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Sunday Sermon 19 June 2016 – liberated!

Readings: Luke 8:26-39

MESSAGE

Luk 8:27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. Luk 8:28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”

I wonder how you would have felt doing some pastoral visiting at this man’s place.

It’s not exactly welcoming.

The average church pastoral team would rather call a medical emergency line. Or simply dial 111. Or 999, depending where you live.

It’s a cemetery for one thing.

My first church posting as a pastor alone was in a town where the church met in a national monument made of stone strategically placed between two cemeteries. There was no power – the organ ran on a petrol generator.

In time we moved out to a local school, and after I moved on they built a church building.
We never did have evening services between those two cemeteries.

This man –
• He lived amongst the dead
• He was in chains
• He was naked

And I’m sure people were comfortable that he stayed there – that he didn’t wander into town at night.

Trust Jesus to show up there. He’s had a nap on the boat ride over. Just by the way – the sea of Galilee is an inland lake 166 square kms (for kiwis, Taupo is 616 square kms.) It was a bumpy ride in a fierce storm.

He’s had his followers accusing him of not caring that they might drown.

He’s calmed the squall – we love that story because we’d all like our storms in life stilled – we all want peace.

And now he encounters this! With all its potential for violence and plenty of drama.

This was not Jewish territory. The pigs give that away.

The man was unwell by any standards – and there were no psychiatrists back in the day. In today’s medical terms he would probably be classified as mentally ill. And institutionalized because he was a risk to others and himself. Possibly Psychotic at the least. Not to speak of the terrible loneliness and isolation. And self-harm and ferocity.

The encounter with Jesus is also intriguing. Why is he so afraid of Jesus tormenting him? Okay perhaps it’s the demon voices speaking – if you are a strict literalist. On the other hand, it could also be symptomatic of a real desire of this sick man not to face reality. Perhaps it’s all too hard for him.

Someone has suggested that strangers would be kinder to us if we are seriously ill – because they would have no special concern for us and would try to make us feel good.

Those who love us, on the other hand, would ask the hard questions and want us to face real change.

I take the demonic in scripture very seriously – but not all the people Jesus healed were demonized. It’s more complex than that.

Whatever the cause of this man’s oppression, he would have been terrified of change. His home among the dead was at least predicable in some way. And he would hardly have been welcome in so called normal society. The prejudice is just as real today if we are off the spectrum in terms of our mental health.

The truth is that most of us are at best ambivalent about dealing with radical change in our lives.

Jesus addresses these demons – the Legion. They don’t want to go into the Abyss – a unique word in Luke it seems – the place of the dead perhaps, the deep (Psalm 107:26 cf. Romans 10:7) – or an equivalent of hell or hades (Luke 16:23). (cf. Rev 9:11 and Jude 1:6).

It’s a troubling thing for the locals that the demons ask for permission to go into the pigs.

2000 pigs according to Mark. At $50 each conservatively that’s $100 000 worth of disruption for the locals.

What a story to share with your neighbours. The grapevine would have been red hot.

WHAT ABOUT US?

• There are degrees of brokenness. But we are all broken.
• There are degrees of sickness.
• But we are all vulnerable.

No matter who we are – we are part of this broken world.

And there are plenty of people out there tormented by oppression, mental illnesses, addictions, loneliness and despair.

At a very basic level this story gives hope – and disturbs people all at once.

Luk 8:34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, Luk 8:35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

The naked mad one is doing what we all need to do – sitting at Jesus’ feet. Doing the Mary thing (which Martha struggled with if you remember).

And he’s dressed.

And in his right mind.

And the people are afraid! And rightly so – if Jesus can do this – perhaps they thought – what then could he do in my life? Do I want that?

Do you want that? Radical transformation? or would you prefer respectable Christianity – tamed religion.

The locals didn’t want it. Look at verse 37: Luk 8:37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

But the story does end with such a positive statement:

Luk 8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Luk 8:39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Note the shift from God to Jesus.

When we meet with Jesus ourselves – we too can’t stay on a high as it were. On the mountain top – or in the boat after the storm.

We have to go home and tell others about it.

He does it: So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

We missed verse 36: Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.

There’s the key. The word cured also means healed and saved, liberated. We need that too. How much Jesus had done indeed.

