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Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, June 21, 2015

Storms, Surrender and Sending

TEXT: Mark 4:35-5:20

Storms are in the news a lot these days. Just this week, Tropical Storm Bill came out of the Gulf of Mexico and drowned Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and many states further north with rain. Some places got 20 inches of rain in just two days. And this was the same area that was hit with historic flooding just last month. There have been 354 tornadoes in the United States so far this Spring.

Our readings today are full of storms, too. Psalm 107 talks about a violent storm coming up on the sea, and the people’s “hearts melted because of their peril.”

They cried out to the Lord in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

He stilled the storm to a whisper

and quieted the waves of the sea.” [Psalm 121:28-29]

In our reading from Mark’s Gospel, the disciples were in a boat with Jesus, crossing the Sea of Galilee, when a violent storm arose. Their boat was swamped by the waves, and they were in fear for their lives. Meanwhile, Jesus was sleeping peacefully in the back of the boat. And when they woke Him with their cries for help, He quieted the storm and calmed the waves with just a word from His mouth. They were amazed! Who is this, that even the forces of nature obey Him!

Who indeed. When they got to the other side of the lake, they found that not only the forces of nature, but the spiritual forces obey Jesus as well. Let’s walk through the events of that day, and see what God has to show us. For the storms that put us in peril and cause us to melt in fear and cry out to God are not all squalls or tropical storms or hurricanes or tornadoes. Our lives come upon sudden tempests in every imaginable way. And it is the same Jesus, Lord of nature and Lord over the spiritual realm, who rescues us and saves us.

After the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples and Jesus came ashore in the region of the Gerasenes. “When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him.” (Mark 5:2) The text tells us this man

lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills, he would cry out and cut himself with stones. [Mark 5:3-5]

What a pitiful image. What a tragic man. His life was a storm, characterized by violent outbreaks. This man was possessed by demons. What demons do is to destroy the image of God in a person whom they occupy. And when you encounter such a person, as I have on several occasions, what you sense instead of God’s image is the presence of evil. Interestingly, though, this man—or rather his demons—came directly to Jesus and knelt before Him. They were not worshipping Jesus. They were recognizing fearfully Jesus’ supreme power. Using the man’s voice, they shouted,

“What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” [verses 7-8]

The demons knew they were in trouble, for the King of kings had come to visit. They recognized who Jesus was, as the demons always do in the scriptures. They knew Him from the spiritual realm. They knew Him from the days when He created them and when He banished them from heaven along with Satan who led the rebellion against God.

The demons were afraid of what Jesus would do to them. He said, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” (verse 8) This man is mine. I claim him, and you no longer have dominion over him. Leave him. What the demons feared was that Jesus was going to send them back to the abyss. Hell is their habitat when they are not roaming around doing mischief on the earth. Hell is a place even the demons don’t want to be.

Jesus asked for the demon’s name. And he answered, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (verse 9) Apparently there were many demons in this poor man whom Jesus came to save. And they were in agreement that Jesus was to be feared. Legion begged Jesus not to send them away from this place. So they spied a large herd of pigs on the hillside, and Legion begged Jesus to send them into the pigs. Jesus gave them permission. They left the man and went into the pigs, and the poor tormented pigs went mad. They ran down the hillside and drowned themselves in the sea.

The townspeople were afraid. They didn’t understand the power of God. They didn’t like what the loss of 2,000 pigs did to their economy. They begged Jesus to leave.

And then there was the man whom Jesus had healed. He was free! He was overjoyed. He wanted more. He wanted to travel with Jesus. But Jesus said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (verse19)

This dramatic story tells us a number of things about Jesus, and about people, and about ourselves.

First of all, it shows us that Jesus is master over all things. He is the master over nature; and He is the master over the spiritual realm. The wind and the waves go silent at His command. The demons fall to their knees before Him. And He is the one who can still the storms in our lives. His power is greater than any power that can torment us. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

The second thing this incident shows us is that, oddly, people resist His gifts. Here was a community that had seen one of their citizens live as a wretch for years. And now, Jesus had healed him and set him free. The people came and saw the man seated peacefully and in his right mind. And did they rejoice? No. They begged Jesus to leave. People are like that. Remember the man Jesus healed who had been crippled for 38 years? The people didn’t rejoice and praise God. Instead they criticized both Jesus and the healed man for working on the Sabbath.

And those were people who purported to know God. Allowing God to calm our storms is a big issue for us, even we who believe in Him. We often want to hang onto control and not surrender the matter to Him. Some things we don’t turn over to Him at all. And when we do ask the Lord to calm our storms, we often insist that He do it in a certain way by a certain deadline. And when He doesn’t, we complain that He isn’t there for us. The reality is that with God’s power comes God’s sovereignty.

The third thing this story tells us is that when people reject God’s grace, He will give them what they want. The people wanted Jesus to leave, so He left. The demons wanted Him to send them into the pigs on the hillside, so He did. And look what happened.

