(Modified 2022-06-19: Added audio recording of sermon)
“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (Luke 8:39).
In Christ Jesus, we have a lot to be thankful. One of the precious gifts from Triune God is freedom. What is freedom in God? Freedom from what? Freedom to do what? How does freedom feel?
The picture that Apostle Paul and Evangelist Luke have painted for us this First Sunday after Trinity is that of a jail, including the handcuffs, chains and chackles, and the image of the possibility of being locked in the most feared maximum-security cell without the possibility of a parole.
We know from our contemporary judicial system, particularly from the expectation of being innocent until proven guilty, that after being picked up from the street or at home by the police,you are automatically a suspect under great scrutiny. You are subjected to the search, arrest and harassment. You lose privacy as the media and police authorities gang up against you to discuss your story.
There is no way we can prove someone is innocent of the charges brought against them until they stand trial before the judge, and the judge makes the decision and pronounces them, “Not guilty,”or “Guilty.”
I usually ask myself why the judge can’t pronounce someone “Innocent” rather than “Not Guilty”? I think it is because human judges free us from the charges through the process ofnegation. Their responsibility is to declare whether or not we are guilty of the charges brought against us.
We are neither free nor innocent once we are arrested, even when we are not yet pronounced guilty. Isn’t it weird someone’s innocence is derived from the lack of guilt, or lack of evidence for guilty verdict?
The point is there is no absolute freedom and innocence for us in the earth, even before the judges. The invisible hands behind the court walls have imprisoned the judges and their minds.
Nevertheless, freedom is the ultimate hope in every court case. We seek freedom and justice, although not all of us get the freedom we desire. Some people need to rot in jail for their crimes, but some of our judges send innocent people who have no money to hire lawyers to argue their case to jail.
Unlike our human judges and their judicial process of negation, God frees us through the process of redemption, the deliverance from the power of Satan and dismantling of the system of Satan. God is the ultimate source of justice and freedom.
We really do not have to defend our innocence before God so that we can win or lose the case. God already knows our innocence, and how the adversary (Satan) deceives us and sets us against God.
Freedom in God is the breaking of the chains of the deception of Satan and its powers. As we affirm in our adult baptism in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the power of Satan is every “evil imagination and everything which exalts itself against the knowledge of thee (the LORD of hosts)” (BCP p. 536).
Our prayer is that our thoughts are brought “into the captivity to the obedience of Christ” (BCP, 536). We are made aware of Satan, who works tirelessly against our freedom, because its main goal is to deceive and enslave us, inflicting our thought with the spirit of disobedience and doubt of God’s love.
Let us get to the example. Upon seeing Jesus, the demon-possessed man in the Gospel of Luke cried out and fell at Jesus’s feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” (Luke 8:28). This fear of torture is typical for the accused.
We learn that the impure spirits who impersonated the man, not the man himself, are on trial. Jesus Christ is the persecutor, and continues with the investigative communication typical of the persecutor.
After the identity of the Legion, the real actors within the man, because they are many demons that had gone into the man, was revealed, “they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss” (Luke 8:31). The impure spirits know where they belong away from the presence of God, don’t they?
We immediately see the real freedom for the freed man “sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35). Having “the right mind” is the feeling of freedom, a precious gift from God.
What has Jesus done to this man? Jesus freed him from the demons that possessed him, giving him the freedom to do the things he wants and undertake the mission he has been created for in God’s image.
This is one way to understand freedom. The other way to understand freedom in this story is to picture the chains this man had broken when he ran into the wilderness, to live away from the people. Many times, the impure spirit had seized the man, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places (Luke 8:28).
Was this breaking of chains and going into the wilderness a real freedom for the man? Not at all. The demons had absolute control over him. They made him do their will, against the will of God.
Sin is a real condition of human life. Sin has real consequences to break down the relationships among the people. Sin flourishes in isolation, where there is no love and lack of open interaction with God whose purpose is to see us free from the destruction of the world by Satan and its powers.
Our exploration of freedom raises the question about the intervention of God in humansituations. God is not a bystander. God comes for our deliverance when we are faced with the schemes of Satan.
Our story about Elijah’s escape from the presence of Ahab and his wife Jezebel is a continuation of the contest on Mount Carmel where Elijah, the only faithful servant of Yahweh, God of Israel, had defeated about 450 prophets of Baal with the divine intervention from God. Elijah ordered for the execution of the prophets of Baal who had misled Israel and her people from the covenant way to worship Yahweh.
King Ahab and his wife Jezebel became very angry against Elijah and wanted to kill him. Elijah escaped from their punishment. The story ends with the change of leadership from Ahab to Jehu, a testimony of God’s promise for the faithful to the covenant, “I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).
God manifests his presence in Israel and to the church by sending his angel or Spirit to inspire the prophets like Elijah (1 Kings 19:28), judges like Deborah (Judges 4:4), Gideon (6:16), Jephthah (11:29), Othniel (3:10) and Samson (16:28), and Jesus Christ (Luke 8:35) to facilitate God’s deliverance of Israel and the church. Reference to communicative God through the voice, Spirit or angel of the LORD in the Old and New Testaments affirms the role of the Holy Spirit.Yahweh’s presence in the book of Judges is parallel to horizontal pneumatology in Numbers (11:17), for example, where the spirit of God first dwells in Moses, and then God takes a portion of the spirit from Moses and distributes it to the elders.
The Spirit of God or the Spirit of Christ (2 Cor. 3:17) in whom we find freedom denotes a vertical relationship between the persons of the Trinity. It does not refer to a physical substanceof which God is made up, such that we may talk about the body, soul and spirit of God, as we do for humans.
We find freedom after being declared “Not Guilty” of the charges and subsequently being protected against the arrest by the judge. We find freedom by fighting for the nation, going to war to liberate our own land or territory from external aggressors. We may say Ukrainians will find freedom once they defeat the Russian army or Russia leaves their country. We find freedom after God sends his beloved Son Jesus Christ for the remissions of our sins, bringing us into reconciliation with God.
From the miracle of the freedom of the Gerasene man from the demon control, we are given two main tasks: first, the return from the worldly distractions that make us susceptible to the control of Satan against the kingdom of God because we are his children; second, declaration of the love of God and appreciation of his care, how much he has done for us.
The real freedom is a gift that comes with Christ because the freedom that the law guaranteed in Israel is fulfilled by Christ, who is both the bail for our freedom against the powers of sin and the persecutor who brings accusations against the Adversary. Paul writes, “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed” (Gal. 3:23).
In Christ, we have nothing else that we can boast of our own effort to justify our own innocence. We are all children of God through faith (gal. 3:26-27). Christ has done this for us by freeing us from the chains and chackles of the impure spirit, like the Gerasene man in Luke’s gospel story today, who lived away from his people and home because of the control of the demons.
God in his Triune mercy has worked out our case and declared for us the verdict of “Not Guilty.”
May the Lord continue his gracious work of casting out of our hearts every evil imagination and everything which exalts itself against the knowledge of God, our defender and freedom (BCP p. 536).