** a brief note: due to weather, this sermon was not actually delivered. We cancelled church thanks to a blizzard**
You may not have realized it, but the majority of this year we will be hearing from the Gospel of Mark. I like this Gospel for several reasons: it’s short, it gets right to the point, and it’s concise. This Gospel also moves quickly (figuratively and literally). You’ll notice that everything in Mark happens “immediately.” And so while other Gospels may give us more details to the story, maybe more build up to the story, or maybe even more dialogue, Mark cuts right to the chase. It’s the “reader’s digest version” if you will.
So already this week in chapter 1, we get the story of Jesus teaching and casting out demons. And I love that both of these things happen so early on in the Gospel of Mark because what this states early on is that this guy, this Jesus, is someone different and things are going to be different when he is around. As I used to hear a lot in the south, it’s as if someone is saying “put your boots on, parter, because it’s going to be a heck of a ride.”
I think it can be difficult for us to sometimes wrap our minds around the concept of demons. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about demons in the American culture. The only experience most of us have had with demons is in watching either Poltergeist or Exorcist. But Native American religious beliefs as well as Voodoo both address the concept of demons. When we speak of demons, I think many times that we think of either the devil, of evil, or perhaps of a spirit that is just not right (maybe mean). But today, I want to think more about what it means to be possessed by a demon; I want to broaden our definition of “demon.”
I have demons inside of me. I am going to bet that you have demons inside of you too. Sometimes we realize it, sometimes we don’t. Now, I am not talking about some kind of cartoon-like character that possesses my mind, body, or soul. I’m talking about demons that are a little harder to name. I’m talking about demons that are a little harder to grasp. I am talking about demons that often are accompanied by their very good friend, shame. What it boils down to is this: demons are what keep us from a fuller, more complete relationship with God.
Let’s name it, shall we? Let’s just get it out in the open. I feel like Mark today–let’s just cut right to the chase. Let’s name some of the demons we either battle with ourselves, our family members battle or our friends battle. Stress, mental illness, depression, eating disorders, alcohol, abuse of all kinds, disease, drugs, any kind of addiction, infidelity, and we could go on and on with this list. Do you fight one of these demons? Do you fight maybe more than one of these demons? What is your demon? What is your secret that you keep so guarded that not even your closest friend, not even your spouse may know? What keeps you from having a fuller relationship with Christ? Do you know what it is?
Now can you imagine if I said, “alright now, friends, we’re all going to take turns standing up and sharing our demons. There will be no more secrets here. The demons have no power in this place.” How quickly would you head for the door (maybe never to come back)? I have shared some of my demons with you in the past. I do this not because I want or need your pity. I share some of my own struggles with you because I want you to know that you are not alone and that my struggles, my demons, have no power over me. None. I can say that easily today. Will I be able to say that tomorrow? I don’t know. But, for today, my demons have no power over me. I am not defined by demons.
Here’s what I love about this text for today. Jesus was quick to banish the demons. He could have easily said “hey….it’s too bad that you’re possessed by demons. Wish I could do something about that.” How often do we do that? We may see those around us struggling. Maybe we wish we could do something. Maybe we’d like to do something but don’t know where to start. Or maybe, (and perhaps too often) we look the other way our of our own embarrassment or shame. Think about the demons you have; think about the demons that your friends or family members have; are you quick to be their advocate or are you quick to be their adversary? What about your own demons? Do you embrace them as part of your life instead of the definition of your life? Yes, I have depression. And yes, I have anxiety. But I am not depression and anxiety. And yes, I eat probably entirely too much. But I am not the number that I see on the scale.
Do you understand what I am saying? You may have your demons, but they are not you. And even better, this isn’t what Christ wants for you. It should tell us something that one of the first things that Christ accomplishes in his ministry is casting out demons. Christ meets this man with an unclean spirit and instead of leaving him like that, he brings him into fuller life. Christ meets a man who is burdened, who is suffering, who isn’t whole. That’s not the kind of life Christ wants for him. That’s not the kind of life Christ wants for us. And so, Christ does what he does—he heals the man.
And I get it. It’s easy for me to say “Christ doesn’t want you to battle your demons. Christ wants more for you” and at the same time give you no solutions. Let me start by reassuring you that whatever demons you are fighting is not Christ testing your loyalty. It’s Satan fighting for your alliance. Whatever demons you battle is not and cannot ever be your “cross to bear.” Because there is only one messiah who died on the cross and last time I checked, none of us are Jesus. God didn’t screw up when you were being made. It’s not like wires got crossed and oops! you have depression. God didn’t and doesn’t screw up.
The only thing that can and should define you is this: God’s love for you. If that’s not enough, if the demons are particularly strong, remember your other defining “labels”: called, claimed, washed, forgiven, fed, and grace-filled. There is medical help, if you need it. And there’s no shame in asking for help, getting help, or receiving help. Christ doesn’t want you to fight these demons. And if you are fighting demons, know this: you’re not fighting them alone. For as many people as are gathered here today, there are just as many, if not more, demons among us. Some are known and some are so secret, so sheltered, maybe we don’t even know them. But again, know this: this isn’t the desire that Christ has for you. This isn’t the life Christ wants for you.
Christ is calling you into something better. Christ walks with you in your darkest hours. Christ is with you when the demons start to get overpowering. Christ is with you when you feel like you’re drowning. Christ is with you when it seems like all you get is dead end after dead end. Christ is with you when enough is enough and rock bottom is hit. I am not giving you the advice to “pick yourself up by your bootstraps and dust yourself off” but what I am telling you is that you are not alone. You are meant for so much more. You, my friends, are beloved. You, my friends, are valued. And you, my friends, belong to Christ. No demon will ever be able to overcome the claim that Christ has on you.
You need not surrender yourself to your demons. The only thing you need to surrender to is the healing and redeeming power of Christ.