You may be happy to know that you are not going to get the usual sermon for today: The usual sermon involves how demons were the way that people of the past would describe mental illnesses. You would be told that when we hear about people possessed with demons, we are not supposed to assume that as an actual being inhabiting the person and we are to realize that people were dealing with the unexplainable in their midst. You have probably already heard a sermon like that, if not, you probably will at some point. And besides, I don’t want to get into the whole “do demons exist or not” argument. It is not really a useful argument so I am not even going to go there. But that does not mean we are not going to talk about demon possession!
So, you are probably saying to yourself, “Self, how can we talk about demon possession if we are not going to talk about demons?” Well, we can talk about demon possession by using the term “demon possession” to represent those things that drive us away from God and away from each other.
In the gospel reading for today, we had the man who, we are told, was possessed by demons. He was running around naked, he had to be chained, and he was living in the tombs among the dead. Whatever was happening to him, it was keeping him from living a life that was complete and fulfilling. If we use our definition, whatever the demons were, we can see that they were keeping him from God and from the community.
What are the demons that posses us in our world today? What are the things that keep us away, not only from God, but from each other? One of the biggest, and probably oldest, demons there is would be the demon of Greed. As we learn more about the housing collapse and about the disaster in the Gulf, we find more and more that people were taking all kinds of risks, doing all kinds of things that could be considered foolhardy at best, to make money. They did not care about what might happen to others. They did not worry how their actions would impact the rest of the world. As long as they were making money, that was all that mattered. The demon of Greed kept them apart from those of the community and relegated them to live amongst the dead. The drive for money became their god and did not allow the true God to speak in their lives.
But collapsing economies is an extreme case. Most of us will never be in the situation where our actions can cause billions of dollars to be made or lost. Even at our greediest, we probably will not cause damages to that extent.
So does that mean that we do not need to talk about demons? What about us? What other demons may be living in our lives? Truthfully, this is the part that I don’t like to talk about because it hits way too close to home. And talking about demons in our lives brings up one of the big demons that we clergy deal with: That demon is the demon is acceptance. I am not sure I want to talk about these demon things because you may not like what I have to say. You may think I am being too hard, or “not living in reality” and you may not want to come here anymore. And then people will get angry with me and it will just become a huge mess. So the demon of Acceptance would be telling me to just be quiet.
How would being quiet be a bad thing, though? Wouldn’t saying nothing bring our community together? Wouldn’t it make us all so much happier? Well, in saying nothing, I would be avoiding my obligation to you as a leader. It is not really much of a leader who allows anything to happen. Think of a coach who would allow the players to do whatever they wanted; wouldn’t be much of a team, would it? The same goes for a church. Sometimes we need to hear that what we are doing is not in our own best interest, let alone best interest of the congregation or other members of the congregation. However, if I were to allow everyone to do whatever they like, it make you all like me, and it may make the demon of Acceptance very happy, it would not make for a healthy and vibrant congregation. And it would not allow us to grow closer to God.
Another demon that seems to be running rampant in our society is the demon of Distraction. We don’t pay attention to ANYTHING anymore! Families sit around the table with their heads buried in their various personal electronic devices. When children cannot even travel from the grocery store to home without having to be watching a movie, there is a problem. I have seen this! I had also been out with a family in a restaurant and one of the kids never once added to the conversation due to being so engrossed in a video game. But it is not only the kids. People walk around with a blue tooth stuck in their ear, because “you never know when someone will want to talk to you!” I don’t think we realize that we are telling the people around us that they, the people we are right in the presence of, that those people are not as important as that person who might call.
Distraction keeps us from experiencing what is really happening. Distraction tells us that what MIGHT be is more important than what IS. And Distraction keeps us from God because we may just miss that important call or that big putt or that last minute touchdown. What I always wonder is: If the call, putt, or touchdown was that important, wouldn’t an all-caring, all-loving God make sure it was part of our lives?
Just like the demons in the gospel, the demons in our lives are many! And they are sneaky! They don’t want to be called out and named. They don’t want us knowing about them because once we know about them, we can start to banish them.
However, another demon can come jumping in right here! That demon is the demon of Self Sufficiency. “I can do it myself!” I don’t need God, I don’t need the church, I don’t need anyone. And that demon is probably as old as the demon of greed if not older. The way that demon stays alive is to keep the person away from those things that could get rid of the demon. The demoniac in the Gospel lived alone and did not encounter people. When the demoniac come in contact with Jesus, the lies of the demons were made clear and the demons were driven away.
We encounter Christ in our world through the people who surround us. When we isolate ourselves from the community of faith, we prevent Christ’s love which is found in the community from touching us. The demons in our lives love this isolation, but this isolation does not help us to grow and mature. Isolation prevents us from truly feeling Christ’s love and prevents us from spreading that love to the world.
This conversation about demons could continue on. I am sure we can find all kinds of things that prevent us from being a part of community and from growing closer to God. But the main point that we need to remember is that our demons, whatever they are, cannot stand when confronted with the love of Christ. Those things that pretend to give life cannot stand when confronted with the true life we find in Christ. We may want to move away from the community of faith, and we may even move away from Christ, but we need to remember that it is WE who are moving away, not Christ. Christ is here, embodied in the community and found around the table. And it is in Christ that we find our strength to live life fully and authentically.