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Sermon for the Second Sunday of Pentecost – June 19, 2022

Luke 8:26-39

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

I was tempted to introduce the gospel reading for this morning by saying, “The Holy Gospel according to Stephen King.” The whole reading has a horror movie vibe to it. It feels like it could be an episode of Stranger Things.

Jesus and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee and entered into the country of the Gerasenes. St. Luke describes this land as being opposite of Galilee, and I don’t think he’s just talking about geography. While Galilee was populated by pious, God-worshipping Jews, Gerasa was populated by unclean, pagan Gentiles, with their strange customs and forbidden foods.

As soon as Jesus stepped out of the boat, he was immediately met by a naked, demon-possessed man. This man, Luke tells us, lived among the tombs. Cue the creepy music! The townspeople tried to keep this man under control with chains and shackles, but, with incredible, inhuman strength, he would break them every time and go running off into the wilds.

This is who met Jesus as he stepped out of the boat. And when this naked, demon-possessed tomb-dweller saw Jesus, he 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!”

“What is your name?” Jesus asked him. “Legion,” was the reply. This is not a name, of course. A legion was a cohort of 6,000 Roman soldiers. What the demon was saying is that they were many, and that they were powerful.

Because this scene has the feel of a horror movie, we might be tempted to classify it as fiction. Or we might be tempted to explain it away as simply a product of its time, a struggle by premodern people to explain something that we modern, enlightened people can explain in more scientific terms. This latter point may be true to some degree, but to keep this story at arm’s length in this way, by relegating it solely to the premodern world, we might be deceived into thinking that demons only exist in horror movies. We might be deluded into thinking there isn’t a spiritual battle raging every day in our lives and in our world. We might deny that there are dark spiritual forces at work, and that they are many, and powerful.

Many of the troubling things we see today can indeed be explained at least in part by psychology, by brain chemistry, by sociology. These can all be helpful tools. But they cannot account entirely for the powers that overtake people and drive them into the tombs, into the wilds. They cannot explain the dark grip that gets ahold of people sometimes. We should use all the tools God has given us in understanding and addressing the horrors we see in the world and in our lives, but as Christians we must also be keenly aware that the father of lies is always lurking in the background, and that his demons are many, and powerful.

Fentanyl is perhaps the most deadly drug human beings have concocted yet. A dose the size of a grain of sand can kill. Police officers have almost died just by accidentally touching it. And yet, there are some who are so deeply into the throes of addiction, so used to living near the tombs, at the edge of death, that they seek it out. Demons are many, and they are powerful!

Pornography is more widely available and more widely viewed today than at any point in human history, and many men (and even a few women) find that they are unable to look away. They can’t break the hold it has on them. I have personally spoken to more than one person who has become so enthralled with looking at the wickedness of people being debased on a screen that they can no longer participate in the holiness of making love to their spouse. They know it is a bad situation, they know it is wrong, they know they are hurting their marriages – but they can’t break free. Demons are many, and they are powerful.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that social media is a powerful, and often powerfully dark force in the lives of young people. There are predatory rabbit holes kids go down online which are leading to unprecedented rates of anxiety and depression and suicide. Some of those rabbit holes are leading kids to hate the bodies God gave them. Demons are many, and they are powerful.

These might be extreme examples, but they are all widespread in our society today.

When you scratch the surface of polite society, you can see the horror show underneath.

In his book, “The Screwtape Letters,” C. S. Lewis does a masterful job of describing the more subtle work of demons at work in the lives of everyday Christians. He writes about how dark spiritual forces work to distract us from prayer, how they work to frustrate people’s relationship with the church, how they set up unrealistic expectations and sow disappointment and discouragement which lead to doubts about God. They fan minor disagreements and hurt feelings between people so they boil over into major fights and people end up isolated from one another. I see this kind of stuff at work just about every day. Demons are many, and they are powerful.

Demons work to exploit grief and guilt. When my mother died of a prescription drug overdose, I had an overwhelming sense of guilt, believing that I had failed her. I had thoughts crop up that said, “You’re a pastor and you couldn’t even save your own mother.” You tell me that wasn’t the devil’s hot breath on my neck! My therapist used both secular counseling techniques and biblical theology to help clarify my faulty thinking and to see the father of lies at work. My own experience has helped me see just how powerful lies are in people’s lives. They are a force unto themselves. There is more at work out there than just psychology or brain chemistry or sociology. Demons are many, and they are powerful.

And then there is the confession we make every Sunday. Most Sundays we begin our worship by telling the truth about ourselves, that we are captive to sin and unable to free ourselves. However this takes shape in our lives, we are all admitting that we are caught in the grip of something more powerful than us.

None of this is to absolve us of responsibility for our actions. None of this is to turn us all into the Church Lady in the old Saturday Night Live skit who obsesses over Satan, seeing him everywhere. But it is to acknowledge that many aspects of our lives involve a spiritual battle. Demons are legion – they are many, and they are powerful.

Acknowledging this reality makes the Good News in our gospel reading for today all the more wonderful. Jesus Christ entered into that horror show in Gerasa and showed himself to be more powerful than every demon. He cast them out of the man with a word. By the end of the story this once-captive man was sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. What was too powerful for humans, what could not be restrained even with shackles and chains, was subdued with nothing more than a word from the mouth of Jesus Christ. Jesus simply spoke, and the man was free!

The reaction of the townspeople is interesting and instructive. They were more afraid of Jesus than they were of the demons! They asked Jesus to leave. Perhaps they didn’t like what he did to the hogs. Perhaps they were worried about their livelihoods or the price of bacon. Or maybe they knew that having Jesus around would change their lives, and they weren’t ready to change yet. That’s a challenge still today!

But that isn’t you.

You are here today because you have caught glimpses of the horror show. You’ve seen it in the world around you. You’ve seen it in your own life. You are here today because you know there are forces out there that you are contending with that are more powerful than you, and you need help. You are here today because you know that you are captive to sin and cannot free yourself. You are here today because you know you need Christ Jesus to step onto the shore of your life and set you free by his word.

And that’s just what he does for us. He comes to us today, stepping into our unclean world and our unclean lives, speaking a word that sets us free. He announces to us the entire forgiveness of all our sin, setting us free to live a new life with him. He assures that through his death and resurrection, we are saved, we are redeemed, we are loved, we are safe. He comes to dispel the lies we’ve been laboring under, displacing them by his gracious presence as the way, the truth, and the life. He assures us that though demons still claw at us from time to time, he is more powerful than all of them. And so we find ourselves sitting at his feet, clothed in his grace and in our right minds.

The man in our gospel reading who had his demons cast out wanted to go with Jesus. But Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”

That’s your job now too.


Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church