The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – Series C – Luke 8:26-39
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
The effect of Jesus, through His ministry and His Word, is such that it leaves no one on the fence.
When the Word of God goes out to the world, it always meets the hearer in one of two ways, it is either heard, believed, and confessed, or it is heard, rejected, and denied.
No one is ever left standing on middle ground, there are no grey areas or spiritual neutralities in the matters of God’s preached Word.
Faith and salvation is either planted, or it’s rejected. There are no other options.
And the same is true of Christ’s own person, his own flesh and blood.
For after all, it is Jesus who not only preaches this Word of Faith, but actually is the Word itself, the Word made flesh, the one dwelling among us, the one who has come down for the life of the world.
And contrary to popular opinion, contrary to the endless interpretations of how Christ can be a good moral teacher, a respectable authority, but not the savior of mankind, contrary to this, Christ is and remains the most divisive character on the face of the earth.
For by Him and in Him there is life. But outside of him, apart from him, there is only death.
With Jesus there is no middle ground. As he comes into the flesh he is either received or rejected, loved or hated, welcomed or despised.
He leaves no one on the fence.
Now this Word, this absolute Word, this life and death Word, is perhaps troubling to us, it may bother us, it may even offend us.
For after all, we are a people obsessed with option, endless possibilities, and never-ending opinions. We embrace the grey areas of life. We celebrate the spectrums and despise the absolutes.
We champion the cause of freedom in everything, not just in our politics and our self-expression, but we evangelize and preach this so-called gospel of possibilities in every aspect of our lives.
And we exercise this freedom not just on Sunday afternoons, not just at work from 9 to 5, and not just in our homes and families, but indeed we bring it to God himself, and so preach to him this so-called Gospel of true freedom.
We dictate to Christ what kind of faith we would like to have, what amount of our attention we would like to give, what doctrines we’re willing to believe, what kind of love we’re agreeable to have, what kind of forgiveness we’re willing to offer.
We demand that God respect our choices, and so we treat the 10 commandments as merely suggestions, we despise preaching and the Word, we treat the Divine Service as simply optional.
We want freedom and endless possibilities, and so we scorn a Word that speaks to us, that tells us what to believe, what to hope in, what to trust, and what to hold onto.
We want freedom, and yet do we actually, truthfully have it?
Just because you’re capable of something, does it actually mean that you’re free?
We are certainly capable of all sorts of things, but are we free, are we free from captivity and free from ourselves?
We are certainly capable of redefining truth however we wish, but is that really freedom?
Today in Luke chapter 8, we find a man with a real problem, perhaps a problem bigger than any of ours.
After all, he’s not only possessed by one demon, but as they call themselves, Legion, for they are many.
This man is hopeless, he isn’t free; he’s utterly and completely oppressed.
He doesn’t have endless possibilities at his disposal, but rather he’s found on a captive road that ends in death and his own destruction.
This man has a problem. And in truth it’s not just his problem.
In truth, this man and his sad state is what devil wishes, plans and schemes for all of mankind.
This is what he wishes for you.
It may not always be as horrific and terrifying as a naked man, living in tombs, breaking out of chains, and screaming at the top of his lungs.
It may be more subtle, more sophisticated and more reasonable.
But either way, it will always have the same end: isolation, despair, destruction and death.
The demon possessed man has an obvious problem, and his plight is witnessed by everyone around him.
There’s no denying that he’s oppressed, that he can’t save himself, and that it’s only a matter of time before he meets his own violent end.
For this man, the death that holds him captive is obvious, but for you and I, it’s always much more subtle.
For in truth, as much as we wish to wave our banners of freedom and dictate to God the plans for our faith, and as much as we treat Christ as nothing more than interesting hobby, in truth, the very fact that we think is way is simple the evidence that we are not free at all.
Even if we insist on calling this thinking self-expression, it’s merely remains the expression of a nature that’s already dead and already condemned.
The same path to unbelief and destruction found in the demon-possessed man is found in all mankind driven from Christ.
For this is the end goal of the devil, it is his greatest desire, for he seeks one thing, and that is to keep us from the very one who gives life and has the power to send death and his own kingdom fleeing over the cliff.
