DELIVER US FROM EVIL: THE MINISTRY OF EXORCISM (Mark 1:21-28)
(Sermon of The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, St. James Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, NY 11373. 2/1/2015)
Jesus’ three-fold ministry can be described as a PHD- Preaching, Healing and Deliverance. Jesus preached the Good News, healed the sick and delivered the oppressed from the devil. The gospel this morning is about this ministry of deliverance or exorcism.
In this gospel, Jesus was at the synagogue. A Jewish synagogue is the equivalent of the church. Sabbath (which is Saturday and a day of rest) is equivalent to Sunday, then “Lord’s Day.” So Sabbath in the synagogues is like Sunday in a church.
It is interesting to note that the man who was demon-possessed was inside the synagogue. It is therefore possible for demons to enter a church building. In this synagogue, the demons or evil spirits were alarmed by the coming of Jesus and through the man, they spoke, “What do you want to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”
The demons recognized and called Jesus as “the Holy One of God” but Jesus rebuked them to be quiet. Then He commanded to come out of the man. The man experienced convulsion as the evil spirits came out. He exorcised the demons and delivered the person free!
|Jesus casting out demons in the synagogue|
I had a few experiences of exorcisms or deliverance ministry. In Philippines, I participated in an exorcism rite in one barrio in Pangasinan. An extended family built their house on a former abortion clinic and they would hear infants crying by the wall. After the exorcism, we conducted a requiem mass which eventually healed the family of demonic oppression.
In Singapore, I served as assistant to an Australian exorcist named Bill Subritzky. He claimed he was able to see the demons and he described them as “beings without body” (and that was why they seek to inhabit other people’s bodies.) I have never seen the demons myself but I’ve seen strange manifestations when persons are exorcised.
Four years ago, when In was serving as Supply Priest at St. Michael & All Angels in Seaford, Long Island I was called to minister to a family in the neighboring town of Amityville . Amityville is the location of the 1970’s scary movie, Amityville Horror. It seems that the father of the family, had virtually invited the evil spirits to come. He bought the house close to the sea and remodeled it to look like the house in the movie and then exclaimed, “We’re going to be the next Amityville Horror House.”
|House in "Amityville Horror"|
From that time on, the wife and children had experienced some paranormal incidents, quite similar to some scenes in the movie. I do not have time to describe what happened during and after the exorcism, but this and many other experiences of encounters with evil spirits, I get a glimpse of the purposes of the devil. (By the way, the family were safe but the house was destroyed during the Hurricane Sandy. They decided to relocate to Pennsylvania).
What are the purposes of the devil?
In the Bible, Jesus gave us a glimpse of the purposes of the devil. In John 10:10, he likened the devil to a thief and he said, “The thief comes only to steal, to kill and to destroy.”
- So the first purpose of the devil is to steal.
The devil comes to steal away your joy. The will of God is that we may live in peace and quietness, and to enjoy the blessings of life. If these are not present in your life, if there is no peace in your mind, no love in your heart and no joy on your face, then the devil has a hold on you.
So many people go through life without experiencing the good life that God has willed for all of God’s children. They dwell in pains and misery, in heart aches and heartbreaks, in hopelessness and despair because the devil has robbed them of God’s grace.
Now those people who seem to glorify poverty, I believe, are those who have not really experienced it. Those who have experience poverty, as I have and some of you have, will never testify that it is good to be poor. No! Never! Poverty is a denial of God’s will. To be born poor and remain poor and to have your children and children’s children inherit the same hopelessness and despair is a curse and not a blessing. Even Steve Jobs once said that “when you are born poor, it is not your fault; but if you continue to be poor until you die, it is your fault.”
Now it does not mean that a person who is poor is not blessed by God. As a matter of fact, as Pope Francis recently affirmed, God loves the poor---and we too must love the poor and extend our hand to them. But when we say “God loves and blesses the poor,” it does not mean that God wants them to be poor always. God loves them and wants to set them free from poverty!
In the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the universal declaration of human rights, freedom from poverty is implied in the “unalienable right” of every human being “to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Governments are expected to honor and promote these rights. Government officials who deny their citizenry of opportunities to improve their lives should be voted out of office. Oppressors who enriched themselves with greed are agents of demonic institutions. Corrupt politicians should have no place in public service. They would only divert resources from tax payers' money that could improve the plight of the poor.
