Jesus, Demons, and the Healing that Restores Us Rev. Curtis J. Preston. Lakewood United Church of Christ June 12, 2016 Luke 8:26-33

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1 1 Jesus, Demons, and the Healing that Restores Us Rev. Curtis J. Preston Lakewood United Church of Christ June 12, 2016 Luke 8:26-33 This morning I m inviting you to join me on bit of a journey and I ll admit from the very beginning that I don t have this all figured out. I honestly and sincerely don t know what to say about demons. I know there are a lot of folks who would say that demons are not real. I know a lot of folks who would say definitely demons are real. I know plenty of folks who would say that when the Bible is talking about demons its really talking about mental illness, or addiction, or some disease they didn t have a name for, or any of the other things that have been happening in the lives of people for probably as long as there has been people, but we didn t know what to call it or what to make of it. So maybe they said, she s possessed. Or that s a demon at work in him. Maybe what we know call schizophrenia, or depression, or bi-polar, or dementia is what they used to call having a demon. But as I ve been thinking and praying and reading about this scripture, as I ve been pondering what I might have to say about demons I m not sure that I have to have it figured out. When I was a kid I remember reading a book about a boy who was possessed by a demon. I have long since forgotten the title and author, but it was a story of a boy who was off at boarding school. And he had a hard time making friends cause he was shy and awkward. Until this demon came and befriended him. But the demon wasn t scary and wasn t mean at least to start. It was kinda small and sort of lovable in a way. Like anyone s childhood imaginary friend. The demon and the boy would go to the park. The demon and the boy would go to the cafeteria. Only the boy could see the demon, none of the other students or teachers could. And it all went along pretty well for awhile. But then the demon starting encouraging him to make some not so great decisions. Like the demon encouraged him to skip class so they could go play. Or the demon told him not to hang out with certain kids because they wouldn t understand and they wouldn t like him if they knew he had a demon for a friend. And pretty soon the boy was really messed up. He stopped doing anything except exactly what the demon told him to do. He was totally alone. And over time it came to be that the demon was destroying his life, taking away all the good stuff that was there but the boy had a hard time seeing the good stuff cause the demon

2 2 told him lies. Like nobody liked him. Like going to class was pointless. Now thankfully the story had a happy ending because one of his friends never gave up on him and came to him and helped him get rid of the demon not that I remember exactly how they did it. And it doesn t really matter. What I ve come to believe about demons is that demons are those aspects of ourselves, those aspects of our lives, that seek not our own well-being but ultimately our destruction. They are those things within us that work against us. They are those parts of ourselves that hold us back from being who God is calling us to be. And if we have that definition in mind, then demons, whatever other name they go by, are most certainly real. And they can and do have real consequences in our lives. Now some demons are smaller ones they are that uncontrollable anger that flairs up out of nowhere. They are that thing that someone said when we were little about how we were useless, or stupid, or ugly. They are that way we have of telling ourselves that all the problems in our lives are all our fault, cause we didn t work hard enough, or have enough faith, or perhaps our demons tell us that its always someone else s fault and we are never responsible for anything. And these smaller demons they distract us and they hold us back in certain ways, but they don t ever get big enough to really control us. But some demons are big. And here is where we are in a bit of tricky water. Because I want to say to you this morning that mental illness depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, or any of the other myriad of mental illnesses that we know are real, are aspects of ourselves that seek not our own best interest and wellbeing but our destruction. We know that 1 in 4 people suffer from what could be defined as a mental illness. And we as a church have started a mental health awareness ministry because we want to be part of breaking the stigma associated with mental illness, and we want to be part of bringing good, helpful, science-driven information to the community about mental illness. And we want folks to know that people with mental illnesses are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime than they are to commit it. And we know that mental illness is real. And it is hard for the people who have it and hard for the people who love them. And something similar could be said about addiction. Addiction is an aspect of ourselves that seeks not our own best interests and well-being but ultimately seeks our destruction. And the same could be said for eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. The same could, for some, be said about traumatic events in our lives, that eat away at us and gnaw at us and tell us things

