In this celebration of Communion, and installation and ordination of our new church leaders, Rev. Lentz’s sermon begins around the 28 minute mark.
I really resonated with Simon Peter’s mother-in-law last week as I was in bed with the flu. And I am sure that many women resonated with the verse that reported that as soon as his mother-in-law was healed, she got up and served the men! #Ouch, #Getyourownmeal!
But what really caught my attention was the focus of Jesus “casting out demons.” He wouldn’t let them speak because they knew who he was.
There is something about spirit recognizing spirit. Like “honor among thieves,” those who have spiritual power recognize it in others.
On a positive side, this is why as Christians we recognize the spiritual power of Gandhi, of Black Elk, of Malcolm X when his pointed criticism of both of white supremacy and the Movement hit the mark. Christians are not the only ones who recognize truth and righteousness!
It is also that the “good” shines a bright spotlight on evil and evil scurries away like a roach in the morning, or fights back, or covers up. I think of the movie “Spotlight” or “All the Presidents Men” or “The Post” – an action causes a re-action.
Oh yes, the demons recognize Jesus. And Jesus chased them away again and again and again.
Yes, Jesus could teach and Jesus could preach – he could go one about the lilies of the field and turning the other cheek and blessed are peacemakers; but Jesus cast out demons – it was the power that defined him.
The Kingdom of God has come near – and the demons scatter!
I am and we are, modern, critical, scientific, progressive, socially-engaged Christians – but the demons are everywhere. As St. Paul writes: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present madness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). This is why we take up “the whole armor of God.” (v. 13)
Ancient society had ancient demons and modern society has its modern demons. The developing world has its developing demons and the developed world has its developed demons:
- Anything that works to knock you off the upward way of Jesus Christ;
- Anything that causes you to doubt God’s love for you;
- Anything that keeps you from trusting your deepest truths;
- Anything that demeans another person and drives a wedge between people;
- Anything personal or institutional that drives us away from witnessing to the Kingdom of God – of justice, mercy, hospitality, joy, and gentleness
is of the demons.
And we need to cultivate leaders who pray and are willing to put on the armor; willing to stand up and cast out the demons of today.
I don’t know what else to call it but a demon of evil: what “possessed” Dr. Nassar and so many other professional men (clergy, mind you!); those in power who feel they have this right to probe and prod and abuse innocent girls and boys.
I don’t know what else to call the sexual misconduct demons that are now being exorcised by strong women – young and old; finding their voice to call out evil.
I don’t know what else to call this urge to control, to oppress, to harass, to lie other than demonic – it’s certainly not of God.
I don’t know what else to call the power behind the tiki torches in Charlottesville and the chants: “They shall not replace us,” and “Jews shall not replace us.”
I hope you have been reading Melissa Harris Perry’s book Sister Citizen – about trying to sit straight in a crooked room – this is what demons do – make everything out of kilter so you can’t find your equilibrium and don’t know what to do or who you are.
I don’t know what else to call the removal of law-abiding undocumented immigrants and DREAMERS – using them as legislative bargaining chips other than some sort of cultural demon possession.
But I need to be careful lest I get possessed by the demons of self-righteous; you see, the demons don’t only act out in spectacular, obvious ways.
As CS Lewis, in his little masterpiece The Screwtape Letters reminds us: the demons use far more subtle resources against those who believe themselves righteous, speaking out against what seems self-evident madness and evil – feeling good about themselves but actually doing nothing, staying in protected bubbles and never dealing with the demons within.
The demons love finger-pointing but not self-reflection, pride and not humility. Demons love it when an “other,” is identified whoever the “other” is.
Yes, the demons will come to left and right alike, to liberal and conservative the same – it matters not to the demons who would just as soon let us stew in our human made silliness of us versus them.
Those who reject the idea of demons especially delight demons. As the demon says, right before he is cast into the swine by Jesus: “My name is legion for we are many!”
But just as there are demons, there is the power to exorcise, to drive them away!
My good friend Amos Guiora wrote a book The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust. His main question is this: why don’t people act when they see a wrong committed?
What I truly admire about Amos is that he is holding himself, and he is holding me accountable, to more than thought, but to action. Just the other day he wrote me that he was in the barber with four other white men and one of the men, an old guy, who had been coming to that barber for years, who was waiting in a chair saw a picture of a Black entertainer and used the N-word.
Amos would be embarrassed that I am sharing this with you (but he isn’t here!) Amos actually got up, went over to the man, and said, “You can’t say that!” When the man made some feeble excuse, Amos didn’t let it go. “You can’t say that!” And there was, Amos said, a period of stone cold, uncomfortable silence and then a miraculous thing happened.
The owner of the barbershop went over and told the customer, “You have to leave. You are no longer welcome here.”
Amos’ exorcism of the demon actually stirred some righteousness in someone else!
And now I want to talk to the children. What I am preaching about is heavy, and maybe scary to you. I want you to remember that God loves you and has given you power to stand up and chase away things that are not right. If you wake up scared at night – turn on the light, scream out “Get out of here!” and call your parents!
And at school, if you see someone being bullied: you go get the principal or a teacher, you can stand up like Jesus and chase the demons away!
It is Ordination/Installation Sunday – it is a routine action but what we are claiming is not routine. And I am always awed by our laying on of hands.
By so doing we are claiming continuity with Jesus himself. Through our hands we are laying the spirit down that these leaders, whom you have selected, are the leaders for our time. They have an awesome responsibility: to discern God’s desire for us at this time in our history, to both point the way to God’s kingdom and to call out the demons, holding us accountable to righteous living – individually, collectively, institutionally.
I have no doubts that some of these leaders possess the gift of the spirit to cast out demons – or at least to speak a word of sense to a demonized world.
And if I understand anything about demons is that they love the status quo – they love it when we live in fear of the other, fear of change, focused on protection instead of self-sacrifice, worried about making a mistake instead of seeing what happens, playing it safe, too concerned about not making the budget; biding time instead of pressing on.
And so we call leaders and ordain and install them and fill them with spiritual power – because that is what we are doing when we lay hands upon them – and their primary job is to help keep God as the center of all that we do; keep each other accountable to the gospel that sets folks free, keep us moving on the upward way of Christ so that become like Jesus.
And like Jesus these leaders will need to pray and stay in companionship.
We won’t all agree. We bring different perspectives and opinions to the table – but the demons love facile agreements and shudder when faithful folk go deep and work through differences to come to discern God’s will.
But if we stay humble, true to the source of our salvation, we pray and we speak our truth in love, and we do not demonize then we will have the demons on the run and the message of God’s love will spread far and wide and people will come from every corner.
As Martin Luther wrote:
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.
Thanks be to God for giving us the victory and calling these leaders to this time.