Regarding Demon Possession
Sermon preached by Dn. Jeff Smith on Sunday, October 22, 2023
Regarding demon possession (Luke 8:26-39)
Good morning. So, you may have heard that St. Porphyrius Orthodox Church was bombed to rubble this week in Gaza.
You might have also read how our Patriarch John responded. I know his reaction was controversial and perhaps one-sided, but I wanted to share a selection of his words to provide context:
“What can we say when we see the bloodshed surrounding us? What is happening in Gaza, this painful catastrophe, what we are witnessing is ultimately the result of a displaced Palestinian people. For many years, Palestinians have been suffering from discrimination. I hope this catastrophe will awaken the conscience of the world to intervene and stop what is happening. Perhaps the world will finally realize that a solution must be found. Peace comes when we realize that all people have the right to dignity. We reject violence and killing. We are seekers of peace.”
In this spirit, we will have a Paraklesis for Peace in the Middle East on Tuesday. And I know from experience that our prayer can have a direct impact on the world.
So, let’s consider this violence as we reflect on today’s gospel. Like the violence we witness in Gaza, the unnamed man possessed by a legion of demons is a stark symbol of despair and brokenness; he is isolated, stripped of dignity, and consumed by darkness. The way the gospel describes his possession is graphic and vivid. It is a felt reality. The word demon calls attention to an alien and malign character of disturbing influence.
The demon possessed man is manifestly wretched, ostracized, unclothed, in chains and fetters, but Jesus will cure and save him. This cure will involve suffering and a tearing out of sin. The man is lacking unity where Jesus will give him wholeness.
But rather than be awed by the spectacle of today’s Gospel, and Jesus’ cure is spectacular, let’s take this healing account as a metaphor for our own lives and times. How many of us have been tortured by our own memories? How often have we felt lost, broken, or trapped? How often are we confused and distressed, torn by inner conflict? All of us are implicated by inner division and hostility. How many of us live unsheltered because of economic forces we cannot overcome no matter how hard we struggle? How many of us are enslaved by addictions and no longer know where the addiction ends, and where we begin? How many are imprisoned, excluded, cast out? Where do we find ourselves among occupying armies that brutalize entire communities and hold them captive to fear?
To fully recognize and understand ourselves is terrifying. Our God demands something that is painful to give up, a radical readjustment, a reorientation, and a new form of discipline that includes forgiveness. Freedom is dangerous and costly. But God can become our companion, our comforter, the source of our strength and peace. Beneath the many demons, there is only One God. One Love. To quote the topic of an upcoming Telos Retreat, “Wherever there is evil, good is close at hand.” That was true when Jesus approached the demoniac. It is true in Gaza today.
To sit at the feet of Jesus and to learn from him is to recover our sanity, for He is the word of God by whom all things were made and are held together. Now we can live secure, coherent, and creative lives through His Word. The Christian sits at the foot of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. With an inner consistency and sanity, we too can offer a glad and obedient acknowledgment of truth wherever it is found.
Jesus came to challenge and cast out every power that prevents us from living fully and freely as human beings created in His image. We know that his liberating love is good news. God is at work bringing his kingdom on earth through us today. We are the light of the world. We are the salt of the earth. This is our calling.
May we ask God together to cast off our chains and share the good news of a transformed world through Jesus Christ. Amen.