Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lent 2 - Matthew 15

(But I say it's Luke in the delivery! That's what happens when you do two weeks at once! My apologies. Beware the many typos as well!)

(wma audio download link)

You probably don’t really believe in demons. Maybe, just maybe, you believe in the devil. Maybe…barely. But demons? Fallen angels that are active in your world and your life, causing distress, causing pain, causing suffering, and by all means possible deceiving any you, your spouse and your children– deceiving, lying, and teaching you by any means possible that you should not believe in two things: you should not believe in demons, and…you should not believe that the only thing in this life that matters is Jesus Christ.

But you know the arguments. How can you believe in something you’ve never seen? Aren’t demons just a figment of past superstitions? Weren’t all these stories from the Bible just things like epilepsy and other modern diseases? You really expect me to believe that there are diabolical supernatural beings who hate me at work in this world, and that I have no power to defend myself against them, who have as their ultimate goal to make me join them in their fiery doom?

Yes. No. No. And yes.

Why should you believe in demons? Easy. Because Jesus believed in demons. Jesus spoke to demons. Jesus made demons listen to him. And Jesus cast out demons, with a word, with a thought, the way your brush lint off your shoulder.

They hated it. They screamed. They cast people into convulsive fits. They ran entire herds of livestock into the sea to drown. They asked him, “What are you doing here, Son of God?” They claimed, “It’s not the appointed time for this!” And they begged, “Why have you come before the Day of Judgment?”

Do you believe it? Do you believe the Scriptures? Or do you believe your experience – the experience controlled and manipulated by a world of evil, where you’re always given just enough “good stuff” to keep you running on the rat wheel, but never enough to breath, to have peace, or even to have real, solid hope? Isn’t itironic – the demons hide, and they let you think you’re safe. They let you think you can handle your world. They keep that carrot right out in front of your nose so that you don’t question those blinders on the side of your eyes, nor bother to look at the ground before you as you run straight for the edge of the cliff where a great and bottomless pit of fire waits for you to cast yourself into it’s eternal furor.

Is it possible? That’s simple: Is the Scriptural witness true? Did Luke, the beloved physician, the 1st century scientist and historian who studied the phenomenon of his day, tell the truth when he wrote the account we heard today? Or was he just a 1st century idiot, who you, with your all-knowing, television-dumped education, are obviously more intelligent than?

After all, you’ve never seen a demon – or, you think you’ve never seen one. … And you’ve never been possessed by a demon – or you think you can’t be. … Yes, Pastor is just making stuff up. He’s just superstitious. We’re safe. We come to Church at least every two weeks. And we don’t steal or murder.

But what are the lyrics being sung on your kids’ ipod? Why did Brittney Spears shave her head? How come the media is reporting the found Jesus’ body? Why have we aborted more babies than Hitler ever killed Jews?

Just because you think demons aren’t real, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat to you. In fact, that’s just the point. It’s when you think that demons aren’t real that they’ve got you right where they want you, right where you don’t need to be afraid, right where you don’t need protection, right where Church and the power of Christ to save is an option.

There was a time when demons didn’t mind being seen for what they were. Before the Christ came, what could be done? If a demon inhabited the heart and body of a man and caused him to cut himself, mutilate his flesh and speak in wild, flaming tongues, there was nothing to do for it. There was no answer to it. He was possessed. He was trapped. He was enslaved.

But, you see, this is part of what made Jesus so popular. So fantastic was the news about Jesus and how he healed not only diseases and life-long illnesses, but also cast out demons, that even when Jesus left the land of the Jews to rest a bit in other nations, the people there had heard of him, and they came begging him on the road, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”

And for all we can learn from this text from the dialogue between Jesus, his disciples and this woman, two amazing facts are constantly taken for granted by all three parties involved: First, demon’s exist. And second, Jesus has the power to make them do whatever he says. Jesus has power over demons.

Are you tracking with me? Have you been following the narrative all these weeks since Christmas? (If not, then next year pay attention.) But I’ll recap: The man was born of a Virgin. He was hailed by the nations as the King of Kings. He caused heaven to open by repenting of sins he didn’t commit. He demonstrated power over nature, power over disease, power to teach. He shone with self-emanated light. He scoffed at the devil’s attempts to tempt him, and today he treats the devil’s servants as his own, saying, “Away with you,” and they go. Who is this man? And why does he keep insisting that all this stuff he’s been doing is not what he was really sent to do? Where is he going with such conviction? What does he believe it means to be the Messiah?

You know the answer to this by now, or at least you ought to. Jesus is going to the cross. Jesus is going to die. Jesus is going to cast the devil out of the world once and for all, to bind him, to end his reign.

But the devil is no fool, and now, bound though he is by the proclamation of the cross of Christ, he now knows that his best strategy for deceiving the nations from this time forth is not open attack, but guerilla warfare. He attacks from his hiding, pretending he doesn’t exist, telling you and the world that all spirits are “good” spirits, and all spiritualities are “good” spiritualities. As long as it’s about “god,” it can’t do any harm, right? All religions are basically the same, aren’t they?

If you truly believe that, you’re gravely wrong, and stand quite in jeopardy of eternal damnation.

Demons are real. And at the heart of every religion which denies the fact that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh into history in order to redeem the whole of creation is nothing other than a demon who would be god. And dressed as an angel of light, he’ll make you bow down and worship him. Call him Allah. Call him Moroni. Call him Buddha. Call him Science. It doesn’t matter. It’s not Jesus Christ, only begotten of the Father. It’s false. It’s a lie.

It’s the same lie, over and over again. And it possesses many. So much so that we don’t even notice our children cutting themselves, nor our culture is mutilating itself, nor how we ourselves practice the magic of “positive thinking” and listen readily to teachers who paint pretty lies and myths for us, telling us the Church is a business with a product to sell. (laugh.) Jesus is a product to sell?

And you don’t believe in demons? Are you watching? Civilization is dying, the Church is apostate, and humanity itself is threatened to either drown in the turmoil of its own insanity, or, perhaps one better, be obliterated under the antichristian threat of militant Islamic jihad. Whether you’ve seen or faced this reality or not doesn’t really mater. In all frankness, you are powerless over against it. No praise band, no program, no business plan, not even our Project Resurrection will solve the demonic possession of our world. There is no evangelism event, no missional movement, no ecumenical dialogue, no nothing that you or I can come up with, institute or do to cast the devil down from his throne.

Your lips themselves are impure and your hands are stained with greed and faithless deeds. What could you possibility do? But look! There stands Jesus, walking on the road. And see how the faithful flee to him, begging him to turn and have mercy on you, though you do not deserve it, though you are a dog – it does not matter. He is the Son of David, who laughs in derision at his enemies, who casts out devils with a word, and he was not sent to condemn, but to save!

Do you hear what I am saying? He was sent to save you. He was sent to bind the devil. And he has, on the cross, with the sky darkened and crashing, with earthquakes and tremors, with atheists saying “Surely, this is the Son of God!” He was saving you: from disease, from death, from demons, from the devil. And it is here, right here, that he has sent his Apostles to give you the crumbs that have fallen from his table, so that you may eat and drink the forgiveness of Israel, not as a dog, but as his own child.

Oh, Kyrie eleison is our cry! “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” And look, it is already done as you have desired. The salvation is purchased. Here, even demons cannot touch you, for here the Lord casts out all evil and death with a Word: “Take, and eat, and live.” Here, you follow along the road, walking with him to that cross, weeping at its feet, and yet, rejoicing on that third morning, for you are his and he is yours, and he laughs at the demons, at this world, at the apostasy, at it all. He laughs, for you. For he is the one who bears the Name of…

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