A sermon by Associate Minister Elsa A. Peters, February 8, 2009
He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. They knew him. The demons knew Jesus – and still we’re not sure what they are. Part of me can’t resist seeing gremlins being silenced by a cool and collected Jesus. Gremlins, like in that movie from the 80’s. Little things that you think you can handle until they get wet and mutate into something terrifying. Gremlins was the scariest movie of my childhood so perhaps that’s why part of me defaults to seeing demons as gremlins.
But, I don’t really believe that. Not really. I don’t think that’s what a demon is at all. Demons aren’t creatures outside of us that take on a physical presence, like a gremlin or a monster. Demons are far scarier than that. They hide within us. We incorrectly name them – as our ancestors did – as illness or disease. But, that’s not right. Diseases have a cure. Not demons. Not in the Gospels. They are cast out. They are banished. They are sent away. And yet, they never seem to really disappear. They keep popping up. They keep talking – as they do for Jesus here. The demons try to speak to him, but he won’t permit it. Jesus silences them because the demons knew him. They know who he is. They know what he is. But, Jesus won’t have it. Jesus wants who he is and what he is to be a secret. But, the demons know.
Demons always know who we really are, don’t they? That’s what a demon is: our deepest wound, our most painful story, our greatest truth. Demons are the very things that we keep silent because if anyone found out who we really are without seeing what we can do and the wonderful words we can offer… well, (sigh) we just hope that doesn’t happen. Ever.
Still, demons have power. The Gospel’s audience would know that demons are higher in the cosmic order. They had power. Real power, but don’t tell me that’s not just as true now. Your demons have power over you, don’t they? They possess you. They know you well. Still, you try to silence them as Jesus does. I can’t think of anything worse. This isn’t something I’m just saying. It’s something I know. I’ve tried to keep my demons silent. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. It’ll break your heart. It’ll break your soul. It’ll separate you from God. And I know, there’s nothing worse. So, we must let our demons speak.
I’ll start. I’ll break the silence by telling you the story that hurts me most. I’ll tell you this story not so you will console me or comfort me. That’s not why I’m telling you this story. I’m telling you this story so that you will let your demon speak. Give it a voice. Give it a name. Don’t let it separate you from God anymore. Today, in this pulpit, I’m telling you my demon so that you won’t silence yours anymore.
My demon is my grief because my grief knows me. It shows up like clockwork every year on Groundhog Day. Twenty-two years ago, I knew my winter would be longer – not because of a creature that saw his shadow but because my father kneeled down beside me and told me that my mother died. Today, I’m going to let this demon speak. I’m going to tell you the whole story about that Groundhog Day when I was in second grade. We made cookies in school. I don’t remember why, but we made cookies that day. They had nuts in them. I was distracted because I was going to see my mom in the hospital after school. It seemed like it had been forever since I had seen her, but I was 7 so it could have been a mere 3 days. She’d been in and of the hospital for a long time. I didn’t really understand what was happening. I don’t think anyone said the word cancer, but even if they did it wouldn’t have meant anything to me.
I was more concerned about cookies and ice cream. That’s what distracted me that day in school. Last time I had seen my mom, I fed her ice cream. Chocolate ice cream. Her lunch came during our visit and I thought that she should eat – not the vegetables on the tray, but the ice cream. This time, I was going to bring her cookies. Don’t be fooled. It wasn’t that sweet. I would have eaten the cookies myself but I don’t like nuts. So, my teacher helped me wrap up the cookies and some stale marshmallows leftover from my lunch in pink tissue paper with a nice bow. I held that package carefully in my lap the whole bus ride home. I refused to put it in my backpack because the cookies would break, so there I was holding this pretty pink tissue paper when the bus slowed down in front of my stop. My father was there. I could see him through the window. It was then that I knew something was wrong. He was supposed to meet my brother and I at home. He wasn’t supposed to be there. Something was really, really, really wrong. His face was splotchy and his eyes were red. He looked terrible, but I had never seen him cry before so I didn’t know what these signs meant. I didn’t know that he’d been crying and I certainly didn’t know why he would be so sad.
He hugged my brother and I without saying a word. He just took our hands and walked us down the hill toward home ignoring my brother’s questions – of which there were many. He was just quiet until we got to the bottom of the hill away from the other kids and parents. He kneeled down beside us so that I could see the tears running down his cheeks and there he told us that mom had died that afternoon. My brother wanted to know if we could see her tomorrow. I wanted to know if my dad liked cookies with nuts in them.
This was the Groundhog Day that started my long winter of grief. This is what hides within me. This is the story that keeps talking: my deepest wound, my most painful story and my greatest truth. It possesses me. It claims me in a way that I’m often not sure how to explain. It knows me, just as the demons knew who and what Jesus was. This demon knows who I am. It knows what I am. It knows that I’m a motherless daughter and when Groundhog Day comes again, I permit myself to be that 7-year old girl and cry the tears that I didn’t know to cry that day.
The truth is that I can’t cast it out. Not entirely. It will never really disappear. It will always pop up again. It will always be talking to me – but I won’t silence it. Not any more. I’ll permit my demon to speak so that I can be healed. I don’t know if it’ll work. I can’t tell you if it will make it easier. I can only tell you how much it hurts to have silenced my demon for so long. So, instead, I’m going to let it speak. I’m going to try to put myself out there like the sick and the possessed that went to Jesus after he healed Simon’s mother-in-law. They didn’t know about her. They didn’t know what happened. They didn’t even know who Jesus was – but they went. No matter how scared they were; the sick and those possessed permitted their demons to speak to this stranger. And he healed them. He healed them all.
I’m not healed yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully healed just as I don’t know how the sick and possessed felt after Jesus touched them. I don’t think my grief will ever disappear. So, I will cast it out by admitting it – admitting that it hurts and that it’s still there 22 years later. This is how I’ll permit my demon to speak in the most publicly terrifying way that might allow me to heal – and this is all I hope for you. No matter what your deepest wound, your painful story, your greatest truth may be, I hope you won’t silence it anymore. I hope you’ll let someone hear it. I hope you’ll let God meet you there. I hope that you’ll permit the demons to speak.