Community Christian Church of Springfield

4806 E. Cherry
Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821 


Detente with Demons

Epiphany 5     February 8, 2015
Community Christian Church
Roger Ray, pastor

Mark 1:32-39               
32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." 38He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

I don't typically pay any attention to the National Prayer Breakfast.  I quit going to the local observance more than 20 years ago when I realized that it really was just a public affirmation of the love affair between conservative politics and evangelical Christianity.  They always tried to make the invitation sound like it wasn't that but that is what it always turned out to be, a kind of religious and political PDA that was more than a little nauseating to have to watch.

But on the national plane, the organizers feel obliged to invite the President to be the speaker and even though it is clearly an event for right wingers of both political and religious bent, the President usually feels obliged to attend.  In years past, what few clips I have heard in the news made it sound like President Obama went into hostile territory and tried to polish his Christian bona fides a bit before returning to the safety of the Oval Office.

But this year, this horrible year in which religious extremism seems determined to rush back into the dark ages, our President decided to step out a bit at this event.

He didn't just condemn Isis and Boco Haram, whose attempt at establishing a radical Muslim Caliphate has seen them capturing children and forcing them into marriage or, more honestly, selling them as sex slaves before their 10th birthday.  And, even more shockingly, dousing a fellow Muslim in gasoline and burning him alive in a cage and posting the video on line as if they were proud of their barbarism.

He did condemn those things but he also reminded his largely Christian audience that extremists in the Christian faith had a bloody history as well, all of the way from the Crusades, through the practice of African slavery, and down to the lynching's and Jim Crow history of America. It was nothing that I and many others have not said but the President came in for some outrageous criticisms in response to his Prayer Breakfast speech.

The morning after, former congressman and MSNBC news host, Joe Scarborough, nearly blew a fuse on Morning Joe, mocking the president as a pseudo-intellectual, and screaming about how insulting it was for him to bring up things that happened 800 to a thousand years ago.

Scarborough was shouting and demanding that everyone on the set agree with him, even though most tried their best to look away and avoid being engaged in the rant.
But it wasn't just Scarborough who was enraged.  Rush Limbaugh has nearly blown a fuse and Jim Gilmore, the former governor of Virginia, said that the president's remarks were the most offensive words utter by a president in his lifetime.  And, of course, Franklin Graham felt obliged to demonstrate his lack of comprehension of either history or religion as well as he attempted to represent the outrage of Evangelical Christians.

Though many were wagging their heads and attempting to shame the president, none could actually say that anything the president said was not factually true, and that is what astonishes me.  Of course, Scarborough, trying to bury these things in the distant past, was just absurd denial.

The Crusades were a millennia ago, the Inquisition was 800 years ago, but the American slave trade is not nearly so deeply buried in history and Jim Crow laws and lynchings remain in the memory of almost everyone in the room today.  Lynchings, generally involved hanging, but sometimes victims were set on fire or drug behind a horse or a car until their bodies fell into pieces.

Racially inspired lynching continued right up into the 1960's during the Civil Rights movement and who can forget the 1998 lynching of Matthew Shepherd in Laramie, Wyoming... a 21 year old university student murdered on the suspicion that he might be gay.

These events were Christian in more or less the same way that the immolation of a captured Jordanian pilot was Islamic.  We can say that the KKK had nothing to do with real Christianity in the same way that Muslims can say that Isis and Boko Haram are not Islamic but....well, it is not that hard to draw the lines, is it?
There are many official Islamic organizations statements of condemnation of terrorist acts done in the name of Islam but, what worries many of us is that there is also way too much sympathy hidden in Muslim congregations for these heinous deeds.

And while the practice of racially motivated lynchings in America peaked in the 1890's, there was still far too much sympathy for modern atrocities hidden in our Christian churches during the civil rights movement and not a little violent homophobia lurking, right up in to the 90's when Matthew Shepherd was murdered and it is not gone yet.

When we read the synoptic gospels, it is evident that high on the list of the memories of Matthew, Mark and Luke, was a memory of Jesus of Nazareth as a demon exorcist.  Most of us have been inclined to read such things with a mixture of embarrassment and skepticism.

Clearly, some of those accounts were primitive descriptions of epilepsy or of mental illness, but the gospel writers described them in very matter of fact ways, as real, present, and disgusting creatures who lived among them.

Of course, I do not take such accounts as being literal but I will assure you that I do believe that there are demons that live among us.  The ancients talked about demons as external things..... that is a trick of psychology that has persisted through the centuries.
Demons, in the sense of grave and horrible social evil, exist for sure but we always like to project them onto something external.  I'm a democrat so republicans are evil.  I'm an American, so Russians are evil.  I'm a Christian, so Muslims are evil.

We know that evil exists.  It frightens us.  Out of fear we do extreme things, militarily, through police action, and in mob mentality.  Out of fear we seek to annihilate the "other." But what the gospels always seem to say is that the demons are actually quite close at hand.  In the passage just before the one we read from Mark today, Jesus encounters the first demon in the gospel in the most disturbing place..... in church.

I always wonder, how long had that demon been there in that congregation and no one else had noticed?  I take these accounts to be metaphorical in nature but that does not mean that they are not true.... It just means that they are more true and true at a deeper level.

We tend to make peace with the demons that are the most familiar to us.  I can tell you, existentially, I grew up going to a segregated school and I didn't even know it was segregated.  I worked with the children of black tenant farmers on neighboring farms and never wondered where they went to school on Mondays.  I was a blissfully ignorant white southern boy who had not spent a moment thinking about the injustice, the violence, the oppression of America's Apartheid until segregation was ended through judicial coercion.

No one at my church talked about the evil of segregation.  The death of Martin Luther King was not mentioned that April week in 1964 when he was murdered.  No one in my church said that he should have been shot but the demon of racism could comfortably come and go from that church for many more years.

The evangelicals who were so offended by the President's prayer breakfast comments do not want to see that there is a connection between Christian extremism and Islamic extremism.  They do not want to see how their history of racism is made of the same cloth as the more current excesses of Jihadists.  But it is.

What I find captivating about the way the gospels describe these stories is that somehow, when Jesus showed up, something about Jesus, something in his character, his demeanor, his honesty, his integrity, made the demons visible..... like turning on the kitchen light in some of my old college apartments would reveal all of the cockroaches living in the student slums.  They would run for cover but there was no denying that they were there.

Our problem is that we get way too comfortable with our demons.... So comfortable, that we like to pretend that they don't exist.  They become so much a part of the scenery that we can get really angry when someone calls our familiar cultural furniture just what it is..... demonic.

We get used to industries that ruin the environment.  We accept that our poor neighborhoods have the most underfunded schools and our wealthy neighborhoods have our best schools and never let ourselves acknowledge that it should be the other way around.  We have twice as many foreclosed upon, empty houses as we have homeless people and yet we insist that there is no solution to homelessness.

1% of our nation holds 90% of our capital assets and yet we say that there is not enough to solve the problems of poverty.  Most political donations are made by less than one in every 100,000 Americans and yet we do not want to be told that we have sold our democracy to the highest bidder.  We drive past payday loan shops and sex shops that sell this week's version of Meth, preying on the poor and the desperate and we do not notice because we are not poor and we are not desperate....yet.

Historically, we have had a tendency to kill the people who reveal the demons of our culture rather than to be outraged by the presence of the demons themselves.  Too much of our society is content to live with the cockroaches and just insist that no one turn on the lights.

I don't know about you, but I want to be more like Jesus.  I want to turn on the lights.  I may not be able to drive out all of the demons but I sure don't want them to think that they can stay hidden when we walk into the room.

Islam needs to change.... And so does Christianity.... And let me tell you, so does Judaism.  But the demons we have to fight are not out there, or over there.... They are there but they are not our problem to solve.... We have plenty close at hand that we need to deal with. First, we have to be willing to turn on the lights and be honest with ourselves.

Roger L. Ray, D.Min. 

Community Christian Church
4806 E. Cherry Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up." (Martin Luther King, Jr. - Nobel Speech)
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