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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko


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 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 6:26-39

Deliverance From Demons

Exorcist vs Demons

Sometime before anyone can remember, a young metal guitarist was practicing in his garage. Unbeknownst to this innocent lad he played an ancient guitar riff that summoned the Devil into this world. This unfettered Hell's Minions who have themselves been rehearsing since they gained their freedom. The day is rapidly approaching for the Demons to unleash their unholy plan upon Earth: Rockapocalypse

The time has come for you to take sides. Or will you join the ranks of Slate Ripskin and strum the chord that shatters the world into oblivion? Will you join Alice and her team of Exorcists to thwart this devilish invasion?

This is the introduction to the Facebook game “Exorcists vs Demons.” It is just one of many that have been created to separate you from your money and help you waste away hours trying to collect tokens, energy points, tools, weapons, machines of war, various ammunition, animals and beasts, and a few very shady characters. My purpose in using it in my introduction is not to entice you to waste your time engaging in the battle to save our planet but its theme connects with the story in today's lesson.

Our culture is intrigued with stories and tales about the demonic. We not only find the theme in online gaming but also in video games, rock music, sports and in films. I am not sure of the exact number of films on this theme because the site that listed them included many that should not have been on the list. However, even casual review indicates that there were more than I realized. Our society's interest in the subject is rather strange considering that prior to the release of the Exorcist, most people did not give much credence to the possibility of the existence of demonic beings. We preferred to view the forces of evil through the lens of Flip Wilson's popular “The Devil Made Me Do It” Routine.

During that anti-supernatural era, the stories from the gospel accounts were still read. Pastors still preached elaborate and eloquent sermons from the text but instead of talking about the reality of evil, they explained that these references were merely the unscientific mind trying to describe what we now call severe forms of mental illness. Rather than labeling strange behavior as demonic and ostracizing people from the village we needed to lock them away and pump them full of drugs. Later we realized that this was an inhumane way of treating people so we pumped them full of drugs, released them to halfway houses and trusted that they would continue to self administer their medication. Please understand that my cynicism does not stem from a lack of empathy for those who suffer from severe emotional and psychological stress but from the pendulum shifts in our treatment. The mental health field has had a utopian view of human nature and mental illness. Politicians have shown extreme insensitivity with their budgeting reductions of human services. However, the treatment of mental illness is not the theme of this sermon, so before I drift too far off course I should return to the topic of our understanding of the demonic today.

Shifting from Individual to Societal

The subject is difficult for me to discuss. I have never had a personal encounter with anyone who has a demonic spirit that I know. I have never witnessed an exorcism. What I have witnessed are overzealous believers commanding, casting, and binding demonic spirits from homes, cars, apartments, office buildings, schools, and people who were suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, and even physical illness. Not being an expert in the subject, I do not want to deny the possibility of the presence of evil in some of those situations but sensationalism can also be used by the Enemy to discredit the true work of God.

However, since I do not customarily encounter individuals who have a demonic spirit in my weekly ministry I must look beyond the literal events of this story to find a personal application. I have to ask myself, do I ever encounter the influence of the demonic in areas of my life or in the lives of people with whom I serve? And if so in what form? The apostle Paul has a ready answer for such a question. He tells the church in Ephesus:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms1

Paul understands that demonic forces wage warfare against Christians through a variety of means. He wanted the church to see that the persecution that they were experiencing did not have its point of origin in the local magistrates but in a spiritual force that was bent on their destruction. In our society the forces of evil do not attack believers through direct persecution but through more subtle means. They attempt to influence by distorting our thinking and our values. They disguise themselves with nearly imperceptible differences. The work of the demonic is not as blatant.

Many years before the vileness of the Third Reich was revealed, Dietrich Bonhoeffer tried to awaken the German people to its evil. He wrote

How can one close one's eyes to the fact that the demons themselves have taken over the rule of the world, that it is the power of darkness who have made an awful conspiracy,”2

The reality is that we cannot close our eyes to the presence of demons in this world.

The Setting

The location of the story is difficult to pinpoint. We do know that Jesus and his disciples traveled across the Sea of Galilee. The entire eastern bank of the Sea of Galilee was Gentile country. Jesus traveled to the region in hopes of escaping the crowds. From other passages we may conclude that he did not intend to preach and teach among the cities.

