This Week's Focus: "Name Your Demons"
       Click the link for Luke 8:26-39 

Dear Friends,

As miracles go, casting out demons is probably my least favorite. The blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame walking… these are all familiar, even conceptually comfortable, miracles. Raising the dead, while obviously a much higher order of miracle, is still relatively easy to visualize.

Conceivably a faith healer could cure psychosomatically induced blindness or deafness. But death is a completely different matter. Only the author of life can command death. Jesus uses his power over life and death to proclaim his divinity and foretell his Resurrection and ours. But what’s all this exorcism business about?

For starters, it’s a more complex miracle. The other miracles are all two-party transactions: the miracle worker and the recipient. Exorcism involves a third party. And that party is the wildest of wild cards.

A literal reading of this gospel identifies the pathogen as Satan, embodied in a legion of demonic underlings. A more clinical reading diagnoses the intruder as a schizophrenic alter ego that controls and tortures its host; manifesting itself in increasingly obnoxious, alienating and dangerous behaviors.

Sadly, these demons still walk the earth. How else to understand the plague of slaughter in our schools and in the public square? Whether it is the result of a crazed “lone wolf” or the product of demonic possession, it is evil unleashed… wreaking havoc on the innocent. It is evil inviting us to over-reaction, conjuring up a greater cycle of violence… hardening our hearts… frightening us… calling us to blood lust.

And Satan couldn’t be happier. That way lies madness. That way we don’t resist evil… we invite it in… to mirror the very demons that torment us. So what to do? What would Jesus do? Temper justice with mercy. Fight evil, but protect the innocent. Look for God’s hand in all things. Seek his guidance. Champion his love.

Each new massacre is an abomination, but sadly not an aberration. The pattern is painfully clear. Hardly a month goes by without these demons lashing out… to gun down a dozen moviegoers, three dozen children and their teachers, a tourist family at a train station… or most commonly… mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, wives and children who have struggled for years to confront and contain the demons that haunt their suffering loved-ones.

Christ is not afraid or repulsed by the man possessed. The same is true for so many families who still cherish memories of a loving child… now hardly recognizable in the angry, unkempt young adult who stands before them. And yet their child is still their child; perhaps more helpless now than when their cute kid pictures were taken. How simple life would be if we had the power to drive their demons into swine… particularly before they lash out to do themselves and others harm. While we don’t have that power, Christ gives us another. We have his love and we can share it in so many loving ways.

In the hours immediately after five of their children were gunned down in their schoolhouse by a man possessed by some unknown demon, the grieving Amish community offered this prayer: “I pray for this man’s wife and the load she must be carrying. Father, help her deal with this in the hard days ahead.” Later one grieving parent added: “I realize that if I didn’t forgive him, I would have the same hole in my heart that he had… The devil feels like he’s had a heyday. But people all over the world are praying for us.”

Let us join in those prayers right now. For those suffering from mental illness… Lord have mercy on them. For their loved ones… Lord give them strength. For their victims… Lord give them your peace. For our country and its leaders, that they make recognition and treatment of these tortured souls a national priority… Come Holy Spirit.

And finally, let’s pray for ourselves. Christ asked the possessed man to name his demons. We should ask ourselves the same question. Are our demons obvious…  drink, drugs, internet porn? Or are our demons hidden, but just as pernicious… pride, resentment, hypocrisy, greed or just a low-energy indifference to loving God and neighbor?

Possession in the form of mental illness is not a binary condition like the common cold… in which case you either have the virus or you don’t. Mental illness is a continuum of pathologies ranging from the trace to the pervasive, from the dormant to the virulent. Beyond medication and therapy, one constant ingredient for both prevention and cure is the love of Christ. Live it. Share it… and you’ll never be afraid to name your demons.


A Reflection for 
The Sunday after Pentecost
©The Reverend Canon David F. Sellery

Copyright © 2019 David Sellery, All rights reserved.

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