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January 29, 2012–Hollywood and Demons

Contributed by Aaron Matson, Toronto, SD

Warm-up Question

Do you like scary movies? What’s the scariest movie you’ve seen?

Hollywood and Demons

At least since the 1973 movie, The Exorcist, Hollywood has been scaring audiences (and selling lots of tickets) with images of the devil, demons, and demon possession. The last few years have seen movies like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Devil Inside have continued the formula. It seems like demons have been added to the list of go-to villains in horror movies, along with Jason, Freddie, and Michael Myers.

So why is the idea of demons so scary? Well, the idea of evil, supernatural entities lurking about ready to do us harm is pretty alarming, I suppose. But maybe our fear also has to do with our lack of understanding about them, and about evil itself. We Christians have set teachings, beliefs, or dogmas about lots of things—baptism, communion, even the Triune God—but we don’t really have any set beliefs about demons or the devil. We have the witness of some biblical stories, and some legends and stories passed down from ancient and medieval Christians, and that is about it.

What we Christians are called to do though, is renounce them. Right before we baptize, and affirm our baptism in confirmation, we confess our faith in God with the Apostles’ Creed and we renounce the devil and all his forces, the powers of this world that defy God, and the ways of sin that draw us from God.


Discussion Questions

  •  Have you seen any movies that used demons or the devil as a villain? What did you think of how they were portrayed?
  • What have you heard about the devil or demons? What do people think the look like and act like?
  • Why do you think it is important for us Christians to renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God as we celebrate baptism? Do you think this should be a part of worship more often? Why?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 12, 2012 (Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

In the gospel reading, the people are astounded by the authority of Jesus’ teaching. They are even more astounded by the authority Jesus’ has over the unclean spirit. He commands the spirit to shut up and go away—and the spirit obeys.

But before Jesus casts out the unclean spirit, it recognizes Jesus for who he is – the holy one of God. Others may not know who exactly this Jesus is, but in the Gospel of Mark, all the spirits know exactly who Jesus is and the power he has. The question the spirit asks, “What have you to to do with us?” might be better translated, “What is all this to you and me?” In other words, the unclean spirit spirit is saying “You have special power. You can see I’m pretty powerful, too. Who are you going to side with – powerful beings, or with these lowly humans? Have you come to destroy us?”

Jesus sides with us lowly humans, and shows the power he has over unclean spirits. In the ancient world, unclean spirits were thought to be the cause of disease, mental illness, and all sorts of tragedy and misfortune. They were a part of the chaos and disorder that afflicted humanity, like the waves of a stormy sea tossing around a small boat. As we see later in Mark, Jesus has the power to calm the chaos of stormy seas. As Martin Luther writes, Jesus has freed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. That Jesus has come to free us from these powers of evil, chaos, and destruction is good news indeed. Can you imagine the joy and relief—and the wonder—of the people who first saw Jesus’ power over unclean spirits?


Discussion Questions

  •  Have you ever had to confront evil? What gave you strength in that time? If you have not faced evil yet, what in our Christian faith can give you strength to face it?
  • What chaos or stormy seas are causing you pain or stress in life? What calm can Jesus bring to them?


Activity Suggestions

  • Go into the sanctuary and gather around the baptismal font. Review the renunciation of evil and confession of faith in the order of Baptism. End with everyone making the sign of the cross on their foreheads.
  • Search newspapers, or Internet news sites. Where do you see evil? What do you think the Christian witness of Jesus and people of faith can bring to these situations?

Closing Prayer

Holy God, our protector and defender, we ask that you be with us, and all those who face evil powers, chaos, and destruction in life. In times of fear and doubt, strengthen and increase our faith, that we may know you are with us always, and trust, that as powerful as evil may seem, you are stronger yet. Amen.

June 16-22, 2010–Evil at Work?

Contributed by Scott Mims, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Virginia Beach, VA 

Warm Up Question

 As a group list your answers to the following: 

  • When you think about the world today and about your future, what are some of the things that make you most anxious or afraid? 
  • What are some of the things that make you most optimistic or hopeful? 

Evil at Work?

On June 2, 2010, something went terribly wrong in the life of Derrick Bird.  Bird, a taxi driver, drove his taxi down England’s northwest coast on a three and a half-hour shooting spree that left 12 people dead and 25 others injured before turning his gun on himself.  Many of the shootings appear to have been completely random.  This rampage in the county of Cumbria was Britain’s deadliest since 1996, and is especially shocking in a nation where such events are very rare. 

