Sunday, January 28, 2007
Dealing with Demons
In the Gospel lesson this morning Jesus deals directly with the demonic kingdom (Luke 4:31-44). First a demon-possessed man speaks to Jesus in the synagogue, and later Jesus delivers others brought to him while ministering in Capernaum. Within Lutheran circles I have not found many who talk much about the demonic. Perhaps there is a bit of that modernistic thinking that feels they were more relevant to the ancient world. Maybe the thinking is that the demons were more open and demonstrative as Jesus carried out his earthly mission. Then again, some of it may simply be avoidance or denial. Talking about Satan and his kingdom is unsettling. And the thought of encountering it in our own lives is frightening. Let's just leave it to the horror movies, we think.
But Satan is alive and active in the world in which we live. Peter warns us to be on guard, for the devil, he writes, is "a roaring lion seeking someone to devour." Throughout the world Satan's kingdom is busy stirring unrest and warfare and violence. Much of what we see in Iraq today is a result of Satan's meddling.
In the last few years I have been invited into three homes where people genuinely believed that there was an evil presence. In two of the three cases I was invited to assist another Lutheran pastor. One of the homes was that of a Roman Catholic family. What we did was actually quite simple. We took the House Blessing service from the new LSB hymnal agenda, and went room to room reading scripture and sharing prayers. In each case the phenomena that had been disturbing the family ceased. In all cases the family was deeply appreciative. We believed them. We took them seriously. And we did what pastors are especially called to do: We confronted evil.
What then should we conclude? I believe that we need to take evil more seriously that we do. If we believe in the Scriptures as the true Word of God, we must then take what it says of the demonic at face value. Do we look for a demon under every rock? Of course not. Some Christians can become obsessed over this and start to find demons for every known sin. Still, the presence of evil is real. It can and does present itself much as it always has.
In the Lutheran Church we have a gap in our literature and ritual when it comes to dealing with cases such as what we read in the Gospel reading today. Or so it seems to me. I willingly admit that I have much left to research on the subject. I believe that with the rise and revival of pagan practices, many borrowed from ancient cults, there will be a corresponding experience of more overt demonic activity. And we must be prepared to deal with it realistically. Would a pastor in our churches today know how to effectively respond to an actual case of possession, if one should present itself? I find it interesting that after backing away from such matters during the latter half of the 20th century, the Roman Catholic Church recently revised its manual on exorcism and even held special training in Rome.
But one thing we should always remember: Our greatest weapon against evil is the same used by Jesus - the Word of God. It is, as Paul calls it, "the sword of the Spirit." As we walked through the homes for the blessing, it was only the Word and prayer that we brought. Still, evil must have sensed that where God's Word is, they are not welcome. In a sense they heard Jesus say again: "Be silent! Come out...."
May our Lord continue to prepare His Church to face these final evil days by clinging even more firmly to that strong Word of promise in Christ.