Second Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9

1I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
  to be found by those who did not seek me.
 I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
  to a nation that did not call on my name.
2I held out my hands all day long
  to a rebellious people,
 who walk in a way that is not good,
  following their own devices;
3a people who provoke me
  to my face continually,
 sacrificing in gardens
  and offering incense on bricks;
4who sit inside tombs,
  and spend the night in secret places;
 who eat swine’s flesh,
  with broth of abominable things in their vessels;
5who say, “Keep to yourself,
  do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”
 These are a smoke in my nostrils,
  a fire that burns all day long.
6See, it is written before me:
  I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
 I will indeed repay into their laps
  7their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together,
 says the Lord;
 because they offered incense on the mountains
  and reviled me on the hills,
 I will measure into their laps
  full payment for their actions.
8Thus says the Lord:
 As the wine is found in the cluster,
  and they say, “Do not destroy it,
  for there is a blessing in it,”
 so I will do for my servants’ sake,
  and not destroy them all.
9I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
  and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;
 my chosen shall inherit it,
  and my servants shall settle there.

Psalm: Psalm 22:19-28

19But you, O Lord, be not far away;  O my help, hasten to my aid.
20Deliver me from the sword, my life from the power | of the dog.
21Save me from the lion’s mouth!
  From the horns of wild bulls you have | rescued me.
22I will declare your name to my people;
  in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.
23You who fear the Lord, give praise! All you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
  Stand in awe of the Lord, all you offspring of Israel.
24For the Lord does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;    neither is the Lord’s face hidden from them;
  but when they cry out, the Lord hears them.
25From you comes my praise in the great assembly;
  I will perform my vows in the sight of those who | fear the Lord.
26The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
  Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts  live forever! 
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
  all the families of nations shall bow before God.
28For dominion belongs to the Lord,
  who rules over the nations.

Second Reading: Galatians 3:23-29

23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There 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. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Gospel: Luke 8:26-39

26Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times 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 wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they 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. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The 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.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Another look at Aesop’s “Lion and the Mouse” 

A Lion lay asleep in the forest. A timid little Mouse came upon him unexpectedly. In her fright to get away, she ran across the Lion’s nose. The Lion laid his huge paw angrily on the tiny creature to kill her.

“Spare me!” begged the poor Mouse. “Please let me go and some day I will surely repay you.” The Lion was much amused to think that a Mouse could ever help him. But he was generous and let the Mouse go.

Some days later, the Lion was caught in a hunter’s net. Unable to free himself, he filled the forest with his angry roaring. The Mouse knew the voice and quickly found the Lion struggling in the net. Running to one of the great ropes that bound him, she gnawed it until it parted, and soon the Lion was free.

“You laughed when I said I would repay you,” said the Mouse. “Now you see that even a Mouse can help a Lion.”

Turn to your neighbor.  What choice do you think the lion had to make?  What choice did the mouse have to make?

Let us pray:  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


Moments of Truth and Consequences

         Today we continue into the Pentecost season. Pentecost shifts our attention from who our God is, as seen in the life of Jesus, to challenging us to ponder who we are with Jesus in our lives. At Pentecost the Spirit touched 3,000 lives and the Christian church started to have birthing pains.  Peter stood and preached, people believed and somehow life was different.  We now return to earlier texts with a different perspective. An encounter with the Holy tells us about God but it also changes us.  We come to a fork in the road of our life.  The lion had a choice to make in our Aesop fable.  Would he eat the mouse or spare it’s life?  The mouse had a choice to make also.  Would she try to aide the lion or let him die?  The consequences of choices impacts the trajectory of lives. 

         In our text today we have three sets of people or beings who stand on holy ground and must make a decision about what they are going to do.  The man, the demons, and the towns’ people all encounter Jesus and decide how to respond.  We are here today watching as the disciples did, the unseen audience standing on holy ground, and we must decide if we are going to snooze or apply the truth God brings to our hearts today!

A Man Obsessed or Possessed

         We don’t much like to talk about demon possession today as evil is for cartoons or for those people of the other party or the other country or just plain different from us.  Our text has a man who has been possessed by demons that controls his life.  Before we dismiss this, perhaps we know people who struggle with alcohol, with pornography, with anger, with eating, with shopping and dast we mention gossip!  Uvalde and how many other mass shootings testify that this Biblical story is real today.  To be human is to be susceptible to the influences of evil.

      To be tempted is not the problem.  Jesus was tempted.  The problem comes when we are driven by the tempter.  The man “had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.”  Ouch.  When we are out of control, we are no longer able to clothe ourselves socially.  The addiction identifies us and labels us and we loose our unique identity as child of God.  We use words like drunk, addict, gossip, or loose to describe people who are not in control of their lives.  The man lived in the tombs, in hiding, out of touch with those who might help him.  Death is the companion.  We have suicide prevention lines and depression counselors and support groups for people caught in the grips of evil.  Let us not deceive ourselves, we are this person or at least we could be.  This is not a story.  This is real. It is us.

