"You are our shield and protector, the lifter of our head," prayed Site Pastor Mark Maliepaard, quoting the song that the band -- guitar, bass, keyboard, drums, and saxophone -- had just finished. "We thank you so much that you protect us from the evil one...that in you we will not be defeated by Satan and his demonic forces." "To experience that saving power in a fresh, new way," the congregation confessed their sins as one, reading from the words projected on the movie screen and admitting to "hypocrisy" and "evil thoughts" and enslavement to "sinful habits." They begged for help to "live out the freedom from evil we have in You."
The Gospel told the story of the Gerasene demoniac -- a man possessed by multiple devils who lived, naked and alone, among the tombs. Jesus drove the devils out of the man, but when they begged not to be thrown into the abyss, Jesus allowed them to go into a herd of pigs, which then plunged into the sea. When the people heard of this and saw the restored man, they were afraid, and asked Jesus to leave. As he left, Jesus told the former demoniac to "return home and tell how much God has done for you."
In his sermon, Pastor Richard P. Kaufman said the central teaching of the story was "the authority of Jesus over evil." That authority, he said, should give us hope, courage, and purpose.
Hope: "If ever there was a hopeless case, it was this guy.... Lies enslave us, and perhaps the most deadly lie of all is this: 'It's hopeless.' If Jesus can cure this guy like that, then there are no hopeless situations and no hopeless cases."
Courage: Kaufman noted that Jesus granted the demons' request not to be thrown into the abyss. "Deliverance from evil is now -- and not yet.... The 'now-not-yet' Christians have great hope that Jesus can do anything right now, but when Jesus doesn't, they have confidence that one day, He will."
Purpose: "In the New Testament, when Jesus does miracles, people are filled with fear. They know that God has showed up. The authority of Jesus demands a response. You cannot say, 'Okay, God, I'm going to let you into this spiritual portion of my life -- but don't mess with my pigs.'"
Kaufman called Jenny -- young, tall, and striking -- to the microphone. She had "known that Jesus was something" from a young age, but had found religion unhelpful in finding Him.
"As I was continuing this push toward Christ, I was beginning to struggle and have a lot happen to me. On January 12, I was brutally raped. I began shaking constantly.... I was completely out of control of my life and my thoughts. I began hearing bells, seeing lights. I was, like, 'Oh, my gosh, I am so headed for a padded room.'"
On January 31, a coworker found her in a terrible state and brought her to a Harbor church. "I realized how many of these people had been praying for me, and I was suddenly surrounded by all these people who cared about me and knew me.... I felt so comforted.... I asked them to help me bring Jesus into my life. As I began to pray, I began convulsing and flailing around the room. I could feel two demons leave my body, and there was a third -- and a four-hour process began for me to try to get to Christ and get rid of this evil. They all stood and prayed and rebuked. It was the most beautiful experience and the most horrifying experience at the same time." When, at the end, "God was sealed inside of me," she said, "it was ecstasy.... He gave me myself back, so that I could give myself as a complete back to Him."
At the end of the service, the band kicked into the Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Runnin'": "Without love/where would you be right now/without love."
What happens when we die?
"We either go to be with the Lord or we don't," says Kaufman. "The determining factor is that we are saved by grace alone -- it's a gift. We receive that gift through faith alone. It's not just a general faith; it's a faith specifically in Jesus. Those people who have never heard the name of Jesus, I leave in God's hands, and I trust that He will be both merciful and just. For those who have heard, the determination is in how they respond."
Denomination: Presbyterian Church in America
Address: Pacific Gaslamp Theater, 701 Fifth Avenue, Downtown, 619-699-5950
Founded locally: 1999
Senior pastor: over all sites, Rev. Douglas Swagerty; over downtown site, Dr. Richard P. Kaufman
Congregation size: 200
Staff size: 5
Sunday school enrollment: 10
Annual budget: $400,000
Weekly giving: $8,000
Singles program: no
Dress: wide ranging -- hipster to casual to Sunday formal
Diversity: mostly Caucasian, but a number of Asian-, Arab-, and African-Americans
Sunday worship: 9:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 20 minutes