Demons: Cleaning up the Mess of Your Mind
There is a man who works at Walgreens. As he checks people out, he tells them God bless you. He saw me one day in my collar and he has now taken to witnessing to me. He is an old black man with glasses. He is a beautiful soul.
On Friday night, I came in to Walgreens. I was only wearing jeans and a sweatshirt but he remembered who I was. “People come in here all confused about their lives,” he said. “They think that their lives are such a mess but they don’t know how to clean them up! They think that they are fighting to get more stuff, or fighting their spouse. They complain about their health and the medications that they take. But they don’t realize what they are really fighting! And they don’t realize the power of prayer…”
“Amen,” I said. “Amen, brother, Amen!” You never know when the Word will be preached to you, it may even be in Walgreens.
Did you know that for hundreds of years, people thought that Moses had horns? The Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible, mistranslated the verses we read from Exodus today. Instead of translating the Hebrew word Keren as light, for light shined from his head, they translated qeren as horns. So Moses went from radiating the light of God to looking like some kind of goat or devil all because some scholar got confused and translated wrong. Michelangelo made an incredible statue of Moses with horns. It took hundreds of years before people cleaned up that mess of a translation and found the truth again.
Jesus’ face radiated light too, when he became part of God in a mystical experience on Mount Tabor. Moses and Elijah joined him in the light. Jesus was home, in ecstasy with God and the prophets until Peter interrupts the bliss to try and make another mess, to build booths out of stone and dirt and ruins the moment. God tells Peter to listen but Jesus says nothing after this debacle. He just goes down the mountain, presumably with the disciples following shamefully behind. Peter must have realized by then that he ruined the moment and made a mess of things. But no one talked about it.
The next day, however, Jesus seems to lose his patience. They encounter a crowd, full of needs and wants. People want to be healed and people want their demons removed. Jesus is faced with a boy whose father pleads desperately for him to be healed. The boy has a demon that leads his body to convulse and foam at the mouth. The disciples have tried to cast out this demon and they have failed. And something about this scene makes Jesus really mad.
Jesus reminds me of when I work all day and come home to find the house a mess. Do I have to do everything myself! He is angry not at the boy or his father but at his disciples, who should have been able to rid this boy of the demon but, for whatever reason, could not do it. So Jesus is left to do it himself and he just wants to go back up that mountain. “You faithless and perverse generation! How long do I have to put up with you guys?” he says. Jesus just wants to go home.
There are some 63 exorcisms in the New Testament, most all of them are in the first three gospels. There is no denying that casting out demons was a major part of what Jesus did. Isn’t it strange how little we talk about that?
Exorcisms were not hard. Every time Jesus tells a demon to leave, it goes. Sometimes it yells or says something on the way out. And the disciples for the most part do exorcisms too. They are prayers in which a demon or unclean spirit is told to leave. You get the sense from Jesus that this was just like cleaning up a mess. It was a drain on his energy but he couldn’t quite figure out why any believer couldn’t do it.
Such a huge part of the Gospels, why don’t we talk about exorcisms? Are they scary? Too messy? Do we not believe in demons? The boy in this gospel sounds like an epileptic. Certainly epileptics exist.
I think that one of the greatest faults of Christianity today is our failure to talk about demons and to cast them out. Jesus gave us this authority. But we chose to ignore it and we let our lives become a mess, fighting with each other instead of realizing what it is we are really fighting.
One of my favorite movies this past year is the War Room. It is the story of Elizabeth and Tony Jordan. They are successful and well-off. They have a beautiful daughter. But their marriage is falling apart. They fight all the time. He is tempted to have an affair. She is angry all the time. And then Elizabeth meets an elderly prayer warrior named Miss Clara. And Miss Clara teaches Elizabeth how to clean up her life by making a War Room.
A War Room is a prayer room, usually made in some quite space or closet. In that room, Miss Clara tells Elizabeth to study scripture and to pray for her husband. Remember that it is the darkness that you are fighting, not your husband. Clean your home of any darkness. You husband must fight it too inside himself but you start with yourself. And slowly, Elizabeth learns to pray and her life begins to change.
The man at Walgreens was right. We have let the waters of our lives get too muddy. We have gotten confused and angry and painted horns on our loved ones when they are beloved of God. We have failed to realize that this world is a battlefield between the forces of God and the forces of darkness. Every decision that you make, every word that you say comes from either one place or the other.
I read an article about a man who is going to give up being a jerk for Lent. He is going to practice kindness and put away all inclinations to be self-pitying or mean. It will be a battle for him but at least he is beginning to fight the right way instead of fighting the people he loves.
Jesus wants us casting out the darkness in our own lives and in the lives of others, working for the good, for the truth, for the light. Jesus, when talking of an exorcism, likens it to cleaning a house. Get rid of the bad thoughts, the self-righteous, pitying, worried messes of your mind! Do good. Strive for justice and kindness. Give up being a jerk for Lent and edify those around you, no matter what they do in response. It is time for us to learn how to cast out the darkness.
- The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead