Those of you who know me will know how much I dislike academic theologians, people in Universities who think they know more about God than God does, ….. or wee Jimmy in Bellsmyre or wherever, but there are one or two exceptions…Paul Tillich is one of them. Tillich is Incarnational, and thinks he has much to learn from the Jimmies & Jessies of this world! He’s OK! And in his sermon to graduates recently in New York, the man preached on this theme of healing and casting out demons.
He told the graduating clergy to be, that they would experience two difficulties as they went to their new parishes with this message of healing and casting out demons:
(1) Many people will say that they do not need to be healed and
(2) Many will laugh at the absurdity of casting out demons that rule their lives in this modern age!;
“Therefore,” Tillich said, “the first task of the minister is to make people aware of their predicament.” Now! Are you aware of your predicament? And Tillich goes on….
The predicament of people’s insensitivity to their own needs and the forces of evil is further complicated by the fact that we don’t know what demons are (certainly not red-suited horned creatures which would be easy to identify). We don’t know what they are; only that they are and something of how they work – always trying to divide what God has put together. We don’t know what electricity is either, but we’ve learned how to use it. We don’t know what demons are, but we can learn to cast them out of ourselves and others.
The human predicament of insensitivity and lack of clarity regarding the forms of evil is further complicated by the fact that every pastor who goes forth to heal the sick and cast out demons is himself or herself in need of healing and cleansing. That’s the human predicament. It is hard to heal those who are sick, especially if they don’t believe that they are sick. It is hard to cast out demons from those who don’t believe that they have demons. It is hard to heal and cast out demons when you are sick and have your own demons.
It is so hard that no one can accomplish the task of healing and cleansing – at least not by any human power. Healing and cleansing are the work of God, but Christians can be used as tools in the hand of God to do his work. Healing and casting out demons are not the prerogative of clergy, but the task of all who are called by God.
In addition, says Tillich, some of the difficulty with this predicament comes from the misunderstandings about this ministry – especially the miracle/magic association we often make between healing and casting out demons.
Healing is a ministry of God. Jesus commanded that we do this for one another by his power. He also told us to cast out demons – as he himself did repeatedly.
So let’s think about demons for a bit….
Cast Out the Demons……
We do not know all that this command means. We do not fully understand the nature of demons or their arenas of activity in the interior dimensions of the human being or the exterior dimensions of what Saint Paul calls “the powers of the air” or “the Principalities and Powers” (In the Baptismal service parents in the past were asked to renounce “the Devil and all his works,” not because we know about the details of the Devil, but because we recognize that there is a power of evil within us and around us which is stronger than we are. There is a lot which we don’t know. One thing we do know: Demons divide. Division is the sign of demons. Wholeness is the sign of cleansing.
The interrelationship between bodily, mental, and spiritual diseases was fully understood by Jesus. We do not understand it fully. “Heal the sick; cast out demons” is not two commands, but one. Sometimes the only way to heal is to cast out a demon or a whole host of them. For example, the demon of resentment can keep us from getting well – in fact resentment and make us sick!
Resentment is internalised anger. If we have resentment for a short time, after something unjust or unfair happens to us or a loved one, that is natural; but if we cling to a resentment for months or years, we do serious damage to our health. Division sets in. Division inside ourselves
Revenge is another demon of immeasurable power. It takes possession of us, runs us, drives us, and controls us! “We have a right to it,” we protest. “Look at what so-and-so or more descriptively, ‘that so-and-so’ has done to us.” Revenge gets a foothold, encourages us to hold onto it; it grows in stature and control, begins to take possession of our life and eventually says, “You are mine; you belong to me.” Unless this demon is cast out, division sets in.
If you are still not sure of the reality of demons, ask an alcoholic how his or her condition was produced, or how difficult it is to overcome; or ask someone who is trying to recover from the power of drug addiction about the battles which go on in the human soul. A person who has not been able to beat his addiction recently said to me, “I don’t know why I did it again. I don’t know what made me do it. I felt out of control, as if there was another me fighting what I wanted to do.” Division sets in.
Martin Luther once said: “You can’t keep the birds of temptation from flying over your head; but you can keep them from building a nest in your head.” When we don’t stop temptations early, they make their home in our minds and become demons. People are subject to the divisive invasion of demons. So are institutions.
All institutions – educational, business, political, and religious are subject to the invasion of demons. Depersonalization sets in. Rules become more important than people. Ambition triumphs over service. Greed towers over human need. The Tower of Babel grows taller and taller. Thus, Microsoft, or Ford, or RBS, and even the local Christian congregation are all potential “Principalities and Powers” in the biblical sense. Nests of demons grow in institutions as well as in human hearts. Division is the sign.
Jesus says, “Cast them out.” “We can’t do it,” we reply. “You are right,” he responds. “They are too strong for you. I’ll do it, but I’ll do it through you. Cooperate with me and I will cast them out of you and through you.”
The purpose of this is not that we should go on witch hunts for red-suited creatures in our own hearts or in institutions. The purpose of this is to point us toward Jesus – the only one who is stronger than our personal demons and the “Principalities and Powers.
Jesus, who has repeatedly said, “Come unto me,” also says, “Go for me. Heal the sick; cast out the demons. Do it together so that you don’t get too discouraged. Do it by my power; your own is insufficient.” Thus we are wounded healers. – we all are..
So , let us go forth –
totally dependent on Christ,
singing as we go,
our song of life:
“Lord, have mercy.”