Friday, November 21, 2014

What does demon possession really look like?


The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might remain with Him, but Jesus sent him away, and said to him, "Return to your home and declare the many things that God has done for you."  And he went away then, preaching throughout the whole city all the things that Jesus had done for him.  Luke 8:38-39

THE difference between the demoniac we meet in today's gospel and all other people is a difference of degree, not of kind.  Apart from holy baptism all people are captives of the Tyrant and would have no hope of escape were it not for our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the one who crushed the Serpent's head and set all people free when He suffered death on the cross.  The account we have before us is an extreme one.  Most people who live in the kingdom of darkness are not this tormented.  The demon's name was "Legion," which is a Roman military term for a unit consisting of between three and six thousand soldiers.  It's hard to imagine just how possessed this man must have been.

Most unbelievers live productive lives.  They enjoy earthly blessings and can exercise self-control as well as anyone whenever it suits their purposes, but this raving lunatic was a menace to all.  He had to be chained and shackled lest he harm whoever was unfortunate enough to cross his path.  As often as he broke out of his chains, he fled from the living, preferring to stay among the dead.  For though he was a living and breathing human being he was as good as dead, consigned to a life apart from human society and condemned to suffer eternal fire with the demons who made their home in him.

All of that was about to change.  Jesus was coming to Geresenes!  The moment He got out of the boat the demons recognized him.  They knew that this Man is the Son of the Most High God and they trembled.  How did they know him, and why were they so afraid?  They had met before, long ago, when at God's command Michael and the Holy Angels drove Satan and his demons out of heaven on account of their rebellion.  We don't know much about that event, there are only hazy hints of it in Scripture.  Neither do we know any of the details of their rebellion except to say that it concerned the sin of pride, but whatever it was, their transgression was so bad that they became irredeemable.

What a horrible word!  Irredeemable.  What a horrible thought!

We, on the other hand, are redeemable.  However badly we have rebelled against our Creator and abused His gifts; however grievously we have transgressed His high and holy law, used his sacred name as a curse; made sport of hallowed things, and injured the neighbor He assigns us to love, we are redeemable!  We can confess our sins and be absolved.  We can claim citizenship in the Kingdom of God's own dear Son which He effected in us by holy baptism.  The Holy Spirit still calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us.  He still saves the souls of men and still fills the hearts of God's people with joy that overcomes the world.

Are we that bad off?  Can we go crazy like the demoniac?  Are we capable of the crimes committed by the man on Seymour Avenue?  Are we capable of doing what a 20-year-old man did in a Connecticut elementary school last December?  As Lutherans we understand original sin better than most, how destructive it is, how it corrupts our reason and our desires, so we must answer in the affirmative.  We don't want to think that we are capable of terrible evil, but we are, and if we are honest we will all admit that we have had our moments!

What is the difference, then, between you and the demoniac?  Between you and the most evil person you can think of?  Only three things, dear Christians:  fear of the consequences, good moral training, and the best gift of all, God's Holy Spirit Who makes our bodies His temple.  If we did not fear the consequences there is no telling what we might do to the people who wrong us.  If we did not have good moral training there is no predicting how we might react when people anger us.  Living in the society of other people is like two porcupines living in a shoebox.  What might we do without the power of the Holy Spirit Who is always at work within us to extinguish passion's fire?  Without His steadying influence we would be like the demoniac, or at least like the people who, witnessing this amazing miracle, promptly asked Jesus to leave.  Why?  Because they were afraid of Him, because they loved the darkness more than the light, and unaided by God's Spirit so do we.  But as Scripture says: where sin increased, grace increased all the more, which means that God's mercy always trumps human sin and thank God for that!

Yet, how do we thank Him?  How do we properly praise the one who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light?  Should we do as the demoniac-now-set-free?  Should we run from place to place telling everyone we encounter about the great things that God has done for us?  There are those who say that we should, even that we must, but we are not called to be religious fanatics and you should always be cautious of people who wear their religion on their sleeve.*

Our confession of Christ is different than that.  More orderly, but no less powerful, no less true, no less Godly.  We confess Him in the home as we attend to our daily prayers, especially at meal times; and as we teach the faith to our children by word and deed.  We confess Him in the world as we let our light gently shine before men.*  We confess Him in the church as we pray the church's liturgy, sing her glorious hymns and most perfectly when we kneel in humble joy at the altar to receive Jesus Who dispels all of our demons, Who breaks Satan's chains of tyranny with His own flesh, and Who in baptism delivers us from death and the devil and gives eternal life to all who believe.  By God's goodness, we are those people.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

* I would like to clarify when we are in the world living in joyful obedience and gratitude to God that people will notice and we should be prepared to answer if they ask.  In this case, the people who lived in the town of the former demoniac would certainly have recognized him as the one who used to be so tormented and they would have been asking about what happened to him, what changed him.   Pastor is not telling us to keep our mouths shut about our faith, just that we should recognize that you can't plant seed on ground that isn't plowed, the surface is too hard and hostile to receive it.  When someone asks, they may have had their ground plowed, or they may just be trying to trap you with your words, but still, if they ask, we are not to judge.  We may speak then.  Otherwise we are to confess by our actions as he advises above.

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