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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

2009-02-01 Mk 01 21-28 Demon Rock

Mark 1:21-28

“Demon Rock”

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian
Church (USA)

Back in West Virginia,
when I was growing up, about once a year some preacher would come to
town on a crusade and burn a bunch of rock and roll albums. Such a
waste. Bad for the ozone and bad stewardship, too. The spectacle
always generated a little news coverage, but it didn't rid the world
of Ozzy Osbourne. Hope springs eternal. I'm sure the preacher was
earnest in his quest to exorcise the demons of demon rock and take us
back to the simpler days when hymns were the only things good,
Christian mothers let good, Christian children listen to. “Guy
Lombardo and His Royal Canadians? Not in this house. Foreigners -
leading down the slippery slope to Perdition.”

Every generation sees
the demons of the next. I roll my eyes at Hannah Montana and blame
her personally for most of the world's economic problems. Our parents
tried to stop the downward spiral of civilized society in ways that
seem quaint and humorous now. And so did their parents. And so did
theirs. Once the demons are out, once the genie's out of the bottle,
you can't ever put it back. Music is just one example. Clothes,
manners, morals – the demons always seem to take whatever's
good and twist it into a sign of the apocalypse.

Jesus didn't destroy
demons. But he did cast them out. Maybe the demons died for lack of a
host. Probably they just drifted along until they found another weak
and willing soul. Demons don't die. They reincarnate in different
forms, in different places, in different times, in different
generations. We can't destroy them. Not even Jesus destroyed them.
But with Jesus' help, we can cast them out.

Do you believe in
demons? A lot of people do. A lot of places in the world have real,
live battles with demons every day. There are religious exorcists who
charge lots of money to cast demons out of troublesome family
members. If it works, great. And if it doesn't, it's permission to
kick the family member onto the street. It's serious, and it's real.
Our church learned the hard way about how real demons are in the
culture of the Congo, through the refugee family we adopted. We
learned that whether or not we believed the demons were real didn't
matter. Their power was real, and their power alone's enough to cause
demonic harm.

Other times, it's
actually kind of nice to have demons. Because then you can say, “It
wasn't me, I was possessed.” It's good to have demons
when you buy too many pairs of shoes, or a really big TV for the
Super Bowl. “Honest, honey. I didn't want to, but the spirit of
Peyton Manning's commercials overpowered me. Right there at Best
Buy.” Demons don't only afflict, they also excuse. If you have
demons, whatever you do isn't really your fault. If family members
have demons, then what they do to you isn't really their fault.
Believing in demons helps us love them, despite themselves.

Personally, I don't
believe in demons. But in the end, I don't think it really matters
whether you do or don't. Because whatever the source - whether it's
little green-eyed monsters or a stream of really bad karma - whatever
their source, evil forces, demonic powers, are real. We see them
every day. As soon as you leave the house, or turn on the TV, or
listen to the competing voices in your own head. Whatever you call
them, or however you envision them, the powers are real.

“Just then there
was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 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."
But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!"
And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice,
came out of him.”

If we were in the
synagogue that day with Jesus and the possessed man, we might say he
had some kind of disease. Or maybe a biological condition. Or maybe a
genetic predisposition. Or maybe a weakness of will. Whatever it was,
we'd come up with some kind of sophisticated explanation. We'd want
to help him. Maybe take him to a doctor, or a therapist, or a
pharmacist, or a support group. And it could help. We're not Jesus,
we can't shout demons out. Wouldn't it be great if that's all it
took? We try. “Straighten up! Get a job! Stop listening to that
awful music!” Jesus had better luck with a verbal approach. Our
approaches take time and community and lots of banging our heads
against the table. But they can work. Even if we can't exorcise the
demons entirely, we can bind their powers, given that the people
we're trying to help want to cooperate.

Have you ever
tried to do an exorcism? Not like in the movies, with Holy Water and
spinning heads. Demons will fill your life with drama, but not the
kind people pay to watch. There are those people who seem hellbent on
their own destruction and you feel like, if they'd just listen to
you, you could fix them. You want to help. Because you care, you
love. Or maybe you're the one everybody's trying to fix and you want
relief, you want peace – you really do – but the demons
keep dragging you back down the hole.

This is scary stuff.
We've all wrestled with demons. And they are Legion. They're not the
scary, make you scream at the movie stuff. They're the slow burn make
your hair fall out, twist your stomach kind of stuff. Demons, real
demons, take “normal” and contort it into some perverse
form, like a fun-house mirror (ironically named) twists a person's
image into something monstrous.

If you're trying to
cast out a demon – from yourself or from somebody else –
may God help you. Maybe Jesus could do it alone, maybe he could just
speak and cast them out, but you're not Jesus. Which isn't to say
it's impossible to tackle the problem yourself. But it'll be a little
less terrifying if you ask for help. Ask a friend. Ask your doctor.
Ask a therapist. Ask your minister. Ask Jesus. Demons are tricky. You
want to make sure the one you're casting out doesn't latch itself
onto you in the process.

Jesus is always the
first place to go for help. Ask Jesus for help. Jesus won't give you
superhuman powers. But he will give you friends, helpers, who can
help light the darkness and carry some of the load. Whenever you're
dealing with forces stronger than you are, you're going to need extra
hands. Not superhuman, multi-human.

Jesus didn't destroy
demons, but he did cast them out. That's an important distinction.
How you understand Jesus makes a difference when you're dealing with
the demons of this world. Jesus didn't come to punish the damned; he
came to seek and to save the lost. He didn't come to cast people into
the darkness; he came to cast out their demons, so they could see the
way, the truth and the life. See how that distinction would make a
world of difference in how you approach the powers of evil? It's
easier to shout, to kill and to destroy. But that's not Jesus' way.

Think about the demon
Jesus cast out that day. What horrible things did it make the poor
man do? It made him stand up in worship and yell at the preacher.
Maybe that's not so scary to you, but I have nightmares about that
kind of stuff. But more than disturbing the sanctity of worship, it
was what he said that showed the demon's intent.

He said, “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.”

Here's that thing about
demons twisting the truth. The demon actually got two out of three
things right. He knew who he was talking to (Jesus of Nazareth). He
knew who Jesus was (the Holy One of God.) But here's the twisted
part. He asked, “What have you to do with us...? Have you come
to destroy us?”

That might not seem
like such a big deal, but it is. It's huge. Because if Jesus, the
Holy One of God is here to destroy, well, isn't that what demons do?

Whenever we try to help
someone out of darkness, it makes a huge difference how we approach
the task. If we come as destroyers, we're trying to cast out demons
with our own demons. We'd have the person trade one set of problems
for another. If we come as saviors, then we're trying to be Jesus.
And we're not even close. But if we come as friends, as people who
care... if we come as people who resist the demon's power without
trying to destroy it or its host... if we come as people who bring
along more people who care... maybe, with Jesus' help, maybe we can
help the person cast out, cast aside, and leave behind the demons
that destroy the sanctity of their lives.