The text is the shocking one of Legion and the Gadarene Swine. As with all such exorcisms, it represents the power of Jesus. He’s one. Satan’s power is over. Even when Legion doesn’t want to go to the Abyss, He goes to the Abyss. But in this message, part of what I want to look at is the reality of evil and Satan himself. We get a little kickstart from an interview Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a little before his death where he shocks what passes for the American intelligencia by confessing to belief is Satan. And we follow in the jurists tracks a bit. But the man who was possessed by Legion gives us the clearest message. He starts off naked and among the tombs. We look at what that means, because we find Satan in the same situations today. And then we look at where he ends: at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. How can we be made so right?
Texts on unclean spirits and demons are tough ones for sermons these days. You can completely spiritualize them, which is dishonest and drains them of all their power. As O’Connor said about the Eucharist, “if it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.” You can take a cessationist line, which could be possible, but ins’t really taught anywhere in the scripture. You could take a charismatic line, but unless you have an active exorcism ministry, that is a stretch. Or you can do what I attempted to do here. I’d invite you to listen. I think this is important stuff proclaimed in a faithful way that has Jesus at its center.
Worship Note: I have left in the record two musical parts. Our choir sang a wonderful little piece today and they were in great voice. That is between the Old Testament and Epistle lessons. I also left in the hymn after the sermon, LSB 583, God Has Spoken By His Prophets. As we were singing it this morning I was struck by how it artistically captured the core of the sermon.
So, if you are not from a pentecostal denomination, when was the last time you heard a sermon about powers and principalities or demonology? There is probably a good reason. Denominational pastors are by and large an educated lot (often over-educated) and talking about spiritual forces just seems “icky” and doing so feels like sacrificing any respectability. The educated world is thoroughly materialist in philosophy and to preach on the “powers” means a thorough-going super-naturalist stance depending solely upon revelation (unless the preacher has had a mystical experience and then its still revelation for the hearers and no longer biblical but personal). Add in the fact that popular understanding of the powers is summed up in Halloween and The Exorcist part 18, and you just kinda pick a different text. Or worse you preach on the exorcism text and explain it away through various “they just weren’t that bright” mechanisms.
But the gospel according to Mark just doesn’t allow that. If you are going to preach on Mark, you have to come to terms with the powers that be, because that is who Jesus is to Mark. Jesus is the one who breaks the backs of the powers. Jesus is the one sent to put away that greatest power – death.
And right there I think is the intersection with the modern world. Even though we are materialist in philosophy allowing smaller spiritual forces to hide, death doesn’t hide. We try to hide from him. We do our best to move him out of our sight. And the materialist will try even at funerals to say something like, “death is part of life”. But most people react in horror at that banality. We all have an intuitive reaction that this isn’t right, this isn’t how it was supposed to be. We have nothing to support that – other than revelation.
Jesus came with authority to break the back of the powers – including death. From the very start of his ministry Jesus commanded the spirits. His death and resurrection has disarmed them. In Christ as part of His body the church, we are already part of a resurrection body – something that even death has no power over.
There are biblical verses that confound moderns – try Eph 6:12 or Eph 2:2.
The Bible consistently affirms there is more to creation than we can see. While it is most easy to understand the Bible as saying there are real spiritual entities (angels/demons) that influence the stuff we see, that is probably not the only valid way to interpret the verses. (The Nicene Creed confesses belief in the Father Almighty…maker of all things visible and invisible – so you can see it there also.)
A simple belief or confession in angels/demons runs smack against Occam’s Razor or the old jokes about angels on the head of a pin. And we should be clear that these are the approved and controlling beliefs of the age. If I can’t see, smell, touch, taste or hear something (i.e. put it on a scientific bench) it’s not there. That type of belief is also why (although all opinion polls would refute this), religious people always caricatured as a superstitious lot. (Why I say polls refute that is because they always find secular people believe it ghosts, ET, the evil eye and such at far greater rates than believing Christians.)
Read this article about the Facebook formula for what/who gets on your Facebook news page. The same thing could be said about Google’s search formula. And in a larger reach the collective wisdom about what is news to be covered and what isn’t. It used to be just the NY Times editor’s board. Today it is a little larger. (Men in Black spoofed this in a funny way with “J” always reading the Weekly World News as the best reporting on the planet.) You can get carried away by paranoia and conspiracy, but that is not the gospel response. It would seem to me that you could talk about these things like the facebook algorithm as “the spirits of the air”. These are things with little corporeal existence, and yet they clearly have influence over our lives. If Google’s formula doesn’t deliver links we probably don’t know it today. I wonder how many husband’s and wife’s are strangers to each other on facebook? And then which relationships are more real, the marriage or the “friends”?
Although not the easiest or most child-like way to read the Bible, it would seem to be valid that when the Bible speaks of ‘Spirits of the Air’ to understand this a those unseen agreements and agents that influence the way we live like the Facebook algorithm. Christian freedom is the freedom not to be afraid and paranoid of these things, but to live an authentic and faithful life in full knowledge of them. God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim 1:7).