So what do you make of the story we’ve just read from the Gospel of Luke? Do you believe in ‘demons’ or ‘unclean spirits’ that ‘possess’ people and cause physical and mental illness? Do you believe that these ‘demons’ can be ‘cast out’ and that Jesus had power over them, as this story testifies? Or do you suspect that this story so heavily reflects first-century beliefs about human behavior and illness that it has little relevance to us who live in the modern era? Is it difficult for you to make sense of “Jesus, the exorcist”?
Our ability to hear, to comprehend and to profit from accounts like this one from Luke’s gospel is certainly shaped by our modern context. On the one hand, we are enlightened people, with access to vast amounts of information about human psychology, human behavior, and human illnesses that simply did not exist in Jesus’ day. So we might naturally be skeptical about first-century assumptions about demons and demon-possession. It’s likely that we could come up with a number of other plausible explanations for what might have happened that day in the synagogue at Capernaum that would make more sense to our modern minds.
1 Thessalonians: 5: 1-11
Psalm 27: 1-6, 17-18
Luke 4: 31-37
Two stories. Two very different places. Two very different outcomes. But both connected with the thread of tonight’s gospel reading.
The first took place here in this chapel one Tuesday night a number of years ago. I had preached. Now it was perhaps not one of my more brilliant sermons, but I thought that I had a point to make, and that I made it moderately well. Afterwards someone came up to me and said, “James, just because you say it’s so, doesn’t make it so.” Clearly it had not been one of my more brilliant sermons. It doesn’t matter how passionate we are; nor how brilliant our argument; nor how forcefully we speak; just saying something is so, does not make it so.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Ps. 27:1-6, 17-18
“One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek;
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
To behold the fair beauty of the Lord and seek him in his temple.”
Watching Senator Kennedy’s funeral the other day reminded me of how important it is to have temples. We need places to celebrate great lives—imperfect lives, works in progress we presume. We need places to celebrate ordinary lives—imperfect lives, works in progress. We need places to gather to celebrate life itself and the One who made it all possible.