In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
A few weeks ago I was at a pastor's retreat in Valerymo, CA. As I came to find out many had never heard of this tiny little town and for good reason. I can't tell you exactly how to get there, but it is on the other side of a mountain in the desert, north of here. I had to use the map app on my phone to lead me to the Benedictine Abbey/ retreat center where we would be meeting. And it did that fairly well. I got off the main highway and was told to zig-zag my way across desert roads for the last 10 miles or so. Being a country boy, comfortable with back roads, I followed. No questions asked. Of course it was shortly after I had gotten the main highway and ventured a couple miles into the desert that I heard the singular sound that every motorist fears. BING. Accompanied by a red light in the shape of a gas pump.
In that moment a fear that I hadn't felt in quite some time slowly began to fill my heart. The desert surrounded me with even greater force as no signs of life were in immediate view. Adding to my distress, my mind was flooded with every movie that I had seen which began this way and none of them ended well. And for good reason, even scripture likes to remind us the desert is the place of demons and devils. It is in the desert where Jesus was tempted by the devil and it was into the desert where Legion drove the man. The desert is the place of isolation, abandonment, and terror. It is the place of ultimate uncertainty and despair. Where one is completely and totally vulnerable to both to the elements and the spirits that dwell there. Fortunately, I had a monastery filled with monks praying my van all the way to the retreat house and I made it with gas to spare to find the local station. Unfortunately the demon-possessed man's only solution was to be bound with chains to keep him out from that barren place. Though kept out of the harsh afternoon sun and bitterly cold evening of the desert, he was no less alone dwelling among the tombs with only the unlucky man who had to keep watch over him that day to keep him company, until another would take his place.
And another would, though the changing of the guard would not be one of the Gerasenes' own, but an outsider. A Jew. A man who carried with him the presence of God, causing the demons to shudder and fear. Being from Iowa, (where we have 3x as many pigs as people) and last serving a congregation with several hog farmers, I was always a bit nervous when we got to this point in the story. Though I did remind them that if those pigs happened to be their neighbor's herd, that the price of their pork would have gone up. Hearing the demons' plea, Jesus acquiesces. He doesn't send them to the abyss, permitting them instead to the bottom of the lake. Just the sheer presence of Jesus is enough to send the demons away, no word spoken, no special command uttered, and not even an ounce of offensive spiritual military power from Jesus spent. He simply stands there in the full power and glory of the God and the man who was under the watch of the town, tied up like the wild junk yard dog, is now under the watchful eye of another. As the psalmist envisions, He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge. The man now clothed, seated and in his right mind dwells securely under the shelter of the Most High and abides under His shadow, sitting at his feet.
At the presence of Christ demons tremble, shackles are loosed, and kingdoms are exchanged. Both for the man possessed by legion and we who have our own varied demons. At the presence of Christ the demons tremble in our very lives as He draws ever closer to us, in word and sacrament. That which seeks to possess us is found lacking to the glory and splendor of Christ. The shackles of sin that cling to our flesh are loosed, we are set free from guilt and punishment by The presence of His sacrifice given to us in Holy Communion. We are absolved and healed. And because of that there exists in our own lives a changing of the guard. The old has fallen and a new Man takes his place. We are delivered out of the kingdom of sin, death, and the devil, and brought into the Kingdom of God. In Christ we are made to sit at his feet, clothed with his righteousness, and at least some of us in our right minds. No. All of us by faith are given a new and right mind, not formed by the world, but transformed by Christ. We live now by faith under the shadow of the Almighty and sit at His feet as we gather together in this sacred place. We too, are given a message. Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.
Fed, forgiven, and set free by Christ, we too are given a share of His work. Though it would have been great to continue with Jesus, he rather gives the man the work of the Kingdom to do in his own place. Though the demons drove him into the isolated wilderness babbling madness, Christ sends him home for the first time in a long time with a sound mind and a clear word to share: the goodness of God in Christ Jesus. Not some foreign or difficult thing, but simply sharing God's mercy given to him, healing him from his affliction and restoring him to humanity. Here is the simple work of true evangelism, not found in church growth schemes, programmatic steps, or rehearsed dialogue, but simply sharing the Goodness of God in Christ Jesus. And as we heard earlier this morning from the temple talk we have seen that Goodness of God in many ways here. For receiving Christ in word and sacrament we have everything we need and more. Because of all that Christ has done for us and for Reformation, my brothers and sisters, He has given us an awful lot to talk about, at our homes and in our community.