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Disposing of Demons
Once upon a time, a duck named Sherman had a birthday party and all his duck friends came. It really got rowdy and they made so much noise that some cows in the neighboring barn telephoned the police. Everyone at the party got arrested and it wasn't a happy birthday for Sherman. The End.
Would you like to know the moral of the story, or would you rather know how a cow dials the phone?
Stories are wonderful devices used to generate images, to illustrate points, to stimulate interest and to convey a message. However, the secret to gaining the most from a story is to focus on the message or moral, not the details.
The same is true of our Scripture lesson today. If we focus on the details of the story we will become bogged down and miss the wonderful message. We will never be answer some very basic but perplexing questions about the story.1 e.g. Why is Jesus cruel to animals? How could he have caused the owners of the pigs such a financial loss? Did Jesus really believe in the popular superstitions about demons? Why did Jesus have to ask the demon his name? Didn't he already know? Rather than impose our questions upon the text, we must be willing to listen to the message of the text.
The story could easily be dismissed as irrelevant because of the archaic description of the man's illness. The language of demons and exorcism appear bizarre and extreme, a superstitious way of describing the unknown. We are painfully aware of the abuse and mistreatment people who suffered from various mental illnesses received because they were suspected of being possessed by demons. Some would prefer to push this story aside and credit it to the primitive mind. However, the basic intent of the story has a powerful message on the liberating power of God.
THE DEMONIC AND MENTAL ILLNESS
The story that we are about to consider is more than a story about the deliverance of one man from the demonic. For me it illustrates, how Jesus heals us from all types of emotional turmoil. During this sermon when I refer to demons or the demonic, I am referring to all forms of psychological, emotion and sometimes, physical stress that the situations of life put us under. In saying that however, I want to be perfectly clear that I do not believe that all mental illness or mental distress is caused by demonic possession. If you or a family member has suffered from any form of mental or emotional distress, I am not saying that the person is possessed. Some forms of mental illness have an organic origin, while other forms are situational based. The Evil One has powers to attack us in many different ways. That is why we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from evil" A better translation of those words would be "from the evil one." Evil is not a neutral, abstract force. Evil is a very real presence that personalizes its assaults on people using the situations of life to produce emotional turmoil. When a person cannot cope with the stress, they begin to suffer from either a severe physical aliment or some from of mental illness.
Actual demonic possession is much different than mental illness. It has a much different cause and much different manifestation. I am not going to say much about it because a) I have had little experience in dealing with it and b) it would side track us from a much more fruitful discussion of how Jesus can heal us from the emotional turmoil of our lives.
So let us consider the story to discover the elements that are important in the man's illness and how Jesus brought this man healing and deliverance.
In the story we learn that the man is plagued by not one but a "Legion" of demons. I am going to use that concept and describe three types of demons that haunted not only the man of Gerasenes but you and I.
THE LORD OF ALL NATIONS
Luke has followed the lead of Mark in connecting the story to miracle-of the calming of the storm. Early that day Jesus had the disciples travel across the Sea of Galilee. The boat ride across the lake was a rather frightening ordeal for the disciples. A storm struck suddenly and with such incredible magnitude that even those experienced fisherman were scared for their lives. To their amazement, Jesus calmed the storm the way you and I would blow out a candle. Still unsettled by the events on the lake the disciples arrived on the shore near the region of Gerasenes. The area lies west of Israel. It is primarily a Gentile settlement. We do not know why Jesus chose to travel outside the boundaries of Israel but we can guess why Luke included the story.
The physician was writing his account for Gentiles. He wanted to show them that Jesus was not just the God of a tiny dusty unimportant nation. Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, the Lord over all of the nations, Jew and Gentile. By linking the healing story with the calming of the storm, Luke presents to the reader a God who has power over the forces of creation and the forces of evil. Luke is telling his readers that this is truly the Son of the Most High God.
THE MARKS OF A PAIN FILLED LIFE
The Demon of Isolation
Luke tells us that the man lived among the tombs. The tombs provided a grim setting and dramatically illustrate his detachment from society. The patterns of hiding from reality may have begun long before this.2" They may have started with lonely walks wandering the countryside away from the family, or just as time alone in the house not talking with people. Slowly the periods of isolation grew longer and longer until complete separation had to be made. His inner turmoil could no long tolerate the companionship of others.
Lloyd Oglivie writes:
The result of hiding what we are and have been always produces sickness like that. It is interesting that "alienated" was the word used in antiquity for an insane person. The alienated person is out of touch with himself, others and reality.3
The Demon of Isolation is a very dangerous companion. Isolation is must different from solitude. In solitude, we are alone with God. Angels minister to us affirming our dignity and self worth. We are reminded of our giftedness and how God has worked through our lives. In a person's loneliness, the demon reminds them of all their failures, all their mistakes, and all their inconsistent attempts. Every embarrassing and shameful experience is remembered and elevated in importance. A person's thoughts are filled with their own problems and they are overwhelmed with feelings of failure. They become trapped by the negative voices.
