Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch
Human suffering is a great way to meet Jesus, and it’s also terrible. But that’s the thing about hitting bottom; God is there, waiting, even if we don’t feel it.
Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about because you’ve been there. You’ve had that middle of the night crisis where you felt all alone in this world, except maybe for God. Perhaps you ran away from God for a while, thinking you could pick up the broken pieces of your life on your own, with the help of a bottle, or a therapist, a friend or spouse. Maybe you eventually wore out your welcome, and the people you leaned on for support got tired of holding you up. What then?
This sermon is mostly about demons- well, demons and prayer. The story from Mark’s gospel is fascinating; complex and rich, weaving a story of healings, casting out demons, Jesus sneaking off to pray, and moving on to the next place. I want to talk about all of it, but mostly we’re going to focus on demons; literal demons, metaphorical demons, all of the demons you can think of, and we’re going to talk about prayer.
But I want to start with a story, a personal story. You see, not long after the birth of my second child, I had one of those middle of the night moments, one of those really real moments. It was a crisis. I was slipping down, down, suffering, heading into a downward spiral and wearing out the people around me. I had been putting on a good show when I needed to, lying about how great it was to have two healthy kids – telling the best lies to myself….until I just couldn’t lie anymore.
I hadn’t slept in weeks. I was beyond exhaustion. I couldn’t stop crying. The blood vessels in my eyes had all burst and they were bright red. The baby, although healthy, wouldn’t stop screaming no matter what we did. He wouldn’t sleep. Ever. He cried constantly. Our 3 year old daughter had completely regressed in a number of ways and was a nightmare. My husband, my dear husband, had bleeding stomach ulcers. We were a mess. And all I wanted to do was get in the car and start driving far, far away from it all. (I didn’t.)
Around 3 a.m. one night, wide awake, the baby and I both crying, in the midst of our suffering, we met Jesus. In addition to the temporary suffering of life with an unhappy newborn, there was something else wrong, something deep inside. It took one of my closest friends in the world to help me see it. Heather, awake in Katy, Texas, with her own newborn was texting me and she asked again, for at least the third time that week, “Do you think it might be postpartum depression? I think you should call your doctor.”
And I finally did. I listened to Heather because it was a really real moment and her words pierced my soul and made me realize that I was at the bottom and I needed help. I sat there in the middle of the night in the rocking chair with that sweet screaming newborn and typed out an email to my doctor, a cry for help, one finger, one letter at a time. During that very vulnerable time of my life, postpartum depression was the demon with which I had to wrestle. I had to admit I wasn’t Wonder Woman. I couldn’t do it all. I had to surrender and learn to ask for help. I had weekly phone appointments with my wonderful doctor for a while where he helped me develop a strategy for surviving those months of colic and held me accountable to my plan in asking for help. For a period of time, I took medication. I prayed a lot. At first, I prayed while baby Myles screamed. I prayed for more sleep. I prayed for patience and asked God to help me survive.
And slowly, over time, so slowly, things started to get better. It took a year. It took months for the screaming to stop. It took a year before that sweet baby slept through the night. It took about a year for my demon, the postpartum depression, to fade away, to recede into the past. And more than anything, it took a lot of prayers in the middle of the night. The really real moments while I was wrestling with the demon of depression were pretty ugly.
That was my demon. What are yours? Someone said to me the other day, “My demon is anxiety.” She said, the anxiety takes over and then the fear sets in and I can’t move. What other demons are there? What demons plague us?- Shame? Fear? Addiction? Depression? Isolation? Insecurity? Anger? Infertility? Loss? The list goes on and on. These are the big ones, the 800 pound gorillas of the demon world.
But what about the daily demons? I’m thinking of the demonic inner monologue we all have running in the back of our mind pretty much all the time. It’s the little voice (that’s kind of whiny) that says, “Do I really have to do that now? But I don’t feel like praying again. Why must I help my friend with his relationship problems, it’s never going to get any better. Do I really have to put up with her baggage today?”
That’s demonic language and it’s all about “me.” It’s selfish and it’s certainly not helpful. These sorts of daily demons don’t help us understand Jesus at all, let alone be healed by Christ. They just get in the way.
What’s curious about demons is exactly what we heard in the text. The demons always recognize Jesus. In Mark, chapter 1, verse 34, it says, Jesus “cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” Jesus doesn’t let them talk because he looks past them. The demon is insignificant. Jesus looks at a person held captive by a demon and he sees their soul.
We’re not so good at that though. I know I’m not.
When confronted by someone in the throes of addiction or depression, anxiety or panic, are you able to see their soul, or is it too distorted by the demon? I know I’m often distracted by the demon. That distraction is the daily demon, the inner monologue getting in the way of the big picture and I’m going to talk about how we can break that cycle in a minute.
But first, I want to talk about the impact of demons on our souls. I think our souls are immune from being destroyed by demons, but our souls aren’t immune from suffering. Our soul locates us in our eternal relationship with God. That is its purpose.
A demon may exhaust or bury the soul, but it can never destroy the soul. That is where we find hope. In the midst of enduring the worst demon, or watching a loved one suffer from a demon, we find hope in knowing that it can never destroy the soul.
And now, here is the cycle. Some demons are once in a lifetime – like the postpartum depression I experienced. Other demons are cyclical and will return throughout the seasons of life. Some demons are daily and others are catastrophic. But, in one way or another, we all experience some type of demonic way of thinking or feeling or experiencing the world in a way that is unhealthy and painful.
Hold on, there’s more. The first step is dealing with our own demons. We have been blessed, healed, and have had our demons cast out by Jesus, through surrender, a lot of hard work, and usually by asking for help.
Now, we have the opportunity to serve and follow Jesus. And we do this by doing four things:
- by prayer
- by continuing to keep ourselves healthy and helping to heal others
- by proclaiming the gospel and telling our story
- and by helping remove the demons of others when we can, like my friend Heather when she helped me recognize my demon and offered help and some hope that things could get better.
These four things are in no particular order and must be balanced. If we are consumed by our demonic inner monologue of whiny complaints, we can’t do it. We have to start with prayer, or meditation and ask God to cast out the demonic thoughts in order to free us to see, like Jesus, to see past the demons of others and into the souls of others.
We sometimes focus so much on the demons, we forget to see the person’s soul and that is pretty hope-less.
Jesus brings us hope. That is what I want you take away from this sermon. Demons are real, even today. They plague us. They live with us. They sometimes take up residence inside us and wear us out. But as someone who has come through on the other side, with the help of Jesus, a whole lot of prayer, and the hope offered by a friend, I want to extend that to you now.
If you are searching for that hope, wondering where it has gone, borrow mine. Jesus brings it and I’ll share it. Don’t let those demons steal your hope.