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Drowning Your Demons
Mark 5:1-20


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Sixteenth Sunday after PentecostSeptember 20, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The demon-possessed man in today’s Gospel Reading is representative of all of humanity, including you and me.  For, Paul says in Galatians, “Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin,” and John writes, “Everyone who commits sin is of the devil.”

For most of us, the outward manifestation of the devil’s influence in our lives is like an iceberg.  They say 90% of an iceberg remains hidden, underwater.  We are actually no less sinners, no less by nature under the influence of the devil, than the man described in today’s Gospel Reading as demon-possessed.  But, like an iceberg hidden beneath the water, for most of us the outward manifestation of the devil’s influence is hidden beneath a veneer.  When we do display outbursts of sin, that is really only the tip of the iceberg of our sinfulness, which is always lurking beneath the surface of our lives.

There are some people, like the man in today’s Gospel Reading, where the iceberg is flipped, and the outward manifestation of the devil’s influence becomes dominant in their lives.  We call those people demon-possessed in the technical sense.  Such demon-possession usually includes symptoms like we see in today’s Gospel Reading: violence, self-mutilation, superhuman strength, shrieks and cries, a double personality, and unexplainable or supernatural knowledge. 

Peter says in Acts, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”  It seems that on account of Jesus’ presence on earth, there was during his earthly ministry an unusual level of demonic activity around him.  Matthew reports, “Many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word,” and Mark says, “So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”

The reason there was this unusual level of demonic activity around Jesus was because the devil was desperately trying to find some way to interfere with and thwart his mission of salvation.  As Luke reports one demon in a possessed man shouting, “Leave us alone!  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!”

Although you and I are not demon-possessed in the same way, in this technical sense, “Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin,” and “Everyone who commits sin is of the devil.”  So, we are actually no less sinners, no less by nature under the influence of the devil, than the demon-possessed men and women who gathered around Jesus for healing and freedom from their bondage.

“What is your name?” Jesus asks the demon in today’s Gospel Reading.  “My name is Legion,” he replies, “for we are many.”  Although not necessarily demons in the technical sense, we do commonly call those things that torment us our “demons.”  What is your demon’s name?  Lust, greed, materialism, selfishness, anger, quarreling, hatred?  Or perhaps your demons are lingering guilt over something in your past, fear, sorrow, sadness, hopelessness, loneliness.  Perhaps your demons also are legion, for they are many.

“A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.  The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’  He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd . . . rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.”

There is symbolism for us also in this unusual method of exorcising the demons.  We often make the mistake of trying to drown our demons ourselves.  Maybe we try to drown them in alcohol, drugs, or some other addiction or illicit activity.  Or, we might try to drown them in something that seems positive, or at least harmless, like our work, or a hobby, amusements, material things.  But all that too is just more veneer.  Or, we try to keep our demons submerged by repressing our feelings and problems, but they keep haunting us.

“The evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd . . . rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.”  What is the symbolism for us in this unusual method of exorcising the demons?  Pigs were considered unclean animals, so they are symbolic of our sinful nature, what Scripture calls the “corrupted flesh,” which we often refer to as the “Old Adam.”  And the demons going into the pigs symbolizes that our sinful nature, our Old Adam, works in league with the devil. 

But what of the drowning, of the pigs and the demons in them?  What does that symbolize?  Listen to Martin Luther’s explanation of Baptism in the Small Catechism: “What does such baptizing with water signify?  It signifies that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

You see, God does want you to drown your demons.  But, not in alcohol, or drugs, or other addictions or illicit activities; not in work, or hobbies, amusements or material things; and not by merely repressing them.  God wants to drown your demons in his own “immersion therapy.” God wants to drown your demons in the “washing with water through the Word.”  God wants to drown your demons in “the cup of blessing.”  God wants to drown your demons through immersion in his Word, in worship, in prayer.  Through these means God wants to drown your demons in “the blood of Jesus, his Son [which] cleanses [you] from every sin.”  That’s why we are gathered here today, like the demon-possessed men and women of old, who gathered around Jesus for healing and freedom from their bondage.

“The reason the Son of God appeared,” John says, “was to destroy the devil’s work.”  He destroyed the devil’s work by drowning the legion of demons and freeing the demon-possessed man in today’s Gospel Reading.  He destroys the devil’s work by drowning your demons in his own blood, as Paul says in Ephesians, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” He destroys the devil’s work through Baptism, Communion, his Word, worship, and prayer, which is God’s immersion therapy for “Drowning Your Demons.”

Amen.

 

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