Strong (Luke 8:26-39; Galatians 3:23-4:7)

You may not have noticed…it’s easy to overlook when we’re bringing smiling infants and adorable youngsters to the baptismal font…but every baptism we perform at Trinity Lutheran Church is a place where we confess that the power of the God’s Word, working through ordinary water, confronts the evil that would overwhelm and take possession of the person being baptized. It’s so brief you might almost miss it. Every baptism begins with the invocation of God’s name, an admonition that without Christ a person remains “under the power of the devil,” the sign of the cross on the baptismal candidates’s forehead and heart, and the invitation for the baptized (or those speaking on his/her behalf) to renounce “the devil and all his works and all his ways.” The devil, it would seem, is a matter of concern in Holy Baptism. Even Holy Baptism does not somehow banish evil from the life of the baptized (the baptized are instructed by St. Peter to be on the alert…the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” [1 Pet. 5:8]). But our adversary is no match for the stronger One who, in this simple and brief ceremony, takes possession of His own through water and the Word.

This Sunday we turn our attention to Jesus’ miraculous healing of a man overwhelmed by forces outside his control, living naked and in a cemetery. Whether we isolate the man’s circumstances as those of a person possessed by demons or see in him a phenomenon that presents itself today as addiction, compulsive behavior, paralyzing anxiety or some form of mental illness, the man’s plight is as one undergoing the most harrowing experience of social isolation, fear, and despair. Unlike accounts of Jesus’ other encounters with demonic forces narrated elsewhere in the gospels, in this story we do not overhear His rebuke of the demon or demons. Instead, the afflicted man’s identity as the sum of the forces that overwhelm him (his name is “Legion”) and Jesus’s identity as “Son of the Most High God” seem to take center stage. Jesus heals the man. But He does so as One who has already confronted evil and the temptation to disbelieve He is the Son of God (Luke 4). He does so as the Spirit-anointed Servant of God, who, confronting the powers of evil entrusts Himself to the Father with the words, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23). Is it any wonder that St. Paul, as he writes to the church of Galatia, speaks of the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of [God’s] Son” who cries out “Abba! Father!”? Though the forces of evil that still confront the Spirit-led people of God are strong, praise God that the power of the Son of the Most High God at work in them is stronger still.

The lives of the baptized are messy. Many of us are given to seek out God’s strength in our own personal weak places when we experience addiction, anxiety, or other forms of spiritual pain. Others of us receive the grace of God to seek more tangible support and accountability through prayer with other Christians when we feel that the words of prayer are hard to form by ourselves. Though “success” of one sort or another may never be achieved on this side of eternity, the Good News for all of us is that the Spirit of God we have received through the Word of God who restores our broken identity still cries out to God through the baptized community of God. Washed in God’s grace, we are whole.

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