Sunday, 21 June 2015

We all have our demons

These notes form part of a sermon preached at the United Church Dorchester, Dorset, on the evening of 21st June 2015 based on the passage Luke 8:26-39, where Jesus heals a man possessed by many evil spirits.

We all have our demons – or so it is said.

Indeed some people go looking for them – Charlie Charlie is popular at present and is a variation on the Ouija board where supposedly a Mexican spirit is summoned and talked with using two pencils which point to yes or no.

Of course demons in the Western World are not so fashionable now – or at least not in the Church.  We should be careful lest we lag behind a world that recognises that if there are spiritual or supernatural forces behind the world then it should be no surprise that they act as if they were, well, forces!  So while I am sure there are all sorts of occasions when people in extreme states are such because of perhaps mental illness, emotional damage or another health problem we should not be too quick to dismiss a spiritual underlying cause for some conditions, whether that is an inability to forgive which finds its outworking in a physical condition, a resistance to God’s will which results in headaches or stress; or oppression by dark spiritual forces which results in messed up lives.

Why would I believe such stuff of demons and Devil?

First because before I became a Christian at around the age of 16 I used to dabble in these kinds of things and from my experience I would say that they can be real, unhealthy, and dangerous.  Second because I have seen people struggle with what seem to be dark spiritual forces and been called in to minister in homes and lives where things are happening that cause great concern and are outside normal human explanation.  Third because the Bible talks of these things.  I do not believe that the 1st Century mind simply didn’t understand the clever things we do now and blamed everything on the Devil. Sure there is a danger of blaming everything on the Devil – and a danger of blaming nothing on him!

So I do not have any difficulty personally in seeing this passage as I find it.  In some way the man has been possessed (I think a rare but possible condition) and it has driven him crazy.  Nakedness and broken chains are indications of this.  Mark’s version (Chapter 5) tells us he screamed and cut himself.  He is hanging about the place of the dead.  We might reflect on whether we hang about the places of death and whether we get used to the idea that death frames the context for who we are and what we are about.

This man has his demons.

What holds you?
Is there something that seems to be your demon (whether or not literally)?

And in terms of this passage where is the true authority and power?  It is of course in and through Jesus.

Let me develop the way that Jesus demonstrates that authority and power through the Word of and about Jesus.

The Promise of the Word
Before our passage are these verses.
22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side of the lake.’ So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’
26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes,

Jesus said ‘Let us go over to the other side of the lake.’ 
On the way across there is a great squall such that the boat was swamped and they were in great danger.  Disciples feared they were going to drown.  And Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and waters which subside and there is calm.

The disciples feared for their lives – understandably.  But they had missed something.  They had missed the Promise of Jesus.  He said “Let us go over to the other side of the Lake”.  If that’ is where Jesus says they are going then that is where they are going and, come hell or high water (and possibly both are involved), they are still going over.

The promise of God in our lives is something to hold onto.

Where do we find the general promises of God?  In Scripture.  Through the Bible we know that God loves us (John 3:16); that he wants to guide us (Proverbs 3:6); that he will be with us (Matthew 28); and so much more.

Then sometimes we sense a particular and specific promise from God towards us.  There have been times for instance when Christians have prophesied God’s promises over me.  I wonder if we have sometimes sensed or heard the specific promises of God in our lives.  Maybe whispered in our ear; maybe through another believer; maybe as a result of a set of circumstances.
We need to hold on to those promises, both the general and specific.  There is a Salvation Army hymn called “Standing on the promises of Christ my King”.  One verse reads,
Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

The Power of the Word
29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man.
When Jesus meets this situation he deals with it not by brute force (nothing had managed to hold the man even chains – he had burst them).  Instead he deals with it by the word.

The word of Jesus is such that the demons within the man “Legion” recognise who Jesus is – “Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” and they have to obey.  Even before the crucifixion, even before the resurrection, even before the ascension, the forces of darkness recognise the name of Jesus, and they bow!

I do not know if darkness threatens to overwhelm you.
I do not know whether there is something within your life that is burdensome and which makes you fearful.
I do not know whether there is something within the deepest places of your mind and heart that makes life feel hellish every day.
But this I do know, that whatever that thing is its knee must bow before Jesus.
Whatever Goliath faces us and strikes fear into us is as nothing against God’s David of Jesus.

What is the word of Jesus tonight for us?
Where is that powerful word – maybe from the Bible or maybe whispered in our ear?  The power of the divine word means that whatever it is that holds us is cast aside by the word of Jesus?

If there be such a thing seeking to bind or oppress us speak the powerful name of Jesus into that situation.  Whether it be a person that oppresses or bullies us; whether it be a financial situation that seems to be spiraling out of control; whether it be a family situation that we do not seem to be able to resolve; whether infirmity has us in its grip and the pain is great and the hope has gone, invite Jesus to be the power that can break the chains that hold us.

The power of the Word of Christ and the prayer offered in the name of Christ is such a powerful way of standing against these things that threaten to overwhelm us. “The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission.”  Jesus is the one who gives permission.  What power there is in Jesus.  As the chorus says “There is power in the name of Jesus!”

The Proclamation of the Word
38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.

There is a proclamation of what Jesus has done.  This is good news.  Jesus is Good News.  Like the man who had found new healed life in Jesus and who told people about what Jesus had done for him so we are to proclaim what Jesus has done for us.

The Works of God are powerful and it is a privilege to share them with others.  Perhaps God is asking you to do that in the particular and specific way, maybe through the ministry of preaching.  If so please talk to someone and prayerfully explore that.  However, even if we do not have that specific call to a preaching ministry we still have an obligation to share good news of Jesus.

I read this quotation recently,
“Every Christian occupies some kind of pulpit and preaches some kind of sermon every day.”

Where is our pulpit and what is our sermon?