Here we are on this fourth Sunday after epiphany. And so far we’ve followed a star with the Magi, did a Q & A with Philip and Nathanael, and confronted Jonah’s fears and enemies all so God could reveal to us God’s self in the most amazing ways.
As you might recall me saying, God will use anything, good or bad, to get our attention and to bring us back to our rightful place in God’s divine love. Today God uses a demon-possessed man (Read Mark 1:21-28)
As Mark moves us from the seashore to the sanctuary, God moves our attention to a group of people in a Capernaum synagogue. As they sit in awe of Jesus’ powerful teaching, a man gets up and begins to scream at him. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
I can’t help but wonder if this man was screaming before Jesus came? Or did Jesus say something to trigger him to go off the rails?
Do you think the people knew there was an unclean spirit among them? If so, why did they let him enter the synagogue? By Jewish law it would have made the whole place unclean.
In every church, on any given Sunday, sits a person hiding a secret demon that is dying to come out.
Mark says the man cried out and Jesus responded by saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” Jesus speaks to the man’s pain and the unclean spirit submits to the Holy One of God.
Did you notice what happened? How God revealed a divine truth about our Lord? The congregation in Capernaum did. They sat there amazed, and in total awe of what this young rabbi could do.
It might be hard for us to see because we tend to imagine demons and exorcisms like those in Hollywood films. But there is no head spinning or bodies being flung against the walls. All we have is a holy man being confronted by an unholy spirit, and insight into God’s power and authority as it flows through Jesus into the man.
A couple of years ago back in Greenville, I had a similar experience. I stopped into Margo’s Restaurant to say a quick hello to some friends who were in there having breakfast. While I had to decline their offer to join them at the table, I did, however, reciprocate by inviting them to join me at God’s table on Sunday. This not only garnered some laughter but a few uncomfortable stares too.
As I was leaving, a young man in his early 20’s was watching me with an inquisitive look on his face. Embracing the spirit of hospitality, I invited him to church as well. But like my friends at other the table, he met my invitation with a half-hearted smile.
While walking to my car I heard a voice call out to me. Thinking it was the young man, I stopped and turned around only to discover it was someone much bigger and a lot less friendlier. This guy was a great big ape of a man with scars and tattoos all over his body.
He had no problem exercising his physical presence to intimidate me. I used to wear a clerical collar to let people know that I am a non-threatening kind of guy. But in this case it did just the opposite. It only seemed to fuel this man’s rage. By the look in his eyes and the venom spewing from his mouth, I wouldn’t be too far off to say this guy was possessed with an evil spirit. One that clearly didn’t like me.
Now, I’ve been confronted before. But this particular time threw me. And it did so because the guy kept asking, “Who do you think you are, holy man? Who said you could invite my kid to church?”
In my lame attempt I answered him, “I was just doing what God has called me to do, which is to love everyone just as God has always loved me.” This clearly was not the answer he wanted. Just as I thought I was doomed, his anger morphed into accusations.
After a few colorful words he blurted, “You’re a liar because I’m unlovable.” His anger and rage towards me seemed to turn on him. And I realized this victimizer was a victim to his own demons.
I don’t know what possessed this guy to confess that to me, but I quickly assured him that God loved him, no matter what. I told him there was nothing he could do to stop God from pursuing him and loving him. Not even hurting me. And that’s when it happened.
All the rage and anger that had been building up inside him just sort of stopped. It was like that evil spirit just packed and left us standing there in a public parking lot.
I would come discover this man’s demon was the church. Something horrible had happened to him there that caused him to hate God and everyone associated with religion. That bitter demon would grow and festered within him; taking control over his life.
We all have our demons. And I’m sure if you give it some thought you could identify the ones that are yours. And these demons will continue to run and ruin your life, to cripple you with fear and anxiety, until you let them go. As it’s often said in 12-step groups, “Change only happens when the pain of holding on is greater than the fear of letting go.”
The man in Capernaum had figured this out. The epiphany that God reveals to us through this demon is simple yet complicated. It’s simple in that we discover Jesus holds all power and all authority over all things, people and personal demons alike. Your deepest fears, your darkest secrets, don’t even come close to the power of God’s redemptive love you receive through Jesus Christ. He invites you to let them go. And allow God to take care of them for you.
On the other hand, it’s complicated because our demons will do anything to hold on to the power we give them. Let’s be real, they only live and thrive within you because you let them. However, you also have the power to let God do what God does. As a wise meme once said, “Give God your weakness and God will give you his strength.”
That strength is love – the secret to Jesus’ power and authority.
When Jesus removed the unclean spirit, the people in the pews saw more than raw physical power; they witnessed the power of God’s love. Throughout the scriptures, Jesus repeatedly exercised love and compassion to all who come to him. He still does.
Notice how Jesus does not ignore this man, or his demon. He listens. And shows compassion to both. He hears our cries, too. And with the power and authority of God’s love, he delivers us from our anguish.
The take away here is this: Jesus puts his words into action. And I wonder if Christians did the same, would we have less angry demons confronting people inside churches or outside places like Margo’s?
This week I hope that you will set aside some time to really think about the demons that control you. Take inventory of all the junk that’s stopping you from being your true self. Name them. Write them down and pray over that list. And day-by-day give them over to the merciful grace of God’s redeeming love.
I’d like to close with some words of encouragement from St. Paul, who wrote to the church in Corinth, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13 ESV).
That way of escape… is the way of love; the way of mercy, the way of compassion and peace. That way is the way of Christ Jesus. Just as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be forever more, Amen.
Special thanks to Ismael Ruizz-Millan whose essay inspired this message. Christian Century. Dec. 28, 2017. https://www.christiancentury.org (accessed 01 25, 2018).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”