Wednesday, June 26, 2013

There Is No Neutral Ground (Sermon Preached June 23, Proper 7-C)

Sermon Texts: Isaiah 65:1-9; Luke 8:26-39

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This morning’s sermon is based on both the Old Testament reading, from Isaiah 65, and also the Holy Gospel, from Luke, chapter 8.  Please pray with me:

 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

In the name of T Jesus.

Both of the text’s for today’s sermon, seem to be so foreign to us, we might be tempted to forget how close to us they really are.  I mean, take Isaiah 65, for example.  When have you seen people “sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks”?  Who do you know that “sit(s) in tombs, and spend(s) the night in secret places”?  And since when is eating pig looked down upon?  I rather like a good bratwurst; and BBQ pork is a staple of life here in West Tennessee.  Portions of this text from Isaiah describe a world that seems so foreign to us, we might be tempted to believe it has nothing to say to us.
And the Holy Gospel, from Luke, chapter 8, is not so different.  I mean, how many times have you gotten into town and been greeted by a man who was obviously possessed by demons?  There he is, having been naked for some time, no longer living in a house, or an apartment, but making his home among the dead people in the tombs.  I mean, really, we may see people who are dirty, and down on their luck, but I have never witnessed a man with the demonic strength to break out of any chains that the authorities would put on him, nor have I ever seen anyone who was obviously possessed by a demon, much less 3 – 6 thousand of them.  And then, there’s an entire heard of pigs running down an embankment and drowning itself.  Seriously, there are elements in these readings before us today that are so foreign to us, that they might tempt us to think that these readings really have nothing to do with us; that we can just dismiss them.  “People of God, don’t worry about a thing, none of you are sacrificing in gardens, or living in the cemetery, or are visibly possessed, or have seen your livestock commit suicide.  There’s nothing to worry about.  Amen.”
But that would be a terrible mistake.  Like I said, both of the texts for today’s sermon, seem to be so foreign to us, that we might be tempted to forget how close to us they really are.  But in all actuality, those extreme elements in today’s texts, which seem so foreign to our daily lives, are just the symptoms of the real problems in the texts.  Let me say that again, to make sure you’re hearing me.  The sacrificing in gardens, and living in cemeteries, and even a naked man possessed by thousands of demons that give him the strength to bust through chains and shackles are indeed foreign activities to all of us, but in order to see the real problem in the texts, and to see their connection to our lives today, we must look past those extreme things, and the particular expression that look so foreign to us, so that we can see the source of all those extreme behaviors.  Because the source of those extreme behaviors, you see, is not so foreign to us at all.
So let us look again at Isaiah, 65.  But let us look past those extremely foreign behaviors, to see what really does sound quite familiar:
“I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.  I said, “Here am I, here am I,” to a nation that was not called by my name. I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually” (Isaiah 65:1-3a).

I was ready to be sought be those who did not ask for me…
I was ready to be found…
I said, “Here am I, here am I,” to a nation that was not called by my name.
I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people…
A people who walk in a way that is not good…
A people that follows their own devices…
A people that would provoke me to my face continually…
A people who says, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”

