20th June 2010 - "Demoniac"
The story of the demoniac is quite a difficult one to approach today I think – we are a little uneasy with the idea of demons as beings – often commentators will dismiss the story as indicative of how people viewed people with mental problems in Jesus’ time.
Yet – if we look at the popularity of books such as Dan Brown’s ‘Angels and Demons’ or the films such as ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘The Shining’ – society still seems to be fascinated by the possibility that demons may really exist…..
So – should we take this story seriously? Martin Warner, one of the commentators on this story whose article I read in preparation for this sermon seems to think so….He says
“the persistence of a fascination for demons suggests that we should take seriously what the evangelists say about the person Jesus met on the hills that rise over the far side of Lake Galilee. Their description of the man having demons is deliberate, and we are still capable of understanding what these writers meant even if we cannot fully account for the phenomenon. The man had demons: we all have to a greater or lesser extent” Who has not spent a wakeful night terrified of the darkness – and worried by the demons that speak of death and the loss of those we love.
I love Trevor Dennis’s retelling of the story – he leaves out the part where the pigs self destruct, but does pull out the possible reason for the demons possessing the man….. read the story. (in the Book of Books)
So where does that leave us?
Interestingly, this episode happens just after Jesus has stilled the storm on the lake – one that definitely filled the disciples with fear – a demon? And then led them to question more closely who this man was who could rule the wind and the waves – only God can subdue the demons that rule in the sea. Then, here is Jesus also subduing demons that ruled within a person – again something that should surely only be the province of God.
So – dispelling demons of fear – whether they be fear of the elements or fear induced by experiences – and one of the theories is that the demoniac was driven mad by the experiences he may have had of the Roman occupation of his land.
Jesus came to bring light and hope to hopeless and fearful situations. In both of these stories – the stilling of the storm and the healing of the demoniac he does just that – and shows that God’s love can reach everywhere – even into the most fearful circumstances.
The gospel message is all about the love of God which can drive out fear. As St Augustine wrote – demons “are not able to effect anything which they are not allowed.” We may continue to be attacked by demons of fear, but we need not let them have power over us – God’s love for us can drive out all fear.
The Lord is my light and salvationWhom shall I fear?
He is my strength and my shield
Against all those who try to do me harm
And put me down
Whenever darkness surrounds me
His light shines inside me
Giving me peace of mind
With him I am at peace with myself
While surrounded by stormy waters
And I know in his presence, I am at peace.
(Colin – The Book of uncommon prayer, a collection of prayers edited by Jane Bidder)