In the early stage, the man could easily be helped, but he may have waited. He may have thought that he would someday have the power to get his life in order and to turn things around. But that day never came and the inner turmoil intensified.
The Demon of Unrestrained behavior
If the Demon of Isolation is allowed to work unchecked, he opens the door for the Demon of Unrestrained behavior. Rules are broken, laws are manipulated authority is resisted. The man in today's passage could not be contained even with chains. He would break loose and become uncontrollable. He would wander in the mountains wailing and crying out. What may have begun as an inner turmoil had exploded into an overwhelming, uncontrollable rage? He could not find satisfaction in people or things. His inner turmoil drove him on a desperate search for inner peace until he became an uncontrollable sociopath.
The Demon of Self-destructive behavior
Alone and out of control, the man was then vulnerable to the Demon of Self-Destruction. This demon enticed the man to express his self-hated in tangible ways by inflicting himself with pain. Our patterns of self-hated are manifested in much more subtle ways. We overindulge, overeat, and overwork. We depreciate our achievements and belittle our own giftedness. We refuse to take credit for the good that we do.
THE DEMONS ARE DISPOSED
For the man, his family and the people of Gerasenes the situation appeared hopeless. They appeared to have a non-involved attitude. "Leave the man in the tombs, so he does not hurt anyone else everyone was to keep their distance. Provide him with some food so he does not starve. Maybe one day the gods will end his suffering and our misery." That day finally arrived when Jesus decided to take a boat ride.
The healing begins when the two at quite a distance from one another. Luke tells us that Jesus having sensed the presence of evil had begun to cast the demon out with prayer. This immediately began a spiritual battle. The unclean spirits sensing the presence of the divine were struck with fear. Jesus completes the healing by casting them out. At his word, the demons must respond. The healing though begins and ends in prayer.
We talk a lot about prayer and the power of prayer to heal and change lives and situations but do we really believe it. Even as a pastor I find it hard at times to always believe, to always have the confidence that my prayers will make a difference in a person's life. I see few demons cast out, people still die, people still go on doing mean things to others. C.S. Lewis notes, "Every war, every famine or plague, almost every death-bed, is the monument to a petition that was not granted."4
Richard Foster in his book on prayer tells us that even the famous church leader Saint Augustine was at one time a healthy skeptic. The famous bishop questioned whether people could still be healed four hundred years after the death of his Lord. But one day a brother and sister came to his city seeking healing of convulsive seizures. They came to church every day to pray. Augustine tolerated them but did not know how to adequately advise them. Nothing happened for many weeks until the second Sunday before Easter. The young man was praying in the crowded church, Augustine was in the vestibule waiting for the procession, when the young man fell to the ground as if dead. In a moment, he stood staring at the crowd, perfectly normal.
The Bishop of Hippo had the man over for dinner to discuss the validity of the healing. Slowly his skepticism eroded. The next Sunday Augustine had the man stand before the congregation so that the people could see him while Augustine read a statement written by the young man. It was a rather perplexing sight. The young man stood perfectly normal while his sister next to him trembled. After reading the statement, Augustine asked everyone to be seated and prepared himself to deliver a sermon on healing. He began but was interrupted with shouts from the congregation. The young woman had fallen to the floor and was instantaneously healed. When she stood up Augustine's wrote, "Praise to God was shouted so loud that my ears could scarcely stand the din."5
PURPOSE OF MIRACLE STORIES
Just as Jesus does not invent parables but simple watched them happen, so the gospel writers do not invent miracles. They simple watched them happen and recorded the accounts. Luke's account was not created but reported to encourage believers to "trade [their] healthy skepticism for a wholesome faith."6 He wants the gathered community in Rome to know and believe that through prayer even the power of evil can be defeated. Therefore, there is nothing to fear. Through faith the awesome prayer of the wind can be stilled, through prayer the terrible, haunting presence of the demonic can be cast out.
Now what would you rather know, the moral
of the story or how the cows dials a phone?
1 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, The Anchor Bible, (New York: DoubleDay, 1970), p. 732.
2 Lloyd John Ogilvie, Life Without Limits, (Waco: Word, 1975.), p. 98.
3 Ogilvie, Life Without Limits, p. 98.
4 C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, p. 58.
5 Richard Foster, Prayer Finding the Hearts True Home, p. 215 quoting Augustine, The City of God, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Daniel J. Honon (New York: Fathers of the church, 1954), p. 450.
6 Ibid., p. 216.
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