Let the Healing Begin

Sermon, 9.27.09"Let the Healing Begin" Rev. Erik Bonkovsky Mark 1:21-39

[Click here to listen to this sermon in its entirety.]

A couple members of our church recently went on a mission trip to Africa, where one of them was invited to take part in an actual exorcism.  His takeaway from the event was that the people there were aware of a very real spiritual warfare going on amongst them, and that demons were a palpable threat rather than just a bedtime story.

This passage in Mark basically outlines a typical day in the life of Jesus, and in the course of the day it shows him casting out demons.  Demons are not something that's a part of our everyday lives, at least not in that language.  But we can relate to things in our lives that are controlling us and oppressing us.  The things that in Jesus' day were called demons, are now called obsession, compulsion, and addiction.

Our songs and our poetry betray us, though, for in them the concept of demons is very evident.  As INXS sings,

Devil inside / devil inside / every single one of us / the devil inside

And as W.H. Auden writes,

We are lived by powers we pretend to understand: They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand.

And here's a popular quote from the movie The Usual Suspects:

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

Our modernistic, scientific minds like to slap secular labels on these things, but in the third world we come face to face with reality.  Humanity has fallen from the state that God designed for us.  Sickness, death, and mental and emotional upheaval are everywhere.  Ever since Satan deceived Eve we've been deceived over and over again to think that we can take things into our own hands and be successful.

When Jesus casts out the demons, people are shocked.  It's the same way we're unsettled by our church member's story about the exorcism.  On the holiest day of the week, when it's most important for Jews to be ceremonially clean, he interacts with the most unclean thing imaginable.  And then, by casting the demons out, he does work on the Sabbath.  This story is showing us the character of Jesus and by default, the character of God: it's not about rituals or rules, it's about setting people free.  And he doesn't need a bat's head and toad's foot to concoct a spell to cast out demons, instead he does it with just a word!  He heals with great authority.  In the same way, he heals with great intimacy.  He touched Peter's mother-in-law when he went to heal her, a gesture that would not have been kosher at the time.  The way he acted was unsettling for some, but Jesus explodes the rules!  With true healing it's always a scandal.  It was in Jesus' day, and it continues to be in our day.

So the question we ask ourselves is, "How would we treat a demon-possessed person, if one walked into church today?"  It's too late...one already did walk in.  I walked in with my demons, you walked in with your demons...we wall walked in with our demons.  They're not quite as "on display" as the ones in the passage, but it doesn't make them less real.  Whatever you call your demons -- self, lust, depression, etc. -- they control you, stop you, and limit you.  They are the power of darkness in your life, and they separate you from God.

The message of hope here is that Christ cares.  He wants to take our hurt away.  In his life he always moved toward afflicted people, and he healed them with intimacy and love.

There are two ways that people typically react to this passage which miss the message of hope:

  1. We dismiss exorcisms as a pre-modern thing.  It's easier not to respond to them or to entertain them as serious ideas, because it seems contrary to our self-aggrandizing sureness of everything around us.
  2. We react with jealousy.  We wish that things were as concrete and obvious now as they were then, and that Jesus could come and simply deliver us as he did for the demon-possessed man.

These reactions miss what Jesus did on the cross; what we have access to now!  He already died for this.  These vignettes that Mark gives us show Jesus as a physical, temporal healer, but they point to what comes next.  They point to something greater, that demons have no claim on us any more.  That grace is free and infinite, and that we can take it freely and often.