Sunday, June 20, 2010

4 Pentecost


June 20, 2010

Luke 8.26-39

+ I’m sure I have mentioned as some point one of my favorite movies of all time. It was a movie that, when it came out on Christmas 1973, was quite the sensation. Even as young as I was when it came out, I remember people talking about it. I remember that even my grandmother read the book the movie was based on. My parents went to the movie and I remember my mother talking about it—how frightening it was. The movie (and the book) is, of course, The Exorcist.

What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that there is an actual true story behind the novel and the movie. Back in 1949, a young Lutheran boy in the Washington DC suburb of Georgetown, was supposedly possessed by a cluster of demons. Over a period of several months, a group of Roman Catholic Jesuits priests (and possibly an Episcopal priest as well), worked to drive these demons from, which they did. The story was reworked and made into the novel by William Peter Blatty, which was then made into the blockbuster film.

But the really amazing aspect of story in the novel and the movie is the fact that the turning comes when the story we hear in this morning’s Gospel is used. In the book and movie, the young priest, Fr. Damien Karras, is frustrated by the fact that he and the older priest, Fr. Merrin, cannot cast the demons out. Finally, remembering this Gospel story, Fr. Karras, calls the demons into himself, much as Jesus casts the demons into the herd of pigs. Fr Karras then flings himself out the window and down a long flight of stairs. He frees the girl, but dies, of course, in the process.

Although many people condemned this movie as violent and dark and satanic, the book and movie ultimately have an incredible Christian message that speaks very potently even now. I can’t hear this Gospel reading without thinking of that climactic scene from the movie.

Now, whether we believe in actual demons or nor not, whether we believe in possession or not, what we all must believe in is the presence of evil in this world. Whether that evil is natural or supernatural, the fact is, there is evil. And those of who are Christian have promised that we must turn away from evil again and again. Whenever we are confronted with evil, we must resist it. Or, as we find in our Baptismal service, these questions are asked of the person being baptized (or their sponsors):

“Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?”

And…

“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”

And, as our Baptismal Covenant asks us asks us:

“Do you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”

Evil is something we must stand up against however we encounter it. Whether we encounter it as a spiritual force, or whether we encounter it in other forms, such as racism, sexism or homophobia, or even by contributing to various forms of violence, we, as followers of Jesus, must stand up against evil and say no to it.

In a sense, what we are being asked to do is what Jesus did in this morning’s Gospel, We are being compelled, again and again, to cast out the evil in our midst, to send it away from us. This is not easy to do. It is not easy to look long and hard at the evil that exists in the world, and in our very midst. And it is definitely not easy to look long and hard at the evil we may harbor within ourselves. .

But, even in those moments, when evil is not something outside ourselves but something within us, we know that ultimately, it too can be defeated. It too can be cast away. It too can be sent reeling from us.

The story of Jesus is clear: good always defeats evil ultimately. Even in those moments when evil seems to triumph, we know that those moments of triumph are always short-lived. Good will always defeat evil ultimately.

Yes, we find the premise in every popular movie and book we encounter. This is the essence of conflict that we find in all popular culture. Good versus evil—and good always wins.

But, for us, as Christians, this is not fiction. That is not a fairy tale or wishful thinking. It is the basis on which our faith lies. When confronted with those spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, we must renounce them and move on.

And what are those spiritual forces of wickedness in our lives? What are the legion of demons we find in our midst? Those spiritual forces of wickedness are those forces that destroy that basic tenant of love of God and love of each other. Those spiritual forces of wickedness drive us apart from each other and divide us. They harden our hearts and kill love within us.

When that happens, we cannot be Christians anymore. When that happens our faith in God and our love for each other dies and we are left barren and empty. We become like the demoniac in today’s Gospel. We become tormented by God and all the forces of goodness. We wander about in the tombs and wastelands of our lives. And we find ourselves living in fear—fear of the unknown, fear of that dark abyss of hopelessness that lies before us.

But when we turn from evil, we are able to carry out what Jesus commands of demoniac. We are able to return from those moments to our homes and to proclaim the goodness that God does for us.

So, let us do just that. Let us proclaim all that Jesus has done for us. Let us choose good and resist evil. Let us cast off those dark forces that kill love within us. And let us sit at the feet of Jesus, “clothed in and in our right mind,” freed of fear and hatred and violence and filled instead with love and joy and hope.