Malcolm and I just returned from an incredible vacation hiking around the Canadian Rockies. Time in nature was restorative and time together renewing for us as a couple. I am grateful for the opportunity and the luxury of unfilled space. I pray that for you as well.
The natural beauty in Western Canada is astounding— snow-capped mountains, pristine glacier lakes, flowing rivers and waterfalls that emanate an ethereal green/blue glacial silt.
In the midst of this beauty was the disturbing and sad abundance of ever-GREEN trees which are actually now ever-BROWN. Apparently, the pine-bark beetle is infesting over 50% of the forests in Alberta, Canada.
There was no escaping the brown-sometimes it presented on just the tips of the trees…an indicator of the devastation to come. Sometimes acres and acres of brittle brown trees filled our view.
This imagery of dark, dead pine trees reminds me of the darkness of evil in our own lives. We might be able to hide its workings in our lives for a while and only a bit of brown shows on the tips of our days
—an occasional outburst of anger,
a fleeting moment of jealousy,
a hangover that goes relatively unnoticed,
the credit card balance creeping up bit by bit.
But overtime, unaddressed, the darkness spreads, the truth bubbles up, and we can’t hide the ramifications the way had before.
Let’s face it—talking about evil, and even more dramatically about demons is not something we contemporary Christians, and perhaps even more so, Episcopalians like to do. Thankfully, ours is a tradition steeped in God’s grace and mercy as embodied through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And yet, to ignore the reasons we need God’s grace is like only looking at the green trees while the pine bark beetle runs rampant. We cannot participate in the healing if we deny there is dis-ease.
Fantastical first century stories like the demoniac in Luke’s Gospel today can make it easy for us to get distracted by swine running into a lake.
Today, as we consider the eternal wisdom Jesus offers in this healing encounter, I suggest we focus on three things—
First, Jesus’ boundary-crashing desire to move toward the one in greatest need,
Second, his example of naming the evil taking hold of our lives,
Jesus’ command to go and tell our healing stories.
That Jesus, he will go anywhere to heal! In story after story he shines his light in the darkest and most culturally unacceptable places. There is no person he excludes, and no place where he will not go.
The Gerasenes were Gentiles—not only were they physically located opposite of Galilee—they were the opposite of the Jewish people. What was a good Jewish man like Jesus doing going over there in the first place?
When Jesus disembarked from the boat, he was met by the most unclean of all of these unclean Gentiles—a naked man, living among the dead, tormented by demons.
In another story, in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to the woman at the well—a WOMAN, A SAMARITAN—unclean, unapproachable, unacceptable—yet Jesus’ longest recorded conversation in all of scripture is with her.
There is no dirty secret, no demon, no darkness in our hearts that Jesus will not enter into with us—shining his light of love and forgiveness, and healing.
Episcopal priest and theologian Matthew Fox describes evil this way:
“Evil is the shadow of angel. Just as there are angels of light, support, guidance, healing and defense, so we have experiences of shadow angels. And we have names for them… – but they’re not out there.”
They are in here.
So what are the names of these demons inside us?
- FALSE HUMILITY
- DESTRUCTION OF CREATION
- ABUSE AND DEHUMANIZATION OF OTHERS
Oh the list is legion!
And the more spiritually advanced we are, the more deceptive and crafty the dark forces.
I imagine, if we each took time, we would know the names of those demons that dog us. Like the experience of the man from Gerasene—our dark propensities isolate us from others—they negatively impact our relationships—with God, ourselves, one another, and like the pine bark beetle, creation.
My spiritual director once explained to me, “We don’t name these dark forces in our lives alone. We let God reveal them for us.” And, she added, “To name the demons with Jesus’ help there is healing.”
Elijah’s demons included doubt and despair—he had it in his head, “I am alone.” In the chapters before the verses read this morning Elijah had many encounters with God—
He had been miraculously fed by ravens, and during a severe famine, he was fed by a widow from a foreign country, he revived her dead son, and then Elijah conquered hundreds of Baal’s prophets. He faced many challenges and was sustained by God throughout, and yet, even HE suffered doubt.
AN IMPORTANT QUESTION PRESENTS ITSELF HERE—Do we want to be healed of our demons? Healing can be scary, something will be lost, we will have to let go of something—Perhaps it is
- or Esteem
- or the fleeting fun of throwing others under the bus
- or The buzz—from drugs, or the internet, or feeling superior to others
Do we want to be healed?
If we do, we CAN bring the darkness we desire to hide, into the light of Jesus’ loving gaze, trusting Jesus already knows what is in our hearts and desires for us to be free.
Trust the power of naming, trust the many ways through which God heals—through prayer, worship, confession, and study of scripture. Trust that God works through the medical community, through counselors, and loved ones.
For reasons I do not know, our healing does not always, or even often, come as quickly as we desire. If you or someone you love has suffered for years, I am sorry. I pray the healing will come, and that God’s ever-present grace will be revealed sooner rather than later.
I promise you-the light Jesus has to shine into the darkness will not be overcome AND WE ARE NOT ALONE. Listen with me to the grace in Psalm 139
Where can I go then from your Spirit?*
where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there;*
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,*
and the light around me turn to night,”
Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;*
darkness and light to you are both alike. — (Psalm 139: 6-7, 10-11)
Finally I want to address the importance of sharing our healing stories. Even though most, if not all of us continue to have struggles with darkness within, I hope and pray you have also experienced Jesus’ healing in your life in some way. If so, please go and tell those stories—be a beacon of hope where the greening of life is turning brown.
Time and again, Elijah was told to get up and go. And Elijah traveled far and spoke for God—He was a harbinger of Jesus, the coming Messiah.
The woman at the well told her story and “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” (John 4:39)
The man healed of the demons was told by Jesus to go home and share his story. He has been referred to by some, as the first missionary to the Gentiles.
If you have not, or cannot remember any sense of healing in this moment, is there someone you know who has a story to share that may help to sustain you?
One time, when I was experiencing great doubt, a friend of mine—without judgment, without arrogance, simply shared how it was through Jesus that she had encountered the loving, healing, forgiving, nature of God.
She spoke about renewed purpose and meaning in her life; about healing from shame. Knowing this woman and how Jesus had transformed her life, and how she lives a transformed life, I took her account seriously.
Her words settled in my heart. In the days and weeks that followed, I noticed flickers of faith rekindled. There have been times since, that I hear her voice, remember her story, and my faith is again rekindled.
Sometimes we are to share our healing story with those closest; sometimes those who are quite different or far away.
God is working through our stories—we obstruct God’s ability to spread God’s love story when we keep our stories inside. It is ok to lament, and share our doubts—that is real;
and we are to proclaim the healing too. Every Psalm of Lament, save Psalm 88, ends with praise—so should we.
This morning we will close our service with a hymn written by St. Francis. He penned it as he was going home to die, experiencing bouts of blindness, and yet what was deepest in his heart was a proclamation of praise which begins:
All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voices, let us sing: