The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - February 4, 2018
Scripture Reading:
Mark 1:29-39
Sermon Title: ďFree from, free toÖĒ

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Today we dive headfirst into murky water.  Mark talks about Jesus driving demons out from many.  Now as good Protestants, we like Jesus healing.  Simonís mother-in-law was in bed with a fever.  There were no antibiotics at that time, so a fever could be the sign of a serious, even deadly infection.  Jesus reaches out, touches her, and she is healed.  Immediately she gets up and she began to serve them. 

     That is the basis of a good safe sermon.  We could talk about how when we are touched by Jesus, we are called to serve.  We should touch on the fact that the service that Simonís mother in law gives is also described by Mark, when Jesus is on the cross, and the women who served him watched while the rest of the disciples ran away.  So it might have been some milk and cookies, but really healed by Jesus, I believe called her to a life of service.  I know that is a good sermon, I preached it a few years ago.

     But in reading this, something else caught my attention.  To start with a little background: I was born in Missouri and moved to Brookfield, Connecticut when I was just a few weeks old.  My parents had purchased a house in í69 and then, since my father was a new TWA pilot, my mother decided to stay with her parents in Missouri during her last few weeks of pregnancy and I would be born there. 

     Brookfield was a nice little town growing up.  It was safe.  On Sunday morning I would often ride to church with my mother, so she could be there for the early church service.  Since, even as a church kid, attending two services was not my idea of a fun Sunday, she would give me some change, and I would walk up the street to the country store where they sold donuts.  I would return to church, eat my donut, and be ready when the 10:00 am service was starting.  As long as I can remember, my mother just sent me off to play.  We had a bell on the back of our house, and we either came home when it got dark or if she rang the bell.  I would be off riding bikes, building forts in the woods, pretending to make movies with my friends, typical boy stuff for a kid in the late 70ís. 

     In 1981 Brookfield had its first recorded murder.  It was reported as a dispute between a landlord and a renter.  There was alcohol involved, and one of them got stabbed to death.  The accused was found in the next town, arrested and put on trial for murder.  When the trial started to get underway, the defense that the man wanted to use was that the devil made him do it.  This may start to sound familiar to you, as it is recorded in the book, the made for TV movie and the Discovery Channelís ďA haunting in Connecticut.Ē  The story was of an 11-year-old boy, same age as I was, who had moved with his parents into town.  They rented a house and this boy saw an old man, started to have night terrors, and generally act strange.  The family hired a paranormal examiner to see what might be going on; they suggested an exorcism.  Six different priests came to the house to try to get this demonic possession out of the boy.  Eventually they report that it left the boy and went into the man who committed this murder. 

     Of course, the judge said that since there was no proof that there was a devil or demonic possession, it could not be used as a defense.  He pled self-defense, got 10 to 20 years and was released after 5.  And even today some of those families are still around.  David, the young boy, was diagnosed with mental illness, and got the help he needed.  His older brother has sued the book publisher and also written his own book. 

     So does the devil exist?  Can demons possess someoneís body?  December 14, 2012, in a part of Newtown known as Sandy Hook, a 20-year-old man shot his mother, went to the local elementary school and shot 20 children and 6 staff, killing them all before taking his own life.  Sandy Hook is less than 10 miles from Brookfield.  In that investigation, they found that the 20-year-old had been diagnosed with mental illness, and his family had purchased lots and lots of guns to give him as gifts.

     We donít have to even go back that far, October 1, 2017,  just 4 months ago - 58 people were killed, and 851 injured in Las Vegas by a man shooing blindly into a large crowd of people from a hotel room window.   Or back to June 2016 when 49 were killed in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Or just January 23rd, a few weeks ago, 2 high school students killed and 17 injured.  We just finished an evaluation of a call our ambulance responded to in Bear Brook State Park.  A man drove his girlfriend out there, stabbed her 17 times, I believe, left her off the side of the road to die.  By sheer luck, someone happened to pull up as he drove off, stopped and found her.  She spent almost a year in the hospital but is now home and doing well.  The man who tried to kill her is awaiting trial. 

     Today we have more medical knowledge than they did in Jesus day, but there are still people who commit evil acts.  We can try to explain it away, saying that those committing these crimes are mentally ill, or, as was used in the case in Brookfield, in self-defense.

     But in many cases, we donít know why they happen.  In Las Vegas there was no suicide note, the gunman shot himself before police arrived.  We will probably never know what would cause someone to plan and carry out such an evil act. 

     I wonder if it goes beyond that.  I will be honest, there are people in this world I do not like.  Not here in this church, but in other places of my life, there are people, who have never done anything to me, but I just donít like.  Maybe seen them on the news, maybe know them somehow. 

     On an intellectual level, I know that they are created in the image of God, and I know they are loved by God just like I am, but there is something inside of me that just tells me that this is not a person I should get to know better.  Or maybe they have done something to me, maybe purposeful, maybe not.  They took a job I really wanted, or walked in front of me in line, or said something about me that was hurtful.  Whatever caused it, either known or unknown, there is something inside of me, eating away at me. 

     What would my life be like if that demon could leave me?  What would my life be like if I could take all those bad feelings I have for others and take them out of me.  I think it would leave more room for love.

     Do any of you have someone you just donít like?  Maybe they did something to you, maybe they donít even know it.  I could be all moralistic, tell you that Jesus tells you to go and make amends with that person, but I will not do that this morning.  I think that it must start inside.  Is that person taking up more room in you then they deserve?  

     Now there are people whom we donít need to be around.  I always worry about the kids that my kids are hanging around with, but there are also people in my life who I should not be hanging around with.   Not necessarily the same reason I would have for my kids, but because their influence brings me down.   There may be someone in your life who is or was abusive, who hurts you mentally or physically.  Those people none of us need to be around. 

     Sometimes I wake up at night with something bugging me.  Maybe it was recent, often it was long ago.  Something that someone said to me.  I replay that in my mind, how did I react, how could I have reacted better.  And it is hard to go back to sleep.  With some of these encounters, there is just about a zero chance I will every encounter them again.  In order to go back to sleep I picture them on a piece of paper.  I crumple up that paper in my mind and throw it away.  That leaves room for good thoughts to come in, and I am able to go back to sleep. 

     Maybe Jesus casting out the demons was allowing others to love more.  Maybe it was teaching others to take those things which are bothering them, cast them out, and allow love to move in. 

     Maybe this casting out also has to do with our own prejudices.  Anytime we talk about ďthemĒ who are different than ďus.Ē  Those undocumented immigrants.  Those LGBTQ folks.  Those poor.  Those black and brown.  Can Jesus cast out those demons, those prejudices that we have, allowing us to see God in each other?

     There are many, many reasons we are evil to each other.  There are people in this world who are evil and we donít know why.  There are plenty of contributing factors allowing violence to be easy, but no single cause or single solution.  Some will claim it is a devil or demonic forces, but maybe rather than an outside force, those devils are inside of us.  Those prejudices, that hate, that simmering anger, those regrets, those times we were not kind to others.  Maybe, as Jesus cast the demons out of many, we also need to ask Jesus to cast out our demons, to move out all that which is negative and allow love to move in.