REBUKING YOUR DEMONS
Mark 1: 29-39
In a few minutes I have set myself up to cover what could-and has- taken hours by others: what do we make of the idea of demons as described in today’s Gospel text? Is it different from being possessed by the devil, or Satan? In a survey a number of years ago, 75% of those around the world believed that supernatural spirits could invade a body and cause it to be possessed. By the same token 25% or more did not believe that. Many Christian branches of the church spend sermon after sermon teaching people how to avoid the devil, and calling illnesses “possessions by demons.” Most Presbyterians join me in not giving anything evil or unexplained the name of the devil or a demon; our worship, prayers, and attention are on the glory of God Almighty. Even as it was once described, “if there is a watch, there must be a watch maker,” so if there is Creation, there must be a Creator. Plenty of people want to avoid blame in all circumstances, so they say, when they do a crazy or destructive thing, that an “evil spirit” possessed them, or “the devil made them do it.” It is convenient to blame someone outside of ourselves thereby not having to account for one’s actions.
A mother is behind bars because of the suspicious murder of her child. Was it the devil that did that murder? Was it someone else? Was she possessed? Or did she want a life different from the responsibilities of motherhood, and just snapped? When I was in college, while we were in our fraternity house, one of the brothers, after a long day, fell to the ground, had his eyes roll back into his head, and he shook violently, almost biting off his own tongue. Would you say he got possessed by a demon? Many in the Bible, who had less access to medical knowledge, called mysterious convulsions demon possession. But in our fraternity we called paramedics to come to our fraternity house, not a priest, and they didn’t diagnose him as demon possessed. “Epileptic seizure” they said, and the brothers and I got an education about epilepsy. Our brother recovered. It is frightening to be sure, to encounter such seizures. But I know it is not the presence of evil, it is the acknowledgment and treatment of a condition. While our youth group visited a feeding ministry years ago, a man walked up to the center, walking erratically, with jerky motions, with a panicked look in his eyes, and with a dry and crusted mouth. An astute staff member there knew the man and upon seeing him, he ran in and came out with a glass of orange juice. It settled down his shakes, his eyes grew calmer, and he became limp. He had had a diabetic attack from too little sugar, a situation that I myself have felt more than once since I developed diabetes. He was not possessed by a demon any more than I was. How glad I am to not be living ages ago, but if I were, I’d be so grateful to a healer named Jesus.
A dear woman who was in our church who cared deeply for our children was Trudy Jones. Trudy did not hear well because as a child, her parent’s branch of the Christian faith did not believe in medicine, just prayer. So they prayed for little Trudy when she had an ear infection, but gave her no medical treatment. The result was a dedicated Christian who was hard of hearing all her life, but she grew up believing in medicine and prayer. Dr. Larry Dossey does to, for in a blind study, he had half of his hospital receive excellent medical treatment alone, and the other half received excellent medical treatment and the fervent prayers of his staff. (He did not include a study with prayer alone since it was a hospital.) The side with prayer and medicine healed decidedly faster and more completely. Our Body, Mind, and Soul health ministries continue to convince me of the connections between the care we give our bodies, and our minds, and our souls (some say spirits). An illness in one area—like a sin-sick soul, or a burned out mind, or a body ravaged by too much or too little weight, too much smoke, too much drink, or too much drug, affects the other areas.
I am convinced that there are people who do evil things in the world, but it need not get blamed on the devil. John Dominic Crossen, in one of his books, noticed how many people were terrified by a vomiting adolescent in the film called THE EXORCIST. He said the scene bothered him for a different reason: it trivialized evil, for true evil is what is done to nations at the hands of brutal dictators, or to children in the hands of sexually or physically abusive parents, or to poor people by those who oppress them. The child tied up in the film was a victim; the evil in some children’s situations may have been an older male who sexually tortured them, or other children who tormented them with bullying, or authority figures who became mentally or physically abusive. There is evil in the world, but placing blame on its victims is what Jesus fought against. An uninformed or incompetent doctor or family member may not recognize schizophrenia, psychosis, or other difficult but treatable illnesses, but left untreated, victims can harm themselves and others.
Our text today shows Jesus healing the people who were brought to him. And although he wanted to primarily be their Savior, he first became their Healer because he was able, in his amazing ways, to make them well and to invite priests to pronounce them so. Today you may be a tormented person, by problems with your body, problems with your mind, or problems with your soul. In our day and age, in the name of Jesus, I would start a person who has physical ailments with prayer and a visit to a competent doctor. In our day and age I would start a person who has emotional turmoil with prayer and words of counseling, perhaps from me or a therapist at our Presbyterian Counseling Center. In our day and age I would start a person who exhibits a sin-sick soul with prayer, with counseling, with confession, and with repentance leading to reconciliation and peace. You can go to a faith healer if you believe in them; you can go to gatherings where crippled people cast their walkers aside when a preacher pushes them into the arms of “catchers” if you wish. Or you could try to find priest to perform an exorcism although there a precious few of them. When it comes to rebuking your demons, you can do it! Let me reframe what that might look like: You might start by confronting tormenting people around you, or doctors who have misdiagnosed you, or even yourself for not taking medications that could have brought you healing or comfort. Those are places to start. But remember to always have Jesus, the healer, in the mix through your fervent prayers. God gave us the gifts of our bodies, minds, and souls so that, as Jesus said, “all may have life, and to have it abundantly.” Anything that holds you back from that goal, or deliberately deflects you from that goal, may be cast aside! Jesus had a big emphasis in healing others in Biblical times; he still does. Let the church’s healing ministry continue in this modern world, as prayer, medicine, and knowledge come together when needed, to heal hurting and misunderstood people. Let us remember all that Jesus did to cast out demons, and the power he gave his followers to do the same. May you never forget the power in Jesus’ name.
Jeffrey A. Sumner February 1, 2009