The Fifth Sunday of Lent
2019 – Cycle C
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
In the December 2018 issue of The Atlantic it was reported that “belief in demonic possession is wide spread in the United States today…roughly half of Americans believe demonic possession is real”.
Why do people find it easy to believe that something indescribably dark can overtake them?
Is there a darkness that envelopes people; that feels menacing and beyond human control? Yes there is: the opioid epidemic, the permanent loss of blue-collar jobs, a deep grief at the death of a spouse or child, blighted communities, a life threatening disease, the fear that enfolds a person after a violent attack or sexual abuse, what some call, a kind of “soul wound”, the nightmares from post-traumatic syndrome after experiencing war or the destruction of your home and livelihood from a wild fire, hurricane or flooding or having lived through 9 – 11, an addiction to…you fill in the blank. These situations are not people’s imaginations. These situations are real and can feel so overwhelming to some people setting off within them a great fear of powerlessness. No one likes to feel out of control. Yet it is the fundamental sin of humanity that began in the garden: “you will be like gods…” [Genesis 3:5]; you will be in control.
Is it this fear of losing control that makes it easier to believe in the power and triumph of an indescribable darkness to possess us then in being possessed by the embrace of Jesus Christ?
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul is ecstatic, “I have indeed been taken possession of by Jesus Christ”. Paul is overwhelmed by the knowledge and experience of Jesus in his life. I almost want to say Paul is sounding like a person who has just realized they are in love. And that love has been returned. All of a sudden nothing else exists or is important. For Paul is filled with his Beloved, Jesus. “I consider everything as a loss…for Jesus’ sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish that I may gain Christ…” Nothing else exists for Paul.
Consider, we are proud of the richness of our national heritages, our parentage, our degrees and awards, our accomplishments, our titles, where we have come to in life, many of us rising in society on the shoulders of immigrant parents and grandparents. Yet how much do we allow these things to define us in relation to the love Jesus Christ has for us? The love Jesus Christ has for us not our love for Jesus. Remember, it is Christ Jesus who possesses us. If we love Jesus it is only because he has first loved us.
And as a lover, all we can do is pursue Jesus in hope, forgetting what lies behind, straining forward, pursuing the goal. Paul uses, as he often does, images of athletic games. Images of running, straining and seeking out as are found in the Hebrew love poetry of the Song of Songs: “At night I sought him whom my heart loves…in the streets and crossings I will seek him whom my heart loves…Watchmen, have you seen whom my heart loves? [Song of Songs See 3:1ff]
“…whom my heart loves…” A wonderful refrain. Did we not begin Lent with our Lover – God coaxing us: “Even now, return to me with your whole heart…” [Joel 2: 12]
Caught up in such a relationship, how could anyone believe that the power of an indescribable and overwhelming darkness could compromise or overcome the love, embrace and possession of us by God in Christ Jesus?