Sunday, June 23, 2019
Second Sunday after Pentecost
Our living structures were about fifty yards apart. We lived far from the fire department, so the homes were built with a separate sleeping quarters away from the kitchen and dining areas. Next to our sleeping quarters was an orange tree and a large mango tree. In the back of the house was an avocado tree and a bamboo grove. In the Lumahai valley, darkness seemed to come quickly, and arrived in the early evening. When darkness covered the valley, the trees and the bamboo grove seem to come alive.
As a child, I was sure that dark, unseen beings lurking in the trees. We did not have electricity, so, with the exception of the stars, it became completely dark as soon as the night blanketed the valley. As a child, with a very active imagination, the trees and the bamboo grove seem to harbor dark, scary, formless beings. I wasn’t sure what they looked like or what they would would do to me in the darkness of night. I wasn’t about to find out. All I knew was that I was frightened of whatever was lurking in the darkness.
To make matters more frightening, the bamboo groove in the back of the house had many strange sounds, especially at night. The dark nights seemed to amplify the sounds when it was rainy and windy. My older siblings would scare us by saying that the “obake” or the ghosts were outside the house shaking the bamboo trees. So we made sure that we took a bath and brushed our teeth early, so we did not have to walk in the dark from the kitchen to our sleeping quarters.
Later in my teens, our bachelor cousin took us to Japanese movies. We looked forward to all the samurai movies and especially, the obake movies. The Japanese movie makers made these scary movies that always featured a ghostly presence, dressed in a white, loose, flowing dress with piercing eyes and long black hair. After the movie, we had to drive back home into that very dark valley. I was always afraid that we would see a lady dressed in white standing at the edge of the beam of our headlights.
This year, is the 45th anniversary of William Friedkin’s groundbreaking horror movie. In December of 1973, the Warner Brothers movie studio decided that they would produce a movie that dealt with a demonic theme. It was based on William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist”. It was based on the real life story of an exorcism of a young boy. At the time, Blatty was a student at Georgetown University. He decided to write a novel about this particular incident. When Warner Brothers released the movie, it won ten Oscar nominations, including best supporting actress for Linda Blair. I read the novel and went to see the movie. People flocked to see the movie and it was a huge success. There was a public curiosity about the demonic theme of the movie.
I often wondered if the demons were similar to the ones described in the scriptures. In all my years on Kauai nor as an adult, there was never an encounter that was remotely similar to what the scriptures described in today’s reading. Nor did I see anything that I had imagined as a child in the darkness of the Lumahai night. Are the demon possessions that Jesus dealt with the same as I imagined as a child, or as in the Japanese obake movies portrayed or as in the movie, The Exorcist? Are they still around?
As I prepared for this morning, I decided to see if there were any clues Jesus left for us so we could make sense of this morning’s reading. What is demon possession and how can we recognize a “demon possessed person” today? As I read various biblical commentators, I began to realize that perhaps we do, after all, still see demons in our current day life.
One important feature seems to be individuals who were cut off from their family and society. One description was that these demon possessed people lived “in tombs and caves and were driven by the demons to live in the wilds”. It was described as a “living death” and they were separated from their people and the community where they lived. Another characteristic described the demons themselves as evil forces that captured people and kept them from becoming who they would have normally become.
With these clues in mind it is easy to see that we still have some very potent demons in our modern society. I realize that they are all around us and we are not immune to their influence. We are aware of family members or friends or people we know who have been dealing with such potent forces….. be it mental illness, paranoia, addiction, destructive habits, PTSD, opioid use, and more. These newer demons still cause separation and pain, though our perspective about “what is a demon” may have changed.
Three years ago, our news headlines covered the death of the Rocker “Prince,” who died from drug overdose. Today, our nation is in the midst of an opioid crisis. More than 130 people die everyday of opioid overdose in the United States. In 2017, more than 70,200 people died of opioid overdose. Besides opioid uses, crystal meth has dramatically increased since 2010.
But over forty years ago, meth use was already prevalent. My own family had not been spared from the devastating effects of meth. I have a nephew who has intermittently been addicted to meth for over 40 years. He has stolen and cheated friends and family members. Today, at over fifty years of age, he is still addicted, despite multiple efforts to help wean himself from this addiction. He has been a source of much pain and sadness for our family.
I know many, if not all of you have stories of these encounters, and have seen the deep and harmful affects on families, friendships, and communities. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, at the height of the hippie movement, I had two nephews that were in the evening news almost daily. They constantly harassed victims who were addicted to drugs on the Northshore of Kauai. Unfortunately, they too, were very much involved in the drug culture and suffered from addiction and this reputation followed for many, many years. I can remember many on Maui asking me if I was related to them, knowing I was from Kauai and our last names were the same. When I would go home to visit Kauai, Ellen and I would often visit particular hotel restaurants for breakfast. The hostess would ask for my name. This was immediately followed with the question “Are you related to the Harada boys?” It wasn’t the reputation I wanted to follow me when I visited Kauai.
No matter where we live, we witness the effects of both drugs and mental illness. The nation struggles with the effects of homelessness due to these newer demons. On every Island we see those who suffer from the effects of these modern demons, living on street sidewalks and in our parks. The government tries to help with the problem by setting aside financial and Human Resources to solve the problem. And yet, the problem seems to get bigger and bigger each year. These are the modern day demons who separate and destroy families, friendships, and tear at the fabric of almost every community in our nation.
Like the demons of Jesus’s day, the separation and heartbreak they cause remain the same. The message of Jesus remains pertinent today. We must remain vigilant. As Christians we are called to recognize and deal with these demons in our society, and not turn our backs on these individuals. The destructive nature of these forces on individuals, families, and society makes it imperative that we do so.
So does the scripture leave us any instruction on how to how to deal with them? This particular scripture narrative ends with the demon possessed individual being healed. The Greek word used in this instance is the word,“sozo”, which can be translated “saved”, or “delivered”, or “be made whole.” Jesus, in his healing, made sure that the seeker is restored to wholeness.Then an important conclusion is in verse 39, it says, “he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” The one “possessed” didn’t just say thanks and head on out, he made sure that he shared what was done in order to be healed. Like the demon who recognized who Jesus was, those with addictions must also recognize that healing can only come through help from a power greater than themselves.
One of the great organizations dealing with alcoholism has twelve steps
that they adhere to. But, I think the first three steps are particularly crucial
in dealing with addiction. They are:
Admitting that they are powerless over our addiction, and that their lives have become unmanageable.
Believing that a power greater than themselves can restore to wholeness and sanity.
Making a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand Him.
Richard Rogness, Professor of Preaching, writes, “Members of Alcoholic’s Anonymous or AA, also realize not only need God’s help but the support of people around them. In almost all of Jesus’s stories of healing, there is restoration to families and towns people.” He further writes, “For the healing of demons today, the fellowship of family, congregation, and community is key to restoration. Becoming free from our demons is seldom a ‘do it yourself’ project. We need God’s help, and we need the help of other people.”
So, I believe there are two important take aways from the scriptures from this morning’s lesson. Recognition that we do still experience demons in our modern life and that these demons today still respond in the same way as the demons in the scripture did to a recognition that God’s great love can provide healing and refuge.
Jesus also asks each of us as his haumana, to be a supportive community of believers who are willing to provide love and support to those recovering from the destructive forces in their lives. Jesus promises that there is hope, and there is healing. There is reconciliation and there is wholeness. May this be be the message of our community of faith. Amen!