Contributed by Aaron Matson, Toronto, SD
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.
- 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)
(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.
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?
- 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?
- 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?
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.