Sunday, June 20, 2004

Third Sunday of Pentecost
Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:18-27
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah; And all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is Jehovah's; And he is the ruler over the nations.

It is a very popular notion among modern Christians to reject religion and the institution we call the Church for a more private, personal relationship with God. This often leads to the idea that faith can be lived out separate from a fellowship of believers. They believe that they can worship God anywhere, in a field or by a stream, and that they do not need to go to church. After all, the church is made of people, not bricks, and the institution as we know it today is nothing like what Christ intended. This is the excuse I’ve heard many times from people who do not attend services with other Christians.

While it is true that every Christian must have knowledge of God in their hearts and in their minds, we are also part of a body that is greater than ourselves. We are part of the body of Christ which is the Church. This body is made up of many parts, parts that are imperfect but forgiven and blessed with gifts that make the body whole and perfect. You will never find a church that is made up of only saints. Each of us are saints and sinners in the same flesh and somehow God manages to use us in this world to share the Gospel with those who are lost and lonely.

As we read the Old Testament lessons, there were a few characters that had personal experiences with God. Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden. Abraham spoke with God. Jacob wrestled with God. Moses delivered the entire nation of Israel out of bondage into the Promised Land by the Word of God.

Yet, most of the stories speak of God’s relationship with the entire nation of Israel. The promise to Abraham were not only for himself, but were for all his seed. The Law was not for Moses alone, but for the entire nation. Judgment fell upon the whole nation even though we could find in the story specific people who are to blame. When God became angry with His chosen people for worshipping other gods, He sent them all into exile.

In today’s lesson from Isaiah, God calls out His judgment against His people. They were a people who had stopped crying out to God, who had turned to other worship practices. They were burning offerings to Baal in the high places and stopped listening for God’s voice in their lives. He called out to them, but they did not hear. He showed Himself to people who did not look for Him. And they missed Him.

This is certainly true in the Gospel lesson for today. Jesus was in the region of the Gerasenes. This was near the Decapolis, the Ten Cities, and was predominantly a Gentile area, though we can’t tell from the story whether the man who was set free from the demons was a Jew or a Gentile. We only know that he had been possessed with many demons – legion was its name – and these demons caused the man to do horrific things. He was violent and was forced to live a solitary life among the dead.

Bodies were laid in tombs hewn from rock. These caves were often used by people who were outcast by society as a place to shelter from the storm. This man was living there when Jesus came into the region. The demons within the man cried out to Jesus, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” The demons knew Jesus could send them to the abyss with a word, but they pleaded with Jesus to have mercy and to send them into a herd of pigs. Jesus agreed, so when the demons left the man they entered the pigs which then ran off the cliff into the water.

Who else but God could do such a miraculous thing as command demons to leave a man? This should have been one of those events though which many people would believe in Jesus. But they did not see this through the eyes of faith, but through their fear. A man, one of their own, was healed of the most horrific ailment but they did not care. When they heard what Jesus had done, they asked Him to leave. “I have revealed myself to a people that did not call my name.” These Gentiles weren’t looking for God, but Jesus showed Himself to them.

The man was the only one to believe. For him, the faith was personal and individual because there were no others with whom he could share this amazing experience. He asked Jesus if he could be a disciple, but Jesus sent him into the Decapolis to tell everyone what God had done for him. He was sent as an evangelist and all the people were amazed. It would not have taken long for others to believe in Jesus by what they heard from the man, he would soon live in fellowship with others of faith.

Jesus did not take the man as a disciple because his witness would have been disruptive to the community of disciples. Jesus often told those healed to keep it a secret because Jesus did not want to be know solely for His miraculous powers. This would have led to the people seeking Him for all the wrong reasons. They would not be hearing the Word of God, but looking only for the miracles. They would not believe in Him for what He said, but what He did. They would want him to be king; they would crown him the Messiah for the wrong reasons. But in the Decapolis, the man could tell about Jesus and they would not try to force Him to be something He was not. Jesus told the man to tell everyone how much the Lord had done for him, and how He had mercy. The message the man took to the people was one of grace.

We are called to be disciples of Christ through faith, but our response to the mercy of God should be much more than just people who follow Him. Jesus saves us from our own demons and sends us out into the cities to tell everyone about His mercy and all He has done for us. We are called to sing His praises so that the whole world will know Him and believe. David, in response to the great things God had done – saved him from his enemies – said, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: In the midst of the assembly will I praise thee.”

This praise would lead to the salvation of many. “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah; And all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” Again, we see God concerned with far more than just the individual who is saved. He is concerned with all His creation. What a joy it would have been for Jesus if all had believed in Him, but His time had not yet come. He sent the man to tell of God’s mercy so that after the crucifixion and resurrection, they would remember and see that Jesus is indeed the One who brings salvation to all men.

In Christ we see the fulfillment of the promises that God gave to those individuals in the ancient days. But those promises were not meant for just one person, they were meant for all. Faith was not a gift that would know boundaries. It would not be for just the Jews, it would come to all the nations. Paul wrote to the Galations about how it was before Christ – we were prisoners to the Law. It was given to Moses to point us toward Christ Jesus. Through the Law we would discover our inability to keep it perfectly and look to Jesus for our salvation.

Now we are one body in Christ, sons of God through faith. Baptism brings us together into a family, into a community. We can’t live our faith alone. In Christ we inherit the promises that were given to Abraham and we are made part of something much greater. He covers us with His righteousness and we are all one together. As Paul writes, “There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus.”

Despite the fact that Israel missed God, His salvation would still come to them. The words of Isaiah in today’s Old Testament lesson speak of judgment, but they also speak of salvation. Despite their sin, God still saw the value in His people. They would suffer the consequences of their sin against Him, but He would not hold it against them forever. As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sake, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains; and my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.”

Out of Israel, God would bring Jesus and Jesus would bring mercy. He would save people, remove their demons and reveal the love of God to the world. He casts out our demons by His word and gives us faith to believe, then sends us out into the world to tell everyone what He has done. Through faith in Christ Jesus we are made one with Him and we become heirs to the Kingdom of God. Our response to this love is thanksgiving and praise together and through our witness the nations will believe. Thanks be to God.

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