            Wow!  Some things never change!  God desires everyone to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the LORD, and it was no different in Isaiah’s day with the people of Israel.  There He was, having given His people His Word.  There He was, keeping His promises.  There He was, saying, “Here am I, here am I,” and there they were, choosing to walk in their own ways, following their own devices, and provoking the LORD to His face.
There was a people who claimed to be the people of God but who had decided that the Word of God had no place in their religious lives or their private lives.  There was a people who continued to call themselves Israel, and claimed to be the sons and daughters of Abraham—heirs of the promise—and yet, there they were, ignoring God’s call.  And worse, telling the LORD—whose hands were outstretched in an attempt to gather them—that He should keep to himself.  After all, they were too holy for him.  No wonder, the LORD became angry.
There was a people—a people who claimed to be holy; a people that claimed to be God’s people—but they were evil.  What was good, they called bad.  And what was bad, they paraded around like it was God’s way of doing things.  Their arrogance, their pride, their self-righteousness was a terrible stench rising up in the LORD’s nostrils—it stunk like a fire that had burned all day (v. 5).  And it was not pleasing in His eyes.  They were not pleasing in His eyes.  They were evil.
It’s pretty easy to see, isn’t it?  So why is it so hard for us to see it, when it happens among us?  I mean, the Lord still calls out to us, “Here am I, Here am I!”  The Lord still stands with open arms, desiring that all would hear of Jesus’ loving death on the cross, where he paid for the sins of the world.  The Lord still sends out His message of forgiveness of sins through His one and only Son.  The Lord still calls to us through the resurrection victory of the empty tomb, from which Jesus burst forth alive and well in triumph over sin, death, and the devil.  And even more, the LORD still gives us a Word of life that is rich, and full, and beautiful.
Remember, it’s the LORD that decided the man and woman should be joined together as husband and wife in that sacred union called Holy Matrimony.  Remember, it’s the LORD that created the miracle of child-birth, and the wonderful gift of parents and children living life in a household.  Remember, it was the LORD who gave us life, and urged us to protect it.  It was the LORD who gave us property and told us to help our neighbor to keep his.  It was our LORD who gave us our names and encouraged us to speak well of one another.  It was the LORD who have us everything that was good, and is good, and what is good in the sight of the LORD isn’t about to change, because the LORD isn’t about to change—He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.  What the LORD says in His word; what the LORD gives in His word; what the LORD instructs in His word—that is life.  That is good.  That is beautiful.
Anything else, you see, is evil.  And while it’s easy to call it evil when it happens 2,800 years ago, we struggle to call it evil when it happens among us today.  But how is it any different?  All around us, what God has given, and what God has created, and what God has established in His Word as good, right and salutary, is being derided, and destroyed, and desecrated, and often times, there’s a party or festival, or a parade when it happens.  And sometimes, it even happens in the name of the Church, or even in the name of Jesus!  Talk about provoking God to His face; talk about a people that stinks; talk about a people that is evil.
The LORD does not look down at a child’s life being ended in the womb, or upon a couple being united in a same sex union masquerading as His own sacred creation, or a generation of parents neglecting their God-given vocation of bringing their children to the LORD’s house on the LORD’s day, or any other willful disobedience and say, “Look at that, isn’t it wonderful!”  On the contrary; what was smoke in His nostrils in the day of Isaiah is smoke in His nostrils today.  What angered the LORD then is what angers the LORD today.  I’m afraid, the only difference might be, that we could see it as evil then, but when it happens today, we’re not so sure.
Dear people of God, there is no neutral ground.  When the Word of God is put aside, it is evil.  And unless we are willing to see the Word of God being put aside, and call it evil, we will never see why the world is so badly in need of Jesus.  For if marriage can be anything you want it to be, and if you get to choose when you want to keep a life, or get rid of it, and if it makes no difference whether or not the parents of our children are setting aside the day of the LORD as holy and sacred, then why in the world did Jesus have to die?  You see, if everything is good, and pleasing in the sight of God, then nothing is evil, and there is no sin, and you’ve gone ahead and done away with any reason for Jesus whatsoever.
And maybe that’s why the events of the Holy Gospel seem so strange to us.  Maybe we don’t see thousands of demons possessing a single man in our lives, because what has happened is that we’ve grown so accustomed to having evil all around us, that we don’t see it as evil, even when the evil is being shouted by thousands of voices or more.
But I am here to say, that is exactly what is happening.  Evil is roaring in the public square, and even in some sanctuaries that continue to call on the name of the LORD.  What God has given as good is being defiled all around us.  And even the name of Jesus is being used to bless what God has condemned.  And that is why, you see, the very thing that was needed in the day of Isaiah, and the very thing that was needed for that man with a legion of demons, is the very thing needed in your heart, and my heart, and in the heart of every person.  We need the Word of God to bring us to repentance, and to faith, so that we might see evil for what it is, and then see Jesus for who He is as well.
It’s no coincidence that when Jesus cast out those demons, and did away with evil, in the Holy Gospel, the next thing that was told to go away was Jesus Christ Himself.  It’s no coincidence, because that’s what happens when Jesus does away with evil in an evil world.  The devil, the world, our own sinful flesh will not like it at all.  The devil wants to kill, and the world wants to break us, and even our flesh begins to kick and scream when Jesus tells us that something we love is not pleasing in His eyes.
But once that evil is gone, and once that evil is seen for what it really is, we will find, that there is no safer place, then to sit at the feet of Jesus, and trust in His Word, and hold to His Word, no matter what evil thoughts are being spewed by the world around us.
In Isaiah, the LORD promised, that when He poured out His wrath on all the evil doers, there would be seen an offspring from Jacob, and from Judah there would be possessors of His Mountains.  In the Holy Gospel, when those thousands of demons were gone, and even the pigs had drowned, what was left was a man made clean, who remained at the feet of Jesus, for he did not want to be anywhere else.

Today, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must not forget that there is no neutral ground.  There is evil, and death, and destruction, and everything else this against the Word of God.  And then, there is Jesus.  And with Jesus, there is forgiveness of sins, and life lived in His Word, and an eternal salvation praising God for all He has done in Jesus.  You, my friends, there is no neutral ground.  Jesus destroys evil.  But He does it only with a Word.  And in that Word Jesus gives everything that is good: forgiveness, life, and salvation.  In the name of T Jesus.  Amen.

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