Demons and Healing and Jesus, Oh My!


Stained Glass in the Chapel at Seton Spirituality Centre


Have any of you ever been to a service at a synagogue? Attendance at one was part of one of my classes at the Atlantic School of Theology. It was a powerful and moving experience… Powerful and moving because I heard words from the Bible proclaimed from a pulpit in a different religion and I felt a profound connection with the Jewish community.

This morning, I invite to you picture yourself in the story we going to hear in just a minute. You are in a Jewish place of worship. Picture this place just as it is this morning, a normal Sunday morning with people gathered to hear God’s word written in scripture and then interpreted. In some way they are people just like you and me… people who love and laugh, cry and wail, are kind and rude. People with children and aging parents. People who have worries and challenges.

In other ways, they are very different from us. They lived in a land ruled by a foreign power; they were burdened by heavy taxes… well in that aspect, perhaps not so different from us. They had little or no say in how their lives were governed.

But they gathered… on the Jewish Sabbath… Friday night and Saturday morning. They would have heard words from the first 5 books of our Bible read, along with a Psalm, perhaps words like this:

111:1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

111:2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
111:3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.

111:4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.

111:5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.

111:6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.

111:7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

Into this gathered community, came Jesus. Along with James and John, Peter and Andrew, the fishermen who he invited to follow him. In this respectful and respectable gathering, there is a man with an unclean spirit. That doesn’t necessarily refer to demonic possession or mental illness. In the time that Mark’s gospel was written, it meant impure, meaning anything that prevented this man from full participation in the life of the faith community.And Jesus heals the man… and they were ALL amazed.

Let’s listen closely for the Good News for us as written in Mark 1: 21-28.

1:21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.

1:22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

1:23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,

1:24 and he cried out, “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.”

1:25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

1:26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

1:27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching–with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

1:28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

So now, you might be sitting there thinking, “Okay Catherine, thanks for explaining that story a bit, but so what? What does it mean for me and for us now?”

These are the questions that came to mind this week as I was praying and pondering this reading in particular:
• What are our demons or ‘unclean spirits?
• What do we need to be healed from?
• How can we lean on Jesus for healing?

We could reflect on those questions individually, as a faith community, the community in which we live and the global community.

Who here has bad habits?  Anyone other than me?  A wise person once told that a bad habit served some purpose. It was a form of self-soothing and anxiety reduction that we all need. Think of a baby… lulled to sleep by sucking on a pacifier. Or being pushed back and forth in a stroller or carriage. The pacifier serves a purpose, the sucking sensation is a reminder of loving closeness and being fed. However, take that same child, add a few years to his or her age and suddenly it seems inappropriate for them to be still sucking on it.

What are some of the things that we use to sooth ourselves as adults? Food? Smoking? Alcohol? Drugs? Sex? Shopping, Endless busyness? Food is often my method of soothing myself… crunchy, greasy, salty, I’m your girl!

And when my life feels chaotic, I want to organize something… it took me a LONG time to realize that I was hoping that outward order would lead to inward order. Instead of spending time with Jesus, I try and distract myself… instead of dealing with whatever is really bothering me, I soothe myself with artificial means. Instead of asking Jesus for healing, I think it is all up to me to figure out whatever is going on.

• What are our demons or ‘unclean spirits?
• What do we need to be healed from?
• How can we lean on Jesus for healing?
What are the things we are addicted to as a church?

The way things are done here? The scarcity that is so often reflected in our conversations and decisions? Conversations about not having enough of anything… especially money.

A colleague responded to those questions with a question of her own, “Do we hang on to our bad habits and addictions because we can’t imagine how life would be if we were healed, whole, and at peace?”

What would life be like if each one of us was healed, whole and at peace? What would our church life be like? What would are communities be like? What would our world be like? Are we ready both individually and communally to let Jesus heal us? And of course, it’s not just ourselves and our church that are bound up by demons or spirits. Our world, the way in which we interact with each other economically, spiritually, ecologically, is hurting. And if you are anything like me, those problems seem so huge that I don’t feel as if I can make any impact on them at all, I try to remember, that while I am just one person, I am also a person. I may not be able to have much impact on global issues, but I can make an impact on my part of the globe.

Allowing Jesus to see our demons, our unclean spirits, takes courage, vulnerability and trust. Courage because opening ourselves to a new way feels risky. Vulnerability because letting Jesus see all the not so nice parts of ourselves can hurt. Trust because the new way is not yet visible.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and prolific writer was born 100 years ago, but his writings have resonance still today. He wrote, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” I would add that organizations of all sorts do the same thing.

David Anderson wrote, “We all climb that ladder. There are ladders that scale the heights of movies and music and dance and painting. Ladders to the top of non-profits and churches and charities. Everybody’s on some ladder.” You can read more of this article here. 

But there comes a time when we realize that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall, that we have been chasing demons, that we are bound by unclean spirits.

What is the healing that this community that we reside in needs? How can we raise out visibility in the community as a church who is concerned about those beyond our four walls? Who in the community beyond these walls in desperate need of the message of God’s love and acceptance? How can we become better connected to the community? Which Riverview stated at one of its core values?

In March, we are hosting a Community Round Table… where we will invite community and business leaders in to see how they and we can connect with the community.
Who knows what will arise out of that?

One of the things I think we were addicted to is thinking too small. But what if we dreamed big? Imagine this place busy and bustling 7 days a week… David Fizzard expressed that delight when he stopped in to practice on Thursday. There was chair yoga happening… people starting to get ready for the Turkey Dinner, people coming in and out of Dorcas… Pat was printing the bulletins… not sure what I was doing! Imagine this place being a bustling centre of the community… concerts and recitals, dinners and coffee houses… movie nights and community groups… We have just had an inquiry about using our hall for an after school program… We have a wonderful facility here… and it is underutilized…

And yes… it will mean change… change in how we do some things… as I said last week, nothing changes if nothing changes… nothing changes for the good if nothing changes… Churches are the worst for saying they want growth… but they don’t want anything to change… well logically, we all know that is not possible. What if we started thinking about change as gaining something we had instead of losing something?

One of the other things I am convinced of is this: Everything we need to accomplish the work that God has for us is right here. I’ll say that again: Everything we need to accomplish the work that God has for us is right here. God doesn’t set us up for failure… we have everything we need to make a difference in our world. We have everything we need to be healed and to offer Jesus’ healing.

Jesus doesn’t come to destroy us…he comes to cast out that which holds us hostage to unhealthy ways of being. And with courage, vulnerability and trust, we can let Jesus see us, heal us and empower us to live in a different way.

Thanks, be to God for the challenge and the opportunity. Amen.

Psalm 111 & Mark 1: 21-28

Riverview and Nine Mile United Churches each had a slightly different version of this sermon.


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