Marvelous. Brilliant. Wonderful. Stunning. Fantastic. Miraculous.

Praise God for His grace. He still sets people free today.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 2 August 2015 – Freedom to serve one another in love

Readings: Galatians 5:1; 13 – 26

SERMON

A church secretary spent her vacation at the beach. As she sunned herself, a little boy in his swim suit approached her and politely asked her a series of questions. “Miss, do you believe in God?” The woman was taken aback a little but said she did. Then the little boy asked, “Do you go to church every Sunday?” The woman told the boy that she went to church every Sunday and even worked at the church during the week. The little boy persisted with his interrogation and asked, “Do you read your Bible every day?” The woman told the boy she read her Bible every day. The boy nodded his head, seeming satisfied with her answers and then he said: “It that case, will you hold my dollar for me while I go for a swim?”

That’s a trust issue – isn’t it? How do you really measure the virtues of a stranger? Over the years we’ve often listened to peoples’ stories – loaned them money – and never heard from them again.

What virtues are deemed to be most important in the Christian faith? What are the key signs?

We’re back in Paul’s letter to the Galatians this week. You will remember the background – how other missionary people had gone around the churches in the area trying to persuade them (as Gentiles) to be circumcised and follow the requirements of the first testament or old covenant.

Paul makes it clear that going back to circumcision means going back to the whole old covenant: Gal 5:3  Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.

Being in Christ takes us to a new level:  Paul wants us all in Christ to be one faith family of the new covenant – with no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, or any other differences, as in Galatians 3:25-29:

Gal 3:25  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,

Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Gal 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

In chapter 5 which is a highlight in the letter, Paul unpacks his ideas of freedom:

Gal 5:13  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Gal 5:14  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Gal 5:15  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Love creeps in here in these two key passages. (The first we missed in the reading today).

Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Gal 5:13  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Faith – faith in Christ, dying with Christ, and being raised up to new life through the Spirit leads to this sense of belonging to this family by which people know we are Christians by the love shared in the community.

There was a great song in the 70s sung at churches and on church camps, that went like this: We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord (x2) and we pray that all unity may one day be restored, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love. (Ironically the music was taken out of the music book LIVING PRAISE because the owner of the tune had not given permission for it to be published.)

Years ago I preached about this love – quoting William Glasser who said that what our basic need in life is to love and to be loved in a dependable relationship. (Bennie)

To know that you’re loved, that is very freeing. It also constrains us to act. Love constraining – because there is love I help.

I used to teach teenage boys each year about the different kinds of love in Greek and Hebrew – especially that unconditional love of a mother who gets up when children have earache at 2.00am the morning. Or especially when they are sick and there’s heaps of cleaning to do – literally.

A parent would not get their bible out and say – well there’s nothing here in the Bible that says I need to do anything. A parent doesn’t look up the relevant Law from Parliament – to see if you have to get up and help your child. You just do it!

Love constrains us. Listen again to verse 14 to 16:

Gal 5:14  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Lev 19:18; Mark 12)

Gal 5:15  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Gal 5:16  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

It seems that the Galatians were really at odds with each other. Verse 15 hints at even physical conflict. And the default setting from our flesh – translated as “sinful nature” (NIV) – are acts of the flesh:

 Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;

Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions

Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The new covenant’s default setting is not as straight forward – because the flesh/sinful nature manifests in acts that are impulsive, and almost automatic – because they are largely all about us and our hedonistic sinful setting. These are vices.

The virtues are more challenging. Someone put it like this: “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Patience is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Generosity is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”

 They are fruits. The trees – that’s us – require serious attention and nurture, and large quantities of love that never counts the cost.

Some kids stories to end today:

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, “What does love mean?” The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined.

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”

“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.”

“When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you’re scared they won’t love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more.”

“There are two kinds of love. Our love. God’s love. But God makes both kinds of them.”

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

“Love is when someone hurts you. And you get so mad but you don’t yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.”

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.”

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

And my favourite one of all: “God could have said magic words to make the nails fall off the cross, but He didn’t. That’s love.”

The fruits of the spirit:

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Gal 5:24  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

Gal 5:25  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Let’s cultivate these shall we.

Amen.