And so the devil works to drive us into ourselves, which isn’t hard, we do it so easily already.
He drives into isolation, away from our families, away from our community, perhaps not always physically, perhaps mentally and emotionally, but the effect is always the same.
Being driven away from Christ, we are instead driven into ourselves and all the while the devil continues to feed us that same lie that he put onto the lips of our first parents in the garden.
As we sink further and further into hopelessness and captivity, ironically and tragically we believe firmer and stronger the lie that we are free.
That we are gods in ourselves, able to discern good from evil, capable of defining for ourselves what is true, what is worth our time, what is beneficial and good.
The demon possessed man has a problem, and in the subtle deception of our pride and our sin, so do we…even if we’re so blind to not even realize it.
Our problem is not always so obvious, for in the same way, the herdsmen and the crowds who reject Jesus and send him back to the boat in their fear, are themselves, found just as captive, just as isolated, and just as despairing as the man raging with demons before Jesus brought him to his right mind.
Our deception and captivity may not always be obvious, it may not always be dramatic and horrific, but as it keeps us from Christ, it is just as serious, and just as damaging.
Thanks be to God, for Christ has come precisely for sinners, and that includes you. He comes for the unclean, the despisers of God, the ones who think they are wise in themselves, the ones who refuse help and even run from his mercy.
Christ comes in matters of life and death, and so he brings life to the world through his own death.
For that is what it really means that we say that the Word is preached for the life of the world.
It is preached not for the supplemental religion of the world, not the entertaining experience of the world, not merely the helping hand, not just the minimal assistance…but the life of the world, the redemption of the dead, the deliverance of the captives, the forgiveness of the sinner, an absolute and finished death, for the absolutely dead.
Christ has come for you, and he has already sent the devil, sin and death fleeing into the abyss when you were clothed and placed at the feet of Jesus in your right mind through the drowning and life-giving waters of your baptism.
He knows the devil’s schemes, he also knows your weaknesses, your pride, your quest for freedom, and your easily deceived sinful heart…and because of that, so he abides with you, and he brings you to the feet of his body not simply once, but in every step of your baptismal life.
He has done so for you through parents who have dragged you to church, who pulled out of bed and taught you the faith. He does so through awkward dinner conversations, tense family get-togethers, and the countless words that often seem to go over the heads of your children.
For where Christ is, there the devil, sin and death cannot help but to flee. And where Christ is, there life, righteousness, the clothing of baptism, the right mind of his faith, and the forgiveness of sins cannot help but remain.
Even today, he has brought you to his feet in the hearing of the absolution, he promises his deliverance, and he gives it just the same. And if that is too far away, or if we easily forget it, then He steps in yet again, and gives you the peace of his right mind with His preaching and His Word.
And even if that is still not enough to calm our ever anxious hearts, He comes to you now quickly and in a short while to feed you the fullness of His Gospel and pour forgiveness into your mouths.
Our Lord abides with us, he stays with us, so that you might hear, believe, confess, and remain in His life.
And still even more, like the man delivered from the demons, He now sends you out, not away from Him, but with His Word, with His deliverance and forgiveness.
So that you might serve as the priesthood that He has made you, the ones proclaiming the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.
For you go out as the whole body of Christ, with this same Word, into your homes, into your workplaces, into your communities, into family gatherings, to those who are far off, even if they live in the same home.
Fathers, husbands, heads of household, matriarchs and patriarchs: that looks like teaching the faith at home, being Christ to your family.
Christ has placed you into these stations, these positions, and indeed these parts of his body. It is no accident, and it is not a fluke.
Vocation is defined not by privilege, but by duty and responsibility. We labor as those working in Christ and Christ working in us, not sitting back and making our spouses do the work, but taking up that very cross ourselves.
Vocation does not drive you into yourself, but into Christ. And in Him, he calls you to your right mind, to become what you, to be bold and courageous, to come to church, to learn the faith, and to be Christ in your home.
Indeed in the same way that he has given you these responsibilities, so also he promises to walk with you as you carry them out.
Indeed he will not leave you on the fence, not in the middle ground, for he comes to take you to himself, to clothe you, equip you, forgive you, and teach you at his feet, indeed in your right mind.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.