Do demons exist? If so, what form do they take in our modern world? After the shooting Orlando, this is my meditation on the demons that plague our society. (The scripture lessons are at the end of the sermon)
After last Sunday’s shooting in Orlando, pastors all over the country will be somehow referring to it in this week’s sermon. I can imagine how the sermons will go.
Some, probably most, will be of the sort that asks you to see hope in the midst of tragedy. Many of these will refer to some of the people who were killed, and there will be touching stories of how people came together in the face of this terrible tragedy.
There will be angry sermons, from both the left and the right side of the theological and political spectrum. Some congregations will hear about the need for greater gun control while others will hear of the need to limit immigration. Some pastors will talk about how we need less guns, and some pastors will tell us we need more guns. And the worst of the bunch are those who have said the people who were killed deserved it because they were gay. That, by the way, is not a response; it is a pathology.
There will be hand wringing sermons? What kind of people are we? How could this happen? What can we do to stop this from ever happening again? There be sermons about the breakdown of American culture, and how divided we are. There will be sermons calling for a jihad against Muslims, and sermons calling for more tolerance for Muslims.
I think today’s text calls for a different response, so I’m not going to preach any of those sermons.
I’m probably to touch on some things, but I want to say something a little different.
Monday morning, the Mail Tribune’s headline concerning the shooting in Orlando was “Unimaginable.” I beg to differ. The shooting in Orlando was not unimaginable. Is there really anyone here who thought we would never have another mass shooting in this country? Is there really anyone here who thought the one before this was going to be the last one? We knew there would be another. We just did not know when, or where, or how bad it would be. But after Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, San Bernardino, and Roseburg, it is all too easy to imagine another.
It is like these are demons haunting our country. Each new shooting reminds us how helpless we have chosen to be. And this is not the only demon we face. This election season more people than not are saying that the system is broken beyond repair. I heard one person say he was voting with his middle finger this year.
We say we value veterans. When I was flying to Alaska last week, as I was boarding I heard the gate attendant say, “All first class passengers and active military personnel may board at this time.” On the other hand, on any given night there are 50,000 homeless veterans sleeping on American streets. Men and women who have given time and blood to serve our country are sleeping on the streets because we cannot afford the resources to take care of them. On average, one veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan a day commits suicide. One a day. This is a demon that is plaguing our society.
When I first came to this church we gave one or two bag lunches a month. Week before last we gave out almost 100. When I first got here, if we had more than 25 people at the food bank that was a big day. Now that is small potatoes, and we can have between 35 and 55 families a week. In 2014: 48.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households. That includes15.3 million children live in a household where there is often not enough food.
That is a demon that plagues us.
In Jackson County, 21 percent of all males, and 10 percent of all females binge drink on a regular basis. Binge drinking is more than four drinks in two hour period. Law enforcement officials tell us that the major problem in Jackson County is illegal drug use. While it has dropped slightly in the last few years, it is still number one on the list.
That is a demon that plagues us.
And we might not want to admit it, but racism is alive and well in America today, in many different forms, and given recent rhetoric against Hispanics and Muslims, it is a growing problem. If you are black male in an urban area, the chances of you going to jail are greater than the chances of you ever going to college.
One more demon.
In Flint, Michigan, they had some major problems when the auto companies left. The basis for their economy disappeared. So some decisions were made to cut costs, which led to a very bad decision to get the cheapest water possible. They wanted cheap water in the worst way, and that is exactly what they got—water, in the worst way. And the water became undrinkable. The people of Flint tried to tell their government there was something wrong with the water, but the government would not listen. In Flint, between 6,000 and 12,000 children have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead and they may experience a range of serious health problems.
I could go on. Like the Gerasene demoniac in our Gospel story today, who had a legion of demons in him, we, as a culture, also contend with a legion of demons. And these demons bind us and keep us in chains. They keep us from becoming who we were meant to be in God’s eyes. The Geresene Demoniac was hardly a human being. He was kept in chains like an animal.
So what do we do? Is there hope? The story gives us hope. The man was healed. Jesus casts the demons out. He frees the man of the devils that plague him. How does he do it? All we are told is that he asks the man his name. “Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
Who are you? Who are we?
The man answers honestly. “My name is Legion,” he says for he had a legion of demons plaguing him.
The man had his problems, but at least he could be honest. He could name his demons. We tend to ignore ours, at least we do until the rise up and bite us. That is why the Newspaper could say that the shooting was unimaginable. We have already forgotten the last one. That is why we are suddenly surprised to find that working people often end up with a choice between rent or food. And we find it out because they end up on our doorstep.
Who are we? We are Legion, and it seems we cannot cast these demons out.
Why can’t we cast these demons out?
