Sermon for June 6, 2021 from Pastor John

Sermon for June 6, 2021

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     Do you know what happened on this date in 1944? What happened 77 years ago was D-Day, the invasion of Allied forces landing in Normandy (France) to defeat the German army which was occupying much of France. This was a battle to overcome a great evil. I am not saying the German people were evil but a terrible government was in power totally possessed by an evil ideology. Hitler and his henchmen sank most of Europe in a total war with so much suffering. And then there was the terrible anti-Semitism, the plan called the Final Solution, motivated by hatred of Jewish people. Terrible battles had to be fought before the German military capitulated and surrendered.

One could say Jesus spoke of battles to be fought in the Gospel reading today. Jesus began his ministry with the announcement that the Kingdom of God has come near, now is the time to repent, and believe the good news of the Kingdom. One of Jesus’ first acts of healing took place at a synagogue, a place of worship. The service was interrupted by a man who was possessed by a demon who began shouting at Jesus saying “Have you come to destroy us?” Jesus could have simply answered, “As a matter of fact, yes”. But Jesus acted with mercy on behalf of the man tormented by this demon. He ordered the demon to leave and the evil spirit had no choice but to obey. Jesus revealed the power of the rule of God, a rule to confront evil and rescue people under such domination. Such acts of mercy would continue: Jesus would continue the work of God’s kingdom by healing the sick, welcoming and revealing God’s love for those considered unlovable, and the spiritual healing of the forgiveness of sins. As a result of Jesus’ ministry he would attract crowds full of people in need of healing and help.

Jesus’ invasion into this world of need caused quite a stir. Instead of Jesus’ family being supportive of him, they thought he was out of his mind. By Jesus’ family we mean his siblings. Later in the gospel of Mark we hear of four brothers and a number of sisters. So when Jesus came home they marched out not to give him a hug and “glad to see you are home” welcome but to seize him. We can wonder why they wanted to take control. Maybe they thought Jesus was beside himself with his ministry that he had no time for family. Culturally it was expected for Jesus to remain at home and contribute to the family wealth. Or it could it have been an act of rescue: in a time of oppressive government they feared trouble. Whatever the reason it must have been an uneasy homecoming.

Then trouble did arrive, not in the form of an armed party of soldiers but religious scholars, referred to as the scribes. They came waltzing in from Jerusalem to give their evaluation of Jesus. Jesus was already on the scribe’s radar because of an earlier incident when Jesus told a man, “Your sins are forgiven.” The scribes had a fit declaring Jesus was making pronouncements only God could provide. No doubt the scribes had heard from the crowds of Jesus’ work of freeing people from evil spirits. The people were impressed with the authority Jesus had. But the scribes had their own thoughts about that saying the remarkable, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of demons he cast out demons.” Can you believe what they said, religious scholars, identifying Jesus as purely evil and on some kind of mission to deceive people.

Jesus dismissed such a charge saying “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against itself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.” Some people today may find such language outdated or even superstitious. They may think of cartoon depictions of Satan and demons usually in Halloween costume form. The Bible does not give literal descriptions but warns nevertheless: In Ephesians we read “Put on the full armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

What are we to make of these ‘spiritual forces of evil?” We may not want to talk about his on a nice summer day, and also a day of honoring High School graduates. I read something I found interesting in a commentary about the origin of the word “demon” in the Bible. The root of that word means “that which divides”. It seems that our nation is divided. This does not mean that people of opposing viewpoints in politics, religion, or society are evil and to be avoided. What very well may be evil is to retreat in our own points of view and refuse to work together with others who have different opinions. Nicholas Kristof is an author and editorial writer for the New York Times. In a recent article he spoke about the societal effects of the pandemic. Some people, who may not have been infected, yet still are desperate because of the loss of jobs and financially falling behind. Other folks, who have their own homes and a reliable income, may very well be doing just fine. Kristoff then wrote “The pandemic has shown more than ever that we inhabit two Americas.” In another headline we read of a ‘domestic arms race” for “Gun Sales Surge in United States Torn by Distrust”. Whatever is dividing us and causing distrust is hurting us. We even hear the expression of people “demonizing” those with whom they disagree. We hear about divisions all the time: red state and blue state, black and white, rich and poor. The Scriptures warned of the ‘wiles of the devil”. Martin Luther warned of the world, the devil, and our own sinful natures. Just think of the biblical names for the forces of evil: demon, that which divides, satan, the adversary, and devil, that which deceives. We need to put on the full armor of God.

Jesus warned that the devil is not divided against itself. The devil is like a strong man. Then Jesus said, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” Jesus came to this world on a mission of breaking and entering for the purpose of plunder. Jesus’ parables can cause our eyebrows to be raised! Jesus was speaking of his work of overcoming the devil, tying him up and freeing those under evil’s control. Jesus came to this world possessed all right, not with an evil spirit, but the Holy Spirit driving Jesus with a power of steadfast love to forgive sinners, give hope to the downcast, and welcome into the family and household of God. This power of love for this world would lead Jesus to accept the cross and cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The cross reveals lifelong solidarity with those who suffer and a power of love that heals and unites, the complete forgiveness of sin. Then Jesus’ resurrection would spell the complete defeat of the devil. The risen Savior is ever with us, never finding us a bother, and is at work seeking to help, heal, and provide hope.

In the article written by Nicholas Kristof, documenting the increased number of drug related deaths from the time of the pandemic, he told of a young woman named Melissa. This is sad tale of drug deaths in her life, and she herself struggles with addiction to painkillers. She said “I’m tired of drugs killing everyone I love.” But she says “I just keep reminding myself that God is working behind the scenes, even though I may not see anything good.” She herself has started attending Narcotic Anonymous, an important step in the right direction. I like what she said, “God works behind the scenes. God is especially seeking the lost, the fearful, the mourning, those overwhelmed to give them hope and guide them, never forsaking them, one step at a time.

Jesus said something remarkable in the text today, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Holy Baptism reminds us that we are children of God; Holy Communion invites us to Jesus’ table of grace; and listening to the good news of Jesus reminds us of the will of God: to be for you and never against you; to be your help in trial and temptation; and to follow Jesus who seeks to unite us as a church so we learn to love one another, just as he loves us.

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