>Preached at RUMC on February 2, 2009
At our Bible Study this past Wednesday night, Pastor Edgardo spoke briefly about his recent trip to Cuba. At one point during his stay, he was walking through a garden and taking pictures. He turned his camera towards a statue of Lucifer, the fallen angel, known to many as satan. Before he could snap the picture, several people in the crowd shouted to him: “No! Don’t do that! What are you doing? Ese es el Diablo! Are you crazy? You don’t take a picture of the devil!”
Needless to say, the experience of Cuban Christians is very different from some North American Christians. “Speak of the devil” – is a cute expression here; it is a subject to avoid at all costs there. People don’t want you taking pictures of the devil there, but here we paint them blue, make them the school mascot, and paste them on everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs. Talk about a demoniac in Cuba, and you might get deacons of the church to surround you with prayer and oil; speak of demoniacs and deacons here and someone will probably ask you why you are a fan of Wake Forrest basketball. Speak of exorcism there, and you are likely to hear personal stories of spiritual warfare and the power of God over evil; say the word exorcism or exorcist here and someone is more likely to ask you which movie you are referring to. When it comes to unclean spirits, demons, devils, and a true sensitivity to the presence and power of evil in this world – Cuban and North American Christians are worlds apart.
But it is not just Cuban Christians that have a heighted awareness of unclean spirits and the “not to be trifled with” power of evil; it is the majority of Christians both today and across time – all the way back to Jesus. Talk to Christians in Africa, in Mexico, in Asia, in the entire Global South – in fact – talk to some of the Christians sitting right next to you in the pew today and you will discover the same. The majority of Christians today and across history do not have trouble believing in healing, because of their belief in Jesus the Great Physician; they don’t have trouble believing in miracles because they believe in the signs and wonders performed by the traveling Rabbi from Nazareth; they don’t have trouble believing in demons and unclean spirits because of their belief in Jesus the Exorcist – in other words – they believe in the Jesus of the Bible.
Don’t take my word for it. Take John Wesley’s. He also believed in Jesus the Exorcist:
Wesley’s Journal entry: Tues. 23. (1739?)
At eleven I preached at Bearfield to about three thousand, on the spirit of nature, of bondage, and of adoption.
Returning in the evening, I was exceedingly pressed to go back to a young woman in Kingswood. (The fact I nakedly relate and leave every man to his own judgment of it.) I went. She was nineteen or twenty years old, but, it seems, could not write or read. I found her on the bed, two or three persons holding her. It was a terrible sight. Anguish, horror, and despair above all description appeared in her pale face. The thousand distortions of her whole body showed how the dogs of hell were gnawing her heart. The shrieks intermixed were scarcely to be endured. But her stony eyes could not weep. She screamed out, as soon as words could find their way, “I am damned, damned; lost forever! Six days ago you might have helped me. But it is past. I am the devil’s now. I have given myself to him. His I am. Him I must serve. With him I must go to hell. I will be his. I will serve him. I will go with him to hell. I cannot be saved. I will not be saved. I must, I will, I will be damned!” She then began praying to the devil.
We began:Arm of the Lord, awake, awake!
She immediately sank down as sleep; but, as soon as we left off, broke out again, with inexpressible vehemence: “Stony hearts, break! I am a warning to you. Break, break, poor stony hearts! Will you not break? What can be done more for stony hearts? I am damned that you may be saved. Now break, now break, poor stony hearts! You need not be damned, though I must.” She then fixed her eyes on the corner of the ceiling and said:
“There he is: ay, there he is! come, good devil, come! Take me away. You said you would dash my brains out: come, do it quickly. I am yours. I will be yours. Come just now. Take me away.”
We interrupted her by calling again upon God, on which she sank down as before; and another young woman began to roar out as loud as she had done. My brother now came in, it being about nine o’clock. We continued in prayer till past eleven, when God in a moment spoke peace into the soul, first of the first tormented, and then of the other. And they both joined in singing praise to Him who had “stilled the enemy and the avenger.”
Don’t take Wesley’s word for it; don’t take the word of most Christians both today and throughout the past two thousand years; don’t’ take St. Thomas Aquinas’ word for it, who wrote extensively on the assaults of demons; don’t take St. Anthony of the dessert’s word for it who testified to being tormented by devils; and don’t take my word for it either.
