The lessons for Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. (Ps. 111:10)
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
What on earth are we to make of this Gospel? Here we see Jesus casting out demons, an act which might make us modern folks very uneasy. We don't believe in evil spirits, do we?
In her book, Preaching Mark, Bonnie Bowman Thurston points out that the person who had demons was cast out of the worshipping community, and thus away from the presence of God. She encourages us to wonder what "demons" separate people from our worshipping community today.
We might broaden our scope to think about what “demons” separate people from their larger communities in general. We might turn our analytical skills back on ourselves. What separates us, as individuals, from the communities of which we yearn to be part?
For some of us, it is that we just do not feel worthy. In her book High Tide in Tucson, Barbara Kingsolver describes her childhood as a child who read a lot; as a consequence, she says she’s often surprised as a grown up to find that people really do want to be friends with her. Many of us suffer from the kind of low self-esteem that might be described as a demon plaguing us.
Or maybe we don’t want to be part of any of the societies we see around us. Maybe we’re turned off by the values which can be so different than ours. Maybe we’re surrounded by mean people, by greedy people, by people who do not want the best for us. It’s not a far stretch to describe some of the larger communities in our world as demon possessed; evil does seem to be in charge.
For many of us, the issue is time. We’re increasingly overburdened by our to-do list. For those of us still lucky enough to have jobs, we’re likely doing not only our work, but the work of those who have been fired or not replaced. We work longer hours, and then we have family commitments, and our possessions need attention. We never have much down time, even when we sleep or go on vacation. We may feel tormented by demons who never leave us alone, who bedevil us so much that we cannot think.
For many of us, those demons are our electronics. Many of us are possessed by our smart phones, by our Internet ramblings, by all the things which promised to connect us (the demon seduction) but that leave us with so little time to make real connections with that which would bring us joy.
For this week, let us think about all of our personal demons and all of our societal demons. Let us decide how we will attempt to cast them out. As a church, what can we do to minister to those afflicted? As individuals, can we be doing more to reach out to those who, for whatever reasons, feel on the outside of our communities?
When my mother-in-law was sick in the hospital, the hospital had us wear visitor stickers on our shirts. Sometimes I would forget that I was wearing mine, and I'd go to the grocery store. I noticed that people treated me more kindly. That sticker showed that I wasn't having a normal day.
We should go through our lives, seeing our fellow humans as wearing similar stickers that show their need for our gentle treatment. Think of what a different world we would inhabit if all people of faith made gentle treatment of their fellow humans a daily practice. Think of how those demons would be diminished.