The actual city of Gerasa from which the region would have gotten it name is located a over 30 miles from the Sea of Galilee. The man may have been from the city or another. We simply do not know.

We learn in the passage that Jesus is commanding the demon to leave the man as he is stepping off the boat and onto the land. The demon tries to deflect Jesus' concentration by revealing a true knowledge of Jesus' name. Jesus responds by demanding to know the demon's name. His question stems from an ancient belief that a person gained domination over another by knowing their name. In Jesus' question we learn a key concept in dealing with demons in our lives. We must name them.

Consumerism

These powers come in many different forms and work in many different ways. They are attractive, alluring, and tragically addictive. We do not recognize them until it they so overwhelm us that we like the man from Gerasenes cannot escape their power. They use generally acceptable means to ensure their willing victims. Historically the church has limited its understanding of demonic powers to the vices — alcohol, sex, and cigarettes. But the influence of evil goes beyond Demon Rum. I like to suggest that one of the most powerful demonic influences in our society is CONSUMERISM.

In its most basic form the buying and selling of goods is not evil but when is enough enough. How many TVs do we need in our homes to watch one TV show? How many bottles of aftershave do use to go out on one date? Can we really justify Blu-Ray when our HD DVD player still works? And does .5 GHz really improve the web surfing experience? Or does the most advanced designed golf clubs prevent us from slicing the ball out of bounds?

We do not often challenge one another with these questions. A friend buys a new TV and we spend time admiring it with envy. We would never question the ethics of the purchase. Why? Because a spiritual power is at work to entice us to seek our personal happiness through purchasing and accumulating.

Imperialism

Another demonic power at work in our world is IMPERIALISM. It is the mindset that justifies an inequality of economic relationships. Our prosperity was built on this. We continue to pay substandard wages for products throughout the world that include commodities such as coffee and bananas, electronic equipment, clothing and automobiles. When this did not take jobs away from workers in the US, we never complained. The inequality continues but now the jobs have been eliminated here. We cannot call ourselves children of God if we continue to go to war to secure access to inexpensive natural resources and refuse to pay fair wages. The enemy forces have used our appetite for inexpensive food and other commodities to entrap and control us. Imperialism says because we are bigger and stronger we will take them.

Racism

I also believe that the demonic power of RACISM is still pervasive in our nation. Dismantling segregated bathrooms and allow people to set in any seat they want on an airplane or bus does not cast out feelings of mistrust, perception of superiority, and attitudes of hatred. Racism is not limited to any one particular race but has gained a powerful stronghold in every racial and ethnic group. The battle over immigration is influenced in part by demonic forces of racism. That is not to say that any one political side is right or wrong. However, the people of God must be willing to allow the power of the Spirit to liberate us from our bitterness, resentment and suspicion. Continual denial only allows the Legion to grow in numbers.

Consumerism, imperialism, and racism are only a few of the demonic forces that are attempting to reside in our soul. I could have also mentioned ELITISM, SEXISM, NATIONALISM, and MATERIALSIM. They are just as strong as any of the others. They are just as dangerous to our spiritual health and vitality. As long as we deny that they have a foothold in our thoughts and influence our actions will will continue to life in a graveyard of despair. However, we do have Good News.

Freedom from The Demonic

        The demons of our society have been defeated by the work of Christ on the Cross. We have been liberated from the forces of evil but that does not mean that they cannot inflict immeasurable damage upon us. Their power is invisible but still discernible to those who have eyes to see. They are the source of moral evil, emotional turmoil, psychological distress, and ignorance. Unlike the Legion who blatantly took up residence in the afflicted man, the demons of our society use trickery, imitation, fraud and deceit blinding people to the truth and forcing us to live in the graveyard of despair.3 But the Good News of the Gospel is that the power of Christ is at work in everyone who claims faith in him and is empowered by the Holy Spirit. We have been delivered from their oppressive powers.

Are you willing to live in the freedom of God's power or under the delusion of demons?

1 The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (Eph 6:10–12). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

2Dietrich Bonhoeffer, quoted by Marva Dawn, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacle of God, p. 5.

3Anon. n.d. Roger Haight: Spirituality and Social Justice: A Christological Perspective. http://www.spiritualitytoday.org/spir2day/823443haight.html.

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