Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, June 20, 2010
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Last Sunday, John Kilgore talked about sin last week as something we Episcopalians don’t usually talk about. Well if you thought that pushed the Anglican envelope, well buckle your seat belts, because today we’re going to talk about demons.
The Episcopal church doesn’t talk much about demons because because we take pride in being a reasonable, rational faith. You know that three legged stool we have of scripture, tradition and reason … and we take particular pride in the reason piece of that. And demons feel an awful lot like superstition. Like cartoonish figures or creatures from horror movies or classic literature. If there is such a thing as Episcopal street cred, you certainly lose major points by talking about someone being possessed by a demon. Demons seem like fundamentalist territory, and we never want to be considered fundamentalists.
But here they are in the Gospel. Jesus meets a demon. Talks with a demon. Casts out a demon. And later on he gives his disciples power to cast them out, too. So demons seem like a pretty important thing for us to talk about – whether it feels like an Episcopalian conversation or not. And if we’re going to figure out what we make of them, a good first step is to look at what scripture makes of them. So let’s first look at what demons do in this story.
The first thing we notice is that demons change people. When you’re possessed by a demon, you’re not yourself. It affects your whole life – but particularly your behavior. In this story, the man possessed by demons didn’t wear any clothes and walked around shouting a lot. A demon prevents you from being wholly the person God is calling you to be.
The next thing we see is that demons separate you from your community. They isolate you. In this story, the man possessed by demons was described as “a man of the city” … except he wasn’t living in the city, he was living outside the city in the tombs, a place of uncleanness where only dead people went. People didn’t go near people with demons. They were afraid of them. Part of that is because people possessed by demons tended to be pretty scary, but also they were afraid they would get possessed too. So demon possession is isolating.
Finally, we see that demons are powerful. In scripture, demons are not exerting a little influence here and there .. they POSSESS people. They control them in ways that make them feel owned by them and powerless against them. These are not little things.
So that’s what we know about demons:
-they change people
-they separate and isolate people
-they are incredibly powerful, so powerful we feel like we are powerless against them.
So what fits that description in our life?
Some people have looked at people who are possessed by demons and said they had severe mental illness, and that’s just the only way people in that era knew how to explain it. I think there’s probably something to that. If you’ve ever suffered from depression or bipolar disorder or any severe mental illness or know someone who has, you know what I’m talking about. It changes people. It isolates people. It’s incredibly powerful, makes you feel powerless against it.
There are addictions and compulsions that can be demons in our lives. Things that can take over our lives to the point where they change who we are, make us unable to be wholly ourselves. That either isolate us or make us feel we can’t talk honestly about with other people – or even be honest with ourselves about it – because of fear of isolation. Things that are incredibly powerful, so powerful we feel like we are powerless against them … in fact that’s the first of AA’s 12 steps … admitting that you are powerless by yourself to stop your addiction.
Finally, let’s give the devil its due. There are forces out there that we don’t understand, that makes us afraid to consider. Forces that are truly demonic, and that can change people, separate and isolate people and that are incredibly powerful. The genocide in Rwanda doesn’t just happen. The Ku Klux Klan doesn’t just happen. The rise of Nazi Germany didn’t just happen. I got an email this morning from a friend of mine who is rector of a church in Massachusetts and he was asking for prayers because a parishioner of his murdered his wife and kids and mother in law. That doesn’t just happen. This isn’t about absolving people of personal responsibility, but things like this don’t just happen. There are forces out there that act on individuals and on humanity that draw us away from everything God dreams for us , that make us our worst even as God dreams our best. And if we dismiss those forces or if we think they are merely superstition and we are smarter than that we do so at our own peril.
So demons are real. And not only are they real, we in this room are struggling with them right now.
So what do we do? Well, we look back to the Gospel this morning and look at what Jesus did when he was confronted by a demon. And he didn’t run away. He didn’t pretend it didn’t exist. He didn’t say “Nananananana I don’t SEEEEEE you!!!”. He acknowledged its reality. He learned its name. He had a conversation with it. You could even say he made friends with it.
So that’s the first step for us. If demons are real. And not only are they real, they are right here in this room. The first step for us is to acknowledge that. And that’s a tough and scary thing to do, because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of our demons ourselves and what might happen if other people found out. We’re afraid of other people thinking of us as damaged or weak and powerless. We’re afraid that people might treat us differently … or isolate us. And we’re afraid of these things for good reason because we’ve seen it happen to other people before and maybe we’ve had it happen to us before.
But isolation is not just one of the characteristics of demon possession, it’s how demons thrive. They thrive when they lie to us and convince us to keep them hidden, keep us living with the myth that either they’re not real or that we can handle them ourselves. And so our silence about them plays right into their hands.
So this morning let’s all take a first step.
Everyone close your eyes.
If you or someone you love has a demon in your life
Maybe you or someone you care about is struggling with mental illness
Or maybe you or someone you love has an addiction or compulsion, something powerful that you feel prevents you from being who God dreams for you to be. Maybe it’s your relationship with alcohol or another drug. Maybe it’s sex or internet porn. Maybe it’s your relationship with your iphone or blackberry and compulsive connectivity.
Or maybe you feel there is an actual outside force acting on you or someone you love and drawing you or them to a place of darkness.
Keep your eyes closed. If you or someone you love has any of these in your life, raise your hand.
Put your hands down. Open your eyes.
I need to tell you there were a whole lot of hands up in this room .. including mine. That’s the first step. The first tiny, baby step. Just acknowledging that there are demons in this room.
There are. That’s OK. They’re in every room.
But there’s one other thing we know about demons from this morning’s Gospel. And that is Jesus is more powerful than they are. As powerful as demons are, as fearful as they are, the power of God in Christ is more powerful – and even the demons know it. And that power is also given to us as followers of Christ.
And so the power to cast out those demons is also right here in this room. It’s not here in me as a priest, it’s here in us as the body of Christ. And while I believe in the power of in the moment miracles, I don’t think that’s the way it usually works. Our work of casting out demons in the name of Christ happens as we continually do what Jesus did in this mornings Gospel. When we acknowledge the demons among us, name them, even become friends with them and know them well … and then together continually, invoking Christ’s name, order them away.
It’s about us naming the demons in our midst and refusing to let them isolate. It’s about saying when the person has the courage to come forward to say they have a mental illness or a problem with alcohol that we still see them as God sees them, as beautiful and holy and as a friend … and that not only will we not isolate you, we will stand with you even closer because now more than ever you need this community to cast that demon out.
It’s about saying that there is no such thing as YOUR demon. That every demon in here is OUR demon. Because we carry them together and it is together that we will cast them out.
In a few minutes we are going to have a rite of healing here. We do this four times a year. And in addition to inviting you to come forward and ask for prayers for other types of healing for yourself or for others, I invite you to come forward and name your demons so we can work on casting them out. So you can feel the hands of God and this community on you and know that you are not alone. Know that there is a power greater than whatever it is that has power over you … and the name of that power is Jesus Christ.