Although the actions of Derrick Bird have deeply shaken the surrounding community, the reasons behind his behavior remain guesses at best.  Like other such attacks, investigators are able to piece together possible factors, symptoms, and signs, but only after the fact.  How then can we understand such things?  Are such seemingly random yet devastating events, as one commentator put it, the acts of greatly disturbed people “gripped by uncontrollable primitive urges,” or are they evidence of the forces of evil at work? 

Discussion Questions

  •  Do you believe in the existence of unseen evil forces at work in the world and in people’s lives?  If so, what evidence is there that suggests you are right?  If not, why not?
  • Do you believe we have “free will?” What place does human choice play in the events of the world that we would call evil or wrong?  What are some of the circumstances, factors, or situations that might not leave people free to choose?
  • Regarding what makes you most anxious of fearful for the future, what part, if any, do random uncontrollable events such as terrorism or war play?
  • Regarding what makes you most optimistic or hopeful, did you include God on your list?  Why or why not? 

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 20, 2010 (Fourth Sunday After Pentecost)

Isaiah 65:1-9 

Galatians 3:23-29 

Luke 8:26-39 

  (Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.) 

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day. 

Gospel Reflection

 Our gospel lesson this week might well be entitled, “Dialoguing with Demons,” as Jesus confronts the forces of evil at work in the life of a man in the non-Jewish territory of Gerasa. Having recognized Jesus for who he is, the “Son of the Most High God,” the unclean spirits (for it turns out that there are many) submit to Jesus’ command to come out of the man, begging Jesus not to send them back to the abyss but, rather, to allow them to enter into a large herd of pigs nearby.  Jesus gives them permission to do so and the pigs are destroyed.  The man, on the other hand, is made well. 

So what is the miracle here?  How we understand it may have to do with our worldview.  That the man’s behavior is abnormal is not in doubt.  However, the cause behind his actions is.   For many modern readers the surprise in this story is its talk about demons and unclean spirits.  We are perhaps uncomfortable thinking in terms of unseen forces of evil being at work in people’s lives.  Scientific and psychological approaches to this event are much more comfortable for us, and so it is not surprising that many modern interpreters equate the “demons” of this story with some form of mental illness.  The miracle, then, is Jesus’ ability to heal a mentally ill man, restoring him completely to his right mind, something that even the wonders of our modern medical science are often unable to do. 

The surprise in this story for people from earlier times may well have been different.  For them, the existence of evil powers was not in doubt.  What is extraordinary here is the universality of Jesus’ power.  Jesus has, in effect, entered enemy territory.  Yet even here, he has the power to heal, save, and to defeat the powers of darkness with a word.  Not only does Jesus’ ability to defeat evil on its home turf confirm his identity as “Son of the Most High God,” it also demonstrates that God’s saving and healing love are for everyone – Jews and Gentiles alike. 

But there is yet another surprise in this story.  Those who witness these things and the people that they go and tell do not react with joy and thanksgiving over what Jesus has done.  Having seen the power of God at work, they all ask Jesus to leave—all except the man who was healed.  He begs Jesus that he might be with him.  Jesus instead tells the man to go back to his family, friends, and community and to share with any who will listen how much God had done for him.  “So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” 

Discussion Questions

  • Given your discussion on the presence of evil and the two different perspectives offered in the reflections above, what do you think is the most important point this story makes?  If you were to share it with a friend, what would you say about it?
  • How do you feel about Jesus’ power as God’s Son to bring healing and renewed life to people? What does this gospel lesson say about Jesus’ ability to deal with some of the “darkness” and the issues or problems in your own life? 
  • How important to your faith is it to hear what Jesus has done in the lives of other people?  In terms of being able to share the gospel with those do not know about Jesus, how important is it to begin with being able to share Jesus among ourselves?

Suggested ResourceThe Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis: a fun yet perceptive take on the forces of evil at work in our daily lives.  

 Activity Suggestions

  • Remember your baptism!  Use parts of the Affirmation of Baptism service from Evangelical Lutheran Worship to remind one another of God’s saving and redeeming love in Jesus Christ, and of the Spirit’s renewing power.  Notice, too, the “renunciation of the forces of evil” which begins the Profession of Faith.  You might gather around a bowl of water, blessing one another with the sign of the cross, or, if available, around the baptismal font.
  • Share the faith.  How have you seen God at work in your life?  In the world?  Share your personal faith stories of with one another.  Perhaps have an older member of your church or faith community through whom you see God’s presence come and share their faith story.
  • Pray for the world.   Using newspaper our other articles that highlight situations of evil and need in your community and in the wider-world, pray together for these needs and for the lives of the people involved.

 Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, as you overcame the forces of evil and darkness and brought healing to many, so deliver us and our world from all that would overcome us. In the power of your Spirit, heal and renew us that we may with good courage and great joy share all that God has done for us.  Amen.