C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, The Great Divorce,”

There are just two kinds of people in this world: Those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.”

Just like those demons, there are people in this world who will ask to be with Satan, because that is whom they prefer. God will grant that request. Some reject all mention of God, because they don’t believe God exists. If eternal separation from God is what they prefer, He will grant that request as well. But to as many as receive Him, God has given the right to become children of God. (John 1:12) And as children of God, those who seek His face will enjoy Him and glorify Him forever.

• I want to be in that group that says “Yes,” when Jesus asks, “Do you want to be healed?”

• I want to be like Peter when Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” (John 21:14)

• I want to be like the disciples when Jesus asked them, “Are you, too, going to leave me?” They answered, “Lord, to whom would we go? It is you who have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68)

• I want to be on board when that glory train pulls out of the station bound for heaven,

The final thing I want to point to in this story is that Jesus sent the man He had healed to offer God’s gift to others. The man wanted to leave. This place that was supposedly his “home” was not good to him. He had been a pariah all his life. He had to live in the tombs and roam the hills crying out in the night and cutting himself. And now, along comes this man in the boat who set him free. Who wouldn’t want to get in the boat with Jesus and get out of there? But Jesus said, “No, I want you to stay here and tell the story of God’s grace.”

He does the same with you and me. Have you had the sublime experience of being set free by Jesus?

• Has He come into your life and transformed it?

• Has He healed you of some debilitating affliction?

• Has He walked with you through some horrible trauma?

• Has He comforted you from a heavy burden?

• Has He stayed with you when everyone else had headed for the hills?

• Has He assured you of the Father’s love and forgiveness after you have done some bad thing you never imagined you would do?

We’re all in that list somewhere. And the temptation is to put our feet up and enjoy the glow of God’s love as our special treasure. But Jesus has a better plan for us. He wants our life to mean something. He wants us to go to others and offer that treasure to them.

Most of you undoubtedly remember who Chuck Colson was. He was Special Counsel to Richard Nixon, President of the United States. Chuck Colson had an office right next to the Oval Office. President Nixon wouldn’t make a move without his advice. Colson grew up as a brilliant and idealistic man. He was successful at everything he ever did. And then the Watergate scandal broke—the crisis that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon.

During the early days of the investigation, when Colson still thought he could escape from this unscathed, he was looking into options for leaving his job and returning to private law practice. One day, he met with a former client of his who was president of a corporation. Colson found the man to be markedly different from when he had last seen him four years previously. He asked the man why that was. He told Colson he had turned his life over to Jesus Christ. Chuck Colson had never heard anyone speak that way before. But he was intrigued, and he followed up over the next few months. It culminated in his conversion to Christianity.

Soon after that, Colson’s life was consumed with congressional hearings and special investigations. And because Colson had surrendered to Jesus, he went into one of the many hearings and confessed to his role in the whole thing, ready to give God control over his life.

Colson went to prison. And while he was there, he realized that he was no better than the murderers and swindlers and drug dealers with whom he was locked up. All were sinners in need of God’s grace. He thought back over his life and the opportunity he had had to make a difference. And he realized that life was gone—the political power, the legal career, the credibility were a thing of the past. He was even ridiculed by the media and the press for his claim of having become a Christian. But in prison Chuck Colson humbled himself and accepted the fact that all his idealism and the hard work he had done was all about his own ego and pride. So he decided to trust that God had a better plan for him.

As it all developed, Chuck Colson did what Jesus told the man in today’s Gospel reading: “Go and tell how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:20) He returned to prison, not as an inmate, but as a bearer of the Good News of Jesus Christ. What has come of it all is Prison Fellowship, which currently has ministries in 334 prisons around the country. Their vision is to give prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families redemption and reconciliation through the love and truth of Jesus. Because of their ministry, countless prisoners have been released as new creations in Christ, not repeat offenders. Colson wrote 6 or 7 books, had a popular Christian radio show, and toured throughout the world as an evangelist.

I heard Chuck Colson speak to a group of college students at Columbia University. And one of the things he told them was, “You should never underestimate God.” He said that when you trust your life to God and turn yourself over to His will and His purposes, He will do amazing things.

That day in the region of the Gerasenes, the people asked Jesus to leave. But He had planted a seed. And that man whom He set free from the legion of demons got up and got dressed and washed his hair and combed the bugs out of his beard. And he went around telling what great things God had done for him. And the Bible tells us the people were amazed. It doesn’t tell us whether some of them were converted. It doesn’t tell us that the Church took root in the region of the Gerasenes. But I’d be willing to wager the Holy Spirit made great use of the seeds Jesus planted that day. That is how He works. He goes ahead of us preparing the ground for our faithful proclamation. And then He brings growth to the seeds we plant. And today, the faith has spread miraculously from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. And one day soon, every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:11)

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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