Saturday, September 26, 2020
Luke 4: 40-41
40 As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. 41Demons also came out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.*
The Bible spends considerable time and effort discussing the demonic, but we don’t talk of it in church. Why not? Jesus spent a lot of time casting out demons.
What is a demon? We tend, I suspect, to think in terms of the devil, and that is not entirely inaccurate. The more important issue is this: The demonic represents some kind of invisible force that can control a person or institution or society, often without those who are possessed even realizing it has happened.
Dallas Willard, trying to understand why humans so readily embrace violence and death, saw this, for example, in American society. It is practical. Being practical, he says, we go about the work of obtaining peace, justice, and prosperity. We impose rules and restrictions and embrace activities designed to bring about those conditions. It seems practical to us to use systems of avoidance. We take steps to avoid war, injury, and want. But we endlessly fail.
Willard says we have lost sight of something. The way of Christ is not practical.
“More often than not,” he wrote, “faith has failed… to transform the human character of the masses, because it is usually unaccompanied by discipleship and by an overall discipline of life such as Christ himself practiced.”
Practicality carries out the work of the demonic.
William Stringfellow, an attorney and theologian writing in the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate, tried to understand how the demonic achieves its goals in a society. If we are to overcome those things that drive humanity toward complete disfunction, toward “death,” he asserted, we must learn the stratagems of that which is demonic. He offered a tremendously practical chapter on the topic, recognizing a variety of tools employed by the demonic.
Among other things, they include:
What can we, if we wish to exist as disciples of Jesus, do against something as powerful as the demonic?
Jesus shows us. He sees the demons. He perceives their existence, understands their intent, and refuses to accept their presence. Then, he refuses to allow them to speak. In the brief passage that immediately follows today’s reading in Luke, Jesus goes off to a remote place to pray, intending to carry his ministry to other villages. The crowds come and press for him to remain with them. He sees the truth. To do that would be to fail to engage in the ministry he is assigned. Acclaim and popularity would divert him.
How do we overcome the demons? We have to take the time to see them. We have to “perceive” their lies. We have to reject their presence. We have to refuse to listen. We must not allow ourselves to be diverted. We must learn to discern lie from truth.
An example of the demonic: War.
In my Sunday school class, I recently provided a list of military actions involving the United States in my lifetime. Single-spaced in small type, the list covered an entire page. We were practical. If we want peace in the world, we said repeatedly, we must go to war. This evil must be eradicated. The result: No peace in my lifetime of 74 years. Not one day. The list touched every continent but one, Antarctica.
Jesus isn’t practical. He says love your enemy. He says forgive seventy times seven times. He says blessed are those who are persecuted. He says take up your cross. He says put down your sword. He asserts that truth exists.
Perhaps it’s time to quit whining about how broken the system is. Perhaps we ought to spend some time learning about demons so we can see them and reject their lies. Perhaps we should quit listening to them. To do that, we must become disciples.
What is a disciple? A disciple is one who learns.
 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, Understanding How God Changes Lives, [New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1988], 221.
 William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land, [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1973], 98 and following.
Rev. Lawrence Keeler
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