brothers, the God of Israel is one who remains in relationship even when we forget, abandon, get confused, are possessed by evil. God reaches out, and in negotiation will keep alive the promise that yes, descendants shall live, because there is a rest in whom there is blessing, there is hope, there is future, there is new living in the land.
The story of the demoniac in the country of the Gerasenes is a demonstration of how God’s kingdom, the kingdom present in Jesus Christ, is stronger than the kingdom of the demons. It will eventually be defeated.
As soon as Jesus steps out of the boat after having crossed the 8-mile expanse of the lake of Galilee and having demonstrated the power of his word by stilling a violent storm, he is confronted by a man who is possessed by a demon. Reading up on the order of events, Jesus must have already commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the poor, crazy man, naked and living in a cemetery, even before he fell down at his feet. The demon, speaking in the man, knows Jesus by name and his position, Son of the Most High God. “What have I to do with you, Jesus Son of the Most High?”
Two kingdoms are here at war. God’s through Jesus Christ and the demons’, headed up by Beelzebul. The demons are many and organized like an army: Legion is the guy’s name, when the unclean spirit is still in him. Jesus defeats the demons – and he grants them to enter a herd of unclean swine instead to go directly to the abyss. They end up drowning in the lake. It is the first known case of deviled ham.
For a long time modernity has rejected the idea of demons. We have overcome the naïve understanding of what in truth is mental illness, which we diagnose as chemical and psychological and socio-psychological conditions to which persons are subjected.
In postmodern times we have learned to be comfortable with more than one answer to the questions we have. The perception and experience in antiquity of demons and unclean spirits known to us through the many exorcisms Jesus performs, is not to be labeled naïve, or anachronistic. The fight of the good and bad kingdoms goes on in the minds and experiences of our friends and family members who experience one of the many mental illnesses known to us today. I have had people tell me of voices and torturing fights going on inside them. We still use today the language that evil “gets into someone” or someone is “possessed.”
Dear sisters and brothers, the image of the man sitting by Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind, captures the peace we have in Jesus Christ. It is an image for the gospel so aptly summarized in the Lord’s Prayer, calling for God’s kingdom and culminating in “…deliver us from evil.”
Even if the petitions are petitions as if we were still waiting and pleading for some future out there, we really only pray this prayer because we have been met by Jesus Christ; Jesus whose mark and name we carry in us forever as a seal through Holy Baptism, the same Jesus who feeds us at the table of love and forgiveness. We pray this prayer to God, we hurl our pleas for the kingdom of God to be known everywhere in the entire world, only because Jesus taught us the name of God, Abba, and has given us full knowledge of God’s mercy, justice, and faithfulness.
Christians throughout the ages have sought and found comfort in the strong, wrangling images of Jesus heralding the kingdom of God’s peace, exorcizing the devil and evil forces of this world. The tortures of these fights are still known to us, but so is the peace we know in Jesus Christ.
From the position of that deep peace which the Lord’s Prayer imbues, we are able to face this world, raise our children, engage in the community, and instill in the little and big ways available to us the image of God’s kingdom, the kingdom of our God who never ceases to reach out in fervent love to humanity and eternal faithfulness to creation.