In biblical history, God set the Hebrew slaves in Egypt free---and provided for their needs---even in the wilderness of Sinai. And in John 10:10 Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I come to give you life and have it abundantly.” The eradication of poverty remains to be a major part of the vision of shalom, the reign of God on earth.
Yet some people feel that they are cursed into chronic and perpetual poverty. No matter how hard they try, it seems that they cannot get out from the quagmire of poverty. Even if they work so hard, and work doubly hard, it seems that they cannot rise from the quicksand. They continue to slide down. Now when these things are happening in your life, you need a deliverance from the demons of poverty.
2.The second purpose of the devil is to kill.
Today, there are many happenings that make us believe that the devil is active in today’s world. The recent terrorist activities in France and other parts of the world , the ISIS cruelly beheading their hostages, the lawless elements in Nigeria kidnapping and killing children, the brutal killings of policemen in Mindanao and many other events of murders and massacres are works not of human beings but of evil.
Many of you know that I am under treatment from prostate cancer. I am beginning to think, ironically, that there is a purpose for my affliction. As a healing priest, it gives me a motivation to study about cancer. I have come to believe now that cancer is not just a problem that calls for healing but also of deliverance. In Mark 5:9, Jesus asked the devil inside of a man “Who are you?” And the demons said, “My name is legion, for we are many.” In the Roman Army, which was the context of this text, a legion is composed of 6,000 fighting men.
Cancer is not one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. They are named from the organ in which they start. For example, cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer; cancer that begins in the skin is called melanoma; cancer that begins in the breast is breast cancer; cancer that begins in the prostate is prostate cancer, cancer that begins in the blood is leukemia and so forth and so on. Cancer is a growth of destructive cells.
|Lymphoma cancer cells|
3.The third purpose of the devil is to destroy.
The devil’s ultimate purpose is to destroy the image of God that was imprinted in the human being. When God created Adam, he was formed from clay and he had no life. Then God breathe into the clay and Adam sprung up with life. That was the meaning---we are created in the image of God--in the image of God, we are created. The breath of God, the ruach of God, the spiritus of God, gives us life and the image of God was imprinted in every human being.
It means that a human being has innate godly or divine elements: the capacity to love, to give, to forgive, to experience peace, joy, forgiveness, and all positive aspects of life. But when the devil has come into the person and steals that joy, steals that compassion, steals that mercy and grace, then the person becomes the devil’s possession. He becomes a different personality. Suddenly he turns 180 degrees: from a loving, compassionate, merciful, forgiving, peaceful person, he becomes a hateful, wicked, unloving, unforgiving, cruel---the personification of the devil himself.
Recently, not far from our community, there was a man who murdered his wife, his mother in law and his children and then committed suicide. The only one who survived was a 12 year old daughter who , despite being hit by a bullet on the head, miraculously survived and was able to call 911 and named her father as the culprit. When other family members and neighbors were asked about the man, they could hardly believe, because they knew him as “good and kind man.” What has happened to that “good and kind man” that he turned into a beast?
When the devil has possessed that person, the ultimate purpose is to destroy his personality that he would totally be unrecognizable from the human being created in God’s image. But possession does not happen instantly. The devil’s scheme has a progression: from temptation to depression; from depression to oppression; from oppression to addiction and finally to possession. The devil may first appear as an “angel of light” to tempt and later on proceed to make a stranglehold. The addiction to alcohol, drugs, violence, etc. has all the makings of a devil’s scheme.
How do we resist the devil?
Our patron saint, St. James wrote:,”Submit yourself to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7)
The antidote to the devil’s poisonous attack is closeness to God. When there is a flood and you are being carried away by the raging waters, what do you do? Cling to a rock, or to a strong tree. Those who were saved from the tsunami were those who were able to cling to something stronger than the floods. When you are under spiritual attack by the devil, cling to God. The power and strength of God are far more superior than those of the evil one.
St. Paul says in Ephesians 6:12. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.”
In this image of combat, St. Paul said “Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:14-18)
Belt of truth; breastplate of righteousness, gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the spirit which is the word of God; and prayer at all times.
This is why we come together as a community of faith on Sundays. Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).
When we gather as a community in the name and in the presence of Christ, there is safety and power. We hear the Word of God, we practice our faith, we pray for one another and for the world. We can bind and cast out the devil in the name of Christ and the in the power of the Holy Spirit. So have no fear of the evil one. The power of our God is far more superior than that of the devil. With Christ as our deliverer, we are set free!
Yes, Lord. Deliver us from all evil and grant peace in our time. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.