"What Light Completely Destroys"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 1/30/2000

Psalm 111; Mark 1:21-28


     Our Gospel lesson this morning is a classic. The story features Jesus in the synagogue inspiring people with the wisdom of his teachings. Into this peaceful setting came a man who our lesson describes as being possessed by an evil spirit. Jesus stopped his preaching and amazed everyone by casting out the demon. Listeners said, "What is this? Is this some kind of new teaching? This man has authority to give orders to the evil spirits, and they obey him!"

     The evil spirit asked two questions of Jesus before leaving the man. The first one was, "What do you want with us?" And the second was, "Are you here to destroy us?" It is this second question that we will consider this morning. "Are you here to destroy us?" The answer is, "Yes!"

     There can be no other answer. Light always destroys darkness. Truth always destroys ignorance. Reality always destroys illusion. Understanding always destroys fear. Acceptance always destroys anxiety. On and on we could go with what happens when the lights come on and we can see things as they are.

     We must hasten to add that what Jesus did, he did for one person—not for the crowd. The crowd listened and observed, but according to our lesson, the only thing that happened to them was that they were amazed. In many respects we are like that crowd. We become mystified when we see wonderful and powerful changes that have occurred in the spirit of a person.

     We marveled, for example, at the personal struggl e of Lance Armstrong who won the Tour de France. His cancer had spread throughout his body. There was absolutely no way he could have ridden his bicycle even for one mile. But there he was riding triumphantly across the finish line, winning in the most grueling athletic event in the world. He did what every one of his examining physicians said would be impossible. Yet the entire world learned that the impossible sometimes happens.

     There is nothing more inspiring than to observe people who have hold of light, of truth, of understanding, or whatever we choose to call it. Their energy is different. Their spirit is different. Their drive and motivation are different. Their joy and happiness set them apart from others. They appear as a one-of-a-kind. They are not! They are made exactly as we are.

     Seeing such people makes us ask, "What makes one person highly motivated and inspired while another person yawns and remains completely bored with life?" The answer is that their spirit has changed. One desire has left them and another has come. Something that was blocking and shielding their vision is no longer there. The lights have come on.

     We can become easily mislead by the ancient notion of evil spirits. There are many people today who believe that such spirits are disembodied personalities who roam the earth looking for bodies to enter. Their belief is that these spirits move in and out of bodies much like we do our automobiles. And they drive us like we do our cars. They cause us not only to think ugly thoughts, but to also engage in behavior we would never exhibit if we were not possessed by these spirits.

     For a number of us such a belief works. We have an available explanation for our behavior. We have some place to point a finger of blame. In fact, such a belief can produce emotional relief. We can maintain our innocence while claiming what entertainer Flip Wilson used to say, "The devil made me do it." Such a belief system removes having to take responsibility for our mean-spirited thoughts and actions.

     What such a belief misses, however, is what it says about God. What parents would allow their children to play in the family's backyard knowing that there are all kinds of invisible, evil monsters out there who have the power to destroy them? How could we ever enter the Kingdom of God if such evil spirits could gain control over us? We would not be free. We could not choose light over darkness.

     What the concept of evil spirits does is help us label those qualities in us that have not progressed beyond their more primitive stages of development. We often feed such spirits and even find ourselves nurturing them. Bear in mind, they are not something foreign to us; they are part of us. Everyone has them. It is very interesting to observe in our lesson what their question was to Jesus, "Are you here to destroy us?" That is precisely what the teachings of Jesus do.

     Buddha was a great teacher among his people. Once he said, "You will never be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger." In the same spirit we could say, "You will never be punished for lying or stealing but by your lying and stealing." Whether we diminish ourselves by such behavior or grow is not up to God. It is up to us. God gave us the opportunity to soar, thrive, enjoy, and create. If we choose to manipulate, deceive, and pretend, like an informed parent, God will wait until we outgrow our need to be mean-spirited and deceptive.

     Once we learn what we are doing to ourselves, we will experience a spontaneous remission. That is what happened to the man who confronted Jesus. We could stand in front of God and say, "Have you come to destroy that part of me that covets, resents, lusts, envies, and hates?" And God would say, "Of course! You will grow by leaps and bounds the moment you realize you have the power to choose differently. Jesus taught you to choose qualities that will produce light in you. When you follow his teachings, your light will destroy all darkness."

     Once I awakened in the middle of the night having just had a nightmare. I must have been eight or nine years old at the time. Two eyes were looking at me from across the pitch-dark bedroom. I knew that some evil creature, lurking in my bedroom, was observing me and waiting for me to fall back to sleep. Several times I peeked out from under my covers and whatever it was had not moved. My heart was pounding.

     My hand slowly slipped over the side of my bed and I picked up one of my tennis shoes. I abruptly turned and with all my might, I hurled my shoe at those eyes. The resulting crash awakened my brother who was sleeping in the other bed. He turned on the light and wondered what I was doing. My shoe had knocked a lot of stuff off his desk.

     With the light on, I could not see that the eyes that had been terrorizing me were radium buttons that glowed in the dark. My brother had mounted them on the side of his shortwave radio receiver. Light completely destroyed the phantom menace that had been created by my thoughts.