Take Mark and Mark’s Gospel. The Gospel according to Saint Mark is a story of spiritual warfare in the extreme: good vs. evil, sin vs. sanctification, the Spirit of Life vs. the spirit of death, wholeness and health vs. sickness and disease, sight vs. blindness, the power of Jesus vs. the wiles of the devil. Take some time this week and reread Mark 1 – just the first chapter – read it several times – take notes if you have to. It starts with the proclamation of John the Baptist in the wilderness – the one who announces that the main event is soon to come – in this corner is the old, broken down devil wielding his old tricks of temptation and deceit – but over there – stepping into the ring – there is a new contender in town, the One who comes wielding fire and Spirit.
As soon as Jesus is baptized, satan and Jesus spar for 40 days in the wilderness and Jesus exits as the victor – and from that point on in Mark’s Gospel – the devil has been put on notice. And then, in our passage this morning, Jesus travels to Capernaum, encountering the man with an unclean spirit that cries out “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.
And from then on, Jesus the Exorcist travels the world – chasing the devil back into his corner again and again and reminding everyone else that the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news. The good news that satan has no power where Jesus is concerned. Where evil screams and shrieks to frighten and paralyze us, Jesus silences, rebukes, and sends the devil packing. Where sickness and disease ravage the bodies of both young and old, Jesus anoints, touches, and restores to wholeness and health. Where anger and violence seek to cover the world in blood, Jesus power seeks to cover the world with peace, bringing forgiveness, love and the real possibility reconciliation.
From Capernaum, Jesus enters the house of Simon and Andrew where he heals a mother-in-law of a fever, cures many who are sick, and cast out many demons – not permitting them to speak. In the morning, they head to some neighboring towns where he proclaims the good news in the synagogues and gets busy “casting out demons” – again! And that is only Mark 1. The rest of the Gospel is Jesus chasing satan back under the rock from which he came; Jesus casting out darkness with the soul piercing light of truth; Jesus putting death on notice; Jesus giving disciples the power to turn aside from temptation; Jesus speaking hope into the depressed, forgiveness to the sinner, welcome to the outcasts, patience to the quick-tempered, peace to the tormented, and life to the dead. Spiritual warfare? It is all over Mark – and I haven’t even left the first chapter yet. Haven’t even traveled to the final battle on Mount Calvary where satan was defeated once and for all.
Church, that is the Jesus I want you to encounter this morning. Jesus, the One who has the power over sin, death, evil, and satan. Jesus, the One of whom we sing: Jesus, name above all names ..beautiful Savior, glorious Lord, Blessed Redeemer, and Living Word. But the Jesus I want to introduce you to today is not just the Light of the Gentiles, Bread of Life, Living Water … but also Jesus the Great Exorcist – the One who casts out all fear, all unclean spirits of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.
Jesus, the One who would tell us and gurus on Wall Street that you can’t bail out greed, it has to be cast out in Jesus’ name. Jesus, the One who would tell presidents, kings, and nations that you can’t bomb terrorism away, but you can send it shrieking into a corner through prayer and faith. Jesus, the One who speaks to those paralyzed by fear and shame and says “fear not” for “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” Jesus, the One who speaks to those bound in the chains of guilt and sin and says – “in my name you are forgiven … you are free … you are whole … you are loved … you are made new.” Thanks be to God.
This morning, Mark introduces us to the Jesus who can conquer the spirits of addiction with the Spirit of adoption; the Jesus who can vanquish the spirit of fear with the Spirit of faith; the Jesus who can take a nation hell-bent on war and rumors of war and make them a people of peace-makers heaven-bent towards a peaceable kingdom where swords are beaten into plowshares; the Jesus who can meet you today – wherever you are – whatever you’ve done – whatsoever unclean spirit plagues you – and can make you whole and holy in Jesus’ name.
Let us pray:
Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit (UMH #264)
“Silence, frenzied, unclean spirit!”
cried God’s healing Holy One.
“Cease your ranting! Flesh can’t bear it.
Flee as night before the sun.”
At Christ’s words the demon trembled,
from its victim madly rushed,
While the crowd that was assembled
stood in wonder, stunned and hushed.
Lord, the demons still are thriving
in the gray cells of the mind:
Tyrant voices, shrill and driving,
twisted thoughts that grip and bind,
Doubts that stir the heart to panic,
fears distorting reason’s sight,
Guilt that makes our loving frantic,
dreams that cloud the soul and fright.
Silence, Lord, the unclean spirit
in our mind and in our heart;
Speak your word that when we hear it,
all our demons shall depart.
Clear our thought and calm our feeling;
still the fractured, warring soul.
By the power of your healing
make us faithful, true, and whole.
Update: Some have asked for a copy of what was used as a response to the sermon. Pastor Sue adapted these Prayers of the People from a liturgy of exorcism and consecration that I previously posted here.