February 1, 2009
Edwards (Knox) United Church
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
Click here for an easy to print or email Adobe PDF version of this post.
The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
Driving out Demons? What are we to make of this? In our modern world we have had many theological debates over the term. For some it refers to some psychological problem - or illness, to explain away the word. In doing so we can rob it of its metaphorical meaning and what it could mean to us.
For others, they make demons into an supernatural force. We see this in movies and conservative theological understandings. By making them into an actual reality we create a cosmic war with God. God’s power is limited by an actuality called the Devil. This view is hard to hold theologically because of how we understanding the world scientifically. It makes God less.
So there is a problem with the we ways we have understood Demons. In the first, the reality of evil is lessened. In the second, evil is too powerful. In reaction to the churches misuse of words like sin or possessed, which have been used to oppress us, we have lost the power of words like evil, demons , sin - their meaning has vanished. Yet we are so demon-haunted.
We know there is evil in the world for all we have to do is watch the six o’clock news. As a society we do speak of demons - those things that captivate us, hold us in their grip. We do know the meaning of being possessed. Kathleen Norris tells of a cartoon in the New Yorker. An unshaven, tired, bleary- looking businessman leaving for work, holding a liquor bottle along with his briefcase, and saying to his wife, "It’s Take Your Inner Demons to Work Day."1 We know those things that plague us as a society and how we have internalized them.
Paul’s discussion of idols reminds we know their power. As Bob Dylan has sung, "We all have to serve some one."2 Today it can be hyper efficiency. It may be the worship of the status quo, we have always done it this way. It even may be doing good works rather than the hard work of examining why these good works are needed, why our society has not provided the resources to deal with those less fortunate than us. It may be the self help books that provide an easy fix to issues that have taken a life time to come into reality. It even may be an over involvement in spiritual practices at the expense of living in the world as it is.
So idols and demons are real in their effect on us, they define how we are as a society and as a person. But they are not some supernatural force. Demons are very much a part of our daily living. They are those things that torment us. When we have doubts, fears, anxieties, they sneak into our consciousness and we get stuck in accepting how things are - we lose hope. Demons prey on our egotism, our guilt and shame, our greed and our desire to achieve. Our over active lives leave us little time for reflection. There is a very odd slavery created, it comes from within. It is seen when ordinary people stop caring about the life of the community and the nation. Our modern demon is our inability to think about things outside our self interest. We judge things by our they effect us and not how they actually impact the wider community.
Even in the spiritual search a possession can take place. This is where people purchase a sense of God in the same way they might buy a pair of shoes or a burger. For many it is like going into the fast food spiritual store and picking this tradition and that tradition without understanding that each religious tradition built up meaning over time and within a communal context. Habits of the heart take time to nourish and they take an investment of our whole person.
The problem with demons is they come in appealing forms. They speak our language. An example is the move from personal departments, to human resources and now we speak of human capital. This is an eroding of the spirit. It is much like the loss of the sabbath - for in the sabbath slaves are freed, for in the old economy only free people can take the day off. We have created a climate where taking time off is seen as slacking. Our freedom is commodified into profit and marketing, thus there is no real freedom because we have become inhabited. Think of how we are branded by tee-shirts and running shoes.
Jesus drives out the demon. Does that mean it is gone forever? No the reality is that paradise always has a snake in it. It is wishful thinking that life is without its problems. We are never spared from temptation. Those who are addicted teach us this, for they know they are one drink or shot away from being inhabited. So Jesus does not give magical protection from all evil.
The driving out the demon is a spiritual practice of living in this world. It is not about rules. Rather people behave because they are able to see their situation for what it is. It is discernment and naming that allows us to live. It is a self reflection and less self consciousness. It is to see what it is that imprisons us, how we turn to idols, to love the devil we know rather than affirming life lived in the moment and in the ordinary reality of every day activity.
Self reflection is not easy. Bad thoughts do lead to bad activity. Just look at how we treat others. It is found in how we reject homosexuals, Native Canadians, in racism, fear of other religions, and in our tolerance of poverty.
The point of driving out demons in the name of God is so we can name them and tell them they do not define us. It is to have the courage to resist their advances. In the naming through God, God is seeking to work with us to live well. God defines us. It is to receive the Grace of God which gives us integrity to have a realistic assessment of ourselves and the world. Spiritual reflection is to determine whether the call is from God or ego. If we do something because we feel good, while that can help, the spiritual call is to go deeper - to do something without the goal of feeling good - even at a cost to us, to do it because it is needed by others.
Spiritual activity drives out those ideas that are not worthy of us. Inadequate thought and speech always translate into inadequate action. Spiritual renewal helps us live up to our potential, no longer playing it safe, being cautious, prudent. Faith and hope call us into a vision wider than our narrow world and they are the resources to name the demons that inhabit our world, that invite us to be less than we are. Faith is a resource to say yes the world is dangerous and we will live with love. Faith can give us strength to resist. And resistance comes when we name the personal and corporate demons around us. Faith when lived with passion, and with depth, can unblock the acceptance we have that such things as injustice, poverty, and perpetual conflict as normal and inevitable. Faith can allow us to imagine in this moment the sense of God calling us to healing and wholeness. Freedom does come with deep spiritual self reflection. That in this moment we can live knowing that God is in us and around us, and that is sufficient. We can name our demons because they have no power over us, for in the naming we experience God’s unconditional love.