First Mennonite Church
February 18, 2018
Every Time It Seizes Him
Text: Luke 8:26-39
This is the same text I used for my sermon of September 24, 2017. Today I would like for us to revisit this text from a different perspective. I should tell you beforehand that I, like you and maybe the majority of people in this country, am grappling with the recent school shooting that happened in Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS, Florida, where 17 people died. I cannot imagine the immense disruption in my and my family’s lives there would be if any of my children did not come back home from school one day. I wept for those families who lost their loved ones. Yet, every time something like this happens the people who could do something about it run to their usual trenches and raise their ideological defenses. On the one hand there are those advocating for stricter gun laws and on the other hand are those claiming defense of Second Amendment Rights. These are the two loudest voices talking back and forth every time there is a massacre. Now, mental illness has been thrown into the mix.
It seems as if everyone needs to line up behind one or the other main group. It is needless to say that each of these two sides is inextricably linked to a political party; thus for anyone affiliated with a party seems to mean embracing its side on the issue of gun violence by default. In order to remain in their ideological trench, some Christians readily point out that there are more deaths due to abortion, which the media fails to highlight. And I would say, Christians should rightly advocate for life. Christians should be in favor of life because life is a gift from God. Life is sacred. Life should be protected, but not only during the gestation period. We should advocate for life and everything that supports and makes life flourish. But most importantly, Christian advocacy for life should be particularly focused on those whose very lives are threatened, who often times are the poor, the sick, those with disabilities, and tragically as we were reminded again last Wednesday—our school children. So, if we as Christians want to defend life, let us remember that life is not only when the person is in the womb. If we want to be pro-life as we claim Jesus is, let us remember that the first nine months of life are as important as the rest of it. If we claim to be pro-life, let us remember that as a society we should be in favor of safety nets for those who are poor. Life flourishes when every child has the possibility to live a healthy life, go to school without fear, and has an equal opportunity to receive a good education. Therefore, being pro-life demands abandoning ideological trenches. Being pro-life as Jesus was, means to resist being manipulated by those who are short-sighted about the will of God for human life. But unfortunately, many Christians are only against abortion, but not in favor of holistic life as Jesus teaches us to be.
In the Gospels we find Jesus’ healing ministry giving wholeness to those he touched and healed. Except for Bartimaeus, the blind man in Mark 10, and Lazarus in John 11, most of those who benefited from Jesus’ healing ministry were nameless characters. We only read of them as “the lepers,” “the blind by the roadside,” “the daughter” or “the son” of so and so. But these people had names by which their parents called them. These people had brothers and sisters who grew up with them. These people were friends and neighbors to those around them. It is right to assume that Bartimaeus managed to live his life despite his blindness. The lame managed to stay active despite his disability. Each of those healed by Jesus adopted a way of life despite their physical limitations. And once Jesus healed them, their reintegration into their families, neighborhoods and society in general, allowed them to enjoy greater participation in life. You see, before these people received their healing, most of them still participated somehow in family and community life. I said most of them because the lepers could not.
The situation with the demoniac was different. This man could have been a father, husband, and or a brother; logically, he was the son of some loving parents. And I want us to pay close attention to some of the details given about him in verses 27 and 29. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. Many times it [the demon] had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
The man’s condition had been for a “long time,” but not always. He had a normal life sometime in the past and intermittently. But one day and since then, the demons had “many times seized him.” The demon had tormented the man time after time, time and time again! And the man acted violently and as if crazy, hurting himself and others. When the demon seized the man, his community was thrown into chaos and fear, his family agonized in pain and dreaded the outcome and the increasing stigma against them and their loved ones. Yes, every time the demon seized the man there was pain, grief, stigma, pointing fingers. Every time the demon seized the man, normality was turned into chaos, family joy was turned into terrifying fear. Every time the demon seized the man, the shackles were broken, the chains ripped apart and the man went wild and dangerous.
Let me try to make the connection. Every human institution is under the fallen powers of evil. The history of America is one dotted and almost created with force and violence. The Lord we confess and follow was clear when he said, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26: 52). America from its early beginning realized that the sword can be used to achieve many things. (The sword in Jesus’ time would be equivalent to the gun, today). The Second Amendment was to give the settlers the right to wage the sword. Therefore, it is the sword that has given America power in the world. And America has not shied away from using the sword to get the things it wants. The sword has power and those who manufacture it know this fact well. Therefore, anyone who attempts to curtail or challenge the power of those who manufacture the sword come under the wrath of the god Mammon. And the simple truth is that politicians know where the money is and are afraid to be left in the cold. They bow before the priests of the god Mammon.
The apostle Paul says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1Timothy 6:10) The god Mammon has begotten a culture of violence and like the demon in our story which came and seized the man time and time again, the demonic aspect of this culture of violence also comes over and over seizing our society. And every time this violent spirit is embodied or seizes someone, pain and grief engulf the land. There is no safe place anymore. The casualties are left injured, dead or dying in cinemas, concert venues, schools, and even churches. Families are devastated and the innocent die. The nation grieves and rages with anger. But those who worship Mammon and depend on Mammon for their political careers will continue to look for others to blame. It is a sad reality that the love of the sword has made America also die by the sword. It is sad that greed and the selfish interest of those who should secure the wellbeing of the people prefer to look the other way when massacres happen.
There is something that was done to ease the effect of the power of the demon in our story, which can illumine our understanding of violence in this country. In verse 29 we read that the man was: chained hand and foot and kept under guard. Although the parents or the family of the demoniac could not do much to prevent the seizure of the demonic power over the man, they tried to mitigate its effect by restraining the man’s movement and by keeping him under guard. Coming back to the arguments of the two loudest voices I spoke about earlier, let me say that gun violence will never be eliminated through legislation. No number of gun restrictions will make gun violence come to an end. But just as the parents or family tried to alleviate the effects of the demon by restricting his movement, likewise legislating sensible laws can help alleviate gun violence. To those who raise the flag of the Second Amendment Rights, the Old Testament text for today is an open invitation. Come let us reason together, says God, in the KJV. To reason is to give yourself a moment to deeply judge your thoughts. To reason means leaving the ideological trench for a moment and seeing the horizon from a different perspective and hope. There can be reasonable laws that can help without losing the spirit of the Second Amendment Rights.
And last but not least is Jesus’ coming into the picture. The only one who will cast out the demon of violence and greed is Jesus, the Lord of all. Jesus will one day wipe the tear from every eye, and pain and grieving will end. The kingdom of Jesus is one of peace and justice. It is for that reason that you and I who are his followers today and citizens of that kingdom that we should advocate for anything and everything that sustains and promotes life. We should not rub elbows with those of either trenches while death keeps devastating like a wild California fire. We cannot be true followers of Jesus if we speak in favor of life only for those who are in the womb. We must speak in favor of life for those who are in the womb, but also for those whose life are threatened by those who worship Mammon and are indifferent to the effects of its violent offspring.
We should pray for the grieving families in Parkland, Florida. But just as I said that the people in the Bible stories had names, so are those who lost their lives last week. These are their names:
Scott Beigel, 35, Joaquin Oliver, 17
Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, Aaron Feis [I found his sge:37.]
Martin Duque Anguiano, 14 Jaime Guttenberg, 14
Nicholas Dworet, 17 Luke Hoyer, 15,
Cara Loughran, 14, Gina Montalto, 14,
Alaina Petty, 14 Meadow Pollack, 18,
Helena Ramsay, 17, Alex Schachter, 14
Carmen Schentrup, 16 Peter Wang, 15
Christopher Hixon, 49, the school’s athletic director
Let us pray.