There Are Demons Among Us, Luke 4:31-44, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, February 3, 2019
I would like to adamantly deny any connection with the singing of the hymn, “Away from us!” the Demon Cried, right before I come to you with this morning’s sermon.
If you were to go to Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri, one of the highlights to visit would be Luther Tower. The tower was completed in 1966 and stands 156 feet tall. However, what many don’t often see is the small chapel at its base, the Chapel of the Holy Apostles. It is typically only used for private meditation, private devotions, or small group prayers. It wasn’t long after I first learned of this chapel, that I heard of a supposed exorcism attempt at the Sem.
Now before one can shrug this off as just another student confessed rumor, one only needs to remember a 1973 movie with the title “The Exorcist”. That movie was based on the novel written by William Peter Blatty and reportedly centered on a true story.
The story goes like this. In 1949, a fourteen year old boy from a Lutheran family living in Mt. Rainier, Maryland, was reported to be possessed by a demon. A Lutheran pastor was asked to give pastoral care. But he was unable to provide adequate care, and the family went to St. Louis for help.
They went to the St. Louis University Hospital for consultation with Jesuit experts and eventually a successful exorcism was performed at Alexian Brothers Hospital. But before the boy was admitted to Alexian Brothers, he was brought to the attention of Dr. Louis Sieck, then President of Concordia Seminary, and Rev. Alfred Doerffler, then pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church.
So the story continues that together, they attempted an exorcism to free the boy from the demon which possessed him. It was told to me that the exorcism may have taken place in what is now called the Chapel of the Holy Apostles. At that time it was simply an empty room just off from the president’s office. The attempt proved unsuccessful and the family converted to Catholicism.
Let’s be clear exactly what Dr. Sieck and Pastor Doerffler were dealing with. Demonic possession is defined as the control of a human person’s body and mind against their will by a spiritual being. There had been reports of the strange phenomena which centered on the boy. Objects reportedly moved with invisible assistance, like pictures, tables, and objects on the tables. And the bed the boy slept in was shaken violently and the bed covers were ripped off the child. A chair the boy sat in rocked back and forth in a manner which could not be duplicated by anyone else. Finally, there appeared on the boy’s chest dermal markings which spelled the phrase: “Go to St. Louis.”
Maybe you haven’t ever known of anyone filled with an evil spirt, maybe you have. We often find ourselves facing evil in the world. How else could we, as people of conscience, explain the actions of the brothers who allegedly carried out the Boston Marathon bombing, or the genocide of unborn children? Clearly, for most such actions are nothing but pure evil deserving condemnation.
But what of evil manifested in a being that can seize and control you? In our contemporary world where the use of reason and the scientific method has been largely accepted, most people would look doubtfully upon such notions. Words like “demon” are seen as part of ancient mythologies or a more “superstitious” theology. Indeed, news of exorcisms are rare in the developed world.
Yet in the New Testament Jesus Himself personally confronts and casts out demons and refers to Satan in a personal way, not merely as just some abstract concept.
How can all of this apply to us this morning; those of us who aren’t plagued with a physical demon inside us or our loved ones? Or are we? Perhaps we need to speak of the forces of evil rather than actual physical demons here.
We have listened to Satan’s lies for far too long. We give him a chance to say what he wants to say – as if his wickedness does not influence us. It does. His lies have found a home in our hearts. How often do we doubt God? How often have we thought the best thing to do was anything other than to rebuke sin and receive forgiveness in Christ? And while the Devil tricks us into not telling God’s Truth, Satan has our kids and our neighbors believing that no religion is better than any other. Having been conned into ignoring by the consequences of sin, they walk the broad path that leads to destruction.
Ever wondered if God was holding out on you? The sinful mind can easily think like a teenager, that our Father in Heaven could never understand what we go through, and is out to make our lives miserable. When all the while it is the demons inside of us that are truly the source of our misery. We complicate our lives when we open the door for them. We let them into our home. We risk everything God gave us for a moment’s pleasure. We believe their deception and do the Devil’s deeds of darkness.
