a sermon for the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany
Through Christ, God stands against all the evil forces that seek to destroy us. God stands against the demons that rob us of our identity and our humanity to separate us from God and each other. And just as importantly, God stands against our own efforts to demonize each other.
Demons. Of all the stories we have about Jesus, the ones about demons (or unclean spirits) are probably the hardest for us to relate to. When I think of demons I think of Linda Blair’s head spinning around in The Exorcist. Or maybe Jack Nicholson saying, “here’s Johnny!” in The Shining. Hollywood’s depictions of demons are something dark, supernatural, something spooky.
Today’s Gospel reading takes place at the very start of Jesus’ earthly ministry. First he was baptized by John. Then he’s immediately driven out into the wilderness for 40 days and tempted by Satan. Then, as we heard last week, he meets up with his disciples. And now they go to the big city of Capernaum, and begins teaching in a synagogue. And no sooner does he do this than an unclean spirit, who has taken possession of a man, cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? You have come to destroy us! I know who you are: the Holy One of God!”
Jesus immediately recognizes the man is possessed by a demon, an evil force so oppressive that his life has been robbed of all joy, meaning and purpose. This unclean spirit holds this man captive – he’s no longer free to participate in the life of his family, his synagogue or his community. So Jesus confronts the demon; he calls it out and sets the man free.
Most of us – as modern, enlightened people – don’t have much experience with demons but we understand their effects. Because a demon is nothing more than that which consumes every aspect of our lives so completely that we lose sight of our God-given purpose for living. Maybe our demon is alcohol or drugs; maybe it’s pornography or lust; maybe it’s gambling or working too much or spending too much money. Maybe it’s envy or jealousy, anger or profanity, or even the demon of loneliness. The point is that anytime our lives are consumed so completely that we forget that we are children of God called to lives of abundance, we have succumbed to our demons. The damage caused by these demons is undeniable – broken lives, lost jobs, pain and alienation – both for those directly affected and for their families.
But if Jesus Christ means anything, he shows us that God stands against all the evil forces that seek to destroy us. God stands against the demons that rob us of our identity and our humanity to separate us from God and each other. Christ Jesus came into the world to restore us to the abundant life God wants for us – a life full of freedom, a life full of joy, a life full of meaning and purpose and love.
God is opposed to anything that robs us of abundant lives with God and with each other.
And just as importantly, God stands against our own efforts to demonize each other.
We are living in demonic time. By that, I do not mean that the world is filled with evil spirits. But it is filled with evil language and bad intent. We live in a time when it has become common for us to demonize one another.
How often have you heard someone demonize another person because of their political beliefs, or the color of their skin, or the place they were born, or their religion? How often have we been the victim of that demonization? How often have we participated in it?
If Jesus calls out the demons of addiction, abuse, and apathy, then surely he must also stand against the times when we demonize our fellow human beings. Because Christ came into the world to save all sinners, not just the ones who look or think like us. Christ came to save us all – both from the evil that surrounds us and the evil that lies deep with us. Christ came into the world to shine a light into our hearts, so that we might reflect his light to all the rest of the world.
The challenge we face is identifying the demons in our lives. What are the unclean spirits that prevent you from living an abundant life of freedom, joy, meaning, purpose and love? And in what ways are we demonizing other people, robbing them of those same freedoms? How does our own language and behavior dehumanize those around us? Who have I labeled “unclean” simply because they are different from me?
In every service of Holy Baptism, we make three renunciations:
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? I renounce them.
Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? I renounce them.
Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
I renounce them.
My friends, we have been marked with the sign of the cross of Christ forever. We have been called into covenantal relationship with God and each other and all of God’s beloved to live among God’s faithful people, and to share in God’s healing of the demonized people of the world, by following the example of Jesus, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.
God came into the world through the person of Jesus Christ to confront our demons: the demons of violence and oppression; the demons of harassment and abuse; the demons of addiction and loneliness; the demons of racism and supremacy. Jesus came into the world, so that the entire world might live in the abundance of life, love and joy that God intends for us all.
Thanks be to God.