The World and I

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.   (Ephesians 6:12)

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.   (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

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The Gospels as well as the entire Bible gives recognition at times to a spiritual warfare of cosmic dimensions which is ongoing within the created universe.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became incarnate and entered into the world exactly to engage in this warfare on our behalf.  Oftentimes in our daily lives we are not aware of the ongoing spiritual warfare, though some people, monks for example are consciously engaged in the warfare on a daily basis.

That Christ came into the world to enter into the fray on our behalf is obvious in today’s Gospel lesson:

And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

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Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.  And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.  (Matthew 8:28-9:1)

The Gospel lesson shows Christ active in the world, not enthroned in the comfort and safety of heaven, and not just piously praying in the temple.  It is a lesson about Christ engaging evil face to face in a desolate place where most humans have decided not to go.  Christ is God’s presence and power in the world casting out the forces of Satan from the lives of two rather unsavory men.

Whether we think in these terms or not, we ourselves come to church in order to personally experience that presence of the Kingdom in our lives, to commit ourselves to the Kingdom of God and to show our own rejection of all that is evil.  Our presence at the Liturgy is not withdrawal from the world, nor fleeing the real presence of evil in the world, but rather adding ourselves to the spiritual war against Satan.  Throughout the Liturgy we are praying for and about the world and all that is in the world.    We unite ourselves to Christ in order to defeat Satan in our own lives so that we can be what Christ expects of us:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14)

In the Gospel, it is obvious that Christ does not just talk to those who are holy, sinless, without problems.  He engages everyone in the world, even those possessed by Satan.

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Compared to life in Biblical times, we have many modern advantages that help relieve suffering, pain and sickness.  The medical progress and social welfare  we experience are a direct result of Christian efforts to help the needy and to relieve suffering.  The impetus was the mercy and care that Christianity advocated for the poor and needy.  It was the Christians who established hospices and hospitals and famine relief and care for orphans and widows throughout the Roman Empire.  That was the seed for the development of medical science and social concern for those in need.   This was a real response to the evil they could see everywhere and which most people simply tried to avoid.

War of the Worlds 2It is interesting that science fiction often portrays the earth being invaded by an alien army which attempts to destroy life on earth or tries to turn everyone into inhuman possessions of the aliens.  Science fiction really is just borrowing the narrative of the Gospel.  Science fiction turns Satan into an alien invader, but the story is the same.  The world is at risk and we need to repel the invasion.  The Scriptures tell us the alien invader is Satan  and Christ came into the world to drive back this alien invasion and to overcome the spreading corruption of the Evil One.  That is what Christ does in the Gospels, and whether we see it or not, it is what we are doing in the Church through the exorcism at Baptism and in our becoming the Body of Christ.

Throughout the Gospel Christ is present in the world seeking lost sheep, injured lambs, the sick and the possessed.  Christ freely went even to places and people who had forsaken God.    We attend the Liturgy to make Christ present in our lives, because we agree and believe that there is real evil in the world and we want it defeated.  We unite ourselves to Christ to expel evil from our lives.  We receive the Body and Blood of Christ to strengthen ourselves in the spiritual warfare so that we can go back into the world to defeat evil and witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We accept the risk of what spiritual warfare means – including martyrdom.   Our task is not simply to come to the church to receive Christ and be united to Him.  Our task is to go back into the world to get Christ out of the Church and into the entire world, to claim our lives for God and be God’s servants daily so that evil is crushed because we are oriented to God.  We don’t need to orient ourselves toward evil to defeat it, we defeat evil by completing orienting our lives, our hearts and minds to God.  If we keep our eyes and hearts on Christ, Satan and evil are automatically defeated.

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The Liturgy in the Church orients our lives toward the Kingdom of God, it helps us always keep our face toward God.  In the Liturgy we are always facing in one direction toward God, with our backs toward Satan because we have left evil behind us.  That is the symbolism of the Liturgy and why we stand and orient ourselves this way in the Liturgy rather than sitting around in circle with the altar at our center.

Our spiritual struggle is not just against our personal sins and passions, it is part of the cosmic warfare against Satan and all evil powers.    This is why it is so difficult to overcome our personal sins and failings.  Our struggle within ourselves immediately puts us into the conflict with Satan and his forces.  When you desire to stop any sin or passion within yourself, lust, greed, anger, lying, etc, you are at once engaged in the spiritual warfare which is raging through the entire world. One difficulty in overcoming our sins, temptations and passions is we are not prepared to engage in the full spiritual warfare against Satan, and we fail to think of ourselves as part of the world or part of a greater whole.  We tend to see our self as isolated and in a lonely struggle and that we just have personal problems, but the reality is we really are part of a bigger war.  Christ came into the world to take on Himself the sin of the world, to directly confront and defeat Satan.  But we have to keep ourselves united to Christ to benefit from His power.  We keep ourselves united to Christ in the Communion of the Saints, in the Church, through confession, communion , prayer, the Liturgy, bible study, in practicing charity and forgiveness.  We learn to love in and through community and that keeps us in the Body of Christ.

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How do we keep Satan from influencing our lives?    A willingness to listen to God’s Word, listening to God’s word, heartfelt prayer, a devout fear of God, true Christian love for God and for one another, a desire to serve God, humility, self-denial, seeking truth, doing God’s will as revealed in the Gospel commandments.

Weighing the Swine: How Much do We Value Charity?

In Luke 8:26-39, we read the Gospel lesson of the man possessed by a legion of demons.  This lesson has its parallel in Matthew 8:28-9:1 (which is read on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost – in 2013 that fell on June 28).  In Luke’s version (and in Mark 5:1-20), Jesus and the apostles are among the Gerasenes (in some ancient versions it is referred to as Gergesenes –  see the comment of St Nikolai Velimirovich below) while in Matthew’s version, the land is said to be of the Gadarenes.   The spelling of the name is of no particular consequence for the story – this happens in a non-Jewish territory.  The details of the story are similar, though in the Matthew version there are two demoniacs instead of one which Luke and Mark report.  Some ancients thought that perhaps Matthew is telling another miracle different from Luke and Mark.   Here is St. Luke’s version:

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As Jesus stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and 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. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich takes up the issue of the local people’s reaction to Jesus when they see the demoniac in his right mind and the herd of pigs drowned.   One might conclude that the people were ungrateful or even hateful toward God, but St. Nikolai warns us not to be too quick to judge them, for we often behave like they did.

“Let us not be in a hurry to condemn these Gergesenes’ love for their swine before we consider the society of our day, and count up all our swine loving fellow-townsfolk, who would, just like the Gergesenes, have more concern for their pigs than the lives of their neighbors. Just think how few there are today, even among those who cross themselves and confess Christ with their tongues, who would not quickly make up their minds to kill two men if this would give them two thousand pigs. Or think if there are many among you who would sacrifice two thousand pigs to save the lives of two madmen. Let those who condemn the Gergesenes before first condemning themselves be filled with deep shame. Were the Gergesenes to rise up today from their graves, and begin to count, they would arrive at a vast number of the like-minded in Christian Europe! They at least begged Christ to leave them, while the peoples of Europe drive Him out. And why? In order to be left alone with their pigs and their masters, the demons.” (Homilies Vol 2, pg. 50)

The Beautiful Mercy of Christ

EphremSt. Ephrem the Syrian  (4th Century) writes a wonderful poem in which among many other things he meditates on Luke 8:26-39, the Gerasene demoniac named Legion.  Ephrem is encouraged by the fact that Christ grants Legion’s request to be allowed to go into the swine.  First, Christ grants the prayer of a demon, so surely He will listen to the prayers of Christians.  Second, the demon asked to go into the herd of swine, surely Jesus will much more joyfully grant the request of those seeking with their whole hearts entrance into heaven.   

            Look too at Legion:

                                    Ephremwhen in anguish he begged,

                        our Lord permitted and allowed him

                                    to enter into the herd;

                        respite did he ask for, without deception,

                                    in his anguish,

                        and our Lord in His kindness

                                    granted this request.

                        His compassion for demons

                                    is a rebuke to that People,

                        showing how much anguish His love suffers

                                   in desiring that men and women should live.

 

                        Encouraged by the words

                                    I had heard,

                        I knelt down and wept there,

                                    and spoke before our Lord:

                        saavatij“Legion received his request from You

                                    without any tears;

                        permit me, with my tears,

                                    to make my request,

                        grant me to enter, instead of that herd,

                                    the Garden,

                        so that in Paradise I may sing

                                    of its Planter’s compassion.”

Staying Home to Follow Christ

Thoughts on the Gospel:    (Luke 8:26-39)   The Gerasene Demoniac

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.  As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)  Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.  Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.  Then people came out to see what had happened, and 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. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the      surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, [39] “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

The human effort to deal with the man’s insanity and energumens and evil for that matter was to try to chain and shackle the mad man, to keep him under guard – in other words to arrest, incarcerate, and physically constrain him.  These efforts had no positive results as the demoniac was always able to escape from his guards. 

But the demons could not flee from the presence of Christ, they themselves were constrained by Him and could do only what he gave them permission to do.  When Christ appears it is not the madman who fled the human effort to control him, but the demons who fled the presence of Christ – and they did so no longer possessing a human but by spooking a herd of pigs. 

Jesus is able to speak with the demons – either they understand His language, or He speaks theirs.   The communications is very clear for all sides understand each others. 

Jesus does not restrain or constrain the demoniac in any way; rather Jesus frees the man from his enslavement to demons and to the chains of men.  Jesus uses no violence on the demoniac, or on the demons for that matter – He gives the demons permission to leave as they are requesting.  Jesus does nothing to punish the man who allowed the demons into his life.  Jesus inflicts no pain on the possessed man but restores the man to sanity, to his right mind.  

The swineherds tell the story of what happened – they witness to the miracle and power of Christ, but their witnessing does not bring the Gospel to the townspeople, just to the contrary, the people demand that Christ leave their territory.  They bound the possessed man but they expel Christ.  The possessed man runs away from them, but they send Christ away. 

The people of the territory were afraid when they saw the madman in his right mind.  That the man was now calm and sane causes the people to ask Jesus to depart from their land.  Was it xenophobia?  Were they afraid of this stranger and his strange power?  Or were they afraid of sanity – better the demons that they knew rather than the power which gives sanity which they did not know. 

They do not ask for any more miracles or demonstrations of power.  They do not thank Jesus for restoring sanity to the possessed man.   Are they afraid of the price of the Kingdom of God?  The cost for having the kingdom come to them was the loss of an entire herd of swine, which no doubt represented a small fortune.  This was economic devastation for some of them.   And it brought no joy to these people to have the Messiah come to them.  They give Jesus no chance to teach or preach, but rather want him to depart. 

Though the cured man has become a follower of Christ, Christ does not permit him to travel with Him, but rather sends the cured man back home.  It is back home, where people did not want Christ to stay, that Christ tells the man to follow Him.  Back home he is to declare what God has done for him, though the people’s reaction to the swineherds’ testimony was one of fear and rejection.   Following Christ did not mean leaving behind the people who did not believe in Him,  but rather it meant staying with the people who wanted Christ to depart from their midst.

Evangelism Not Marketing

Sermon notes from November 2002 – Luke 8:26-39    The Gerasene Demoniac

Did the people in today’S Gospel lesson fear demons, or did they actually fear power which they could not control?

Membership in the Body of Christ should be the principle source of one’s own identity.

We assemble here both as and to be with brothers and sisters in Christ, to learn from Christ what it means to treat others as brothers and sisters rather than as distant strangers, to practice the teachings of Jesus to love one another. Unfortunately, our thinking is sometimes so shaped by the consumer culture all around us that sometimes we come here and continue to see ourselves merely as consumers to see if there is anything we want, anything we can take away for ourselves. When we do that we forget that Christ called us here to be his disciples, to be brothers and sisters in Christ, to live in love with one another. We need to let our minds receive the grace of the Gospel, and let down our defensive posturing to set aside the question “What am I going to get out of this?” Here is a place where we can practice true love and look around and see those who like ourselves love Christ, who want to serve God, and we can look and see how can we help others attain the same goal that we have – to reach the Kingdom of God?

We come to church to learn the Christ taught discipline of loving one another. Our Society shapes our thinking so that usually we are focusing on getting something for ourselves. But here in the Church we can set aside personal profit as a motive for everything we do, and we actually can be freed from our selfish limitations and aspire to God, eternity and the true love which Christ offers us.

The Church really is not engaged in marketing. The Church exists for evangelism and for the salvation of the world. In today’s Gospel lesson, did Jesus do market research and see what the demon possessed man thought was his greatest desire? Did Jesus poll the local population and determine what the local reaction would be to his performing an exorcism? Did Jesus test the waters and see how healing someone would effect his popularity in the polls?

Marketers people might conclude from today’s Gospel, that Jesus’ ministry was neither wanted nor needed. The miracle which Jesus did today neither increased his popularity nor did it win him any converts from the masses.

The kingdom of God is not based upon popularity, on the polls, nor even on the declared wants and needs of the local population.

The Gerasene/Gaderene Demoniac

     Luke 8:26-39      (20th Sunday after Pentecost)   

When Christ gets off the boat in this foreign land who is it that meets Him?   A man possessed by a demon is the only one to confrontationally greet Jesus when he comes ashore – no crowd of believers or curiosity seekers bothers to assemble or to welcome Him.  There is only evil ominously awaiting those who land here.   The desolate scene is like that of a zombie movie – the humans are nowhere to be found; only a crazed and violent demoniac comes out to meet Jesus at the shore.  And this demoniac who is totally out of his mind knows who Jesus is – the son of the Most High God, and even knows His name – Jesus.   Jesus is known in these parts though a malevolent force will keep people away from seeking out the son of God.

It does turn out that there is a crowd hiding in the scene – the man is possessed not by a demon but by a legion of demons.   These demons beg Jesus to let them leave His presence, and He grants them leave.  The demons enter into a herd of swine so spooking them that they run off a cliff into a lake and are drowned.

Now comes the crowd out to see Jesus, and they note the former demoniac, whom they all avoided because of his physical strength and demonic insanity, sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus.  This man is the same one whom the demons often drove berserk into the wilderness.  He is no longer satanically insane but has his humanity restored.

And the reaction of the crowd?    Total terror.   They ask Jesus to leave.  Whose behavior is unreasonable and insane now?  Somehow a world in which a man can be possessed by demons and is a deranged lunatic is less terrifying to them then having someone who can overcome such psychopathological powers.

Jesus sends the legion of demons away and restores one man to mental/spiritual health.  The crowd sends Jesus away preferring a world without the likes of Him and thus embracing insanity and irrational powers.

The man naturally wants to stay with Jesus – and be protected from all dark demonic powers.   But Jesus sends him away – back to his own house – to be a witness to what God had done through Jesus.   The lone man who had greeted Jesus when he arrived on the Gadarene shore is not invited to travel with Jesus, but is sent to talk to the very people who sent his Savior away about Jesus.