First Congregational Church
February 28, 2015
Third Sunday in Lent
“Amazing Grace for the Free”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For those who have been away, our Lenten theme this year is Amazing Grace, particularly as it applies to certain individuals and situations. So the first Sunday in Lent the theme was “Amazing Grace for the Tempted” and last week it was “Amazing Grace for the Healed”. As it says in the bulletin, this week’s theme is AG for the Free.
Luke 11:14-28 Naomi Kolehmainen
Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.
But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Call me Damon. I was demon possessed. Damon is only one letter away from “demon.” But believe me, that one letter is the difference between freedom and slavery, between life and death.
Freedom and life came to me at a simple stone house with an earthen roof in Galilee, home to Peter and his family, near the sea. This was early in Jesus’ ministry, but already he’d changed the lives of many of my neighbors. He’d burst on the scene teaching with power and authority, not like the scribes and Pharisees. They would go on forever, quoting each other, piling up rules and regulations on the backs of the people, a weight no one could bear.
But not Jesus—his teaching was liberating. He swept away the traditions of centuries and brought the fresh breeze of God’s Spirit to the lives of many. “But I say unto you,” he would proclaim over and over, contrasting his words with those of his enemies, speaking words that freed from guilt and brought joy to the heart.
Chains of captivity were breaking and falling everywhere Jesus went. First it was in the synagogue at Capernaum. A man possessed by demons was shouting and interrupting Jesus as he taught. “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus paused, looked at the man intently and spoke one simple command, “‘Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him” (Mark 1:25-26).
That man’s symptoms and mine were different. He screamed, but I was blind and mute. The origin of our illness was the same—sin, a fallen and broken creation, a powerful evil force within us from which we could not free ourselves.
Nor could Peter’s mother-in-law. She lived with Peter and his wife in their house near the sea. Jesus and his disciples were enjoying the hospitality of the home. One person who wanted to serve them could not—Peter’s mother-in-law. She was sick in bed with a fever, hearing all the activity but unable to help. Friends told Jesus about her. Leaving his audience, he went to her bedside, took her by the hand and helped her up.
Immediately her fever left and she began waiting on the disciples.
I had heard that news, as had every other sick and demon-possessed person and their families in Capernaum. Overnight practically every infirm person in the community showed up outside Peter’s house, crying out, “Jesus, help your servant!” “Jesus, Lord, have mercy!”
And Jesus did have mercy, from dawn till dark, day after day. So busy was Jesus teaching and healing that his family worried about him. His mother Mary and his brothers arrived and tried to take him home, declaring he was out of his mind. He wasn’t; this is what he was sent to do, to free the suffering from Satan’s chains.
I came too. I couldn’t cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” like the others. The demon in me had muted my tongue; I could say nothing. I couldn’t even find my way to the house; I was blind as well. Others who knew of my suffering led me by the hand through the pressing throngs to the door of the house, where they shouted out my need.
As busy as he was, Jesus was not too busy for me. He stopped his teaching. He came to the door. He touched me. He spoke a simple word of grace. He healed me. And he healed not just my mind and spirit of its demons, but he opened my mouth and eyes as well. The first thing I ever saw when he opened my eyes was his kind face. Excitedly the people chattered among themselves asking, “Could this be the Son of David?” Could this be the Messiah?
Who else could it be? Who else fits Isaiah’s description so perfectly? “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the compensation of God. He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:4-6).
Freed from my demons, my eyes opened and my tongue unbound, I knew who he was. I had no doubt that the One who had vanquished my darkness and set me singing was the Messiah. And all who had witnessed the healing I gained that day would agree, wouldn’t they? Sadly, not everyone did.
No sooner could I see my Lord and sing his praises than others opened their mouths to ridicule Jesus and deny the divine power behind his work. “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” they shouted derisively. The Pharisees were using the most derisive epithet they could think of. “Beelzebub” meant Satan, who, according to the Pharisees, was the one behind Jesus’ power to heal.
It was ridiculous of course, and Jesus calmly shows them the false logic of their reasoning. “If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” he asks.
It was impressive watching Jesus deal with his critics. With the simplest logic he demolished their objections, leaving them speechless. Clearly a greater power than Satan was at work here. How else could Satan’s territory be invaded and those he held captive set free? Clearly, Jesus is that greater power. “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you,” Jesus tells them.
Did you hear that? “The finger of God,” Jesus said. In Jesus, God’s self dwells fully. Jesus has come to set the demons running and shut the mouths of all his enemies.
Jesus goes on to say, “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven ... in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32). In other words, never. These are perhaps the most chilling words Jesus ever spoke. He’s talking about the unforgivable sin.
What exactly is the unforgivable sin, this blasphemy against the Spirit? It is this; it is ascribing to Satan the redemptive work of Jesus and refusing the witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the Son of God. If this is your hardened belief there is no way for you to be saved. You are rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit. You have condemned the very Savior God sent to save you.
Now if you are worried that you have committed this sin, relax. The people who do commit it don’t care. They scoff at the very idea there is such a sin. The fact that you are concerned about it and troubled that you might unintentionally have sinned against the Holy Spirit is abundant evidence that you haven’t committed it. No one who confesses Jesus as Savior, no one who daily seeks the forgiveness of the Lord, has committed this sin.
No one but God knows when a heart is beyond hope. Surely there were many who thought I was beyond hope. Thankfully, Jesus did not. He cast out my demons, cleansed my heart and so filled me with his Spirit that I confessed Jesus as Lord. Today, by his grace I’m a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
But many who came to Jesus for help got what they wanted and nothing more, like some lepers who came to Jesus for cleansing. Do you remember their story? Ten lepers came to Jesus for cleansing. He told them to go and show themselves to the priests. As they went they were cleansed. But only one, a Samaritan, bothered to come back, praise God and thank Jesus. Only to him did Jesus say, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19).
You see there are two kinds of cleansing, two kinds of healing, one is cleansing and healing of the body; the other is cleansing and healing of the soul. When the soul is cleansed and healed, the Holy Spirit takes up residence there. But when only the body is healed and its demons cast out, a vacuum remains. Something will fill that vacuum again. Sometimes it’s the same demons who were previously cast out, and more.
That’s what Jesus is talking about when he says, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26).
Perhaps you know someone who struggles with addictions, the demon possession of your day: sexual addictions, addictions to drugs or alcohol or gambling. What could be better to replace an object of addiction than God, God’s Word and God’s Spirit?
When one’s heart is filled with these, many discover there’s no room for the objects of addiction. Praise and thanks be to God for not only casting out my demons but filling my heart with God’s self! As Jesus has done for me, he will do for you. Only ask him; he will never turn you away. The Holy Spirit will fill your heart.
Thank you, Damon. Let us pray. Gracious God, we are grateful for the healing you have done in each of our hearts and those we love. We are not so naive to believe that the demons that have plagued us or our loved ones are simply banished because we wish it to be. So we pray for more faith, more belief, most trust in you, that you fill our hearts and thereby our hearts and minds empty of demons and evil, to be filled with you and your Holy Spirit. Forgive those things that we now lay before you. ___ Fill us with the pricelessness of your forgiveness and encourage us to envision how we can live our lives - free of those things that otherwise bind us. For your love and forgiveness and especially your amazing grace, all your people say, Amen.
Lord Jesus, forgive our sins and fill us with yourself, your Spirit and your truth and By Don Neidigk. © 2015 Creative Communications for the Parish, 1564 Fencorp Dr., Fenton, MO 63026. 800-325-9414. www.creativecommunications.com. All rights reserved.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.