"That Church"

Casting out Demons

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Scripture: Mark 5: 1 – 20
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
August 20, 2017

Last Sunday a group of us from this congregation stood on the corner of Orange and Colton, we held up these quickly made signs and chanted, “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, white supremacy/racism/anti-semiticism’s got to go!”  I like to think that we were casting out demons…just like Jesus did in our scripture passage 2000 years ago.

In our scripture passage, Jesus and the disciples sail across the lake and land in a cemetery of all places, a place of death, a place often associated with hopelessness.  An odd place for Jesus to go intentionally, especially if you consider who roamed in this particular cemetery – the Gerasene demoniac.  Palestine didn’t know what to do with this man.  Wild hair, arms flailing, voice screaming.  They tried to restrain him, but he broke his chains.  He ripped off his clothes.  He was a menace to society.  Jesus and the disciples cross the sea and land in a cemetery and are met face to face with the Gerasene demoniac.  I can imagine the disciples, took one look at this guy, swallowed and put one foot back in the boat.  They were horrified by this man.  But not Jesus, he is willing to go into the tombs, walk up this terrifying creature,  and ask, “What is your name?”

He answered, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”  To the Jewish audience hearing this, the name “Legion” referred to the Roman legions of 6000 men that represented the Roman empire.  The legion represented a corrupt, terrifying, oppressive presence.  But ultimately, they are no match for the presence of the Divine found in Jesus.  The demons in this Gerasene demoniac recognized the powerful presence of love and justice.  

The demons beg Jesus, “Send us into the pigs; let us go into them.”  For those of us who love pigs, we don’t particularly like what happened next.  Jesus’ casts out the demons and sends them into the pigs. The two thousand startled pigs rushed down the hill into the lake and were drowned.  Personally, I don’t believe (and don’t want to believe) that Jesus would literally cast demons into innocent pigs.  This is not a literal story, but filled with symbols.  A Jewish audience would have found it amusing that a demon name Legion was cast into a herd of gentile-owned swine, (pigs were considered unclean and forbidden animals to the Jewish people).    The story is a supreme joke on the demonic powers called “legion”, on the Roman oppressive regime.

Like Jesus, we, too, are called to cast out demons.  Susan Thistlethwaite, a professor at theology, writes this, “White supremacy is demonic, because it promotes an “unclean” spirit that delights in hatred, conflict and violence.  It is profoundly wicked…Holding their torches, they give the Nazi salute, a tribute to the genocidal regime that killed millions.  Prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer specifically said that the goal of the rally was to instill fear “ (“White Supremacy is Demonic”, Huffpost, 8/12/2017).

In our scripture passage, the demons say their name is “Legion”.  Thistlethwaite goes on to say, “We have to call white supremacy by its right name and let us make no mistake, these white supremacists are ‘legion’.  This ‘rally’ that should rightly be called a terrorist action, brought together white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members, and assorted armed militia members.  Their numbers are growing in strength and visibility as they are empowered by racist, anti-immigrant, religiously bigoted rhetoric from the White House.” It’s time to cast out some demons.

To declare that the white supremacist/Nazi movement is the moral equivalent of the Black Lives Matter movement and that last weekend’s fatalities were the “fault of both sides” is absolutely absurd and completely unjust.  The ultimate goal of Black Lives Matter is simply to instill less racism and more racial equality, less violence and more peace.  The BLM movement is not saying that only black lives matter, but that black lives matter, too.  And it needs to be said because our country’s history, culture and justice/education/economic systems don’t reflect that.  I do not always agree with BLM statements or tactics, but the primary purpose of the movement is to promote racial equality.

By contrast, white supremacy and Nazism holds that white people are superior to people of other races.  White supremacy declares that only white people deserve the benefits, rights, and privileges of the land and its resources. They do not claim, as Black Lives Matter claims, that people of all races and nationalities are deserving of life and liberty.  “They are inherently violent ideologies that call for the subjugation/and or extermination of Jews and people of color… White men surrounded a church with torches and threats.  White men beat counterprotestors with pipes.  Then, a white man plowed his car into a street of people, injuring dozens and killing a young woman who was there to speak out again his hate” (Rachel Held Evans, 8/15/2017).  And we are told that last weekend’s fatalities were the “fault of both sides”?

We also heard from the Commander in Chief that there were some very fine people at the rally to protect the proposed removal of a statue (I would say “shrine”) honoring the Confederacy.  “It’s heritage, not hate” we have heard said.  What part of the confederacy are we most proud of …the treason or the slavery?  It sounds a lot more like laudatory history than a cautionary tale to me.  There is a reason why Germany does not have statues of Hitler.  Monuments are for the victims. If we care so much about the history of the confederacy, then let’s put the statues in a museum for educational purposes.

It’s time to cast out some demons!  The demons of white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, nationalism, transphobia, and more need to be cast out.  Like the Gerasene demoniac, their names are Legion.

The God of Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King, Jr., the God of Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, this God of justice still calls forth prophets in every age to speak truth in love to power.  We read in the scripture, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or fear, but a spirit of power and love and courage.”  It’s time to cast out some demons.  

The scars and horrors endured by Charlottesville last weekend will persist, but so will its heroes.  The clergy members who stood between the white supremacists and the town, the locals who sang and handed out water, the activists who peacefully held their ground, the members of a Virginia UCC church who provided physical and spiritual care to people who needed it. The heroes are many.  And the torches, reminiscent of 1930’s Germany used to incite fear and oppression, the tiki torches from the patio furniture section are now in dumpsters all over town (Lithwick, D., “Nazis Can March on My Hometown, but They Can’t Win”, Slate.com, 8/13/2017).

God was there.  God is still speaking.  And her love and justice were heard this week throughout the country through prayer vigils and rallies, through a band of disciples from RUCC who stood on a street corner holding signs and chanting, “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, racism has got to go!”

In our scripture passage this morning, Jesus brought forth new life even in the midst of the tombs.  For we read that after encountering Jesus, the Gerasene demoniac was healed, calm, and made whole.   Ultimately, there is no power in this world that will overcome the power of love, no word forceful enough to outshout the Gospel of justice, no evil so insidious that it will triumph over good.  To bigotry, prejudice, and hatred, I declare the party is over.  Love and justice have never lost.  They may have to venture into the tombs of death and destruction.  They may get beaten, bruised and even crucified as they face some demons along the way.  But at the end of the day, love and justice will always win.  Love and justice will always win!

Amen.