Facing our Demons:
Part 2

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts,
 April 1, 2001

 



Isaiah 57:14-21 "And I will heal them"

And it will be said: "Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people."

For this is what the high and lofty One says--he who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of the people would grow faint before me--the breath of the people whom I have created.

"I was angered by their sinful greed; I punished them, and hid my face in anger, yet they kept on in their willful ways. I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to them, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near," says the Lord. "And I will heal them."

But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. "There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked."


Mark 6:1-13 Authority over evil spirits

Jesus left there and went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What is this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offence at him.

Jesus said to them, "Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went round teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.

These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff--no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them."

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons, and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.


Divine Providence #281.2 Our evils must be seen to be healed

From the time of our birth, we are caught up in many different evil things. These evils are in our motivation--and we love whatever is in our motivation. For we love whatever we want from our inner self, and we want whatever we love. The love in our motivation flows into the understanding, which is where we feel its pleasures. From there it enters into our thoughts and also into our intentions.

If we were not allowed to think according to the love in our motivation (which is planted in us by inheritance), that love would remain shut in, and we would never see it. Evil loves that we do not see are like an enemy lying in ambush, like matter in an ulcer, like poison in the blood, and like corruption in our chest which, if they are kept shut in, will kill us. But when we are allowed to think the evil things of our life's love even to the point of intending to do them, they are healed by spiritual means just as diseases are healed by physical means.

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons, and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:12, 13)

Last week, as we looked at the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man, we confronted the issue of "mental illness," as it is called in our society. Instead of treating this as a separate issue from those who are not considered "mentally ill," we put it on a continuum with the inner struggles all of us face against the darker and more difficult parts of our personality. We believe that the Bible is the story of the spiritual lives of every one of us. And the inclusion of a story about a demon-possessed man tells us that we each face our own demons, and need the Lord's help in casting those demons out.

At the end of last week's sermon, I left you with the thought that in the same way the demon-possessed man had to approach and worship Jesus in order to be restored to health and sanity, our mental, emotional, and spiritual healing begins when we approach the Lord Jesus and place our lives in the Lord's care and keeping.

Our Gospel reading for today comes shortly after last week's story. In contrast to the demon-possessed man who lived across the Jordan river in foreign territory, the people of Jesus' home town of Nazareth did not accept him. In fact, they took offense at this local boy presuming to teach them in their synagogue. Because of their lack of faith, we are told, "He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them."

Though it is set two thousand years ago, this is really talking about us--about those of us who consider ourselves Christian. And it is especially talking about those of us who "grew up" with the Lord in our lives--whether that means we attended a Christian church from our childhood or whether we later "grew up" spiritually in a Christian congregation.

As the old saying goes, "familiarity breeds contempt." Last week I made some big claims about how the Lord can come into our lives and heal us of all manner of mental, emotional, and spiritual sicknesses. None of that will happen if we have grown so used to Jesus and Christianity that, like the people of Jesus' home town, we don't accept the divine, personal power that the Lord has both to teach us and to heal us.

Do we believe that the Lord God has the greatest and most effective power to heal us? Or do we believe, when push comes to shove, that human means--such as counselors, psychotherapists, and the power of positive thinking--hold the keys to our mental and spiritual wellbeing? Do we think that going to church can make us a little better and a little nicer, but when it comes to the really tough issues, it's time to call in the experts? Or do we accept the truly radical teaching of the Gospels that the Lord Jesus is our Physician and Healer?

I am not suggesting that anyone who wants or needs counseling and therapy should not take advantage of these tools for mental and emotional wellbeing. We are meant to help and rely upon one another as well. But the true and greatest source of healing is among us and within us all the time; and we make the same mistake that the residents of Nazareth did if we do not accept that divine source. As I said last week, I do not believe there can be any true and deep healing unless we consciously bring the Lord into our lives.

There are many reasons why this is so. For now, I would like to focus on just one of them. One of the perennial problems of counseling and therapy is that there is often not a clearly defined and effective goal. Is the goal to help clients fit in with the existing society? If so, what if the existing society is out of whack? And how do therapists decide which part of a widely varying culture to "normalize" clients to? Is the goal to help clients to accept themselves as they are? If so, what if there are aspects of the clients' personalities that really need to change? Is there some objective moral or ethical standard that the therapist is attempting to bring clients' lives into harmony with? If so, where do we get those moral and ethical standards, and who decides which standards are valid and worth following?

What it all boils down to is that as long as we rely on humans and human society to provide us with our norms and our goals, we will always be building on shifting sands. We humans are a changeable lot. We are a mixture of saint and sinner, both individually and collectively. And sometimes it is awfully hard to sort out which part is which.

God provides us with a way out of this confusion. The Lord, we are told in the Bible, is the rock upon which our lives must be built. And unlike shifting, changing human beings, the Lord God is eternal and unchanging. When we bring the Lord into our lives, we have a true, higher standard that we can always be moving toward as our goal. The Lord gives a direction and purpose to our healing process and to our entire life that we cannot get from any other source. The Lord provides the standard of perfection toward which we can aspire.

That standard of perfection has a specific "personality" that is extremely helpful to us as we try to figure out what direction we need to go in order to move from "mental illness" to spiritual health. If we can understand and feel the nature of God, and see where we are not in harmony with God's nature, we can begin our healing journey. Let's look at the most important aspect of the Divine personality, and see what it means for our healing process.

The final verse of our Gospel reading mentions that after Jesus had sent his twelve disciples out, they "anointed many sick people with oil and healed them." In those days, oil was what kept the lamps burning, both in the Temple and in people's homes at night. The flame of the lamps gave both warmth and light. Spiritually speaking, the "oil" that fuels our hearts and minds is nothing but the Lord's love in us. And it is when we are inwardly anointed with the "oil" of the Lord's love that we find healing.

We preachers are always talking about God's love. "God's love this, God's love that!" After a while, it may seem more like a mantra than a practical, real life power. So let's get specific. Swedenborg writes:

The essence of love is not loving ourselves, but loving others and being united with them through love. The essence of love is also being loved by others. This is how the union takes place. . . . Love consists of having what belongs to us belong to others. Feeling another person's joy as joy in ourselves--that is what it means to love." (Divine Love and Wisdom #47)

In other words, real love--God's love--is getting outside of ourselves and making others happy. Real love is not inward-looking, but outward looking; not ingrown, but outgoing.

I am going to go out on a limb and state perhaps a little too categorically that in all "mental illness" and personal angst there is an element of inward-looking self-absorption. When we are caught in the throes of depression, or locked in some compulsive behavior, or spinning out of control mentally or emotionally, we tend to be pretty well wrapped up in our own feelings, our own thoughts, our own behaviors. While other people certainly do figure into the picture, the focal point of our picture tends to be ourselves and our own problems.

I do not say this to pass any judgments. Many people balk at the church's teaching that we all start out involved in evil and selfishness. "How could you say that about a sweet, innocent little baby?" Yes, the innocence of babies is their saving grace--and Swedenborg tells us that the highest angels are presence in that innocence. But let's be honest. Babies are basically wrapped up in themselves, and they really don't think about anyone else's comfort.

This is where we all start out: wrapped up in ourselves. Even as adults, before we turn our lives over to the Lord and begin consciously working to re-form ourselves spiritually in the Lord's image and likeness, we start out thinking mostly about how we can enjoy a good life with all its pleasures and perks. I believe that the Bible and Swedenborg both are simply being realistic in describing where we come from.

So it is not a matter of shame that we start out all wrapped up in ourselves. It is simply the way we are wired at first. Our task here on earth is to allow the Lord to come in and rewire us so that instead of thinking of ourselves first, we think of the Lord and other people first. In other words, we need to be rewired to feel and express genuine love for one another--the kind of love that the Lord has for us.

The Bible calls this rewiring "repentance." The first thing the twelve disciples did when they were sent out was to "preach that people should repent." Repentance is another word people often have trouble with. Doesn't this mean we are bad? Well . . . yes. Which one of us doesn't have parts of ourselves that we are not proud of? That hurt ourselves and the people around us? That really ought to change? Let's call a spade a spade. If it hurts people, it is bad. If it hurts people, it is evil. And that evil comes from our thoughts and feelings.

Repentance is the process by which we stop feeling, thinking, and doing things that hurt. The Greek word for "repentance" simply means "changing our mind." Repentance is a process of inner change by which we leave behind our old, self-limiting, destructive attitudes and behaviors and begin to live in a new way. When we realize that we're mostly wrapped up in our own pain and pleasure, and that we are very far away from having the love of God that is positive and outgoing, we need the life-changing power of repentance.

This process begins with learning about God. What is God's love like? What is God's truth? How does it apply to us? What would we be like if we were living the life God created us to live? If we were fully the person God created us to be?

It moves to taking an honest look at ourselves to identify specific areas where we fall short. In twelve step programs, this is the step of making "a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." When we have discovered one or two things that we can work on, we not only admit to them honestly, but we take personal responsibility for them. We then commit ourselves to changing them, recognizing that on our own, we cannot do it, but with God's help, and with the help of others who are on a spiritual path, we can. And so, in prayer to God and in mutual support, we begin living in a different way.

The Lord can heal us only if we are willing to face our demons in this head-on, conscious, and committed way. And I would like to leave you with one very practical way to not only face our demons, but cast them out and replace them with God's love.

For all of us, but especially in the case of "mental illness," one of the most powerful tools for healing is to physically get out and do something for someone else. Perhaps we will not be able to do very much at first. But think about it. The nature of love is to love others, to serve them, to give them happiness, and to feel their joy as joy in ourselves.

This is exactly what we are lacking when we're all wrapped up in our own problems, whether those problems are severe and debilitating or mild and merely annoying. The greatest antidote to our natural self-absorption is to get out there and do something for someone! It may be through taking a new attitude toward our job: doing our job cheerfully with a commitment to serving others instead of just doing it to get a paycheck. It may be through volunteering in some kind of community service. It may be simply through thinking of ways to make our family members, friends, and neighbors happy by doing things for them.

Perhaps this seems too simple to make a difference. Yet there are powerful healing benefits in simply getting out there and doing something useful for others. As we focus our minds outside of ourselves--even if it is a struggle at first--we soon find healing connections with others. We enter into their joys and struggles, and this makes our own struggles seem smaller. At the same time, we increase our joy because we are feeling the joy of others in a way we never did before.

Gradually, the personal pains and struggles that had been the focal point of our lives will move aside, and our life will be transformed almost without our realizing it. When this happens, we will have experienced the healing power of God's love in action. Amen.

 


To Part I

To Topic Index

Artwork: In His Constant Care
is courtesy of Greg Olsen and is
used with his permission.

Music: Heart to Heart
2001 Bruce DeBoer

Floating and Color Scroll Bar
Scripts Courtesy of

Lily Flower Courtesy of