gargoyle2Epiphany 4 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
January 28, 2018
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

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If you ever go to Europe and tour the churches or look at pictures of medieval cathedrals one thing you will notice is that they often have gargoyles on the corners of the building.  Often these function as elaborate downspouts for rainwater but they are also thought to frighten off evil spirits and protect those inside.

How quaint.  Frighten off evil spirits.  Those simple-minded medieval peasants were so superstitious, weren’t they?  How can anyone believe in evil spirits?  We are way too smart for that nowadays?  Right?

Well, we think we are.  We like to think that we are too smart to believe in such things as demons and evil spirits; that we have moved beyond these things; that we are too sophisticated to think like this.

But evil spirits are real.  Evil spirits are scary.  And they are still very much around and active in the world, even if we try to ignore them.  1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)  8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.[1]

The devil tried to get Jesus and stop Him from doing what He came to do, so after Jesus’ death and resurrection the devil knew his power over Jesus was gone so the devil, in his anger, now targets the followers of Jesus.  Revelation 12:17 (ESV) 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus…[2]

One way that the devil and his minions attack you is through lies and accusations.  The demons try to convince you that you are not good enough for God.  The evil spirits whisper in your ear, “How can God love a sinner like you?”  “Who are you fooling to think you can sit here in church and pretend you are a Christian?”

As a baptized follower of Jesus you are a target.  At your baptism and at your confirmation you renounced the devil and all His works and all His ways.  You have renounced the devil and now his evil spirits are all around you looking for openings to drag you back into slavery to sin and the devil.  Look around this morning at the folks to your right and left, in front of you and behind you. Everyone you see is a target for evil spirits tempting them into sin and evil; trying to draw them away from Jesus and His Church.  These, your brothers and sisters in Christ, are targets for demons and you are as well.

One way that the devil and his minions attack you is through lies and accusations.  The demons try to convince you that you are not good enough for God.  The evil spirits whisper in your ear, “How can God love a sinner like you?”  “Who are you fooling to think you can sit here in church and pretend you are a Christian?”  Or the evil one tries to convince you that you don’t need Jesus, “You don’t need this, you are good enough all on your own.”  “What are you doing here, getting up early, wasting your time with all these pathetic sinners.  You are too good for them.”  The devil tries to convince you to listen to him rather than listen to Jesus, “Did God really say that you need forgiveness?  Did God really say that you are a sinner?”  “Did God really say anything at all?  The Bible is just an old book, how can you know any of it is true?”

The demons are good at what they do.  They know which lie or accusations will be most effective for you.  Do you tend toward despair?  Do you tend toward self-righteousness?  Do you tend to doubt the Word of God?  They will tailor an attack just for you; to hit you where you are weak.  Do you think you are worse than others?  Do you think you’re better?  Do you think you are too smart for God?  The demons’ lies and accusations are a continual monolog in your ear trying to convince you that you don’t belong in God’s house; this isn’t the place for you.  “What have you to do with Jesus?”

When Jesus goes to the synagogue in Capernaum His presence prompts an unclean spirit to cry out, Mark 1:24 (ESV) 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”[3]

Jesus’ presence causes the demon to cry out.  What does Jesus do?  Does He have a discussion with the demon?  Does He debate and negotiate with the unclean spirit?  Does He try to reason with him?  No.  Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit.  Jesus silences the demon and drives him out of the man.  “Be silent, and come out of him!”  Jesus has the authority to silence the demon and drive him out.

Jesus still has that authority.  Jesus’ presence in your life makes you a target for the evil one.  The demons are out to get you and your presence here in church brings out their voices of lies and accusations.   But Jesus still has authority to silence the evil spirits.  “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins.”

Jesus has the authority to silence the accusations of the devil because Jesus has the authority to forgive sins.  When the pastor announces forgiveness of sins it is accomplished by Jesus’ authority.  You hear the words of absolution and you know you are right with God; not because you are good enough but because Jesus is good enough.  You are right with God even though you do not deserve it.  You are right with God through the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

You are here by the grace of God; a baptized child of God, forgiven by Jesus, gathered with all your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And together we stand to resist the lies and accusations of the devil, loving one another and caring for one another.  Together we reject the self-centered, pleasure-seeking ways of the world and love and care for each other.

Together we care for one another and protect one another.  This is what St. Paul is talking about in our lesson from 1 Corinthians.  You can have lots of theological knowledge, but if you don’t have love, the knowledge can be damaging.  You can know all the ways of redemption in Christ’s blood and be confident in your salvation but you still need to deal with each other in humble love and care.  “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.”  Love builds up.  The love that greets one another by name.  The love that reaches out to those who are hurting.  The love that overcomes awkwardness and asks the name of that lady two rows up whose name you should know but can’t remember.  The love that sends cards and visits and prays.  The love that holds your tongue when you are tempted to speak harsh words.  The love of Christ flowing into you and out of you that builds up the Church; the Body of Christ.

Look around this morning at each other and see your brothers and sisters in Christ.  See the one you don’t know very well.  See the one who is new.  See the one caring for young children.  See the one slowed down by age.  Love and care for her because she is a sister for whom Christ died.  Love and care for him because he is a brother for whom Christ died.

Biblical knowledge is good.  It is good to know the truth of scripture, but remember that there are no high horses in church to climb up on and look down on others.  We do want to have good knowledge of scripture.  We want good knowledge so that we can know and teach the truth of scripture, but not to use knowledge to tempt a weak brother or sister in Christ.

For the Corinthians it was Christians with “knowledge” eating meat sacrificed to idols because they know that idols are nothing.  But for the brother who just came out of that religion of idol worship this looks like they are taking part in idol worship.

We don’t have an issue of meat sacrificed to idols, but we do need to take care not to cause others to stumble because of our freedom.  I’m not going to give specifics because it is more complex than just a list.  Because remember we are all targets of the evil one and we do not want to cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble and be lost to the devil’s lies.  We are called to love and care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We may not have gargoyles on our building but we are still surrounded by evil spirits seeking to harm us; seeking to pull us away from Christ.  This morning you are engaging in a counter-cultural movement by admitting that you are a sinner who needs Jesus and gathering together, not just for yourself but for each other to resist the devil and the world.  You are called to live out life as a Christian not focusing on yourself, but focusing on each other; not being torn apart, but standing together to resist the lies and accusations of the devil and receiving the forgiveness of Jesus.  Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2][1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

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