In nomine Jesu!

There is a major disconnect between the seventy who return rejoicing, and us. Their demons submitted to them; ours won’t. At least that’s how it seems. The last few years have pretty much put to bed our doubts about demonic reality and demons. These days, we see them and their effect all around us — turning this year’s Presidential election into raucous reality TV; mucking up the environment, the economy, and what once we called “civil discourse;” messing with our health, our relationships and almost every aspect of our daily lives; evident in courtrooms and hospices and in the dysfunctional behavior of so many. We are unsettled. In the Church, the city and the world — there is dis-ease, frustration, gridlock, anger and the sense that things are going in the wrong direction or, worse than that, going nowhere at all. Virtually everyone I listen to is trying to get their lives and themselves under control; most express little to no hope for the future. It’s the national mood, reflecting individual dis-ease. The seventy returned with joy, because the demons submitted to them. On July 3, 2016, there’s a dearth of joy among us and about us because our demons seem impregnable. And there’s
worse news yet. If our joy remains dependent on our demons submitting to us, on our world making sense to us or on our being in control, then we’ll never know joy again. Maybe if our current sense of helplessness lasts a little longer, several commentators reason, we’ll learn a valuable lesson.

But if it can’t, Jesus does. The seventy returned with joy from their successful mission. Jesus affirms their success, celebrates their accomplishments and participates in their joy with them. But he doesn’t make success and control the end-all and be-all of human existence, because Jesus knows that these will not satisfy or even last. Instead, Jesus proclaims the Gospel, Good News they can depend on in times of accomplishment and success — when the demons submit to them — and Good News they can depend upon in times of failure, disappointment and frustration — when the demons don’t. In times like ours, as in moments like theirs, we need Good News too.

So here it is: “Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
True joy, lasting joy, transcending joy, useful joy, Jesus says, is not rooted in what we do, but in what God does. True joy, Jesus says, is found in what God has done for us by becoming one of us, by dying and being raised for us, by sending the Holy Spirit to live in us, by energizing all our doings, and by writing our names — indelibly — “in heaven.”

Because we Americans have made always our highest value to be what we do as opposed to what is done for us, we have trouble with the Gospel. America’s so-called “protestant work ethic,” has worked for many of us and (or so we have been led to believe) has also worked for our whole country. According to many, it’s what made America great! According to some, it’s why we aren’t great any longer. We believe in success. We believe everyone always should — and always can — earn our own way. Even when we need them, we are appalled when the benefits of disability or unemployment or even retirement are called “entitlements;” we prefer to think we earned them!

These days, we resent — I would use a stronger word, we hate — those who appear to only rely on others, those who appear to insist on getting
ahead of others without doing the same work.

That resentment, that hatred, is the stuff that fuels the Trumpistas; and it isn’t going easily away. The demons are out of their box.

With that way of thinking, living and being dominating our lives, it’s hard to find joy in times like these; and it’s even harder to find compassion. When life is evaluated on the basis of “you are what you do,” any form of not doing or un-doing is devastatingly joyless. It is frustrating. It leaves us hopeless. It feels like death. Fireworks and summer distractions — even the long-anticipated wedding of one of our pastors — only masks, and never cures, this dominant, deathward-drifting disease.

Resurrection does! God does! Today Jesus reminds us that God acts always, always, always for us. Today Jesus remind us that God is always, indelibly on our side! "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning,” Jesus proclaims. Our value, our worth, the meaning of our lives, the strength of our nation, our greatness, if you will, is not dependent on what we accomplish, or don’t accomplish, or can’t accomplish or won’t accomplish. Our value, our
worth, the meaning of our lives, our greatness is solely determined by — and dependent on — the cross-marked love of God.

As for those un-submitting demons who at this moment, are, in fact, having their day, the only effective way to deal with them is not by using words and engaging in actions driven by our fear that they — the demons — have the last word about and will soon have power over everything, but rather by words and actions arising out of confident, joyous faith which rightly recognizes their power to be penultimate. That’s the kind of faith Jesus comes among us to give and revive, renew and replenish here at the font and the table and in our hearing as he speaks and acts, and sends his followers to speak and act, with resurrection sureness long before his life is crowned with resurrection fact.

It’s important that we remember that about Jesus. It’s important that we remember that Jesus was no self-made man and was never, by any measure we Americans measure, a rousing success. After all, he died as a disgraced criminal, rejected by both the crowds who once followed him and by the religious and civil authorities. He never boasted of what he, or his
followers, could, or would, do. Instead, Jesus trusted that in everything, including his death, God would have the last and best word. It’s important to remember that Jesus really died, rejected, on the cross. He didn’t fall asleep. He wasn’t playing some kind of divine trick, and he didn’t raise himself. God raised him from death. God acted and made it possible for Jesus, crucified and raised, to be present among us and to send us out to face our demons now.

Remember this Jesus as you come to the table today. And before you celebrate what you or our forebears or our nation has done, give thanks to God for what God has done and build your hope and our future on the expectant faith that because God so faithfully loves us, God will continue to act for us again and again and again even when “hordes of devils fill the land.”

Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter’s Church
in the City of New York

Isaiah 66: 10-14; Psalm 66:1-9;
Galatians 6:1-16; Saint Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20