Going Deeper 6-24-19

What I would like you to consider this morning is this: What is there in your life that you would ask Jesus to deliver you from?  Is there a lingering fear?  Is it haunting guilt, regret, or shame?  Is there grief over the loss (or, as it is in my case, the anticipated loss) of a loved one?  Is your greatest burden anxiety or worry about your future, or that of a child?  Are you experiencing heartbreak over a broken relationship, or struggling with an addiction?  Or is it something else?  I’m guessing we all have at least one heavy burden we are carrying.  What is it for you?
Speaking of haunting… let’s enter that story told in our Gospel reading.  As I read it, I would once again encourage us to use our God-given gift of imagination to enter the story as one of the followers of Jesus.  And in order to do so it is important to know what has come before.
In the time you have spent following Jesus, you have seen and heard Him do and say some truly remarkable, even mind-blowing things.  You’ve seen the blind receive their sight, the deaf their hearing, the lame their mobility.  You have heard Jesus teach about the Kingdom that has now come near through Him, a Kingdom unlike any you have ever heard of.  You recently watched as a woman with a very bad reputation expressed her incredible love and gratitude by anointing Jesus’ feet with ointment and with her tears, wiping them with her hair.  And Jesus’ profound words still ring in your ears: “The one who has been forgiven much, loves much.”
Most recently you’ve witnessed yet another extraordinary miracle.  Aboard a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, you and the others found yourselves in the midst of a horrific storm. Fearing your lives were about to be lost you awakened a sleeping Jesus who stood and calmed the wild, raging storm with just three very simple words: “Peace, be still.”  Fearful and beyond amazed, you had asked, "Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?"
And immediately after that, this happens, this story as told in Luke chapter 8, our Gospel text:  Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.  As [Jesus] stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him.  For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you, do not torment me"— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)  Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?"  He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him.  They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.  Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these.  So he gave them permission.  Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.  When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.  Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.  And they were afraid.  Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.  Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.  The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
How does what you have witnessed make you feel?  Having seen such a thing-- the casting out of many demons and the radical change this brought about in this man’s life-- perhaps you feel compelled to ask the same question you asked after Jesus calmed the violent storm: "Who then is this, that He commands even a legion of demons, and they obey him?"   We know who this is: Jesus, Son of God, our Savior and friend.
Now let’s return to where we started.  Given what we have learned of Jesus, is there any burden we might have that is too big for Jesus to carry?
I would like to teach you a little exercise.  This is something I do from time to time, when I feel afraid, burdened, or stressed.  I try to somehow picture myself holding tight on to whatever it is.  I spend just a moment or two holding tight, and then I take a deep breath and release it into God’s hands.  I often adapt Jesus’ last words on the cross and say, “Abba/Father, into your hands I commend this, I release this…”, and I literally open my hands and let go of the burden.
I believe this is a step of faith.  But it is very important to understand what I mean when I say “faith.”  In Matthew 21:22 (and elsewhere), Jesus taught “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”  At one point in my life I thought this meant that if I could somehow get rid of all doubt and conjure up enough faith and belief, then I’d receive whatever I asked for. 
But I have been led to a new understanding of what it means to pray with faith.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.”  Some people have for a long time taught and believed this was a type of miraculous formula, that all they needed to do in order to receive what they asked for was to add the ‘magic’ phrase: “in Jesus’ name.”
However, to pray “in Jesus’ name” really means to ask and seek to have my prayer be in line with what Jesus would pray.  In order for me to be able to understand what that means I need to more and more fully have the mind and the heart of Jesus.  And that truly changes everything.  It has actually made many of my prayers shorter.  I simply pray that God would bless me, bless others, bless things in whatever way lines up with God’s will.  This is a prayer of faith.  
God is only just infinitely more wise than I am.  I may lay some specific requests before Him, but always attached to another phrase which echoes what Jesus prayed in His greatest hour of need: “Not what I will, but what Thy will be done.”   That is a prayer of deep faith, reflecting a desire to entrust everything into God’s hand.
Do I pray for healing and other things for myself and others?  Yes.  And as I pray I understand that a miraculous answer is truly a possibility. But to pray in faith means to trust in whatever answer my Abba/Father wants to give, and since I believe that God is infinite not only in power but also in wisdom and love, I simply commend it all into His hands.
So, whatever burden you are carrying, whatever needs you may have (or at least think you have)-- lingering fear, haunting guilt, regret, or shame, grief, anxiety, heartbreak, addiction, or whatever else… whatever it is, Jesus is here for you.  He has promised to never leave or forsake you.  He loves you and is more than able to deliver you.  All you need do is come to Jesus.
Let’s close by singing “Untitled Hymn”… during which we will collect our offering for today.