         This man has a choice.  He chooses to draw near to Jesus but please note, Jesus is not afraid of him and is willing to engage.  Jesus orders evil to leave as the man falls down before him. 

         “28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the    top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”” 

Our man, as well as the demons, as well as the towns’ people, as well as the swine, and maybe even us, are all gripped with fear at the thought of interacting with Jesus.  Perhaps here we have a big clue for spiritual growth and peace.  When we are in the grips of fear, it probably is not God speaking but evil.  In the presence of that fear the man must decide to approach Jesus or flee to the tombs.  He approaches and Jesus restores him.  Jesus is not afraid of the man or the evil within him.  Jesus is more powerful than evil. And Jesus reaches out to the man in his helplessness.  The man realizes he is in the wrong and is afraid of torment.  I suspect when we know we are in the wrong, we too, become afraid of God and we are afraid of torment or afraid of the cost of repentance. 

         I have quoted Robert Frost’s poem before and do again:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

We choose Jesus and he heals.  We choose to run with fear and we suffer.  We all today have choices to make.  Jesus calls us to life!

Demons possessed or possessor

Our second group of beings that deal with Jesus are the demons possessing the man.  They know they are in the presence of the Holy, of the Son of God, and they bargain.  They beg not to be sent back to the abyss but into a herd of pigs.  Jesus grants their request.

         Yup, we know bargaining too.  Have we ever bargained with God and asked him to rescue us from a perceived trauma and promised to ….  At least we promise to be better, to return to church, to not eat sweets again, to not turn on pornography… if only he would deliver us this time.  I think this is the stuff of New Year’s resolutions and we all know we are lucky if we finish January before we slide into old habits again.  I catch myself with mouth in motion and shoot a prayer to heaven for help so I won’t be snarky again, but I am.

         Bargaining post pones the consequences.  The demons are allowed to go into the pigs but the pigs run down the steep bank to the lake and are drown.  The outcome is death so where are the demons now?  Getting the human dreams of our hearts is often not a solution and only leads to more pain.  I think of all those young adult dreams when I was sure I had found the right guy but that ended in pain.  It was only as I started listening to God and seeking his will that my life turned around.  The lion could have eaten the mouse but it would not have satisfied his hunger.  The mouse could have ignored the roars of the lion but she could not quiet her conscience that would remind her of his kindness and her promise.  Bargaining works for a while but it is not a good, long-term solution.

         Take a moment and sweep through your memory.  Are there areas in your life where you are bargaining with God and compromising?  Perhaps it is only avoiding saying “sorry” and healing a relationship.  The fear of humiliation, blocks the joy of restoration.  We need to put down those loads of anger and resentment and jealousy we carry.  Violence does not resolve anger.  Alcohol does not resolve grief.  The demons stand in the presence of Jesus but cannot say that four lettered word, “help.”

Town People Refuse

The demoniac pleads for help.  The demons bargain for compromise.  The town people just plain refuse Jesus and ask him to leave.  God does not force us to believe and be good and choose his way.  Jesus has cured the demoniac and returned him to his right mind.  Living proof of his power.  Jesus has sent the demons into the swine and into the lake.  Living proof of his authority.  God’s power and authority are used to help the demoniac and, I would contend are living demonstrations of Jesus’ loving commitment to help us.  In the presence of God’s love, people do refuse and send Jesus away.  The lion had no guarantee the mouse would ever help and the mouse had no guarantee that she could help the lion.  Both chose mercy. 

         The town’s people were seized with great fear.  Fear can paralyze us.  I think we say that the known enemy is better than the potential problems of the new.  I keep my old clunker because I know it’s quirks rather than buy a new-to-me used car.  Trust is scary.  People walk away and often we blame ourselves.

         The demoniac, now healed, is sent back to work with those people.  I think of those people we deeply love who seem to have hardened their hearts to God.  Like the demoniac, we have been healed and we have a story to tell of how God worked in our lives.  Perhaps we can remember when we felt out of control as if we were running around unclothed.  Perhaps we remember living in the tombs when we were so depressed and death felt like such a real option.  Perhaps we remember those failed bargains with God because our choice was not the best choice and we paid the consequences.  And perhaps we remember times when we hardened our hearts and insisted on doing it our own way and turned our back on God for a while.  So often the problem or challenge facing us is as big as a lion and we see ourselves quivering in fear like a mouse.  But I think that the beauty of the story is that Jesus crossed the lake and found the demoniac, was not afraid of the demoniac and had the power and authority to heal the demoniac.  What crossroad are you standing at today?  The best choice is the Jesus road.  He’s there and will bless.  Don’t be afraid.

The people of God said, “AMEN!”

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