Sermon – 6/20/10

June 22, 2010 at 9:54 am Leave a comment

There’s a new show on TLC – maybe you’ve seen it.
It’s called “Hoarding: Buried Alive.”
Each episode follows the stories of two compulsive hoarders –
people who can’t get rid of their stuff,
whose stuff piles up and takes over every room of the house.
The one episode I watched involved a guy
who finally had to let his girlfriend of two years
into his house.
As she clambered in and balanced on the piles of wall-to-wall stuff,
she was flabbergasted.
He stood there, embarrassed and helpless.

Now many people would simply say that the solution
is a radical surgery –
throw everything away.
But to do that would be simply mind-blowing for the person
for whom this junk represents something –
safety, security, links to the past, comfort, meaning;
And so a much more painstaking process must be undertaken,
the process of deciding, piece by piece, item by item,
what can be kept and what must simply be thrown or given away.
As that is happening, the person’s relationship with stuff must be healed.
The normal order of things is that we possess things,
not that things possess us.
But that’s not the way it works for these people.

Lately another neuroticism has been being identified and making headlines –
technology addiction.
A recent article on the New York Times website was entitled,
“Your Brain on Computers: Hooked on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price.”
Ironically enough, it was the most e-mailed and Facebooked and Twittered that day.
A friend of mine, a Lutheran pastor and a blogger,
wrote, “This article convicted me.
There’s a quiz to see if you have technology overload,
and I have every single symptom. Lord have mercy.”

The story included a vignette about a Kord Campbell,
who sleeps with his laptop and his Iphone on his chest,
who knows that when he takes the subway to work in San Francisco
he will be offline for exactly 221 seconds,
and who escapes into online activity when he feels depressed or anxious.

I am not going to make any sweeping statements about mental illness
and demonic possession as it is described in the Bible,
but I will at least make this observation:
Both demonic possession as described in the Bible
and many forms of mental illness from my limited understanding
have something to do with control.
We engage in behavior or thought patterns which we think will control our situation
but the behavior or the thought pattern ends up controlling us.
Laptop computers, smart phones, Ipods, and 24-7 connectivity
promise us freedom – and lock us away from our surroundings,
unable to fully engage the moment –
unable to fully be human and to be with others.
Those who hoard things because of the comfort or promise of stuff
end up enslaved to the stuff,
compelled to accumulate things until there is no room for them anymore.
One of the teasers for a future episode of “Hoarding: Buried Alive”
talked about a woman who had so much stuff
she bought a house next to her house just for her stuff.

Control, compulsion, possession,
all of these words can be used in reference to mental illness –
and also with regard to demonic possession in the Bible.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Deliver us from evil.”
Evil is whatever would separate us from God, from who we really are,
from being able to simply be with people and with ourselves,
whatever would control us for purposes of its own.
The man with the legion was among the dead –
there was no difference between himself and the dead,
because his life was a living death –
a slavery to the compulsions he experienced from the legion.
He wore no clothes because clothes are what the living wear –
so they can be together with others without shame.
The forces of chaos had nearly overwhelmed him –
and yet the demons who possessed him had to fall back
at the influence of a greater power.

But unlike the demons,
Jesus does not possess the man who had the Legion.
Once Jesus sends the demons into the pigs, and with the pigs into the abyss,
he does not simply occupy the evacuated territory.
“When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone
sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.”
The man is not possessed by Jesus,
he is free –
and in free obedience he sits at the feet of Jesus,
to hear his words, to be in his presence.

We will hear a lot about freedom in the next few weeks –
it is coming up on Independence Day after all.
When we think of freedom, we usually think, “We are free to do this or that;
free to worship where we want, live where we want, do what we want;
That’s not the Bible’s conception of freedom at all.
Freedom is not freedom to do what we want –
it is freedom to be who we were created to be.
It is freedom from the domination of powers of our own imagination
or of diabolical invention
and to freely and without compulsion acknowledge God as Lord, Dominus.
It is freedom from the word of power and to hear the Word of truth.
It is freedom from hating and freedom to love.
And it cannot be granted by any government, not our own, not any other,
it can be known by anyone at any place at any time because of Jesus.
He it is who has the authority to set people free –
by his Word of promise now which will be fully realized in the time to come.

There are two questions at the end of this story.
One of which concerns the Gerasenes,
the people who had the man with the legion in their midst.
When he is healed, instead of rejoicing, they ask Jesus to leave the country.
Who knows why?
They seem to be acting more like the demons than anything else.
If Jesus has the power to get rid of this man’s demons,
maybe he has the power to get rid of their demons –
and they might not want that.
It hasn’t gotten too bad for them yet.
The illusion of control, the empty promises of security,
that’s what demons of whatever stripe rely on.
To be free of all that – well, maybe it was just too overwhelming for them.

But for as long as they lived,
there would be a living example of self-control in their midst.
The man begs to be allowed to leave the country with Jesus,
but Jesus orders him to stay –
and precisely because he is not a demon but the Lord who grants freedom.
If the man had gone with Jesus,
the people would have believed, the man would have believed
that Jesus was simply a stronger power of control –
that the man had been taken over by a new and more powerful force.
Perhaps that also is why the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave.
But Jesus is the Lord of freedom –
and so the man is allowed to be free in the place where the demons haunted him,
praising God to his neighbors,
the living sign of the freedom which God offers all people.

A few years ago
I showed a videotape to the youth group –
it was a videotape, so it must have been a while ago –
about examples of discipleship in the contemporary world.
It was called “The Test of Time.”
It focused on people who were making a difference in the world for Jesus’ sake.
And the really amazing thing was that folks had not fled the world that had hurt them,
but engaged the world – often right where they had been wounded.
One story I remember was of a woman who had been a drug addict
and a homeless person on Coney Island in Brooklyn.
After she had been rescued by Jesus,
after she had received help and was free from her addiction,
she went back to minister to others who had been in her same situation.
Freely – not under compulsion,
she showed God’s love and mercy in a place where there was no love and mercy,
where the demons of despair and addiction and worthlessness –
a veritable legion – had attacked her and driven her nearly to her end.
But they could not reach her now.
She was free and she could be a beacon of freedom to others.
I’d like to think that this was the role of the man from Gerasa,
to be a beacon of freedom to others.

So let us pray, “Deliver us from evil.”
Freedom from domination, whatever kind it is,
is never a matter of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps
but of being rescued from what enslaves us.
On our journey to God,
we are encouraged by the promise that God is freeing us from our bondages –
from everything that would control us and keep us from being freely his.
Let us commend ourselves to his care,
asking him to make us wholly free and wholly his
and to make us shining examples of freedom in a world full of fear.
Amen

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Sermon, Sixth Sunday of Easter Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

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