Awakening from Delusion - On the 6th Sunday of Luke
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on October 20, 2013
I do not like to talk about demons much. They are so into themselves that I don’t want to cooperate in their narcissism.
Also, I accept completely the Orthodox understanding that sin, death, and the devil (along with the demons) were defeated when Jesus died on the Cross and was resurrected, so It seems a little un-Orthodox to give demons as much credit as some people do. They are not gods. They are not omnipresent, or omniscient, or omnipotent. They are creatures and sad ones at that, best not given a place of prominence because they do not have a place of prominence.
One thing about them does interest me though. That is, one of the signs of their influence is that when they are around and given a place of prominence, they tend to make people crazy. In our Gospel story this morning the demoniac is exorcized and afterward, we are told, he sits before Jesus “clothed and in his right mind.”
There seems to be a connection between being in your right mind and being free of demonic influence whether it is from some actual fallen angel or simply demonic in nature and more typical like fear, pride, possessiveness, greed, lust...you know, that kind of stuff. Being in your right mind, I think, is a sign of spiritual health just as not being in your right mind is a sign of spiritual disease.
That is why I think that perspective is so important. We need to adopt a proper understanding of God, the world, ourselves and our neighbors. The Orthodox Church insists that right belief is essential and I absolutely agree. That is, for most of us, where we must begin to change our minds from being deluded to being, as the Gospel says, “right”. “Put on the mind of Christ,” Paul writes. So let’s do. We can’t do it all in one fell swoop, but we can do it, little by little. So let’s start with the Orthodox perspective on who we are.
Dan Hakim sent me a most wonderful link to a graduation speech given by George Saunders at Syracuse University. Saunders is a teacher there and an acclaimed writer of essays, short stories, novellas and children’s books. It touches on the message I want to give you to take home today.
Saunders tells the students:
That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
In that little paragraph is the core understanding we Orthodox have about who and what you and I are. If that perspective is off, then we will not “be in our right minds.” The perspective is this: we are made in God’s image. The image of God is who and what we are. Nothing can take that away. Nothing can change it. We are mirrors that reflect God’s glory. His glory shines in us all the time. The mirror is dirty, but it is there. It needs to be cleaned and polished.
At the core of every human being, writes St. Gregory Nazaianzus, is this amazing spark of divinity, created by God, put there by God which nothing, not even sin and death and the devil, can adversely affect. Sin obscures our vision of this truth. Fear distracts us from seeing it. The traumas and pains of life keep us from touching it. All this negative stuff makes us believe wrongly that we are not the image of God, that we are separate from God, that he is far away from us and we are far away from him. But this is not true. It is impossible. The Psalmist tells us that the will of God cannot return to him without accomplishing its purpose, so the image is indefectible. It is like a seed that cannot be destroyed and it is growing and will grow forever until it reaches full fruition over and over again because there is no end to growing.
At the beginning of the spectacular movie GRAVITY a phrase pops on the screen. “Life in space is impossible.” The movie is ostensibly a space movie, but it takes place in two spaces. Outer space, above our heads, and inner space inside our heads. Life in outer space is impossible, yes. There is no air, or warmth. But life lived mindlessly, without a proper perspective, in “darkness” is also impossible because without a good understanding of who we really are we will drift aimlessly and be lost in a darkness of our own making.
The answer is, as Saunders says, to “Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous space. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.” I could not give better advice or say it more beautifully than that. Clear it all away through spiritual effort, through love, through compassion, through worship, and sacrament, using every tool available to awaken yourself from the delusion that God is not (right now and always) closer to us than our heartbeat, closer to us that our breath.
The demons represent all those things that support the illusion of separateness. Jesus calls Satan the “father of lies” and the greatest of these lies is that God does not love us, is not in us and around us, caring for us all the time, that there is no luminous core, no image of God in us. To be in our “right minds” means to know He does and is and we are.