Proper 12C – Wrestling with demons
1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a
St. Luke’s, Burlington
Earlier this week I was whinging in the office about how I have to preach a sermon on father’s day with a gospel lesson which tells the story of the Gerasene Demoniac!
One of our administrative assistants (who shall remain nameless) said, “Well that’s easy, fathers have demons!”
After the laughter, I returned to my study and thought, “Well, she’s not wrong!” I have been a father long enough to know that!
The thing is, these days, we really don’t do demons. At least they don’t seem to figure highly in our collective psyche. We sometimes understand mental illness or even psychosis and we try to put all bizarre and unreasonable behaviour into those categories. Sometimes even fatherhood! I mean, you don’t have to be insane to be a father, but often it helps!
Perhaps because we are uncomfortable with the concept of demons, there is a tendency to preach on one of the other readings when every three years we are presented with these lections.
It’s a pity because it really is a ripping good yarn, and it would have been an especially good one to Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries. This story is full of action and it is not without humour
In this one story there is a naked whacko, a legion of demons, a herd of squealing pigs (unclean of course) jumping like lemmings into the sea, a riot of Gentiles (also unclean of course) who are afraid, not of the demons, but are afraid when they have left! I’m sure that Jesus’ Jewish neighbours would think this was terrific entertainment! “Those unkosher gentiles on the other side of the lake are even weirder than we thought!”
However the essence of the story, beyond the humour, is some really good news about what Jesus’ mission was about. Jesus shows that he has power over anything which would separate us from a relationship with God. It doesn’t matter how powerful, or scary, or crazy or incomprehensible it is. Jesus can tackle it, and can heal our broken relationship with God.
The man who Jesus heals had been driven out into the wilderness by the demons. He was also driven there by his own people who simply wanted to bind and control him. The wilderness was his place of escape and he made his home among the tombs of the dead, instead of the living. This man was running from the worldly power of human society and the spiritual power of evil. Jesus is more powerful!
The wilderness is the place where God seems to do his best work. It is away from the distractions of human construction. It was in the wilderness that Jacob wrestled with the angel and prevailed. It was in the wilderness that the children of Israel formed as a nation before entering into the promised land. It was into the wilderness that the spirit drove Jesus after he was baptized, and it was there that he struggled to find his way forward. It was from the wilderness that the prophets spoke to the people of the city – calling them back into faithful relationship.
It was to the wilderness that Elijah ran when he feared for his life. Elijah went from feeling on top of the world, to sinking into the depths of despair and even to suicidal thinking as he struggled with his demons in the wilderness. Elijah was fleeing from the worldly royal power of Queen Jezebel. God is more powerful!
But notice that Jesus’ power and God’s power are unconventional.
God was not in the earthquake, nor the powerful wind, nor the fire. God was in the sound of sheer silence. What does that sound like? Is it the place, perhaps, where there is the absence of anything – not even sound. Is it not in the absolute wilderness, outside of human construction and invention and noise? Outside of logic and intellect.
And Jesus’ power is not in chains to bind or other force, but it is in the absolute power of his love, which calmly and courageously sees into the heart of the matter, enables us to name our demons and to set us free from them.
What are the powers today that get in the way of our relationship with God
There are still the same old ones – worldly powers – politics, the evil use of might, war and violence. There are the psychological ones – our fears and despair, our lack of confidence – our demons which sometime control us.
He said: "In this troubled age some people say the church is giving in to the trends of the times. But the real danger is not in yielding in ethics or morality or in forsaking scripture or the Christian faith but it is the battle against cynicism and hopelessness."
But Jesus is more powerful than any of this. If we will follow him. A relationship with Jesus will overtake any power, and will allow us to be part of God’s plan, rather than working against it.
And finally, here, I get back to Fathers, and how we can be a wonderful part of God’s plan to build the kingdom, even if we do have our demons to struggle with!
In a Church where usually 75 percent in attendance are women, fathers can make a huge difference. Yesterday, when we hears Dr. Jean Chamberlain-Froese speak she had a brought a young Ugandan woman along with her. It was her first time in Canada and when she saw the crowd she said to me: “Don’t you have men in your Church? It is a fact that among families where fathers attend Church, the children are ten times more likely to remain faithful Church goers into their own adulthood. Fathers have a huge role to play in building a Christian community. And they can do this simply by showing up!
But along with showing up, God has other plans for you to be engaged in building the kingdom. And this is certainly good news, because we all know that father like to build stuff.
And finally, whether you’re a father or mother or neither: what are the powers which control you and your life? What demons are you wrestling with? Perhaps they will drive you into the wilderness where you will meet our lord who will set you free. Amen.