Sunday, June 23, 2013

facing our demons

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading puts us face to face with one of the most frightening things we hear of in scripture – demonic possession …the encounter we read about in today's Gospel is perhaps the most famous such accounts we have from the Gospels. I am legion, says that which oppresses the Gerasene demoniac … a phrase that has had the power to haunt and terrify down through the ages. And look at what this man's life has been like as a result of his possession – he lives, a feared and fearful outcast, among the tombs, his voice a constant scream, naked and ashamed in a society that did not embrace public nudity, cutting open his own flesh over and over again … there is nothing he can do to help himself … and there is nothing that anyone else can do to help him either. They've tried chains, but does didn't work. And we must presume that chains were the last thing that they tried, not the first … so most likely they have tried talking with him and they have tried doctors but to no avail …

And then Jesus comes … and the change is almost instantaneous … because Jesus has power and authority over what is hurting this man … so much so that the horror that calls itself Legion pleads with him for mercy! And that is something for us to note very well: There is no contest, no struggle; Jesus says 'get out' and they are gone … something that we see in many, many other places in scripture. There is absolutely no hint that the devil, the demonic, the powers of evil, the forces of darkness are in some way on a par with God, with Jesus, with good, with light, with truth. Jesus has so much power, so much authority that the people who had been afraid of this poor afflicted man are now afraid of him!

Because these kind of things do scare us – there's no point denying it. Perhaps that's why we tend not to talk about them too much any more. And yet the fact of the devil and the demonic not only remains part of the teaching of the Church, but indeed the Church continues to this day to train and commission priests as exorcists – and that includes the Church of Ireland. And indeed, we have what are called minor exorcisms built into the fabric of our liturgy … for example, every baptism includes a series of minor exorcisms, when the candidates or their sponsors are asked to reject the devil and renounce evil … these same minor exorcisms are also used at Confirmations … and the Lord's prayer, which is part of every liturgy, ends with the line commonly translated in English as 'deliver us from evil' … which in the original Greek reads 'rescue us from the evil one' … words given to us by our Saviour Christ himself when his disciples asked them to teach them how they should pray …
And why would Christ tell his followers to pray to be delivered from the evil one? Because he knew he existed. Not as some kind of abstract idea, but as something real. And because he knew that to pretend that an enemy doesn't exist is to give him a powerful advantage. Because he wanted to arm us in our spiritual battle against the evil forces at work in the world whose purpose is derail us from the path we were created to walk, to prevent us from achieving the destiny God made us for, to ultimately be with him in heaven for all eternity.

It is frightening to think there exists that whose sole purpose is to get between us and eternal life. But what do we hear Jesus say so many times in the Gospels? Be not afraid … we do not have to be afraid of facing up to the reality that is evil in the world … because we can trust in the words that Jesus spoke assuring us that he has power over these forces … words that he backed up again and again by his actions in Holy Scripture … we are protected by the baptism he gave us, incorporating us into his body the Church, by prayer, & by Christ himself. God can and will protect us from this evils … and every time we pray the Lord's prayer, and say 'deliver us from evil' we ask him to. I pray that you will trust the witness of Christ that it a prayer that we must say; and believe both what the prayers says and its power as you say it: in the name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 comments:

  1. This is a great homily (assuming it was a homily). We tend to forget that God and the devil aren't equal adversaries in a war with one another. God's the ultimate Victor and only allows satan to get his digs in so that us children learn something from the struggle.

    I m so glad I read this today. Wish I had read it even an hour ago. Probably would've saved me a headache or two. Heh.

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  2. Thanks Gina.
    yes, it's a homily. I think its important to talk about the subject of the devil and the demonic ... there's too great a tendency to try and slide over it and act as if it either doesn't exist or isn't important.

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