We face fears of economic forces, environmental forces, psychological forces, addictions. All, or any of these things can often be fearsome and a problem for us. But the problem with evil forces in our lives is that we seldom turn to Christ for the answers. His Word does not seem to speak aloud for so many of us. I guess that’s not surprising in today’s evil culture. When do we, ourselves, actually act and speak as if Jesus can and does address those things in our own lives? If only we would just start believing and acting on our belief!
The crowd around Jesus notices something quite different. Jesus does not call on God to expel this demon; Jesus speaks the words as though they are His own. And the demon listens to Him, for the good of the man it possess. Cleansed of his demon, the man is not harmed. The people are amazed at this. His Word has authority and power, even the unclean spirits listen.
When Jesus speaks, things happen, demons listen, and the world is different place for His speaking and presence in it. (It is an interesting feature of the Gospels that the only ones who consistently get Jesus right are the demons.) Today we hear a demon admit that Jesus is the Holy One of God.
This same Jesus has come to you, He has washed away your sins in the baptismal font, and He is here today to feed us with His very own body and blood. He has forgiven our sins with the words of absolution. But we should not be content, and cannot imagine that this is the only place that He will work today. He has a heart for every member of this community, the most broken and fearful and sinful, as well as the folks who are utterly unaware that they need Him so desperately. He loves all, and He will not be confined by these four walls or a door.
The Jesus who walked Capernaum’s dusty streets long ago is with each and every one of us. He speaks today, with the same authoritative voice, the authority to do good, to define the important reality for you. He drives away the demons of your past and the broken relationships which have plagued you. He drives away the demonic fear which possessed you. He drives away the devilish world in which we must ever look for an approval, which always seems just out of reach. He speaks good to both me and to you.
God knows all your needs, all your problems with health, money or love. We trust God for everything. To trust spiritual beings other than God is nothing more than idolatry. God is more powerful than demons. When we trust in God, and His promises, in our baptism, we have God’s protection against demons and should never be afraid. When we fall into sin, God sets us free. We will always have this hope.
The pastoral care, provided in 1949 to a Lutheran boy possessed by a demon, ultimately became the responsibility of a Roman Catholic priest. The Lutheran pastor, of the boy’s home congregation in Woodridge, D.C., did confirm the phenomena which surrounded the boy at the parsonage on the night of February 17.
Dr. Sieck and Rev. Doerffler believed they were dealing with a valid case of demonic possession, and they attempted to help the boy. Whether this attempt can be classified as an exorcism must remain undetermined since we do not know exactly what they did.
What we do know is this; Christ’s blessing in granting us freedom, includes the freedom from fear. Christ’s blessing of exorcism in Holy Baptism brings us under His care, brings us to His feet to listen and learn in faith.
The Lord is your Shepherd. So fear no evil, for He is with you. When Jesus silences the demons, listen to your Shepherd’s voice, and get used to the idea that you must never listen to their voices. For once you belonged to the Devil. But now, whether you live or die, you belong to the Lord. You were bought at the tremendous price of His life and death, body and soul. Therefore, honor God with your body and soul.
Jesus did all this so that the good news could be preached to you that God is forgiving and gracious and loving and caring about what happens to you. He comes to preach His sacrifice to free us from every bondage we suffer. To free us from our sin as He rebukes us, as He leads us through repentance to His forgiveness.
You are free from the condemnation. You are free from the death and disease that dog you. You are free from the demons that deceptively terrorize you. You are free from anything that binds you, your past, your present, your future. Nothing can harm you for eternity, because the King holds your life in His hands. And those hands still have the Cross’ nail marks upon them.
And so we live our lives at the nail pierced feet of Jesus, and we revel in the freedom He brings. Freedom from the forces of the devil, even though we know they are in our midst. Freedom to face our reality with sure and certain faith. Freedom to enter the battle against Satan on the side of Christ, and know that in Christ, the battle has already been won. The devil and his demons have been driven from our midst, and Christ has given us true, heavenly freedom. Freedom to live faithful, fruitful, eternal lives with Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.