I'm writing this in preparation for tomorrow's sermon. Please pray that the Lord would speak, through his Word, to set many free.
Back in time, long, long ago, God gave us human beings an awesome responsibility. God put us in charge of the earth. God gave us human beings rādâ (Hebrew רְדּוּ), translated "rule" or "dominion."
Trouble is that we human beings turned our dominion over to the devil. It's like when parents give their children responsibility for the house when they're away. Or, it's as if, in the movie Home Alone we welcomed the burglars instead of fighting them off. It's as if we, as Marshal Pétain did on June 22, 1940... it's as if we surrendered to the enemy and started working for them.
Back at the beginning God was incredibly generous and indulgent with us. "You can do anything and everything," the Lord said to us, "just don't eat the fruit from that one tree." But we chose to listen to another voice. We, those responsible for this earth, chose another master for the world. We said "yes" to the devil. And ever since then we, and the world, God's precious world, has been suffering -- suffering under the occupying power of evil.
This world rightfully belongs to the Lord. First Corinthians 4:4-6 makes this plain. . But we suffer in this world, because it is under the control of the devil (see 2 Cor 4:4, 1 Cor 8:5, 2 Thess 2:4, Col 1:13, Eph 2:2, John 12:31).
We can see that in how people suffer. The sufferings of the world are picked up in the readings from Mark's Gospel for the next three Sundays. Tomorrow we hear about a man who is literally dominated by the devil... next week we'll encounter a dear woman, burning with fever; and on Feb. 15 a leprous reject, someone no one wants at all.
Whatever form it takes, suffering is a sign that things are not as they should be. Whether we bring the suffering on ourselves or if it's inflicted upon us by others, suffering is not God's plan. God wants us all to be strong and healthy with good, joyful relationships... John 10:10 says it well--Jesus comes to give life in all it's fullness. And that's what he comes to this world to do.
When you are under attack in your life--when you are in pain or are hungry or alone or in danger--when you or anyone is in such trouble that they don't know where to turn--it's not God who is against you. Suffering and pain and despair are signs of the devil--the thief as he is described in that same verse, John 10:10... The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy.
That's the devil... he's the one who steals us away from God's good love. He takes us away from what is good and leads us to serve him until we, just like the collaborators in WWII, are just as much to blame as the devil himself. Like Marshal Pétain in Vichy France, we are to blame. We are traitors turn their backs on the rightful ruler of the world and work for the devil. We let the devil in, and now, in our natural life, we are in his employ.
Our traitorous and sinful disloyalty has given the devil dominion in this world. As a human race, we have met the enemy, and he is us.
And that's why it's so amazing that God bothers with us at all. Our Lord God never forgot us, trapped by our own sinfulness behind enemy lines. Back in Mark 1:15 Jesus comes ashore, announcing that the new kingdom has come. Like the allies on D-Day, Jesus announces a new beginning. But, amazingly, he comes, not to destroy us, but to destroy the powers of evil that enslave us. He comes to do what only God can do, to separate the person God created us to be from the occupying force.
We see this clearly in tomorrow's gospel. The enemy speaks through one of the people who hear him speak (Mark 1:24)... "I know who you are" says the demon... "You're the Holy One of God! Have you come to destroy us?" And by just speaking, with his authoritative word, Jesus separates the sinful dominating spirit from the man: "Be Silent And Come Out Of Him." And the no good spirit, the evil spirit, the traitorous destroying spirit, convulsed him him and, crying out, the spirit left the man. And that man, the first of many, was now FREE.
Such is the power of God's Word. When it comes, in power and love, even the devil must obey. The power of God's Word is living and active, able to separate the evil that dominates us from the one we are created to be.
Neither God nor we ourselves go out to fight against evil with guns or violence. Because Jesus chose to take sin's penalty on himself, the only offensive weapon we have is the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, able to pierce to the heart, to kill the evil in us and to make us new and fresh and clean again. No wonder the spirits that dominate so many do not want anything to do with Jesus or his word.
Sometimes, in today's modern world, with psychology and medical science that understand everything in a non-moral sense, we might wonder if evil or evil spirits even exist. Actually, I think they're probably a lot more common than we imagine. Anything within us that resists God's grace, God's law, God's power - it's evil and it very well might be called an evil unclean spirit. But whatever words we use to describe evil "spirits," we all have times when we are dominated by them. Urges and addictions and evil tendencies we can't seem to control take us over, driving a wedge between ourselves and what is good.
However we understand evil and spirits in today's world, the main thing is this: Even when we are dominated by evil and in its grip, God's attitude toward us is not hatred. God's attitude towards us is love, and he longs to have us hear his word of love, so the evil can be cast out and we can be saved.
God doesn't come to judge or destroy you. The evil spirits, those things that dominate you and others, yes, he has no mercy on the devil or his demons. But, you He comes to rescue. He comes to save. And when we have, by some miracle, when we have heard the Word, and when Joy and Freedom have come to us, God calls us to bring the good news to others too, to let all people suffering in bondage know that they can be free.
On August 15, 1945, Marshal Philippe Pétain was tried for treason, convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad. Charles de Gaulle, who was President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic at the end of the war, commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Sent to a prison on an island in the Atlantic, he became weak and forgetful. Senile and alone, driven to despair, he died in prison in 1951, at the age of 95.
Our Lord does far more for us than Charles de Gaulle did for Marshal Pétain. He took our death sentence on himself, set us free, and gives us his Word, so we can go and bring freedom to those who are still under evil's dominion.
So we do all we can to bring our friends and neighbors and our resistant relatives to the Lord. We invite the troubled and the tormented to a place like this. Hopefully we will not stare at them as if they are odd or bizarre, but, accept them with love as bound brothers and sisters who need to hear the Word of God's love.
God does invade this world. He comes with his powerful Word. But he does not come to destroy you. God only comes to destroy the evil that binds you and makes you its slave.
Through the power of his loving and living Word, God comes, in Christ, to set you free.