What is it that’s inside of you, deep within your bones, that seems to haunt you? Maybe it feels kind of like a distant memory, never fully formed, never right there at the forefront of your mind, and yet...it is always there…you can’t escape it.
What is the one thing that, if the Lord Christ himself was standing here, now, you would ask of him, “Won’t you please take this thorn from my flesh?”
What is your demon?
As humans, flawed and broken as we are, we all bring something with us when we come to the altar. Regrets that seem to gnaw on us each and every day. The memory of an altercation that never peacefully resolved. A hidden addiction…hidden as much out of the inability to overcome it as it is because we are ashamed to admit we are powerless over an outside force.
Perhaps you feel it is something more than psychological, or physiological. Perhaps you find yourself hearing the story of the man with an unclean spirit and say quietly to yourself, “That’s me.” I can’t help but imagine this poor man, beset by something diabolical, waiting in the synagogue, the holy place…waiting for release, waiting for deliverance, waiting for a time when he won’t be overcome by this tidal wave of anger, desperation, and fear. Waiting for so long but never being able to find the release he so desperately needs.
Perhaps you believe that you, too, are beset by devils, demons, by something more than just a painful memory, a misspent youth, a shameful secret.
Whatever it is…whatever your demon is…whatever you have carried with you to this place that ever causes you to feel a sense of desperation…hear these words as if they were meant just for you: “Be silent, and come out!”
Having prepared himself for the complex struggles his ministry would force him into…struggles against religious leaders and traditions that stifled the power of the very God who set the Big Bang into motion with a single word…struggles against the iron fist of an occupying legion known for violence and domination…struggles against anything diabolical that stands against the unfolding Kingdom of God…Jesus entered the synagogue to worship and to teach. Amazement filled the room. A fresh teaching, something new, filled with authority. A sharp contrast to what the scribes had been offering for generations.
And this fresh teaching, this vibrancy, came face to face with the unclean spirit crippling and debilitating the man. ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’
What have you to do with us…an expression used throughout scripture to indicate the absolute and insurmountable difference between two things. But here, it’s a cry not of opposition, but fear…the realization that the demon’s time was up. This demon, quivering before his destruction, aware of his demise. For the deep truth that even this demon knew is that anything which separates us from the healing and liberating love of God simply cannot remain in the presence of the Holy One!
And what a witness this miracle is. The Venerable Bede, an seventh century monk, captures so well the power of this story: “It was appropriate, since death first entered into the world through the devil’s envy, that the healing medicine of salvation should first operate against him…The presence of the Savior is the torment of the devils.” As the Gospel of Mark tells it, the very first public act Jesus engaged in is the silencing of a demon…the silencing once again of the devil’s envy…an envy that seeks to claim that which rightfully belongs to God.
The presence of the Savior is the torment of the devils. In a way, it doesn't matter whether you believe in actual demonic spirits or whether you interpret these stories through a more psychological lens. All of us know what it feels like to be oppressed by something. And so I ask again, “What is your demon?” Bring it to light. In this moment, in this holy place, be vulnerable and risk naming whatever it is that remains for you a source of torment, of shame, of anxiety. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have one of these ‘demons’, one of these ‘devils’ that holds you back, drags you down. But for those in this place who hear the story of the man with an unclean spirit and say quietly to yourself, “That’s me”, there is something for you in this Gospel that is deeply liberating. Realize that the struggle to overcome whatever it is that feels as overwhelming as a legion of demons is not really your struggle. It’s not your fight. In fact, it’s not really a fight at all. All there is for us to do is to put ourselves at the feet of the Holy One of God and hear him say to whatever it is that is crippling us, “Be silent, and come out.”
Be silent, and come out. No ancient rituals, no holy water, no priest or prophet. Just the voice of one having authority saying to you, “You are my child. My beloved. I see your pain. It has become my own. I hear your prayers. I have brought them to my Father. I hold you deeply in my heart and I say to the voices of unworthiness, of fear, of pain, anxiety, oppression, addiction…shut up. You have no claim over my beloved.”
*A sermon preached at St. Andrew's On-the-Sound Episcopal Church on February 1st, 2015. The Gospel text was Mark 1:21-28.