Sermon for 5th Epiphany -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
Today’s Gospel lesson from St. Mark’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ ministry of preaching and healing, first in Capernaum and then “throughout Galilee.” The text tells us that, after casting out many demons in his home town of Capernaum, Jesus set out to proclaim his message of salvation and cast out demons beyond Capernaum and into all of Galilee.
The last time I preached on this text, six years ago, my then staff team reflected on it at their weekly staff meeting. Several of the women noted the seemingly sexist line in the text about Simon’s mother-in-law, that after she was healed she began to serve them, but they saw it in a different, even humorous way – Mom can never be sick!
However, most of our discussion centered on healing and casting out demons and the importance of staying focused on Christ’s mission, on not allowing any demons to divide us. On not allowing the demons to divide us.
There’s an old Barbra Streisand song called “Free the People” in which Streisand sings, “Free the people from the fire, pull the boat out of the raging sea, tell the devil he’s a liar, come and save the likes of me.”
I thought of this song and that staff discussion this week and asked myself how, today, we can help Jesus cast out demons, and how, today, we can tell the devil he’s a liar. How, today, we can tell the devil that he lies.
We live in 2015 pretty much in a post-demon world. Yes, there are still many books and films and even television programs about demons and assorted other devil-ish characters, but, generally, we, you and I, do not actually believe in physical demons. Modern medicine has helped us realize that the many illnesses that were once thought of as demon-related may still be demonic, but that they are not related to physical demons, but, rather, to physical or mental disease and illness.
However, that does not mean that demons do not exist in this world. In my years of ministry I have ministered with people who have tried to quiet demons in their lives: the demons of alcoholism, the demons of drug abuse, the demons of bullying, the demons of “cutting” and all kinds of physical abuse done to ourselves or others, the demons of bullying, the demons of depression and anger, the demons of hate and racism and homophobia, and the demons of many other addictions such as gambling and smoking and even overeating. Many of us know this list and could add other demons.
Then, there are societal demons. Some of these are not new; others are newly present in our lives. Violence, war, poverty, hunger – these seem to have been with us forever. The recent economic downturn has focused for us the demons of consumerism. And every day we see new evidence of the demons of terrorism and extremism.
We could even add the demons that can directly affect our congregation’s life – rumor, nastiness, negativity – some of you could add others to this list also. In the Christian church we are often far too ready and eager to hear the thoughts of one or two negative folks instead of relying on the large majority who are ready to move on and move out with Christ’s mission to this world.
And what does our gospel text tell us that Jesus did in the face of such demons? Here is what Jesus did: Jesus continued his ministry. Jesus continued to heal the sick. Jesus continued to proclaim his message of salvation. And, Jesus did not allow the demons to speak. In other words, Jesus told the devil that he’s a liar. Jesus told the devil that the devil lies.
Back when I was newly ordained, I attended what was then called a “Stewardship of Life” seminar led by the Rev. Richard Lee “Dick” Peterman, a stewardship giant in the church at that time. I do not now remember a lot from that excellent three day workshop, but I do remember one thing that Peterman stressed in stewardship, something that I have found relates for me to my entire ministry and even all of my life. Peterman stressed not to count the small group of negative folks in our congregations, those who always are saying “no” to ministry and mission, but to count the always larger group of positive people. For me, as a young pastor, that was an incredibly freeing statement.
And, I believe, Peterman’s words go much further than any congregation’s life and ministry. His words can easily apply to all of our lives – that we, you and I, need to focus on the positives in our lives and not the negatives. Yes, we are just coming out of a global economic crisis that is still affecting many of our lives in large and small ways. I am not belittling the difficulty that many have faced with loss of jobs and livelihood. However, we are still here, in this amazing country and community, worshipping together in this wonderful congregation. And, the only way we can and will get through any tough times is to do as Jesus did, not to allow the demons to speak in our lives. To tell the devil that he’s a liar.
Today, as we come to communion and accept God’s forgiveness, let us all be healed from all that blocks us from fully accepting God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, no matter what our physical or economic state may be. Jesus cured many who were sick with many diseases and cast out many demons. And, Jesus would not permit the demons to speak. To the demons and the devil, Jesus said it plainly – you lie and I will not permit you to control my life or the lives of those around me.
Are we, you and I, ready to follow Jesus in this way? Are we ready not to allow the devil to control our lives whether that control is physical or emotional, addiction-related or even economic? It is time, today, not to allow the demons to speak in our lives, to tell the devil that he lies.
Jesus tells the truth and the truth is that God’s love for all people is eternal. God’s love for people is eternal – it never ends. We have God’s forgiveness for our sins, a forgiveness we remember in Holy Communion today. That forgiveness may take many forms, but it comes with a promise, the promise of God’s eternal love for us all.
With that promise, we can tell the devil he’s a liar. We can at least begin to say no to any demons trying to control our lives or the lives of those around us. We can give up any and all the demons in our lives to God and begin to have them gone from our lives. Today. Here and now. Forever.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Tell the Devil He's a liar
Sermon for 5th Epiphany
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
February 7 & 8, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica