Casting out demons


Sermon
The Rev. Sheila M. Scott, Deacon
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus and his disciples arrive at the country of Gerasenes, where a man possessed with demons meets them. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”.  Jesus asks him: What is your name? He replied “Legion” for he was possessed by many demons. Jesus orders the demons into a heard of swine, and restores the man to wholeness.

The townspeople react to Jesus’ action with fear, not because they recognize His authority but because they fear his ability to destroy social and religious order and to restore the “unclean” to society. This goes against everything they built up around themselves to protect their social and religious privileges. Someone they relegated to the margins of community now was ready to be reintegrated into their common life. Jesus was changing their well-established social order, and that terrified them, so they asked Jesus to leave.

This story is about more than healing, it is about confronting evil. Jesus is doing battle with evil which confronts humanity at every turn, it feels as though, now more than ever.

Just like in first century Judea, there are legion of evils that we are faced with today. Unbridled power, greed, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, gender and sexual discrimination, and hate top the list of evils we are faced with.

Power in and of itself is not bad. There is socialized power – a power to benefit others; and personalized power – a power used for personal gain. The problem is when personalized power dominates and the leader gains, at the followers’ expense. Leaders can become intoxicated by power, engaging in wrong behavior simply because they can and they can get away with it. Unbridled power leads to corruption. Those who seek to control and maintain power at all costs, will do so without a sense for the need of justice and mercy.

Greed is a demon that is threatening to make us slaves of want. Greed or avarice has always been one of the deadly sins, but today the desire to have the best, the latest and most expensive of everything is overtaking peoples’ lives more than ever. Things become more important than human beings, money becomes one’s god.

We in the United States are well aware of the demon of racism. It gave rise to slavery, the brutal slaughter of innocent victims, untold suffering, relegation of an entire human race to reservations, segregation, mass incarceration and ongoing discrimination and injustice. The demon of racism continues to be alive and well and infects our world today.

The demons of xenophobia have possessed this country going back to the immigration of the Irish and other ethnicities, to Hispanics, Japanese, Chinese, Middle Easterners, etc. giving rise to internment camps, deportations, discrimination and continue to affect the lives of those who are considered other, by the dominant culture.

Unfortunately we are all too aware what the demons of homophobia lead to: discrimination, marginalization, scapegoating, and senseless violence against and killing of innocent young man and women who happen to be of different sexual orientation or gender identity.

There is so much hate and fear in this world. Unfortunately, many of these evils have been perpetrated in the name of religion. Religion, which should encourage tolerance, respect, and compassion, peace, caring and sharing has far too frequently done the opposite. Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and exacerbated intolerance, injustice and oppression. Religious fundamentalism and literalism has given rise to extremism in many religions.

Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu writes in God is not a Christian: “We need so much to work for coexistence, for tolerance and to say, I disagree with you, but will defend to the death your right to your opinion. It is only when we respect even our adversaries and see them not as ogres, dehumanized, demonized, but as fellow human beings deserving respect for their personhood and dignity, that we will conduct discourse that just might prevent conflict. There is room for everyone; there is room for every culture, race, language, and point of view (p. 52).”

As the Gospel passage reminds us, the demons are legion. So what can we (you and I) do to combat all these evils in our world?

I believe we have to first accept that we are complicit with those who perpetrate these evils as long as we close an eye to or accept any form of discrimination and/or injustice as long as it does not directly affect us. We cannot claim to be blameless, as long as we do not stand up for the rights of every human being, no exceptions.

It is not enough to know who Jesus is, and proclaim to be his follower, we have to be transformed by him. We often pray for more faith, but the need is not for more faith but for actions with that faith which one has already been blessed by God. Radical transformation occurs in a person’s life when Jesus is allowed to impose God’s order on the chaos within.

Christianity, when authentically practiced and lived, frees us from our demons! We see this clearly in Christ’s command to his disciples: “Go and preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out demons”

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs” says Howard Thurman, “ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive”.

We often wonder where is God when bad things or tragedy happens, when innocent people are killed, when it is hard to make sense of the extent of hate in others.  God is with us when we give aid to the suffering, care for the victims, he cries with us when we offer a shoulder for one to cry on and we cry with them, when we allow them to lean on us for strength, when we stand with them in solidarity. We cannot let hate win, we have to counter hate with love, for our God is love.

In the words of the OT prophet Micah: “He has told you, O mortal what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)”.

 

I would like to close by reading the verses of the song we sang this past Thursday evening at the Interfaith service at All Saint’s cathedral:

We are called  (words and music by David Haas inspired by Micah 6:8)

Come! Live in the light! Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord! We are called to be the light for the kingdom, to live in the freedom of the City of God!

Come! Open your heart! Show your mercy to all those in fear! We are called to be hope for the hopeless so all hatred and blindness will be no more!

Sing! Sing a new song! Sing of that great day when all will be one! God will reign, and we’ll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love!

REFRAIN

We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly, we are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God! AMEN