“Jesus Versus Evil” – 06-23-13 – Proper 7 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture: Isaiah 65:1-9 Psalm 22:19-28 Galatians 3:23-29 Luke 8:26-39

“Do you renounce all the forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises?” In some baptism services, the parents are asked to answer this question. Of course, the expected answer is “I do.”

I ask you, “Do you renounce all forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises?” I hope that your answer is “I do.” What happens if we say “I don’t?”

Are you wondering what happens if we say, “I don’t?” People say “I don’t” all the time. That is why this world has so much ugliness and cruelty and selfishness and lust. Saying “I do” leaves an emptiness in us temporarily. We can choose to fill that emptiness where Satan had been with our faith in Christ Jesus. If we leave that space empty, Satan, otherwise known as the Devil or the Evil One or worse, will return in multiplied measure.

As we read in Matthew 12:43-45, “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it travels through the desert, looking for a place to rest. But when the demon doesn’t find a place, it says, ‘I will go back to the home I left.’ When it gets there and finds the place empty, clean, and fixed up, it goes off and finds seven other evil spirits even worse than itself. They all come and make their home there, and the person ends up in worse shape than before. That’s how it will be with you evil people of today.”

Is evil an actual force or just something about which we talk? I think that evil is a real force but it is not an equal force in the life of all persons. Evil has come right up to our faces and rubbed noses with us. We open the door for evil when we don’t choose movies through a God-screen. We open the door for evil when we choose friends who lead us astray. We open the door for evil when we dress too scantily. We open the door for evil when we are not wide-eyed and bushy-tailed as we work with the government and the law and the ways of war.

It seems that there are two ways to keep evil at bay (which means at a distance). One is to put on the garment of love and faith and trust in Jesus Christ truly for the sake of our lives. The other approach is to use images of battle in overcoming evil. It is strange that Paul explains both approaches in Ephesians 6:10-17. Here is Paul’s remedy, his marching orders against evil.

“Put on all the armor that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil’s tricks. We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. So put on all the armor that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm. Be ready! Let the truth be like a belt around your waist, and let God’s justice protect you like armor. Your desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on your feet. Let your faith be like a shield, and you will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Let God’s saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God’s message that comes from the Spirit.”

However, in addition to this battle approach, Paul offers the softer method. He says, “Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit [capital S; our Holy Spirit]. Stay alert and keep praying for God’s people.” Paul is asking the Ephesians to pray that God will provide the message which Paul is to give to the authorities and that Paul will have the courage to speak the message.

Paul’s benediction to the Ephesians is this: “I pray that God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ will give peace, love, and faith to every follower! May God be kind to everyone who keeps on loving our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians in chapter 3, we find him emphasizing faith. We find the mighty power of being baptized. Our baptism brings with it the wrapping of Christ around us. Paul tells the Galatians that as they were baptized into Christ they have clothed themselves with Christ. The understanding is that what Paul says to the Galatians might also be applied to our lives. Does being wrapped in the clothing of Jesus protect us from the evil one? We won’t know until we test it. Does “testing” fit with having faith?

How does faith grow? What keeps faith from shriveling into nothingness? Try this verse: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Faith is strengthened as we are in conversation and communion with other people of faith. Faith is strengthened as we witness one to another. Faith is strengthened as we read about Jesus and His power over evil. Faith is strengthened as we suddenly realize that we are no longer running from evil. We do not need to give it space.

Remember the returning evil spirit or demon who brought seven more evil spirits as it returned to the empty space that was still empty. It was the empty space that did the inviting. Do we have empty space in our minds and hearts and souls? That empty space should be filled with the faith and love and peace that only Jesus can give. Remember the peace that passes all understanding. No room for evil. It is already filled with faith, trust, love and peace.

For a story that brings the power and love of Jesus into the daylight, let’s re-visit Luke 8 where Jesus visited the area of the Gerasene people. A man who was the host of demons came to Jesus. These demons, living in this man, caused him to be demonized; to be acting very strangely to say the least. When Jesus asks his name, the man answers, “Legion”; referring to the large number of demons which had swarmed into the man. The man is not happy that Jesus is about to order the demons to leave the man. Actually, it was the demons who were not happy. Regardless of the demons’ wishes, Jesus ordered the demons to leave the man.

What happened to these demons? This is the part that bothers me. Having much respect for the livelihood of farmers, I feel distress every time I read or hear this message. At the request of the demons, Jesus allowed this legion of demons to enter a herd of pigs which were nearby. The demons took the pigs right over a cliff into a body of water where drowning became their fate. No meat or monetary profit will be realized from these pigs, otherwise known as swine. Very wasteful and a decided hardship for the farmer.

The good part of this story is that this man was transformed. His fellow Gerasene people saw the man sitting peacefully at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind. The people are afraid. The man is not afraid. His empty space is now filled with the peace of Jesus. He now knows that he has a Savior, a healer in his presence. The people run away. The man wants to follow Jesus. Jesus says, “Stay here and be a witness for me with your people.”

This was a victory of good over evil. Jesus did not don a helmet or use a sword. He used his authority as the Son of God. Did he do this because he had pity or because he needed to prove that he is the Son of God? Many people have debated such questions as these. Which way would you answer? Which would you want Jesus to have used for his reason for taking care of these demons?

For myself, I like the idea that Jesus really did have pity within him. But looking at the bigger picture, this is very important in our lives. Because we are baptized, we died with Jesus in his death but we live with Jesus in his resurrection. We are in Jesus. So the authority of Jesus is in us also. We need to claim it. We can use the authority over evil to call it out of us; to call it away from around us; to call evil from our fellow citizens, from our governments whichever they be.

Am I saying that governments are filled with evil? Am I saying that politicians are filled with evil? A blanket statement is never to be made. There are politicians and other government workers who are filled with the Holy Spirit; they are living in the essence of Jesus. However, evil lurks in the cracks of power, claiming false authority. It takes constant vigilance to discern and separate evil spirits from the Holy Spirit. It seems like knowing the weeds from the good plants.

We are called to be vigilant, to constantly be in prayer for this matter, to watch for examples of evil being removed, thereby increasing our faith in Christ Jesus. We dare not forget or become lazy in filling that empty space with the power of the love of Christ.

We are the man from whom legions of evil were removed. We need to be the witness. We need to live in the grace and mercy and goodness that Jesus Christ offers from our baptism, through the death of Jesus, through the resurrection of Jesus, through our entire lives. We need to be searching for the demons of addiction and cruelty. We need to claim our authority. We need to fill the empty space with the goodness that can only come from Christ Jesus as we are “in” Christ Jesus.

This is the goal. Psalm 22:27,28:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; all the families of nations shall bow before God. For dominion belongs to the Lord, who rules over the nations.