A Nation Possessed

by Lowell Chilton

A sermon for the people of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Concord, CA.
The texts are: Isaiah 65:1-9;
Psalm 22:19-28; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

This time last week we were all just learning of the mass shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Perhaps some of us saw the news late in the night,
perhaps some saw the news first thing in the morning,
perhaps some learned of the event in this room.

The massacre in Pulse is the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. An armed individual shattered a community, killed forty-nine persons, and physically and emotionally injured many more.

And yet, Sunday was just another day in America.
On any given day in America, 36 people are killed by a gun.
On any given day in America, 76 people are injured by a gun.
On any given day in America, there is at least one mass shooting, where 4 or more people are killed or injured by a gun. Not including the shooter.

This was a horrible event, surpassing all others in recent memory. In a year that already has an extra day, this one event adds another day to the year. The fact that the horrendous massacre of 49 persons and injury of 53 more is simply one more day in America is appalling.

As soon as we were learning of this horror, the political narrative in this country was immediately collapsing into predictable soundbites:

If there had been more people in the club armed this wouldn’t have been as bad.

Ban assault weapons.

If you are too dangerous to get on a plane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America.

It’s my right. I’m going to carry my weapon where I want to when I want to.

These soundbites all miss the point. We have a problem in this country which is tearing us apart. It is deeply embedded in our culture, so deeply embedded that we don’t even see it.

Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images News / Getty Images

When I was growing up, TBS used to play “A Christmas Story” for 24 hours straight on Christmas Eve. I was enthralled with the leg-lamp, the weird starfish looking snowsuit the little brother wears, and especially with the “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle.”

That gun captured my attention. I had a friend who owned several powerful air rifles. I loved to go over to his house and shoot targets in the woods. I was a good shot and I could not wait to get my own gun. I pestered my parents to let me get one. I was indoctrinated into the myth that guns are good.

Our national love of guns is deeply embedded in our collective consciousness;
from watching Ralphie lust after the Official Red Ryder,
to playing war games with our friends in the yard,
to hearing the pundits talk about “good guys with guns,”
we are conditioned to believe that guns give us power,
and that guns solve problems.

We are a nation in love with the myth that firearms are good for society.

We have allowed a constitutional protection that was born of a particular abuse of power of our former parent country to overwhelm our sense of what is right and what is wrong. We have decided as a people to declare evil good and good evil. We have allowed statements like “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” to stand as truth.

We sat and watched as the Assault Weapons Ban expired. We cried and wept and said “no more” when children were killed in an elementary school and then did nothing. We cried and wept and said “no more” when nine black people were killed in a bible study at their church just a year ago, and then did nothing. We cried and wept and said “no more” when a gun man walked in to a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana last summer, and then did nothing.

We have ignored the rampant gun violence in our country; violence so rampant that the worst mass shooting in recent memory only adds a single day of deaths to the year.

We are a people possessed.

Possessed by:

the demon of self-reliance
the demon of individualism
the demon of strength over weakness
the demon of violence as solution
the demon of retribution as justice
the demon of homophobia
the demon of racism
the demon of privilege

We are a nation beset by the Legion of demons.

Just like the Gerasene man, we turn aside in the face of Jesus.

When we come face to face with the challenging reality of Jesus the Christ, when we come and look at the cross, and really, truly see the cross, we are afraid. We are possessed, and we are terrified of losing ourselves.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images News / Getty Images

We hear the words of Jesus to “Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself” and we say “well clearly the man attacking me isn’t my neighbor, I have to be able to kill him if he’s threaten me.” We say “a man is threatening my neighbor; I have to defend her.” We say “the constitution lets me” and latch onto the thing that we think gives us power.

And we turn away from Jesus.
We turn away from the power of God -- believing in the power of ourselves. We say to Jesus “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of God Most High? I beg you, don’t torture me!”

Eugene Peterson renders the plea of the man a little differently, “what business do you have messing with me? You’re Jesus, Son of the High God, but don’t give me a hard time!”

We are just like this man. We like Jesus to give us comfort, and warm feelings. Not to challenge us. We look at the cross and we tell Jesus to not give us a hard time.

And just like with the man, Jesus has already commanded the demons out.

Jesus stood in front of the man and drove the demons out of him. They fled into the pigs and they drowned in the sea.

Jesus is standing here in front of us today, driving the demons out. Jesus is standing here in front of us, inviting us to look directly at the cross, directly at the pain and suffering of the world and to imagine what the world might be like without the demons. Jesus is standing here in front of us and inviting us to sit at his feet at peace.

God’s death in Christ on the cross radically reshapes the world. God’s resurrection in Jesus Christ overcomes evil and death and recreates the world. By the immense grace of God, we have been freed from death and into the new creation of Christ.

We are freed from the shackles of this world which call evil good. We are freed into the new creation which calls evil evil. We are freed into the love of God which gives us the strength to cast out our demons.

God’s love is our power and strength. With this love and power and strength, all things are possible. God’s love gives us the power to declare that we will no longer be a nation possessed. God’s love gives us the power to declare that inaction in the face of evil is not who we are in America.

God’s love wins the day, now and evermore.