I think we start by asking ourselves some hard questions. Jesus asked the man who he was. That was a hard question, because the answer was, “I am a man plagued by demons.”
We have to ask ourselves some hard questions, like “What do we value in our society?” What is at the root of our problems? Why do we have these shootings? Why do we have so many other problems?
Why do we have veterans sleeping on the streets even though we as a society say we value veterans? Why are so many veterans committing suicide, and not getting the kind of help they need to cope with the problems they have? Because somewhere along the line we have decided they are not worth the money it would take to help them. Nor are the mentally ill. Nor are urban kids in urban schools.
We say that we as a culture value human life. Jesus sells that your treasure will end up invested in what you value. Given that, do we really value human life? Is that where we invest our treasure?
Time and time again we see corporations putting profit ahead of the needs of people. We see politicians making decisions based, not on what is best for people, but on how they have been lobbied by people who have more money than you can imagine. WE make health care decisions based, not on what is best for sick people, but on how cheaply we can provide medical care. We treat our elderly as if they don’t matter, because we say we don’t have the resources as a society to care for them. We see lives affected in numerous ways by the fact that we don’t value human life. From Flint, Michigan to vets on the streets, from children in poverty to drug addicts who have no place to turn for help, from the elderly who end up with nowhere to go at the end of life to average working joe or jane who stopped voting because it doesn’t matter to him or her who gets elected, we have formed a society that does not value human life.
That is the major demon that plagues us.
The people who lived near the Geresene demoniac had one solution to help him—chain him up. Make sure that whatever problems he has is not passed onto us. But Jesus took a different tack. This was a man. He had a name. Jesus treats him with dignity. Jesus shows us what he values—he values people. He knows this man has a name, and he asks him what his name is.
I don’t know how to fully get rid of all the demons that plague us, but I do know that it starts with us putting value on people. It starts when we REALLY start to value human life. Just like Jesus did.
I know that the first part of this sermon has been kind of a downer. It is not easy talking realistically about problems, but I have yet to have a problem that just goes away because I ignored it.
We ignore the problem because we don’t know what do to about them. We ignore the demons, even treat them like guests, because we don’t know how to get rid of them. We get too used to the problems, and we assume that is just the way things are.
St. Telemachus was monk in Asia minor, who felt compelled by God to go to Rome. He made his way to the glorious city. He was from the sticks and had never seen anything like it. He sees a crowd heading into a building, and he follows them. It is a colosseum and when he gets inside he is shocked to see two men, gladiators, fighting to the death in the center of the ring. He jumps between them, and cries out, “In the name of God, stop this!” The crowd is so angry that he has interrupted their entertainment, that they rush him, and stone him to death on the spot.
They were used to death and no hick from the sticks was going to spoil their pleasure. But the Emperor Honorius, who was a Christian, heard of the death of Telemachus. And suddenly this “sport” of watching people kill other people did not seem so civilized any more. In fact, Emperor Honorius realized, with the death of Telemachus, just how brutal this was.
Do we need a Telemachus to tell us that we should treat people better? Do we need a Telemachus to tell us that those who are sick should get health care? That the mentally ill should be given humane treatment? That impoverished children should be given a chance to thrive? That making money selling weapons of mass destruction to known terrorist suspects is not a good idea?
Maybe we need more St. Telemachuses in the world. But Telemachus was only doing the work of Christ.
And we are the body of Christ. We forget that times. We are the body of Christ.
The disciples were trying to cast out a demon in another Gospel story, and they couldn’t do it. They asked Jesus why. And he said to them, “This type of demon can only be cast out by prayer.” Why prayer? Because when we prayer, we become more like Jesus. We become, in a much stronger way, the Body of Christ.
We name the demons that plague us and then we become the body of Christ, to show a different way. Jesus came, partially to show us how important we are to God. And if I am important to God, then YOU are just as important, and if YOU are important, then so is everyone who walks in this door, and who walks on the sidewalk around this building.
You see, we are the Body of Christ to the culture around us. We do not just talk about hope. We ARE hope. We embody hope. We don’t talk about peace. We wage peace. We don’t talk about human dignity. We bestow it on others.
Now you may be thinking, what can I do? I am just one person. I am not a Telemachus. I don’t want to get political. I can’t change the world. I am just one person.
Let’s end today by looking at the Elijah story. You heard it. Elijah was scared. He hid out on the Mountain. He encountered the silence of God. But then, after the silence, God spoke. Elijah, he said, you think you are alone? You think you are the only one who is now worshiping me? I have 7,000 people who have not left the faith, Elijah. Wake up!”
Look around you. You are not alone. You are not just one person. You are not all by yourself. You, all of you, are the body of Christ. And no demon can withstand the power of Christ.
1 Kings 19:1-4 (5-7) 8-15a
1Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.
26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”-29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.