Galatians 3.23-29;Luke 8.26-39
+ This past week I had lunch with our very own Cathy McMullen and her daughter-in-law Alissa.
Invariably in any conversation I have with people, the subject of films comes up.
And for some reason, the subject of one of my all-time favorite films came up.
Yes, I know.
It’s not what you expected.
Or maybe it’s exactly what you expected.
Either way, I love that movie for several reasons.
One, I love the characters of the two priests in the film, Fr. Damien Karras and Fr.
Both are Jesuits (why, oh why can’t there be an Anglican-equivalent order of Jesuits? If there was I would join in a heart-beat).
But both are really prime examples of great pastors—priests who genuinely care, but who are also solidly human.
They each have their own issues.
They are not saints, but they are not horribly conflicted characters at all.
And I especially love the Fr. Merrin character because director William Freidkin has confessed that he actually based the character solidly on one of my heroes, another Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
But the film is more than that in my opinion.
It is also a strangely redemptive film.
The final scenes in that film actually directly reflects our Gospel reading for today, in which Fr. Karras, directly referencing the Legion of demons going into the pigs and being driven off the cliff, does so as well so he can release the girl Reagan from her possession.
Now, I know what you might be thinking.
Wait, The Exorcist is Fr. Jamie’s favorite film?
I thought he was a Christian Universalist?
I thought he didn’t even believe in hell.
I preach about this on a very regular basis, but, as you all know, I am a very proud Christian Universalist.
In other words, I do not believe in an eternal hell.
I remember saying that once in a sermon and had someone audibly gasp.
But I am being honest.
I do not believe that the God that I believe in and love would send anyone to a metaphysical hell for all eternity.
Many people think that being a Christian universalist also means I don’t believe in things like evil.
That’s not true.
I actually say it emphatically:
Evil DOES exist.
Now I’m not saying I believe in actual supernatural devils or demons.
But, the fact remains, whether we believe in actual demons or nor not, whether we believe in Satan as a goat-like horned figure with a forked tail or not, what we all must believe in is the presence of actual evil in this world.
Whether that evil is natural or supernatural, or both, the fact is, there is evil.
Even good rational people know that!
Just look at the news, depending on what news source you follow.
We of course just had a church shooting at an Episcopal church in Alabama this past week.
At a church named St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, nonetheless.
Let me tell you, I see plenty of evil in that act, and I see plenty of evil in the way people try to explain it all away, to say that this is not an issue of guns.
I think that’s all pretty evil.
Evil is real.
And we see it many forms in this world.
And for me, The Exorcist is a great story to reflect how sometimes evil becomes a force so great in our lives and in the world around us that we sometimes struggle how to deal with it.
The fact is this: for us, evil is not an option.
Those of us who are followers of Jesus have promised that we must turn away from evil again and again, in whatever way we encounter it.
Whenever we are confronted with evil, we must resist it, we must stand up to it.
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?”
“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, war, or homophobia, or transphobia 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 thing to do.
It is not easy to look long and hard at the evil that exists in the world, and in our very midst.
But it is very easy to believe that evil wins.
The story of Jesus is clear: good always defeats evil ultimately.
Again and again.
It might not seem like it sometimes.
Often times, evil wins the battle.
But, be assured, evil never wins the war.
Christ, as we heard in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians today, breaks down the boundaries evil in its various forms sets up.
In Christ, we hear, there are no distinctions.
In Christ, all those things that divide us and allow the seeds of evil to flower are done away with—those issue of sex, and social status and nationality and race are essentially erased in Christ.
And we, as followers of Jesus, so prone at times to get nitpicky and self-righteous and hypocritical and divide ourselves into camps of “us” versus “them,” are told in no uncertain terms that those boundaries, in Jesus, cannot exist among us.
Those boundaries, those distinctions, only lead to more evil.
To less love.
But even then, even when evil does seem to win out, even when there are moments of despair and fear at the future, there’s no real need to despair.
Even in those moments when evil seems to triumph, we know that those moments of triumph are always, always short-lived.
Good will always defeat evil ultimately.
Look at history.
Yes, we find the premise of good versus evil 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 followers of Jesus, 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 those forces that divide us and cause conflict among us?
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 in us, when we are racist, or homophobic, or sexist, or transphobic, or just simply filled with hatred for others, when we allow that to happen, we cannot be followers of Jesus anymore.
We cannot call ourselves children of a loving God.
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 and the legion of demons that possess him in today’s Gospel.
Or like the demons that possess poor Regan in The Exorcist.
We become tormented by God and all the forces of goodness.
We wander about in the tombs and the 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 the demoniac.
We are able to return from those moments to our homes and to proclaim the goodness that God does for us.
That’s what good does.
That’s what God’s goodness does to us and for us.
That is what turning away from evil—in whatever form we experience evil—does for us.
So, let us do just that.
Let us proclaim all that God has done for us.
Let us choose good and let us resist evil.
Let us love—and love fully and completely, without barriers.
Let us love each other.
Let us love peace and nonviolence.
Let us cast off whatever dark forces there are that kills 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 joy and hope and love.
Let us pray.
Holy God, you are all good; guide us in our following of Jesus, that we may always turn from evil, drive it from our lives, and live always into the goodness you have called us to strive for; we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.