Fr. Benedict Varnum: An Exorcism for Our Times
What a pathetic bunch of demons. Can you believe these guys? They’re a laughingstock. Fleeing into a bunch of pigs, and they can’t even drive them properly. Right over the cliff!
We want all the demons to be pathetic. We want them to whine to Jesus about not going back to the abyss. We want to laugh at them for fleeing into pigs, only to meet their end. We love to stand alongside Jesus in this tale, laughing the demons away.
All that pathetic little Legion.
But not all demons are pathetic.
Last weekend, many of us were rocked to hear about a mass shooting in Orlando. 102 people were shot in the deadliest attack on a gay target in American history. Forty-nine people died; forty-nine families will have an empty chair going forward. A generation of young gay and lesbian Americans learned that they might be killed for who they are and who they love.
Not all demons are pathetic.
There are larger demons here than one man, and his two or three guns. These demons thrive on divisions and barriers. These demons cheer every time we divide into “us and them.” These demons carefully spend every quiet moment encouraging us to take one little step more towards hating someone else, stoking a sense of self-righteousness in ourselves until it can erupt.
We don’t know exactly which demon whispered to the gunman. We don’t know if it was homophobia, or if it was some message of self-hate he’d been taught, or if he’d learned to hate the latino community in Orlando, or if he’d heard some hateful thing from people far away.
Was the demon’s name Homophobia? Was its name Self-Hate-turned-outwards? Was its name Terror?
Or was its name, too, Legion, for it took many different demons to orchestrate this wild moment for this young man’s mind, twisted by their dark whisperings.
Whichever voice Omar heard, all of these demon shrieked their victory when Omar Mateen bought his weapons and loaded them to kill, targeting a club for gay men on Latin night.
And we are left to wonder at their success.
We would love for all the demons to be pathetic, whining to be let into the pigs. We would love to laugh as they stupidly careen off a cliff, cheerfully gone from our community as the swineherds cry out for their lost trade.
But the demons aren’t pathetic.
So we can’t be either.
Today is Father’s Day, and I’d like nothing more than to preach a sermon only about the gifts fathers can give their children, and the love of God as a father to us all.
But the demons don’t get the last word on last week. The demons don’t get to count on silence from this pulpit this week.
The demons aren’t pathetic, but neither is Jesus. And that’s where our strength is.
Jesus taught us to love.
Jesus taught us to talk to one another.
Jesus walked across every human barrier that had been erected, meeting a person instead of a label.
Jesus let a Samaritan woman give him water in broad daylight.
Jesus touched an unclean leper to heal him.
Jesus spoke to Romans, and pagans, and Samaritans and tax collectors — those who worshipped the wrong gods, or the right God in the wrong way.
Jesus gave EVERYONE love, and mercy, and healing.
And you can too.
Every time you choose love instead of anger, Jesus wins.
Every time you choose to heal instead of harm, Jesus wins.
Every time you take a bullet instead of firing a bullet, Jesus wins.
Every time you make a space safe for gay or lesbian persons, Jesus wins.
Every time you make a space safe for Muslims, or refugees, Jesus wins.
Every time you decide that a Latino man or Latina woman is equal in your eyes and in your heart, Jesus wins.
Every time you teach a child to value every other person, Jesus wins.
Every time you correct the angry outburst that mocks someone’s race or religion or sexuality, Jesus wins.
Every time you choose to listen instead of shouting someone else down, Jesus wins.
The demons want you to think that nothing can be done. They want you to think that love is cheap and worthless. It’s one of their favorite lies.
And if you forget about Jesus, you might believe them.
Jesus healed the man in Gerasene, and that man sat at his feet.
It’s what you do, when the teacher appears.
And that God-healed man wanted to go off with Jesus right then and there — surely that was better than the life he’d been living, raving madly in the tombs.
But Jesus tells him to stay and proclaim what he’s learned, right where he is. And so he stayed, and told what he had seen, and what had been done for him.
To proclaim Jesus. And healing. And the grace of God.
The demons don’t get the last word. Not when they laughed at Jesus on the cross, and NOT in Orlando last Saturday.
We say instead, healing for gay and lesbian youth. Healing for bi and transgender youth. Healing for American Muslims and Latinos, worried that this may spark more violence against them. Healing for everyone who’s been dismissed with an angry slur, or shouted down by some madman in a demon’s thrall.
And healing also for those the demons seize. Healing for those who feel strength from hate or violence. Healing for those who ignored the man in the tomb while he was naked and raving, imagining there was nothing left to do.
The demons don’t get the last word. Not when we speak their names and do the work to send them over the cliff.
So begone, Homophobia. Begone, Hate. Begone, Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Begone, Racism. Begone, Violence and Rage.
Begone, you demons who think you can hide in the pigs until Jesus leaves, and afflict the world once more.
The demons don’t get the last word. Not unless we don’t proclaim any other words.
– Fr. Benedict Varnum, St. Augustine of Canterbury, Omaha.