I Believe in Demons

Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Smith Fry
Sunday, February 4, 2018

Mark 1:29-39

“Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

I’ll be honest—this passage has always made my womanly dander go up.  We have Jesus healing a woman—and when she’s healed, she gets up and serves him. Typical.  How chauvinistic, I thought.

Then I remembered when I got sick about 3 years ago.  I battled the flu, then got pneumonia on top of it, then pleurisy.   If Jesus had come to my side and miraculously healed me while I was shivering with fever and exhausted and coughing to wake the dead—if he had made me completely better with a touch of his hand—like he did with Simon’s mother in law—I would have been so overwhelmingly grateful that serving him would have been the least I could do.  To be able to get up and feel fine again—after weeks of illness—heck–I would have cooked him a 7-course meal!

Those of you who have been sick this year—or really ill at any time in their lives, knows that helpless, life sucking, energy draining feeling of being out of control of one’s body.

Jesus healed the sick. We hear that in the Gospel. But there’s one other thing he does in the Gospel today.

He also cast out demons.

Scholars tell us that the term “demons” was kind of a catch all phrase for anything the people who lived 2000 years ago didn’t understand.  Epilepsy was considered to be caused by demons, as were mental illnesses such as depression, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.

If you look at the context whenever language about demons is used in the bible, the context is nearly always medical.  The demons cause people to be unable to speak, cause seizures, make people run around naked, scream, cut themselves…  But these demons don’t abuse other people, or steal, or kill. These “demons” usually describe misunderstood medical conditions.

So—some of you may be thinking—she doesn’t believe in demons. Some of you will be sighing with relief at that, some of you may disapprove.

But I do believe in demons. And I believe they cause medical conditions, both mental and physical.

The definition of demon is: an evil spirit, or an evil passion or influence. OK.   Now— evil is defined as: something immoral; harmful; injurious.  So a demon can be any spirit – or unseen force–that harms us, or makes us behave in harmful ways.

Oh yes, I believe in demons.

Demons are excellent shape-shifters and can morph from one form to another. Some of the more common demons include: Secrecy, Fear, Anxiety, Addictions, Worthlessness, Gossip, Anger. But there are many others.

Episcopal priest and theologian Matthew Fox puts it this way:

Evil is the shadow of angel. Just as there are angels of light, support, guidance, healing and defense, so we have experiences of shadow angels. And we have names for them: racism, sexism, homophobia are all demons – but they’re not out there.

 

He’s right. They’re not outside of us. They are inside of us.

“There is nothing outside a person which entering him can make him unclean; but it is the things which come out of a person that make him unclean.”  (Mark 7)

We carry our demons inside us.  And they’re hard to get rid of sometimes.

Our demons pull us away from God– away from ourselves, away from the building of the kingdom. And they can make us physically sick. Every doctor here can tell you that people who are perpetually angry have a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. Depression has both emotional and physical symptoms.

So it’s time to pay attention to our demons. Instead of shunning them, ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist, we need to look at them honestly, and ask them what their purpose is.

I know why I got sick 3 years ago. It was my twin demons of overwork and lack of margins.

Sometimes it’s our very sickness that teaches us.

If I wasn’t going to live with any margins—making space around tasks, instead of running from one thing to the next–I was going to see – dramatically—what would happen to me. I was going to work myself into a place where I was so depleted in energy reserves, I would be laid open, vulnerable to the germs I would have no reserves left to battle. Germs that probably wouldn’t have been able to gain a stronghold if I hadn’t let my demons have free rein.

But if I wasn’t willing to turn and confront my demons of overwork and lack of margins, my demons were altogether to happy to control me. And they did. But it taught me something. My sickness showed my demons for what they were: harmful spirits.

Some demons are harder to lick. Worthlessness can lead to despair, which can lead to addiction or worse. Just because a demon doesn’t have a pitchfork, doesn’t make it less deadly.

I would love to have my demons healed. Wouldn’t you?

We need to be open and honest enough with ourselves to really look at our demons. If we ask, Jesus will show us what they are. If we really want to know..

And then comes the hard part—we need to be willing to live without them. To let them go. That may not be as easy as it sounds. Sometimes we really love our demons.

That’s why Jesus always asked what people really wanted before he healed them.

And when we’re ready, and when he does heal us of those spirits that harm us—and we are free and whole:  I bet you anything we will be overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude, and we’ll say: thank you Lord- I am truly healed. Now how may I serve YOU.  Amen.