     Knowing how our thinking can be flavored with a vivid imagination, we are still unsuccessful at being better guardians of our thoughts. Fear can play havoc with our minds. Just as we can conjure up all kinds of gloomy images, we can also discover that we are being presented with countless opportunities that will produce light, hope, joy, and peace. Jesus came to teach us who we are. But many of us are not totally convinced. We create so many other images that are contrary to what he taught.

     Listen to how we frequently talk about ourselves. We say, "I grew up as the oldest child, or the middle child, or the youngest child. Or, I grew up as an only child. My parents took one look at me and said, 'We are not doing that again.' Or, my parents got divorced. Or, I was abused by my uncle. Or, my family sent me to private schools. Or, no one loved me." Probably every one of us has a favorite explanation for why we are the way we are.

     We can blame how we have turned out on many things. One of the side issues in life is who cares? If you think anyone cares about your excuses, take a poll among your friends. Ask them if they care about your failure to negotiate the challenges of life. Life is not fair, but that does not mean that our interpretations of it entitle us to sit on the sidelines immobilized. The world pays attention to results, not the excuses we manufacture as to why we cannot produce.

     Some of us spend so much time analyzing our past, our personality type, or job evaluations, the way our body looks, or whatever, and we cannot get on with living. It is as if we are trying to find some explanation that would produce one of those "Aha!" moments that will awaken us to a new level of understanding. Dwelling on our excuses will not make the lights come on. Doing something differently will. Such self-absorption is an evil spirit. What makes it evil is that it prevents us from living. It prevents us from growing.

     Those listening to Jesus said, "This man has authority to give orders to the evil spirits, and they obey him!" How many of us believe that? How many of us are willing to bet our lives that light completely destroys darkness? Everyone here believes that. That is why we are here. We can make such a claim of faith while still clinging to the thoughts that constantly sabotage what motivates us to produce.

     There was a personal growth seminar held a number of years ago. One of the exercises the students were asked to do was write an autobiography. They could only use one page and they had to complete the assignment in five short chapters. A woman named Portia Nelson wrote hers in the following manner:

     Chapter One: I walked down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes forever to find my way out. Chapter Two: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I'm in the same place. It isn't my fault. It still takes a long time for me to find my way out. Chapter Three: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in. It's a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately. Chapter Four: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it. Chapter Five: I walk down another street.

     What we have inside of us was not put there by anyone else. We built it thought by thought, brick by brick. It can either be our runway or our prison. For some of us, it takes time to grasp what we have been doing to ourselves for years. Up until that moment, we have always managed to conclude that something or someone was victimizing us. It never occurred to us that it was our fault for falling into the hole. When we learn to walk around the hole in the sidewalk, we are ready to walk down another street. Light always destroys darkness.

     Throughout the Gospels, Jesus stated in several different ways his personal mission for coming into the world. He said, "I have come among you as one who serves. I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. I have come to give liberty to the captives. I have come for those who are sick. I have come that you might have life and have life in abundance. I have come so that you will no longer walk in darkness. I have come as light into the world."

     The evil spirit asked, "Have you come to destroy us?" In Chapter 16 of John's Gospel, verse 33 reads: "In the world you will experience challenges and difficulties; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." He did not say "I will overcome," but "I have overcome." It is already done. The map to wholeness is already in our possession. His teachings give us all the understanding we need to cast out what Jesus, in the flesh, no longer can. It is up to us. God loves us and will always love us whether we choose to live in peace or in misery. If we want victory over our evil spirits, we must follow him. The Good News is that simple.

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

     Loving and caring God, too often we find ourselves adrift in a sea of routine and responsibility. While we enjoy the success of following through with our plans, too often we feel confined by them. We thank you for unexpected events that frequently demand more from us than we thought we could give. We thank you for closed doors that move us to consider alternatives. We thank you for failures that cause us to develop skills we never thought we had. We thank you for disappointments that teach us how to accept outcomes we cannot change. Thank you, God, for creating us with the ability to allow every aspect of life to become a light onto our path. Spare us from resisting the experiences that have so much to teach us. Encourage us to be more peaceful students of life, so that we might be more capable of moving mountains by the power of our loving thoughts. Amen.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

     This morning we thank you for being a source of light and joy in our midst. Even in the middle of our recent snow storm, the robins of springtime have reminded us that this, too, shall pass. This week some of us have been blessed with a lot of "practice time" while dealing with all the little inconveniences, inconveniences that really serve to remind us how grateful and blessed we are with so much that we take for granted. Some of us have been blessed with days away from our place of work. Some of us have spent endless hours around the fireplace reading stories and playing games with our children. And some of us have smiled while observing others who appear so easily upset when the order of their lives has been disrupted.

     We thank you for the opportunities that have been ours to work with our neighbors while shoveling snow. We thank you for the time we have had to curl up in a chair with a good book or to sip hot tea while watching a blizzard from the comfort and warmth of our homes. How amazing nature is. May we always learn to seize the moments that come unexpectedly, to relax and visit with people who too often have become no more than moving shadows in our lives. Such times invite us to live in the moment and to savor the true beauty of life.

     Be with us this morning as we worship in a way that allows us to experience your presence. Feed us in ways that enhance our ability to be kinder and gentler with each other. As we heed Jesus' invitation to follow him, may we radiate the essence of his words, "I have come among you as one who serves." We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .