What Are Your Demons?
This past week I was not thrilled with the text I had to preach on, a text about Jesus casting a demon out of a man. (Mark 1:21-28) The people who witnessed this were amazed at Jesus’ teaching, because he taught “with authority.” “How do I preach about this?” I asked myself. This isn’t exactly something people today have to deal with…or is it?
As I sat at my desk in the church office, I looked up a at work of art, the wooden depiction of the Last Supper, hanging on the opposite wall, a gift given to me by a couple in thanksgiving…for a demon cast out.
I was twenty-five years old, and a Vicar, or student, working at a church for a one-year internship to learn how to be a pastor. I did a lot of work with the youth. Other adults helped. There was one youth advisor the teenagers liked a lot because she was young, skinny, pretty and “cool.” I was the same age, but eight months pregnant, so night as “cool.” One day this youth advisor called me. She sounded a wreck. “Can you come over?”
Her apartment was a disaster, but she had three little kids, so that was understandable. Her face looked ravaged: red eyes and splotchy skin from crying. She looked at me, and said, “I am addicted to cocaine. It is out of control. I went $10,000 into debt. My drug dealer, who lives here in the apartment complex, threatened my life if I do not pay him. So I had to fess up to my husband, and since we have no money, his parents (a Lutheran pastor and his wife) bailed us out.” She paused, sucked in her breath, then sobbed. “The thing is, the thing my husband doesn’t know yet, is that I did it all over again. We are in debt again, my life threatened again unless I pay…” She looked at me with eyes piercing right through me. “I feel as though I have a demon. Please – cast it out!”
Talk about feeling inadequate to the task. Twenty-five years old and not even ordained yet, a huge pregnant belly, my own fears and all…But I felt her pain, which is what the word “compassion” literally means, to “suffer with” someone, so I laid my trembling hands upon her, and sobbed along with her, and as inadequate as I was and still am, I prayed to God who is adequate, who is the only one big enough to help this young woman, I prayed to Jesus who had compassionate for everyone he met, I prayed to the Holy Spirit to fill her and surround her and protect her…
Then, with me by her side she told her husband. With me by her side we made some phone calls and got her into a three month live-in rehab program. I gathered the youth of the church, and their parents, and told them the whole truth. We put together teams. For the three months she was away, we cleaned her apartment. We made meals. We did laundry. We took turns providing childcare. We had fundraisers to help pay the debt. The whole community of faith surrounded her family and loved them all into healing, which literally means “wholeness.”
So, I ask you: What are your demons? Anyone who battles an addiction would call it a demon without batting an eye. Maybe addiction is not your demon, but you have one. We all do. Maybe it is your inability to let go of your past and forgive yourself, or someone else. Maybe it is anger, resentment, holding on to some grudge. I used to be close to someone who now is all tied up in the knot of anger. It is destroying her relationships with all those around her. It is also destroying her. It is exhausting to hold on to anger. I know someone else who is gripped with fear. He has all these hopes and dreams for himself, but never takes a step toward any of them, he is so gripped, so paralyzed by fear.
So I ask you, what are your demons? The gospel says that Jesus had an “authority” others did not have. The word for “authority” in Greek is “ex-ousia.” “Ousia” is the verb to be, and “Ex” means the way out, something outside. So “authority literally means, tapping into a power “outside of ourselves,” tapping into something bigger than we are.
A Lutheran theologian, Timothy Lull, said that 12 Step programs are the best modern day example of “church” that he knows. That struck me. But then I thought of the Steps. The first Step is “I admit that I am powerless over my addiction.” The Second Step is: “But I believe there is a God/Higher Power greater than I am who does have power over my addiction.” That’s “Ex-ousia.” Twelve Step programs also pair you up with a sponsor, someone who has been where you are, and gotten out, and is further along the road of recovery than you are. Someone you can call when you are ready to break, and they will be there for you. Not only that, but you have the whole Fellowship of AA, NA, OA, etc.
Where would that young woman have ended up if the whole church community had not pitched in to love her back to health? We need community. Even Jesus surrounded himself with community. And when he instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion, he also instituted the church, the community of faith, because the Greek word that means “Do this for the remembrance of me,” literally means, “Continue to get together on a regular basis and do this for the remembrance of me.” Because Jesus knew that this life of faith is not a solo sport. It is a team sport. Tom Brady is great, but he couldn’t win the Super Bowl al by himself. He needs the whole team. We need each other.
Finally, once you have let God, Christ, the Spirit cast your demon out, then you cannot remain empty. You need to fill yourself up with things that make you strong, so there is no room for your demon to creep back in, which it is just waiting to do. In another parable Jesus tells the story of a man who cast a demon out of his house” (which means ourselves), and left the house empty. So the demon went off and got seven more demons and they all came back and had a party in that house! Because it had been left empty. Whenever I know someone who is trying to kick an addiction or some other “demon” out of her/his life, I say, “Be sure to fill your life with healthy, positive things: prayer, healthy, spiritually mature friends, helping others, being part of a community of faith, etc. Don’t remain empty.”
Again, I ask you, “What are your demons?” Hand them over to the One who is bigger than we are, to the one who is big enough to overpower them.
This day, may you see the Holy One in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the Holy One to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright February 3, 2015
Photos: Ruins, Turkey; Cave, White Mountains, NH; Carlsbad Caverns, NM; Turkey; Cappadocia, Turkey; Chaco Canyon, NM; Duke’s, Kaua’i; Church, Kaua’i