God Created Heaven for man Not man for Heaven

“Christ … made heaven to exist for the Church and not the other way around, because, as Chrysostom says, He created heaven for man not man for heaven.” (Gus George Christo, THE CHURCH’S IDENTITY: ESTABLISHED THROUH IMAGES ACCORDING TO SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

Though Christians talk a lot about their hope “to go to heaven”, the phrases “get to heaven” or “go to heaven” don’t occur in the Bible.   Heaven as the place where God or Christ dwells is an image that unfolds throughout the scriptures, and certainly it is presented that we should all desire to be with Christ, and that there is such a thing as the Kingdom of heaven, but it is not quite the place of destination that popular imagination has turned it into.  Biblical scholar N.T. Wright has written very clearly on the mistaken and not so biblical imagery of going to or getting to heaven. 

It is the human which is central to God’s plan for creation, not heaven.  God was not trying to fill heaven with humans, but rather He intended for humans to experience heaven – the place  where God dwells – wherever the humans were – in paradise or on earth, and by the resurrection of Christ even in Sheol/Hades itself.

Expelling the Demons in our Lives

Sermon notes for 5th Sunday after Pentecost:    (Matthew 8:28-9:1)

[8:28] When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. [29] Suddenly they shouted, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” [30] Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. [31] The demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” [32] And he said to them, “Go!” So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. [33] The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. [34] Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.  [9:1] And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town.

We can note the contrasts from the beginning and end of the Gospel Lesson:

At the beginning, there is a road that no one could pass through because of these two demon possessed and violent men –  even though apparently knowing about the threat of these men, Jesus goes that way anyhow.   By the end of the lesson, it is the demons who are seeking to get away from that place, and then the locals send Jesus away.      In the beginning of the lesson everyone is afraid of the power of the demons, by the end of the lesson everyone is afraid of the power of Christ which overcomes demons.

Suddenly they shouted:  Anyone who has been around the mentally unbalanced knows how terrifying it is when they begin to shout as they become a very loud menace.   If you haven’t had that experience, just think about how loud one mall but crying child can be in church, or in a store.

The demons which have terrorized everyone who tried to pass that way, are terrified at the appearance of Christ  (“Have you come to torment us before the time?”)

Christ is clearly not afraid of the power these demons or the threat of the demon possessed.  The demons want to leave, but they know they have no power or no permission to do anything when confronted by Christ the Lord.  So the demons have to ask permission to leave.   Demons have no influence over us, except that which we let them have.   In the Baptismal service in the opening exorcism, we say of Satan that he has no power even over the swine.  Evil is not as powerful let alone more powerful than God.  And we certainly know that the demons begging to enter the swine represents a specially Jewish mockery of the demons, for swine are an unclean and unacceptable animal for Jews.  And even these dirty swine are spooked by the demons and jump to their death – even swine want nothing to do with demons.

Jesus was not afraid to go where others were afraid to travel.  He was not afraid to confront other people’s demons.  And for us Christians there is great hope for healing in this if we are tempted by evil thoughts, evil memories, evil imaginations, and we have become afraid to confront these demons in our lives:  things we did in the past and have suppressed their memories, things that happened to us in the past and still haunt us, temptations and sins that we have been afraid to confront. 

Christ is willing to confront and exorcize all such demons and to forgive all our sins and to grant healing to our souls, hearts, and minds.   Christ is not afraid of the haunts of demons.  And we are to submit every aspect of our lives to the Lordship of Christ:  to invite him into the deepest and darkest recessions of our souls, minds or hearts, to drive out every evil and unclean thought.

This expelling of the demons we cannot do alone.  And surely we know the stories in the Gospels where the disciples failed to expel demons when requested to do so.  Christ said prayer and fasting were needed to uproot such demons.  But we also know we are not required to face these demons alone, and shouldn’t.  We are to walk this path with Christ, and He is present with us in His Body, the Church.  We have in the Churchall manners of support:  our fellow Christians, our godparents, monks,  the priest, and the Saints to walk those difficult paths and to go to those places in our hearts and minds and souls where we are afraid to go.  We have confession as a weapon against such demonic influences.  We have Holy Communion and the reading of the Word of God to bring the light of Christ into the dark places of our lives.

May Christ our true God expel and exorcise any kind of demon from your lives – every spirit of darkness, evil thought and memory, any demonic temptation or fantasy.    May all demonic powers be crushed beneath the sign of the cross.