This message was given as part of a series on how the freedom we receive in encountering God makes all things new. It was preached at the 5:40 Express on January 13, 2018.
Our story tonight is really very simple. Jesus stumbles into a mute man and casts out a demon so that he is no longer silent but can speak.
As I prepared for this I was seized by a particular memory from when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. It was a bright sunny day and for whatever reason I thought it would be pleasant to read my bible in the park. On my way home from that adventure I came across a young man on an empty street. He kicked a pop can as hard as he could against the wall of an abandoned building, then kicked the wall and yelled a number of expletives. I asked if he was ok. He started to explain his anger and a number of the financial and personal problems he was having, the difficulties in finding workable solutions, the people he blamed. We sat down on the sidewalk and talked for a while. He must have noticed the bible under my arm, because just as I was ready to excuse myself and go home he asked me to pray for him.
Now this was probably the first time in my life somebody had asked me to pray for them. I was struck dumb. Prayer wasn’t really part of my life back then and I grew silent. I had nothing to offer. All my muscles seized up and I became honestly terrified and aware of just being empty. I had nothing to offer except for a feeling of awkwardness about praying for someone.
In the story from the bible we heard today we meet a man whom Jesus frees from silence. Jesus casts out the evil spirit that has taken up residence within this man. Jesus frees this man to cry out to God.
This powerful liberation terrifies some of the bystanders. They fear that since the demons obey Jesus and leave that he must be the Lord of the Demons, they say the Lord of the Flies, or the Lord of the dung heap. Sometimes in our own lives we see that, we see the freedom we have to come before God named oppression, we see a lack of trust in what Jesus does, we see accusations and fear. In their uncertainty some of them ask for a sign to prove that he is from heaven and not the other place.
And so Jesus says, look. The demons don’t obey me because I’m the devil, they obey me because I am greater and stronger than they are, I am forcing them out. The fact of the matter is a house divided against itself cannot stand, and these demons and I are working at cross purposes. The dung heap desires to scatter and divide, it tears down relationships and traps people up within themselves. I don’t scatter, I gather. I reconcile and bring together the lost. The devil and I are working at cross-purposes how could I be him?
I want us to rewind like ten minutes before Jesus and the mute man stumble into each other. Jesus had been praying on his own and the disciples ask him to teach them how to pray.
So Jesus says: Look if you’re going to pray you come into a place where you acknowledge and recognize God as your Father, and yourself as his child. When you come to pray what you’re doing is recognizing that his home is the kingdom of heaven, the place where he reigns. When you pray you come to hear and receive his name as holy. If you want to pray your hearts cry out with desire for that heaven to colonize earth. Your pray is a desiring for the breaking forth of the kingdom, for your life and your world to be the place where He reigns, the place where his holiness is at home. Look, Jesus tells them, when you pray to God you come into a trust that he is going to give you what you need to get through the day. Prayer is a place to ask that your rebellion to his reign be forgiven, and to ask him to help you forgive others because the kingdom is a place of reconciliation, not of scattering. Prayer is a place where you ask for and trust in His victory over evil.
And listen if you feel like prayer isn’t working out-DONT GIVE UP. Be persistent, keep at it. You know sometimes how you keep bothering a friend until they help you out? You have permission to try and annoy God, just keep at it, persistence in prayer is part of this. Jesus says to them look, prayer is coming into a place where you know God as your Father. Do any of you have kids? If your child asks you for something to eat do you give them something that is going to destroy them? No! God will give you the Holy Spirit, give you what is good for you, so don’t give up, pray.
And it’s no coincidence friends that it is at this point that Jesus encounters the mute man. It is in this teaching of prayer that Jesus sets this man free to cry out to God as his Father, to seek the breaking forth of God’s kingdom.
You see in some religions when they pray it is an act of self emptying. Prayer or meditation for them is an act of dissociating yourself from your thoughts and your feelings. Prayer is an act of letting go of them and emptying yourself, finding an ecstasy in the emptiness. Jesus explains that, sure, its all well and good to kick the squatters out and clean the place out but if its left empty, you’re just going to end up with more squatters and more of a mess. Emptiness isn’t the end of prayer for the Christian. Christian prayer isn’t about making room for squaters, its about letting the rightful tenants in: that’s where all things are made new.
You see our hearts, our bodies, our beings are the home of the Holy Spirit, the place where the presence of God dwells. The squatters aren’t just vacating the premises they are being kicked out by the one who is stronger, the rightful king. Christian prayer is about a desiring, a shaping of the heart and the imagination and the mind, the transformation of the person.
One woman is so struck by what Jesus has done and the encounter she beheld between him and the mute man, between Jesus and those who scoffed. She can not help but cry out “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!”
And Jesus responds to her excitement as well as to the scoffers distrust, focusing it on what matters. Now don’t get me wrong I love Mary. She is amazing. What’s amazing about her though is her radical yes to the will of God and her holding of the Word she received that the Word burst forth from within her for the salvation of the world. Jesus invites us to say yes to God, to receive his words and hold on to them. When we hold on to, repeat, swim within the words of God we discover in them his power, they are performative in us, as we hold them He holds us, He casts out what does not belong, He sends what does. When we hold on to God’s Word he makes us, and our whole lives new. Thanks be to God.