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Holy Lives: St. John the Baptist

The Second Sunday after Pentecost, 23 June 2019

A Sermon on Luke 8:26-39 by Samuel Zumwalt, STS

 

Luke 8:26-39 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

 

26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. 34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and 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. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.  The Gospel of the Lord.

 

HOLY LIVES: JOHN THE BAPTIST

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Oppressed and Possessed

 

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” This poor naked man was oppressed and possessed by many demons. He was so far gone that he lived among the tombs. Could Jesus help?

 

Now, first, let’s admit this about ourselves. We like to be in control of every situation and want to be able to label everything rationally. Reaching into the familiar and comfortable places in our memories, we want to define this man as a crazy street person. Which label shall we put on him? Is he schizophrenic? Is he a man with multiple personalities? Is he a disabled war veteran? Is he a man whom drugs and alcohol have all but stolen his personality? What can we say about him that will not leave us fearful and uneasy?

 

Wouldn’t it be easier if we could put the man into a treatment program? Get him bathed, dressed, fed, and medicated? Wouldn’t we feel more comfortable if we could just demythologize this event like a German forensic pathologist of the Bible, put a medical label on this guy, and work up a treatment plan for him?

 

Luke the Physician invites us 21st century rationalists into a very strange and different world in which there is actually such a thing as demon oppression and demon possession. Luke invites us to see that there actually is an old evil one whose intent is to bring chaos out of order, ugliness out of beauty, and nothingness out of God’s good creation. The devil is not a god of evil. He is the first rebellious angel. It was his pride, his wanting to be what he couldn’t be, namely God, that was his downfall. He hates God!

 

Now, let’s pause for a moment to think about John the Baptist. He was a PK, a priest’s kid, and so John already knew what he was going to be when he was a little boy. Every priest’s boy would grow up to be a priest, whether he wanted to be or not. I knew guys like him at seminary. They were there, because it was expected that they would follow in their fathers’ footsteps, whether they wanted to or not. In John’s day, the fisherman’s kid became a fisherman. The taxman’s kid became a taxman. The carpenter’s kid became a carpenter. Daughters became wives and mothers. It was all clearly defined. On the 8th day after his birth, John received the mark of God’s covenant with Abraham. He was circumcised and named. John was set apart. He was made holy. Now, he was a child of God, his life was not his own.

 

So, then, back to the man who was oppressed and possessed by the old enemy and his demons. How did he get that way? If we gave him a psychiatric disorder, we might talk about a chemical imbalance or about terrible acts of abuse done to him when he was young or about his having witnessed and even participated in acts of horror and violence. But what if it’s far worse than that? What if evil is real?

 

If we are not properly formed in the Christian faith and if we are not thoroughly prepared for real and palpable evil in the world, we may well become oppressed and possessed by the demonic precisely because all of us are susceptible to that since we are born in bondage to sin, are death-bound, and are, in this life, relentlessly and mercilessly attacked by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.

 

A pastor friend told me this week about a once beautiful young woman who was never properly formed in the Christian faith, never thoroughly prepared for real and palpable evil in the world. At college, she fell in with an artsy crowd who resented her beauty and set out to destroy her fragile psyche. Today, the woman has become obese, shaved her head, and has declared she is no longer a woman. When speaking of herself, she uses the plural “we” and “they.” Doesn’t that sound familiar? Legion has possessed her.

 

If you do not know who and Whose you are, there will always be those who will be glad to tell you who you are. That’s how the demonic works. “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10).

 

John the Baptist saw how corrupt the culture of Jerusalem had become that he left behind the defined priestly role for which he had been prepared. The Word of God inhabited him. The Spirit of God drove him to declare judgment on his fellow Jews. Turn around. Repent. Have a change of heart. The Kingdom of God is at hand. The King is on His way. There is hope for the hopeless. There is rescue for the bound.

 

Repossessed

 

God did not send His Son to this hostile world because it was filled with good and godly people. When the very place where forgiveness of sins has become big business and has become an exclusive club for the few and not the many, the Kingdom of God has to break in and break up such spirit-killing routines.

 

John the Baptist did not go to the Sanhedrin, the religious and political rulers, and lobby them to change their ways. He stood across the Jordan, on the edge of the wilderness, where Moses had once given a powerful warning of the dangers of forgetting who and Whose they were, God’s servant people. There, John said that it was not just Gentiles who needed to convert. God’s people needed a change of heart.

 

At the right time, God sent His Son Jesus, the long-promised King from David’s family, the long-awaited prophet like Moses to rescue the whole world (and not just God’s chosen) from its bondage to sin, death, and the old evil one. Instead of telling Israel in Egypt to sacrifice a lamb and to spread with hyssop the lamb’s blood over the doorposts of their houses so that the angel of death would pass over; God sent His only-begotten Son to be the Lamb of God, sacrificed on the cross, that the whole world that God made might be repossessed by the Blood of the Lamb. When you are baptized, whether on the eighth day or the eightieth year of your life in this world, God repossesses you by joining you to the death and resurrection of His beloved Son. In Baptism, you are washed in the Blood of the Lamb. In Baptism, you are claimed for God’s Kingdom. In Baptism, you are marked with Christ’s cross and sealed with the Holy Spirit!

 

If you have not been baptized with water in the name of the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), then ask, because your Father in heaven wants no one to be lost, none to be left oppressed and possessed.

No matter where you have been, what you have done, how far you have sunk, how loudly the demons scream in your ears that there is no hope for you, it is not too late. Turn around. Your heavenly Father wants to embrace you in His mighty arms and to hold you in His grace and mercy forever. Turn around.

