"Dealing With Our Demons"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - June 20, 2004

I Kings 19:1-15; Luke 8:26-39

     Today we are going to be discussing a very familiar story, one that is easily recognized by even the most casual students of the Gospels.  This saga began when a mentally ill man ran toward Jesus from the security of a graveyard.  Jesus healed him of many demons, demons that appeared to be directed by Jesus to enter a herd of pigs that ran into the lake and drowned. 

     We would be distracted if we concentrated on the sidebars of this experience.  For example, we would miss the point of the story if we tried to explain the identities and nature of the demons, or tried to answer why Jesus would choose to erode a farmer’s livelihood by destroying his herd of pigs or why Jesus would deny the healed man’s request to follow him.           

     The central message of this story is what to do with our demons. All of us have them.  They are not the result of more primitive life forms co-existing in our bodies as some people have suggested.   In ancient times people were thought to be possessed by demons when they exhibited erratic behavior patterns that set them apart from the rest in their respective communities.  Mental illness and epilepsy were common examples of misunderstood disorders that afforded people the judgment that they were possessed by demons.            

     In our society we tend to label our addictions or conditioned, habitual responses as “our demons” because of how they appear to assume control over our lives. Our thoughts are dynamic and energetic so what we feed with our responses will grow.   Many people learn to live with their habits and responses.  Others find them exceedingly difficult to manage once they have grown. They can outcrop at the most inopportune moments.  They can dominate a person’s life by poisoning countless relationships and by sabotaging many career opportunities.  

     People who cannot forgive, for example, appear to be held prisoner by their resentments.  People who easily lose control of their hostile emotions have created a response mechanism that prevents them from being reasonable when their expectations are not met.  People, who do not have control over events in their lives, can suffer anxiety attacks.   

     Once I was mountain climbing in California with a friend of ours and she began to talk to herself, “Okay, you can do this.  Calm down.  You are not in any danger.”  She had neglected to tell me prior to our climb, that she had an extreme fear of heights.  She had envisioned that our hike would take us along well-worn trails.  What we had to negotiate were large boulders and ledges.  Her demon was preventing her from enjoying the adventure of climbing.  Her demon would not allow her to see the commanding views that surrounded us.  

     Recently I performed a wedding ceremony for a small bridal party without having a rehearsal.  The bride was enthusiastic and showed no signs of being worried. The groom, however, had grown very pensive.  Obviously he did not want to appear foolish in front of the guests, but the larger issue was that he had no control over what was about to happen. His demon would not allow him to face uncertainty without also causing him to experience a high level of anxiety.   

     I asked him if he could relax while flying.  He said, “Of course.”  I said, “You have no anxiety during such flights because you have confidence that the pilot knows how to fly the aircraft.  Today, I’m your pilot.”  Even though he understood my metaphor, he still wanted me to instruct him what he was supposed to do and when.   

     Our problem is that we have developed and cultivated a large number of our own demons because we imagine that they can protect us with certain defenses, empower us with righteous indignation, give us pleasure, provide guidance or give us permission to set aside our responsibilities through our non-ending litany of excuse making and finger pointing.   

     We create many such demons in our childhood.  As we feed them through the years, we empower them to stunt our growth, retard our flexibility and resiliency or completely shut down our sense of wonder, mystery and adventure.  We become their slaves.  They appear to take on an existence of their own and their chief enemy is the power of our will.  Many of them have their roots in fears we never dealt with as children.            

     For example, young bullies can grow up to be like the man who killed another man some years ago over a disagreement at a hockey game in New York.  The game in question was one where their sons played on opposing teams.  Some children can grow up in such a hostile home environment that they learn to spend the rest of their lives seeking validation from various partners with whom they instantly become intimate.              

     Let us return to the central message of the story.  What are we to do with our known demons?  Jesus would tell us, “If you trust me, I will take your awareness and consciousness to levels where you have never been. Give me your voice and I will teach you to sing.  Surrender the need to seek your wholeness in others and I will teach you that you are already whole.  Let go of self-taught responses that do not serve you and I will guide you to discover your undeveloped skills of patience, kindness, forgiveness and understanding.  Trust me with your destiny and I will promise that your life will never bore you.”           

     Our demons have the potential to destroy the quality of our lives. The art of living comes from letting go, forgiving everything and everyone and trusting God for all outcomes.  When Jesus’ guidance becomes central within our living patterns, our demons quite often lose their power.   

     The task before us is far from being easy.  Many of our demons have grown to an enormous size and strength.  The man came to Jesus from the security of the burial caves and sought liberation. The result for us can be the same.  It is like purging our computer of a virus; it can and will be done when we bring ourselves to one who has the skill.  The first step of such an exorcism is ours to make.  We must bring ourselves before God and ask for healing. Little David slew a giant named Goliath because of where he had placed his trust.  So can we when we confront our demons, stop feeding them and bring them to God.


    Eternal God, we enter our sanctuary this morning realizing that worship is one of the most refreshing ways to begin our week.  Until we arrive here, we are seldom aware of the accumulation of distractions that have blocked our awareness of your presence.  Thank you for loving us even when we do not respond, when our vision is fixed on self-interest and when we slip into pleasures that we hope will neutralize the voices that call to us from all directions. 

    Jesus prayed, “Our Father who art in Heaven,” and so we too have often used that name in describing you.  We know that each of our dads have had the potential to reflect your nature.  Often dad’s words stood between us and what was not wholesome.  We accused him of not understanding us while he was protecting us from dangers we could not see.  He could fix our broken toys and mend our aching hearts.  He instilled confidence by helping us confront our demons.  As the years passed and our understanding grew, he became a real person, an advisor and a friend.  We now know that many of the values we see in ourselves sprouted from seeds he sowed in our inner garden when we were not looking.  Thank you for this marvelous source from which we have learned the value of character and integrity.   

    We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .