Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 8:26–8:39
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Most of you probably know by now that my wife and I are now expecting our first child. We’re looking forward to the baby’s arrival, and everyone who has talked to us about it has been very encouraging. They’ve commented on their own experiences and shared the joys of bringing a newborn home, especially when that baby is a first child. One thing, though, has popped up time and again as people have offered their thoughts on babies and parenthood: almost everyone, down to the person, has said something to the effect of, “Your life is going to change forever.” I get what they mean. Welcoming a new life into your own, having total responsibility for another human being – it’s huge! And it’s more than just a little bit scary! It’s the kind of change that would dominate your life, reshaping everything else around it.
When something dominates in your life, it holds sway over your choices, your thoughts, and your relationships. It’s probably not a passing interest; rather, whatever it is will have a certain degree of power or influence over you. That’s really the essence of it – whatever that authority might be, it changes your life.
What dominates your life? If you think about it for half a second, that might be obvious to you. Some concern or responsibility or passion might stand out clearly in your mind. If not, consider the signs and indicators that point to what seems to have the most influence over your life right now. If you were to look at a calendar that showed how you’d spent the past week or month, what would stand out? For many of our households, the transition out of the school year (while also planning for the summer and whatever might follow) has been a big part of life. You might realize that you’ve been working a lot, with long days spent away from your home. Or just the opposite: you may have been looking for a job or new career that will make use of your skills and interests. Caring for your family could be the biggest thing on your radar right now, and that’s where it seems all of your time has gone. If you’ve got any, how do you use your leisure time? Your calendar might now tell you everything you need to know. If you could use some more guidance in seeing what’s dominating your life right now, take a look at how you’re spending money. What’s worth saving for? Or is something else keeping you from that, demanding your financial attention right now? While it’s true that some of the forces that exert power and influence on your life are completely outside your control, a lot of them have come from choices that you’ve made and actions you’ve taken. But either way, when something dominates your time, energy, money, or focus, it could be changing your life in a bad way. You might come to realize that it’d be hard – or even impossible – to get out from its hold on your own.
In today’s Gospel text, St. Luke records Jesus’ encounter with a man possessed by demons. The demons dominated this man in the worst sense of the word. They exerted their power over him, transforming his life by cutting him off from the people around him and casting him out into desolate, abandoned places. People were afraid of him – and it’s not hard to see why! The demons could bring considerable force to bear, breaking the chains that held him while under guard. They dominated the man and brought ruin to his life. They left him isolated and naked, living in the tombs outside of the town. But then Jesus comes. The demons recognize him for Who he is: the Son of God the Most High. And in the presence of the Son of God, they fear. They who dominated the possessed man knew that Jesus brought an even greater power than their own. They knew what he could do, and what their fate would be when God would send them into the abyss, that final destination for Satan and all his angels. They could not resist his word of authority. All these demons – these unclean spirits – could do was beg.
What does Jesus do? He shows mercy. Jesus has mercy on the demoniac and on the demons who dominated him. When confronted, the demons report that their name is “Legion,” a reminder of that division of Roman troops which numbered from 3,000 to 6,000 soldiers, an overwhelming force. Yet that force could not stand before Jesus’ command, and so they plead to be allowed to enter a massive herd of pigs that was feeding nearby. Rather than handing out the instantaneous destruction that the demons deserve, he permits the spirits to go into the unclean animals; however, as soon as the demons enter those pigs, they get back to their destructive, dominating ways and drive the entire herd down the hillside to drown in the waters of the sea. At long last, the man from whom Jesus cast out the demons is free.
Consider what Jesus did there. He sailed with the disciples to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, to the land of the Gentiles, unclean people. He encounters one of those Gentiles, a man possessed by an unclean spirit, who lived in one of the most unclean places imaginable, the tombs. He commands the demons to come out of the man, allowing them instead to go into unclean animals, which then die a death considered unclean. Jesus goes to the most unclean of the unclean, not to destroy, but to heal. Jesus freed the man, breaking the power that dominated him and which cut him off from the people around him. Jesus dominated domination!
Consider, too, how the people respond. The townsfolk hear of what happened and come out to see things for themselves. When they get there, the man that they feared is now clothed and in his right mind, sitting at Jesus’ feet with his disciples. So now, they fear the power that was greater than that of the demons! It’s more than just a little bit scary that someone could transform a life like that. In that fear, they reject Jesus and send him away. But the man who Jesus freed stays. While the demons had begged to go away from Jesus, this man wants to go with him. He wants to stay close to the person and power who has changed his life forever. Rather than taking him back to Galilee, though, Jesus sends the man back into his community to go and “tell out” the good news of what God has done for him. Set free from the devil’s domination, this man who was once demon-possessed and isolated from the people around him would now be one of the first evangelists.
So how might you or I respond to what Jesus has done for us? When you give yourself over to the domination of sin, the devil, or your own desires rather than living as Jesus’ disciple, you lead yourself into isolation. You’re cutting yourself off from the community. In our reading from Isaiah 65, we hear God speaking of the people that He has continually called back to life with Him. They have failed to listen, though, because they are a self-absorbed people. They’re isolated from God and living unclean lives under the pretense of independence. They set up their own rules and follow their own paths, even thinking themselves too holy for others, yet they couldn’t be farther from the truth! Instead of living in the freedom of a right relationship with God, they’re only pretending to worship God. Worship without life in faith is offensive to God, driving the people even further away from where He would have them be. You and I are meant to follow Jesus out of the church building and into our community.
You might feel like whatever has dominated in your life has left you with a deep guilt, feeling unclean. If you’ve failed to live up to God’s design for life, you’re not alone: we all have, and Jesus has come to our unclean world to free you from that domination. In Galatians, we heard how God has given His law as a guardian for us, not to save us but to take care of us until the gospel came. Realizing what had dominated your life, you can look forward to the new dominion that Jesus brings to set you free. Jesus brings God’s authority into your life to break the power of sin and to disciple you at his feet in the community that he has established around the cross. Jesus has come to bring you back from isolation and self-absorption, to put you in your right mind and right life and to clothe you with his righteousness before God.
Restored and reconnected, you are an evangelist. You get to tell out the good news of what God has done for you in Christ, breaking the power of that domination that had you isolated. You get to share the word of authority that Jesus brings and carry the freedom that comes through it.
In the week ahead, St. John’s will be running our summer Vacation Bible School program under the theme “Tell It on the Mountain: Where Jesus Christ is Lord.” We’ve got a mountain summit here in the sanctuary, where children will gather to hear five stories from the Bible that take place on mountaintops. In each of those stories and in all the activities each day, they’ll hear the news that God is with us. They’ll hear how God is the one true God. They’ll hear that Jesus is God’s Son. They’ll hear that Jesus is our Savior. And they will hear that Jesus Christ is Lord! Everyone who will be working in our VBS is taking on the role of an evangelist. Those people will be telling others about who Jesus is. As our students travel in their Expedition groups, they’ll hear and see the good news of how much Jesus has done for them. For some of them, they might hear that message regularly with their families and in their church, but for others, this might be the first time that they will hear the gospel message. Pray for our students, staff, and leaders in the week ahead in support of this important opportunity. Join us as Jesus’ disciples as we gather on the mountaintop to tell out that Jesus Christ is Lord!
In his love for us, Jesus, Son of the Most High God, has come to unclean people like you and me, people who have been dominated by sin and cut off from the world around us. His power and influence is greater than what has dominated us, however, and he reconnects us with God and with each other.
Jesus has dominated domination – and that will change your life forever.