I was at Our Saviour, Placerville, about a year when a couple told me about the home they bought in south El Dorado County. It was on several acres with a pond and a barn. They then said they were disturbed about some things happening at their home. There were things happening that they could not explain. They told me about a prior owner who did things around the house that are happening at that time without their help. There were other unexplained things as well.
I can’t share the exact details with you, because I don’t remember them. Except for these unexplained phenomena, they really loved their house. They didn’t want to sell it, if they could avoid it. They said their home was haunted or possessed. They wanted my help. They asked for an exorcism.
I had never before had a request for an exorcism and I have not had one since.
There are a lot of things about parish ministry that they don’t teach in seminary. Exorcisms are one of those things. I remembered that there was a page about exorcisms in The Book of Occasional Services. The entire subject was covered in one paragraph. Basically, it reads, ask your bishop. I told them I would have to talk to the bishop and I would get back to them.
So, I called Bishop Lamb. I related their story and their request. What Bishop Lamb told me was to do a house blessing. I thought, “I can do that.” Way back when we lived in Ogden, Utah, we saw “The Exorcist.” I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to do that.
So, we scheduled a house blessing. I said the liturgy and prayers from The Book of Occasional Services, splattering holy water to and fro.
They reported to me a few weeks later (they weren’t regular attenders) that the strange goings on in their home were gone. I served at Our Saviour for 15 years. In those 15 years their home was normal after the house blessing.
I am a skeptic when it comes to supernatural stuff. Yet, there I things I have heard about that I cannot explain and no one else has explained. What happened at this couple’s home, I cannot explain. These are very rational people. I had no doubt that what they saw and what they heard was real.
Like the man born blind in John’s gospel who said, “I could not see and then I could see.” Well, all I know is that there were weird things and then there weren’t weird things. I have no idea what it was. All I know is that it left.
I have never had anyone stand up in church and ask, “Have you come to destroy us?” (Mark 1:24c) I hope it never happens. Now, I have had some schizophrenics tell me some really weird stuff that they think they saw, but nothing like what happened when Jesus went to synagogue. Mark sets up the scene by identifying a man in the synagogue who had an unclean spirit.
I am a little puzzled what constitutes a clean spirit and an unclean spirit. Jews labeled almost everything as clean and unclean. Clean is good and unclean is to be avoided. We might assume that an unclean spirit is evil. Someone with an unclean spirit will not act rationally. Maybe that is why booze is referred to as spirits.
I hope that no one in Capernaum ever had a seemingly crazy person yell out during the service. This man, and they were men in a first century synagogue, stood up and addressed Jesus as Jesus was teaching. In this early stage in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus is already known as a rabbi or teacher.
The man knows Jesus’ name and where he came from. Whatever Jesus was teaching about, the man took personally. “What have you to do with us?” (Mark 1:24b) The man identifies Jesus as a man from Nazareth, but then he says he knows who Jesus really is, “the Holy One of God.”
Jesus did not ask his bishop what to do. Jesus did not do a synagogue blessing. Remember that in Mark, Jesus’ identity is a secret. Yet, it is the demons who out Jesus. Jesus ordered the unclean spirit to be quiet and to come out of the man. The man convulsed and the unclean spirit left with a cry.
The people who heard Jesus were astounded at his teaching. It was not anything that they had heard before. Jesus’ authority comes from God as was mentioned in the Old Testament reading, that a true prophet “will speak in my (God’s) name” (Deuteronomy 18:19). On top of that, the unclean spirits obey Jesus. The synagogue story spreads throughout Galilee.
This is the first of many people who are to receive an exorcism from Jesus. My rational mind might think that maybe what they considered to be possessions by demons or something else were really physical sicknesses, like epilepsy. Several of Jesus’ exorcisms probably fall in this category.
Yet, this story seems different. This wasn’t epilepsy. It doesn’t sound like schizophrenia. Jesus was challenged by something that had a rational fear for its existence. Jesus does not destroy the unclean spirit. Like the house in El Dorado County, it leaves and presumably goes somewhere else. Some other poor bugger will be possessed. That makes me wonder how many times Jesus exorcises the same unclean spirit.
Evil does not always appear supernaturally. Almost all evil in the world is done by human beings. We state in our baptismal vows that we “will persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever (we) fall into sin, repent, and return to the Lord.” (BCP p.304)
Resisting evil begins with us. We must repent our wrongs. Once that is done, then we can call out the evil around us. Evil likes to live in darkness and the shadows. It likes to do its work in secret and behind the scenes. Only when evil thinks there is a sanction for its work, does evil show itself for all to see.
When evil is made manifest, evil counts on silence. It the duty of Christians, obeying our baptismal vows, to name evil.
I assume that the people of Capernaum ministered to the man who had the unclean spirit. Once someone repents of evil, it is also our duty to minister to that person. We are to forgive and bring people to the light of Christ.
Christmas 2009 It is unfortunate that Larry Nassar refused to take responsibility for his actions. The judge was disgusted with his letter to her. We condemn Larry Nassar and pray that he repents. Even if we did not do anything as horrible as Larry Nassar, repentance is still our duty. Let us pray that Nassar comes to the light and that our institutions will reform themselves and resist evil.
Text: Mark 1:21–28