 

Once the Lord Jesus had driven the demons away from the young man, he was clothed in the Lord Jesus’ own righteousness. The young man was in his right mind, because Christ Jesus had repossessed him!

 

Express!

 

There are far too many churches today that are dead. Please don’t misunderstand. A church can have thousands of people rocking back and forth on their feet and be filled with an unholy spirit, a spirit of selfishness, a spirit of self-absorption, a spirit of self-possession, a spirit of self-righteousness. And, as John the Baptist pointed out, it begins with those who are leading the people away from the Living God.

 

Repentance is a way of life. It is daily returning to our Baptism to remember that it is only by God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ that we have hope for a future beyond this present darkness. Here we are the Church militant, the Church at war against sin, death, and the old evil one. Here we are called to do what the Lord Jesus told the man to do: “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you!”

 

Our neighbors don’t need a church that looks no different than the world around them. Our neighbors don’t need a church that talks about membership as if this were not a hospital for sinners; not a bathhouse for the naked, filthy, and almost dead; and not a place where the possessed can be reclaimed by God. How will our neighbors know what God in Christ can do if we don’t express what He has done for us?

 

You don’t have to go into breathless detail about every stupid thing you have done in your life. The world doesn’t need more of so-called reality TV where everyone revels in her pathology. Some things just don’t need to be said in public. You tell some things in private confession and not on social media. Everybody doesn’t need to know how low you can go. The world needs to hear about the Most High and His mercy!

 

If you are baptized, you have been made holy by the Blood of Jesus shed for you on the cross. If you are baptized, the Lord Jesus wants you to have His Body and Blood within you, so that you will remember who and Whose you are. Your life is no longer your own. Your body is no longer your own. Your identity is no longer your own. Your things and your desires are no longer your own. Like John the Baptist, you are called to proclaim passionately and fearlessly the One who has suffered and died, risen and ascended, and poured out the Holy Spirit so that none may be lost and all may be found. Like the man fully clothed and in his right mind at last, you are called to express – to declare how much God has done for you!

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

©Samuel David Zumwalt

szumwalt@bellsouth.net

St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA

 

Bulletin Insert

Holy Lives: John the Baptist

 

Praying

 

“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 your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns, with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 616).

 

Listening

 

Luke 8:28          “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

 

St. Cyril [early 5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “I ask you to observe here the mixture off fear with great audacity and conceited pride. The words which he is forced to shout are coupled with inflated haughtiness! It is a proof of the pride of the enemy…I beseech you to again observe the incomparable majesty of Christ who transcends all. With irresistible might and unequalled authority he crushes Satan by simply willing that it should be” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, 139).

 

Luke 8:30          “Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion….”

 

St. Cyril of Alexandria: “Did Christ ask this because he did not know it, and like one of us, wished to learn something that had escaped him? … Being God, he knows all things and searches the hearts and inner parts. He asked for the plan of salvation’s sake that we might learn that a great crowd of devils shared the one soul of the man, giving birth a wretched and impure madness in him. He was their work. They certainly are wise to do evil, as the Scripture says, but they have no knowledge to do good” (139).

 

Luke 8:33          “Then the demons came out of the man…the herd rushed down…and drowned.”

 

St. Ambrose [4th century bishop of Milan, Italy]: “People are the authors of their own tribulation. If someone did not live like a swine, the devil would never have received power over him. If he did not receive power, it would be power not to destroy but to test him. After the Lord’s coming, the devil could already not corrupt the good, so perhaps he now does not seek the destruction of all people but only of the fickle. A mugger does not lie in wait for armed men but for the defenseless. He who understands that the strong will despise him or the powerful destroy him troubles only the week with wrongs” (140).

 

Luke 8: “Then all the people…of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them…seized with great fear.”

 

St. Cyril of Alexandria: “If there is anyone among us who is wanton, swinish, filth loving, impure and willingly contaminated with the abominations of sin, God permits such a one to fall into their power and sink into the abyss of damnation. It will never happen that those who love Christ will become subject to them. It will never happen to us as long as we walk in his footsteps, avoid negligence in the performance of what is right, desire those things which are honorable, and belong to that virtuous and praiseworthy lifestyle that Christ has marked out for us by the precepts of the gospel” (140-141).

 

Reflecting

 

  1. Do I hear and heed the Lord’s call to repentance even echoed by John the Baptist and the prophets?

 

  1. Do I believe that evil is the personal, malevolent force actively opposed to the Lord Jesus’s rule and reign in the Church and in the world God loves more than His own life?

 

 

Learning

 

(Read this aloud daily until everyone in your home can say it from memory.)

 

Table of Duties

 

Certain passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Positions, by Which These People Are to Be Admonished, as a Special Lesson, about Their Office and Service

 

To Husbands

 

“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7).

 

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19).

 

To Wives

 

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).

 

“They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear” (1 Peter 3:5-6). (Luther’s Small Catechism).

 

Doing

 

  1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.

 

  1. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

 

  1. During the summer months (especially fathers!), bring your household to the services of God’s house. If you are on the road, worship while you are away and bring back the bulletin for Pastor Zumwalt to see. Do this for accountability and to let the pastor see what other congregations are doing.

 

  1. Are you reading “The Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher? Discussion begins chapter-by-chapter on Sunday, June 23, at 9:45 a.m.

 

  1. Husbands and wives practice your Baptism by mutually dying to your selfishness for the sake of each other. Recognize the real presence of the Lord in each other by cherishing your spouse enough to ask for and to offer the forgiveness you were given as you received His body and blood at the altar.

 

  1. Hang a crucifix or cross opposite your pillow so that the last sight you see before turning out the light is your Lord’s cross and the first sight of the new day calls you to prayer.

 

For Husbands and Wives

 

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”

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