2021-06-06 2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
Skill testing question of the morning: who is old enough to remember Compact Discs?! CDs! OK good. Long before the streaming audio apps of smart phones, you had to go to store and buy music on CDs. Or minidiscs. Or cassette tapes. Or 8 tracks. Or vinyl. But back in my day, it was CDs. I bought a two disc set of country band Alabama’s 41 number one hits. One song they sing that didn’t make it onto those albums though was a song called “Angels Among Us.” Maybe you’ve heard it before. But in short, it’s all about those times in life when we are in a tight spot and then some supernatural thing happens. Someone out of the blue shows up and saves the day. Someone helps you out in your darkest hour or speaks comfort in a troubled time. It’s all so very heart warming and nice, warm and fluffy! Slap a piano ballad on it, along with a children’s choir, and viola! You’ve got a touching country music song for the ages!
As we wrapped up our online Bible Study this week on Angels and Demons, we become convinced that there are indeed angels among us. Spiritual beings appearing as people, sent by God to help us. The Scriptures even talk about it. Hebrews 13 says “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (13:1-2). It’s a New Testament reference back to Genesis where Abraham shows hospitality to some people who turn out to be angels. It’s a good reminder for us too. You never know who is behind the faces of those we meet and see. I’ve heard far too many miraculous stories to doubt that Angels walk in our midst. Like a horrific car accident where one of the driver’s necks had been broken. A passerby stopped at the scene to help and there was already someone else there, holding the driver’s head up. “Hold his head exactly this way” the person said. “Help is on the way.” The passerby did what the man said and soon the paramedics arrived. “How did you know to hold the head this way?” they asked the passerby. “I didn’t” he replied, “there was another guy here who told me to do it. “Well it’s a good thing, because this man would have suffocated had you not done exactly this” the paramedic said. The passerby looked around but the man was nowhere to be seen. Angels among us? Quite possibly!
These kinds of stories are always so nice. Goosebumps even! But what about the other side of the coin? What about the dark angels, the evil spirits, the demons? Are they among us? We are less inclined to believe it. In fact, many liberal Christians have written off the demonic events in the Bible as purely people with mental health problems. Schizophrenia. Epilepsy. These mental illnesses show the same kinds of symptoms that the people in the Scriptures were afflicted by. However, if we believe that angels exist and are among us, then we have to extend the same belief to demons too because they are nothing less than fallen angels, just as a Satan himself is a fallen angel.
Years back there were some grizzly stories topping the headlines. Back in 2012 there was a man caught eating the face off another man, both stark naked, on an overpass in Miami. That’s totally bizarre and beyond belief. Or a psycho killer in Montreal kills a man, dismembers him and sends body parts to political party headquarters. Another man was caught in Thailand selling roasted fetuses thought to bring good luck to business people. It’s scary and disgusting and seems like something thought up in a Hollywood horror movie. Yet it has all really happened right now in our time. Is it demonic, evil power at work? Quite possibly! It’s strikingly similar to Biblical accounts of demonic possession, especially the Gerasene guy from Luke 8 who went around naked and homeless. He was shackled in chains but would break them with super human strength. The naked man on the Miami overpass had to be shot by police repeatedly to make him stop attacking his victim.
In the Gospel lesson for today, our Lord Jesus is accused of being possessed by a demon. By Beelzlebul, more specifically. In ancient culture, Beelzlebul was the “Lord of the Flies” or the “Lord of the dung-heap.” Let it suffice to say that he wasn’t thought of highly, especially by God’s people. But Jesus is quick to respond and say “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” It would be like Greta Thunberg throwing David Suzuki out of the tree hugging festival! It just doesn’t work. The kingdom is divided against itself. The house is split against itself and it cannot stand, it will certainly fall. It’s like raising children. If Mom says “No you can’t have an ice cream sandwich, it will spoil your supper,” the kids go to Dad and ask him. If Dad says yes, then the kids have won! The house is divided. Rather, parents must rule their homes together lock, stock and barrel!
This is Jesus’ main point. It doesn’t make any sense that Jesus would be doing exorcisms by Satan’s power. Why would Satan want to undo the evil that he’s doing? It just doesn’t make sense. “And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.” Jesus says. So no, much to the chagrin of His accusers, Jesus is not possessed by a demon, He does not use evil powers to accomplish His mission. Rather, He is God’s incarnate Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, breaking into our world of darkness to bring life and immortality to light. He is deep in His mission to save the world by His grace and mercy.
What Jesus says next should make us all perk up our ears. “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” This is such a weird example! You can’t steal someones stuff, especially a burly man’s stuff, unless you tie him up first! First of all, stealing is wrong. We break the 7th Commandment if we take that which doesn’t belong to us. Is this what Jesus is really saying? Well, not quite. We have to break this down a little bit more.
First of all, we have a strong man - but who is the strong man? Some have speculated that it is Jesus Himself but that doesn’t make sense. The strong man is Satan. What goods does he have that need to be plundered? New big screen TV? Pool table? Elephant Ivory Piano? Vintage tractor seats and rusty cream cans? Not really. Jesus is getting at something different here. The goods are people – us. As we say in our Baptism liturgy, “we are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own.” Satan has humanity captive in death and sin and Jesus comes to take His stuff back – us. What’s the only thing a strong man has to fear? … A bigger, stronger, strong man, right? Jesus is that guy. He has the power to bind up the strong man and plunder his goods. By our Lord’s cross and empty tomb, both Satan and Death have been bound, plundered and defeated. Much like a special forces commando bursting into a room to rescue some hostages, this is what Jesus does for us and all humanity by His death and resurrection.
Jesus assures us that even in the face of evil, of demonic activity and all other scary and horrific events that unfold in this life, He is the strongest one who has bound evil for us and our salvation. We can trust His words and ways unconditionally by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hell has been plundered by the power of God, the strong man has been bound and conquered, and we are the spoil that cost the Lord His very life. And God cares and loves each of us that much that He would gladly do it again, just for us. Praise be to our Triune God who destroys the demons now and forever more! Amen!