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Demons and Authority

The demon in today’s Gospel recognized Jesus right away—it notices how Jesus exhibits a genuine, authentic authority and it immediately begins to try and challenge him—for although the demon recognizes Jesus’ true identity, the demon doesn’t know if Jesus realizes it yet.

Which is precisely why we read this story in Epiphany—the season when we, along with Jesus, learn the full scope of Jesus’ nature.

The demon’s clever: because if Jesus hadn’t realized his divine authority yet, the demon may be able to gain the upper hand, but Jesus didn’t flinch, speaking “harshly to the demon, commanding it to come out of the afflicted man.” The demon, no fool, realizes he has met his match, and departs. The demon recognizes the authority and responds to it by departing, just as the one who was speaking with authority, commanded.

Jesus, with the authority granted to him by God, with the authority exuding in the confidence and firmness of his harsh voice, leads the action, avoiding the attempted hijacking by the demon. Jesus takes charge and with God given authority and his own divine willingness to exercise that authority—he kicked the demon to the curb, making room for the manifestation of his mission—to bring the presence of God into every nook and cranny of the human experience.
 For just as Jesus figuring out his identity and his mission was his Epiphany task, our Epiphany task is to continue that mission, being Jesus’ hands and feet, eyes and ears, here on earth. Our task is to speak the Good News with authority. Our task is to challenge the demons of our own lives with that voice of authority, breaking open space in our lives for the Kingdom of God to flourish. Right here and Right now.

To do this, we need to accept the authority granted to us at our baptism.(“you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own, forever.” BCP 308).

To do this we must recognize the demons in our lives and speak harshly to them, kicking them to the curb, making room for the Holy Spirit. 

What are your demons, where do they hide? Do they recognize your willingness to grasp the mantle of authority or do they recognize your hesitancy to stand up for the mission outlined by Christ and given over to us?

In some ways it would be nice if our demons were as overt and obvious as the one in today’s Gospel. Truth is, most of our demons are quieter, subtler, and more insidious.

They can be difficult to identify and they can be even more difficult to release, to throw out. You see, our demons have a certain pay off for each of us, there are things about our demons which entice and seduce us, making it easier, in the short run, to stick with them instead of kicking them to the curb, allowing space for the Holy Spirit to move in and do her work. For as much as our demons keep us in the old familiar places, the Holy Spirit almost always takes us to places unfamiliar and uncomfortable to us; risky, scary and  strange places.

For it is only in the risky, the scary and the strange that true growth happens.

- Catherine Dempesy, excerpted from "Demons and Authority," a sermon on Mark 1:21-28, preached on January 29, 2012 at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Buffalo, NY