3 3 about ourselves that aren t really true. And so while I believe that when a person is dealing with these difficult issues they are dealing with something that seeks their own destruction and that it, in a way, takes on a life of their own. It in a way, has a personality. It in a way is like what I imagine having a demon might be like, but I say that with hesitation because I don t for one second want to give the indication that mental illness, and addition, and eating disorders aren t real. They are real. And depending on your understanding of demons, demons aren t real. So as we continue to go through the rest of this sermon, I ask you to please hear me when I say that if you aren t willing to get on board with the working definition that demons are those aspects of ourselves that drive us not towards our best self but ultimately towards our destruction, that s fine. You don t have to. But that s what I mean when I say demon and working with that definition demons are real. And they have the power destroy lives as many of us in this community are well aware. Demons have the power to drive us from community. They drive us into isolation. They push us to the outskirts of town. And many of them are strong enough to break the chains with which we try to bind them. Like the boy in the story I read and like the man we meet in today s lesson from Luke, demons love isolation. Demons love the one on one and they relentlessly seek to move people away from community, away from the people who love them, away from the help which has the power to banish them. The man we meet in today s lesson is living among the tombs, not with people. He s naked, he s unpredictable, he s isolated, and he s been told he s not safe around community. Demons lie to us about who we are, they tell us we aren t worthy, they tell us we are unloveable, they tell us we are a burden to the people who love us, they tell us that they alone love us for who we are and that everyone else wants to change us. Demons try to convince us that we don t need anyone s help. They tell us we should be ashamed or embarrassed or that we should be strong enough to do it on our own. These demons, whatever other names we have for them, need to be called out. And if you are living with a demon, or you have lived with a demon but now you are free, even if its still a struggle, then you know what I m talking about. So here s the thing about the demon that Jesus encounters. The demon knows who Jesus is. Even when the disciples are confused. Even with the religious leaders are baffled. The demon has no doubts and the demon knows that Jesus means business. Because everything that demons are about are the opposite of the things that Jesus tells us we need for wholeness, and healing,

4 4 and wellness. Demons say, you can do it on your own and you are better off without everyone else and Jesus says, we all need somebody. We can t and shouldn t do it all on our own. We are made for community. Demons say, you are unlovable and Jesus says, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Demons say, more is better more booze, more money, more drugs, more work and Jesus says, less is more. Giving is better than receiving. The last shall be first. The demons say, no one can help you, and therapy is for losers, and those drugs that the docs have that say they can help you, they are just trying to sedate you so they can control you. And Jesus says, no one is beyond redemption, and God is always creating something new, and forgiveness starts with ourselves and moves out from there, and to be really healed we need to be restored to community, and brought forth from isolation, and reminded whose we are and who we are. I wish it were as easy to banish our demons as it seemed to be in Jesus day. I wish it were as simple as saying, I give my life to Christ and not to you addiction, not to you depression, not to you workaholic tendencies, not you to anger, not to you jealousy, not to you bitterness. I wish it were as simple as standing before God and saying heal me. But I don t think it is. But I do know that demons are real, whether they are the parts of ourselves that seek our destruction or some spiritual force we can t define. And if demons are real then healing and restoration is real too. As followers of Christ and as the hands, feet, voice and heart of Christ here and now, we are asked to be part of the healing and restoration of those who have battled demons, those who are battling them still, and those who have suffered great loss because of the demons that our loved ones couldn t defeat. The man in today s story was a person. A beautiful and broken person whose demons had driven him to the tombs, driven him away from people, driven him to the brink of death. And his demon, named Legion (who has his own Wikipedia page, which means he must be real) his demon named Legion knew that if Jesus got involved it was gonna be bad news for the demons. If Jesus got involved he might as well jump ship into a herd of pigs and run headlong into the lake. Cause Jesus and the life that he offers, Jesus and the life he invites us into, doesn t play well with what demons like best shame, embarrassment, and isolation, and fear. So if you are here this morning and you are struggling with a demon, you are not alone. If you are here today and you need some help, you are not alone. If you are here today and you know a person fighting a demon, love a person battling a demon, or lost a person to a demon, we are here with you. We,

5 5 as followers of Christ, are strengthened by the one whom demons most fear, the One of never ending grace, the one of unconditional love, the one of rich and diverse community where all are welcome. It is my hope and prayer that we might fight these demons as One and banish them as best we are able. In the name of the one who heals us and restores us to community let the people say Amen.

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