The text is from Jesus prayer on Thursday of Holy Week in John. It is picked because this past Thursday was ascension day, the day 40 days after Easter when Christians mark Jesus’ return to the Father. 10 Days later, next Sunday, is Pentecost when the Spirit is poured out. This is promised is Jesus’ prayer. What this sermon does is first reflect on the foundation for the prayer. Jesus prefaces his petitions with some statements. 1) The World and the those he is praying for are at odds, 2) those he is praying for have been chosen by the Father (election) and 3) It is through the disciples he is praying for that he receives glory. Such is the foundation and purpose of the Christian life. In order to live it, because Jesus is leaving this world, he asks his Father to grant his disciples certain things. All these things Jesus considers that while he was in the World He gave them, and he knows that we need them. So he asks the Father.
I have heard many preachers talk about these things, in particular the first one, as stuff the church should be working on. But that would turn them into laws, not graces. Jesus is asking his father for grace for his people. Grace to be one in the name. Which is true not the least in our baptisms. Grace to be kept from the Evil One. Which is true in that the Satan has been bound and has no way to destroy the church in this world. And Grace to consecrated in truth. Which is granted in the abiding word. Jesus’ prayer has been answered.
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.
The biblical text has two stories turned in to one of Mark’s famous sandwiches. Jesus’ natural family are the outside and the Scribes from Jerusalem are the inside. What this structure invites us to do is compare and contrast. It invites us to learn the lesson at the core or in the meat of the sandwich and apply it to the outside. Part of that core is a three step argument with the somewhat shocking image of Jesus as a thief. The work and words of Jesus are Binding the Strong Man, Satan. His family may think he’s crazy putting them on the outside right now, but the Scribes are saying that Jesus’ work and words are the work and words of Satan. Jesus’ words to them are a judgment. The only unforgivable sin is calling the Spirit a liar. The deliberate rejection of the word of God and antagonism toward those who hold to it, is a dire place to be. All sins and blasphemies can be forgiven, except calling the Spirit a liar. Even thinking Jesus is nuts. The difference is the one who is far off or outside can still be called near and take their appointed place as brother or sister or mother, while the one who says God’s work is Satan’s has chosen the side which is being bound. And what is bound is thrown into the fire.
The sermon looks at these themes in the text and pulls out three applications to our lives. The hymn of the day included in the recording and reflected at places in the sermon is Luther’s A Mighty Fortress with its themes of spiritual warfare against the strong man and what Christ has already done to bring us near. The title here is the biggest challenge application and the one I leave to conscience. The world teaches the brotherhood of man, or attempts to, and it can be a tempting vision. But that is not what Christ teaches. The brotherhood of man would be under the bondage of Satan. The true brotherhood is in Christ alone.
The text is Jesus’ exorcism of a unclean spirit in the midst of the synagogue. But the tension in the early part of the gospel of mark is between the reality of the messiah and the fame. Every time after Jesus expels a demon or does some work of power his fame spreads. This sermon playfully looks at this exorcism at a meeting of celebrity. It then juxtaposes our fame mentality against the reality that Jesus chose – the cross. That fame mentality seeps into our lives deeper than we think. And the freedom of the cross is more real and costly than we imagine.
Recording note: I have left in two hymns. The first is the introduction hymn which if you are asking what the real “Reformation Hymn” was I have to put up Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice (LSB 556). A Mighty Fortress is what we think of, but Dear Christians reads like Luther’s testament. Listen for all the demonic/Satan/spiritual evil language which seemed appropriate for a lesson with an exorcism. The Listen for Luther’s proclamation of the gospel. The second hymn is our children’s choir with an Epiphany Hymn Come Thou Bright and Morning Star. Within the sermon there is a play on words with Star (Celebrity), Morning Star (Lucifer) and Morning Star (Jesus). Come our real morning star.
It struck me yesterday, if he would have been open to hearing, how applicable Peter’s final words would have be to Rep. Wiener. Peter, more than any other apostle, uses the life of Christ as our example. And he ends his instructions for Christian living with three imperatives (verbs in the command tense, i.e. go, do): be humble, be sober-minded, resist Satan.
Be humble – yes you are a congressman and powerful, but do you really think people want pictures of your privates? Be humble…
Be sober-minded, be watchful – You wouldn’t think that such a thing would be necessary, but NY has had two congressmen flame out in the last couple of years for essentially the same thing. You have a beautiful wife – go home and get off the system.
Resist Satan – Is there any world where x-rated pictures are really appropriate? Only one where you think more of yourself than you do and you aren’t paying attention. Right where that roaring lion can devour you.
The core message of the apostles is relevant day in and day out. Not the least of which is the hope it rests on. The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore.