Monday, January 30, 2012

Have You Ever Been Possessed?

I have to admit this morning that I have been possessed by unclean spirits.
Often beyond my control I have lashed out at people, used my position to advance my own agenda, spoke when I should have listened, acted with vengeance when mercy was needed.
I am wondering if you have ever felt this way.
Have you ever walked away from a conversation and thought to yourself, “Why did I say that?”

For example, it happened one time that I always carry with me.
I was in college.
I went to the gym with some friends to play some basketball.
While we were there we started to have a one on one tournament with some other people.
One thing about me is that I can be fiercely competitive while playing sports.
I was playing a game against a fellow student who happened to be Jewish.
The game was close and we were both going at it really hard.
I scored a point and instead of handing me the ball he rolled the ball away from me.
I yelled back, “Didn’t they teach you manners in Jewboy School!”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth I wondered where they came from.
It was like I was possessed.

We all get possessed by evil spirits sometimes.
We lash out at others, we find it hard to forgive, we say things that tear down people instead of build them up, and we lose our cool.
I believe that Jesus Christ came to help us take away evil spirits.
Jesus came to help us break free from the chains of those evil spirits that possess us.
After being Baptized, tempted in the desert, announcing his plans for the kingdom of God, calling disciples, Jesus now sets out to show us what the kingdom looks like.
This morning in the synagogue Jesus confronts the demons that stop people from living in the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is about forgiveness, love, self giving, sacrifice, hope, and joy.
When we are possessed by evil spirits we act contrary to these things.

We all possess things about us that we would rather do away with.
Some of those things are passed down to us from our parents.
Some of them we are simply born with.
Some we learn from the world around us.
Whatever the case, we are tied to them.

I want to tell you this morning that there is a way out.
That is to submit to the authority of Jesus.
I knew after I said what I said on the basketball court it I was wrong.
I asked for forgiveness.
It was granted and in the end we became pretty good friends.
But I had to submit myself to a greater authority.
I think that it takes great humility to be a Christian.
It takes humility because we have to admit that we are not always right.
That is hard.
We have to admit that we make mistakes.
We have to admit that there are forces at work in our lives greater and more powerful than us.

Jesus confronts those forces head on.
He does not back down.
Jesus authority gives him the ability to confront those things in the world that stop us from being all that we are suppose to be as God’s children.
This is what makes Jesus unique for us that he above anything else can make our lives right.
You cannot get what Jesus gives anywhere else.
You can’t get it in money, in possessing things, in stature, in fame, in winning.
The problem is that if all your life is about is winning then eventually you will lose, and then what will happen.
I know in that moment on the basketball court I was possessed by an evil spirit because I was possessed with winning instead of trying to live as God had intended for me.

This is why God’s grace given in Jesus Christ is so amazing.
The people in the synagogue that morning experienced it firsthand.
They went away that morning filled with amazement at what they had seen and heard.
They had heard preaching not like the scribes and Pharisees.
Not filled with quotes from scripture and precedent, but filled with God’s healing balm of grace.
Jesus is the center of his own teaching.
No need to quote lots of other sources only need to preach what he knows to be true.

I am hoping every week when you come here that you will be able to hear those same healing words.
That in this sacred space you will be able to experience the authority that comes from Jesus Christ.
When we do I believe that it alters our lives.
It casts out our evil spirits and allows us to go back into the world with renewed passion to love more and hate less, forgive more and judge less, let go of our past and live into the day that was given.

This week a friend posted this quote on Facebook by Anne Lamott, “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us."
This is how I feel about Jesus.
That in times when I am most possessed by evil spirits Jesus is always there helping to chase them away, and helping me to end up in a different spot, because Jesus is bigger than evil spirits.

Recently I had a couple of different people in our congregation come and ask me about demon possession.
It seems that in one case another Christian neighbor was obsessed with trying to keep out evil spirits.
So anything that was conceived by this person as being evil he was keeping at arm’s length.
Did not listen to certain music because that is how evil spirits get into our lives, does not read certain books, go to certain movies, or hang out with certain people.
My response is always that evil has no permanent power over us, because God is bigger and more powerful than evil.
If we encounter evil spirits in our lives than the answer is to hand them over to God and watch them go away.
The story of Jesus is even more powerful, because it shows us that God’s power is already unleashed and working in the world around us.
God sent his son to free us from evil, to deal it a fatal blow.
When we do something evil we know it, because we know Jesus and what is expected of us.
I knew what I said to my friend playing basketball was wrong.
I would suggest to you that most of the time we know what is wrong, and do it anyway because we are possessed.
In Luther’s words we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
But thanks be to God that Jesus has come to cast out the evil spirits and save us from our sin.

My favorite mystic is Julian of Norwich.
She was a mystic in the 15th century right before Martin Luther.
She had revelations of what God was about.
She wrote them down for us to enjoy today.
In one revelation she saw how Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection had defeated the power of evil.
When Julian realized this she laughed at the power of evil.
“For I understood that we may laugh in comforting of ourselves and joying in God for that the devil is overcome.”
This is how Jesus freed us from evil spirits.
Is that not good news for us!
Does that not allow us to laugh while we comfort ourselves in knowing the evil can and will be overcome?

Those of us who have been studying the book of Revelation on Wednesday nights also get to see how the blood of Christ frees us from the powers of evil that tries to hold us back.
When we are free from this power we are able to live in the Baptismal covenant that God made with us.
We can be the people that God hopes we will be, and sends us Christ to become.

So let us leave worship this morning marveling in the grace of God that frees us from evil spirits, and gives us the power to be the people of God.
Loving our neighbors, speaking words of encouragement, walking in humility, forgiving others as we are forgiven, and doing justice for the poor and broken hearted.

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