June 19, 2016
Today's gospel is the fourth straight to have Jesus freeing someone from their particular affliction, unchaining them from that trouble. Last week the woman who anointed his feet was forgiven of her sins of which she had many according to Jesus. Two weeks ago, Jesus touched two lives when he raised a young man from death. Obviously the young man's life was changed but Jesus also saved his mother from a life of hardship as a widow with no son to care for her. And three weeks ago, it was a soldier's servant who was healed from a terrible sickness. Luke has a lot about the healings of Jesus. And today we find a man who was possessed by demons, so many they were called Legion. For a long time, he had been tormented by seizures and violent outbursts. This meant that he was an outcast in so many ways. He was unable to be included in any type of community; not family, not society, not the church or synagogue. He was in prison in that he was physically chained, separated from the world. And then came Jesus! And we know the rest of the story; “Then people came out to see what had happened, and 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.”
It can be frightening to have a close encounter with the Son of God. All-powerful, all knowing, holy, perfect.... And they saw him in all his might get rid of those demons. But maybe there was another fear. Maybe one we share with them. What if we encounter Jesus and our world, our life, isn't changed? What if the thing we most desire to be freed from is not the thing Jesus chooses to change?
Consider this morning what we might be bound by. Most of us wouldn't think of demons like the man in the gospel. But what about our fears? Can we be so caught up in fear that we find ourselves separated from the ones we love? Or anger? Has someone hurt you deeply, so deeply that the chains of anger keep you from being free? Grief, hate, memories of happier times, the inability or unwillingness to forgive, desires for things we don't have (the bible calls it covetousness) are all things that can imprison us, not with chains like the man in the story, but in the inability to get past what is bothering us.
If you have some of these chains, be assured you are not the first to experience these debilitating emotions. If you are a reader of the Psalms, you know how real and heartfelt they are. The psalms don't cover up any of these emotions; the fear, anger, grief, longing for better times, the lack of forgiveness, covetousness. We read 2 psalms today, I believe it is the only time in the 3 year cycle where two psalms are included in the lectionary. These two show us the emotions that are common to the human race.
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long they say to me,
"Where now is your God?"
6 Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? and why are you so disquieted within me?
11 I will say to the God of my strength, "Why have you forgotten me? and why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?"
14 Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? and why are you so disquieted within me?
5 Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? and why are you so disquieted within me?
The writer's soul is heavy with fear and doubt and worry. He should know; we should know that we are never alone even when we walk through the valley of fears or doubts or sorrows or... name your valley. We are assured that God walks with us just as God walked with the psalmist. For it wasn't only laments that the author included, but also the reality of God, a truly present help in times of troubles. Some more upbeat verses from today's psalm.
7 Put your trust in God; for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
10 The Lord grants his loving-kindness
15 Put your trust in God; for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
2 For you are the God of my strength;
I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness; and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.
6 Put your trust in God;for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
That is one of the strengths of scripture, it is honest, it doesn't cover up the pain and troubles we can face. But in every instance, the Word turns us back to the Lord. “Put your trust in God” wrote the Psalmist. “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” That's what Paul wrote to the Galatians. And Luke tells us the result of the man feed from the demons, “So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”
We are here because we have some level of trust in Christ, some understanding of how much he has done for us. Faith grows as we understand that the God of the universe knows each of us personally and loves us. And that should matter in how we live. And it should matter in how we face the chains that bind us. It matters that our attitude matches our professed faith. We understand that Jesus Christ walks with us, that Jesus understands and that maybe Jesus will change our circumstances. But we also recognize that maybe Jesus won't change our situation. Can we trust that God knows right where we are, and knows what we need, and knows the desires of our hearts...and somehow in infinite wisdom God is working things together for good in our lives? That's a big question. And it requires that we let go of the idea that we know what is best in our lives.
Bev Driver sent me an email on Friday that fits here. Our chains can be removed even if our situations don't change. Here's what she sent:
A famous writer was in his study. He picked up his pen and began writing: Last year, my gall bladder was removed. I was stuck in bed due to this surgery for a long time. The same year I reached the age of 60 and had to give up my favorite job. I had spent 30 years of my life with this publishing company. The same year I experienced the death of my father. In the same year my son failed in his medical exam because he had a car accident. He had to stay in the hospital with a cast on his leg for several days. And the destruction of the car was a second loss. His concluding statement” - “Alas! It was such bad year!!”
That author was bound by the chain of negativity. I can almost hear him saying with the psalmist, “I will say to the God of my strength, "Why have you forgotten me? Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?”
Listen to the rest of the story, “When the writer's wife entered the room, she found her husband looking dejected, sad and lost in his thoughts. She read what he had written, and silently left the room and came back shortly with another piece of paper on which she had written her summary of the year’s events and placed it beside her husband’s paper. When her husband saw that she had written something in response – he read her “take” on the year’s events: Last year I finally got rid of my gall bladder which had given me many years of pain. I turned 60 with sound health and retired from my job. Now I can utilize my time to write better and with more focus and peace. The same year my father, at the age of 95, without depending on anyone and without any critical conditions, met His Creator. The same year, God blessed my son with life. My car was destroyed, but my son was alive and without permanent disability. At the end she wrote: This year was an immense blessing and it passed well!!
See, God does not want us dwelling in the wilds, locked in chains, separated from community. God will help us conquer the fears and wants that bind us. If we are focusing on our chains, we are lost; focus on God and the chains fall away.
Our own Jayne faced her trials over this last winter. We are so blessed to have her back with us. When she was able to return as our music director, one of the first things she did was organize the volunteer choir to sing Amazing Grace; My Chains are Gone. That fits so well with today's sermon so I asked her to organize them once again. To remind us all that the troubles and trials that can bind us are gone... through the power of Jesus Christ. It can be easy to miss the lyrics, but we know the basic song, amazing grace has saved us, Christ found us when we were lost and gives sight to our spiritually blind eyes. Grace has unbound the chains that have entrapped us; grace can unbind the chains that bind you still. Turn to Jesus Christ and live in the full awareness of his grace, his love, his care, his presence. Let's hear the choir sing.
Jesus loosed the chains of the man with the demons. He looses our chains in various ways; changing our understanding of the situation, changing our situation or changing our hearts. Or all three, but Jesus sees, cares and works all things together for our good. Trust in the Lord to work even our chains for our good. Amen.
Have Thine Own Way Lord 372 HLC