Epiphany 4B, January 28, 2018
“Be Silent and Come Out!”
Today we hear the story of a man with an unclean spirit, a man possessed by a demon of sorts. We hear how Jesus, with a new teaching, a teaching with an authority never heard before, commands that this unclean spirit should be silent, and that it should come out of the man that it possesses.
And then something happens that is out of the ordinary, something new is witnessed by the people in the synagogue. With convulsions and crying out the demon leaves this man's body and the man is set free from its presence. The people are amazed because someone has confronted the evil in their world, the dark and the unknown, - and prevailed!
Are we also plagued by "unclean spirits?” Are we also in need of this "new teaching with authority"? Do “we” need this story? I don’t know about you but I haven't seen any demons lurking around First Lutheran lately. In fact I'm not sure I even believe that demons exist, at least not in the way they are depicted in the movies and on some religious TV shows. Quite frankly I have a hard time relating to the language that we have before us in today's gospel.
For the most part we don't use the language of myth, and stories of “unclean spirits” to describe our world and the things we can't explain. Science has forever changed the way we understand the world about us and the world inside us. Psychology, astronomy, biology, sociology, and countless other scientific disciplines have given new names to the many “demons” of the world. They have given us a different language to label our demons, diseases, environmental phenomena, and personality quirks.
I suppose the temptation here is to leave the gospel and its “mythological stories” behind, and call it irrelevant; interesting stories, fascinating stories, mysterious stories but not stories to be taken seriously or to use in shaping one’s life or spirituality. Yet we must remember, the many and wonderful scientific discoveries that gave birth to our modern language and world view do not by any means render today's gospel a fairy tale of mere fantasy. The language of myth is one way that the ancient peoples described their world, especially the things they could not understand. Myths hold great truths about the human condition, they can convey valuable truths and wisdom, and they can even bring to us, bring about in us, the Living Word of God.
So how do we begin to unpack today’s gospel? Let’s begin with the man in our story. We don't know much about him, but we can make some assumptions. He was human and therefore not much different than you and I. He most likely worked hard for a living, had relationships, family; and as the story tells us, he went to synagogue, perhaps for the same reasons we go to church. (The Coffee and pastries) He was a person of feelings, desires, fears, and like all of us he had his own personal gifts, hopes, and dreams.
Yet it seems that he was also held captive by something that he could not understand or grab hold of, - he had his own personal problem. Maybe it was a small problem that he could control fairly well, at least most of the time; or maybe it was something that controlled him, perhaps at times it totally controlled him! A feeling he could not completely shake, a fear that haunted him, a desire that he could not satisfy, a desire or impulse that could lead him into places and situations that gnawed away at his life and his freedom. This "unclean spirit" at times left him feeling helpless, confused, inferior, and imprisoned.
Perhaps you can understand what his life might have been like? Perhaps you can empathize with his struggle? For we have all lived this struggle to one degree or another. I know I have. There are patterns of behavior, feelings, and fear that I struggle with in my life. Things that do not do me any good, things that do not serve the church, things that do not strengthen my relationships. Things that seem to erode my life in small pieces, one precious piece at a time. And what drives me crazy is the fact that I can't even tell you why I do them. I only know that in those moments some kind of fear and insecurity rises from deep within me and it changes the way I think, the way I act, and even the way I believe. I end up echoing the words of St. Paul, as found in the book of Romans, Chapter Seven, "What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate."
We all have that kind of sin in our life, we all have our own "unclean spirits" that hold some kind of power over us. They may be the external pressures of money and status. It may be the demon of perfectionism that finds our every fault, that continually judges us and find us guilty. It could be the demons that fill our hearts and minds with fear, that force us to hide away, merge into the crowd, hold back. Some of us fight with the demon of self hatred, a demon that whispers into our sacred spaces, causing us to deny our giftedness, our identity as the beloved children of God. Maybe it’s the demon of pride that plugs our ears to truth and honest reflection, blocking our heart from healing and wholeness. Then there are the demons that attack us when we are ill, demons that steal our hope and push us into downward cycles of despair. And finally there are the demons of addiction, demons that fill our emptiness with things that fill us up temporarily, but soon begin to create a deeper emptiness in our lives.
Let us not be fooled, there are demons in our lives. And they demand authority, they demand that we surrender. And too often we end up giving in to them, we surrender, we give them authority in our life. It’s true, we all could use a “new teaching” with a “new authority” that might shake us free from those patterns of behavior, those unkind feelings, and the known and unknown fears that limit our life. We too sit in the synagogue in Capernaum hoping that something out of the ordinary might happen, that someone might speak a word that will make a difference.
And the good news is that those words have been spoken! ** We gathered this morning with a splash of water reminding us that we are nothing less than the beloved children of God. ** Together we confessed our brokenness and heard God’s proclamation of love and forgiveness, the power to be the children of God. Soon the table will be prepared and a feast of love, bread and wine, will strengthen us and unite us. Words of love will be spoken, “Given for you, Shed for you.” While demons continue to whisper into our ears today with authority Christ rebukes them, “Be silent and come out!”
Martin Luther wrote that the fall from grace in Eden was not so much the disobedience of God's law but the failure to trust God. Adam and Eve were guilty of trying to establish their own goodness by themselves apart from God. They could not trust God's words spoken to them, the words that said, "You are good,” and "You are loved.” Instead they believed the words of the serpent, words that held them captive to self doubt, words that possessed them, words that formed false self perceptions, and unnecessary behavior. They could not believe that they were good, that they were loved. The serpent became authoritative and life became hell.
Today that false authority, which has also been manifested in our lives, resulting in our own particular "unclean spirits,” - is challenged. A new teaching with authority is fleshed out before us, a new way by which to live.
God has called each of us to speak authoritative words of love and forgiveness to each other. And we are called and invited to believe these words. It is why we gather together in worship. It is how God is present in our lives. When we reach out to one another in grace and love an amazing power and authority becomes present, a power that liberates us from our darkest fears, and the “unclean spirits” that surround us, and live inside us. As we “love one another” in the authority and fullness of God's love, “demons,” doubt, and fear are silenced; and we find ourselves set free, and living faithfully in the abundance of God’s Kingdom.
May the authority and power of God's everlasting love dwell in your hearts and minds forever. Amen.