Three Sermons: Or, Repent and believe the Gospel

[A sermon (or three) preached at Wine Before Breakfast on the healing and deliverance stories in Luke 4.31-44 on October 15, 2019.]

May the Holy Trinity defend us on every side! Amen.

Thanks very much to Brian Walsh and to all of you for the invitation for this gimpy-queer-mennoanglicostal to speak Gospel with you today. Of course, he hands me arguably one of the most juicy and controversial texts in the lectionary and tells me I have twelve minutes, so I’m just gonna go right in!

If I were preaching this text to pentecostals, I would say:

Luke 4 exposes for us the heart of Christ, and therefore the heart of God. Jesus gives his Church, and every believer, the same Spirit that lets him proclaim release and freedom and favour to every person and every people. He gives us a share in his own ministry.

And church, that ministry today is the same as it ever was.
God’s heart hasn’t changed. It is always God’s will to heal,
and bless God, we get to drive out demons,
heal the sick and raise the dead today, hallelujah!

So much of the world says that there’s no room for the supernatural, that we’re all the bad kind of crazy, and that all of this is metaphor anyway—but we know differently, amen?

But you know, we pentecostals have a bad rep even in the wider Christian household. It’s already bad enough that we say something so stupid as “It’s always God’s will to heal” and argue that the word all means all and that Paul’s thorn in the flesh wasn’t a sickness. That’s scandalous enough—the good kind of scandal.

Shock people with the compassion of Christ, hallelujah!

But then we add the bad kind by blaming people when they don’t get healed.

We count the bodies laid out on the floor
when we should be counting the people
who know that Jesus is crazy about them

and who live that way!

Whether or not they get a cure this side of Glory, those are the kind of people we want in institutional leadership and on our prayer teams, not the ones who force themselves to speak in tongues to fit in!

How about we assume that making spaces accessible is a form of healing ministry?

How about we ask Jesus’ question, “What do you want me to do for you?” instead of assuming we can make those we pray for believe and behave like us. How about we realize that the more we get medical verification of healings, the faster God gets the glory and the faster we learn how much we have to learn!

How about I refuse discouragement and learn to regularly pray for the sick again?

Are you with me? Repent and believe the Gospel.

If I were preaching to Anglicans, I would say:

It was a great joy for me to enter the Anglican tradition asking the burning questions in my heart, knowing that we respect the life of the mind. I learned to dance with the pentecostals, but you gave me the depth of catholicity I needed to see fuller Trinitarian, incarnational, and sacramental depths in what I already knew.

Pentecostals plead the blood of Jesus, usually without realizing that they’re applying the mysticism of Julian of Norwich. Some Pentecostals may (against their own best intuitions) insist that all Christians speak in tongues, but Anglicans taught me that life with God is not just a matter of crisis and major decisions, but of a long obedience in the same direction (thanks St. Eugene Peterson, Presbyterian!)—of catholic formation in the Gospel.

But regarding healing the sick and driving out evil spirits, there seems overwhelming and unwarranted suspicion among my allegedly progressive Anglican colleagues.

One colleague of mine spent a summer as a spiritual care provider in a psych ward, and he noted to me that he consistently refused to pray for a man who thought he had an evil spirit.

“I think I would have taken a slightly different approach,” I replied. “I would have said, ‘I will pray for you, and if there is a demon present, it will leave. So if you still have symptoms afterwards, it is not a demon and you must continue to take your meds, per your doctor’s orders.’”

He thought my answer was a bad scandal, far too dangerous—and besides, he claimed, demons are only social constructions. I wondered then—and I still do—if lack of experience and too much exposure to flashy televangelism and Hollywood horror short out our holy curiosity. Yes, use the best wisdom of the sciences and biblical scholarship. Yes, embrace the sacramental life of the Church. But when was the last time you rebuked a fever because a loved one was miserable before reaching into your medicine cabinet?

When was the last time you actively considered the Adversary and its demons important—though minor—characters in your spiritual landscape?

Is the blood of Jesus just a metaphor, or it an efficacious reality in our lives? Would you be able to discern the difference between a demon and other real problems if someone confronted your community in the middle of the Eucharist?

My friends—I dare you to learn prayer for the sick and to ask for the charism of discerning spirits.

Repent and believe the Gospel.

And then, finally, I would add, for queer Christians:

You know, friends and lovers, the power of fear.
You know that sometimes, calling something demonic is just a way of projecting the scary stuff we don’t understand onto a scapegoat.

You know the power of a bad social construction.

You know that so many of our fellow Christians, Anglican and pentecostal alike, think that our genders and sexualities need cure, deliverance, and erasure. And it can be tempting to backpedal away from the realities of healing or deliverance ministry, not only because it’s been abused, but also because we sometimes secretly suspect that Jesus really is a fundamentalist, and a slightly cruel one at that.

But let me make another suggestion.

We often see people suffering burnout and discouragement when doing justice work for and in our communities.
Is part of the burnout because we think things like homophobia, transphobia, racism and ecocide are solely human rather than demonic realities?

When the persuasive love of Jesus breaks through and people who desperately want to be allies just can’t seem to shake the effects of trauma and stinkin’ thinkin’, do we dare gently suggest that prayer for cleansing and deliverance from evil might do the job?

We, too, have the same Spirit that Jesus does, and we often have first-hand experience in recent memory of how he has set us free.

Please, my friends: with eyes wide open, ask for the ministry of Jesus—including healing the sick and driving out demons.
I dare you, beloved friends of Christ: repent and believe the Gospel.

I offer these three sermons knowing that I cannot control Jesus nor the Spirit nor even the demons. I speak this way because I want my purpose to be stirring myself—and all of us—to live more fully as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Let us join Jesus’ agenda and trust his proclaimed liberation.

In other words: Repent and believe the Gospel. Amen?

Robbie Walker

5 Responses to “Three Sermons: Or, Repent and believe the Gospel”

  1. Karen

    Interestingly, where the persons is born and what the person was raised to believe will be what their delusions are about. So the demon delusion is a Christian delusion. Were it actually demons, you would expect to see the same delusion worldwide. Not the case. Best not to feed into a delusion at all with a person with mental illness

    • Robbie Walker

      Hey Karen,

      My understanding is that most cultures have experience with evil spirits/demons. My own contention is that yes, there is an aspect of cultural construction, but this does not cancel the possibility of an underlying destructive force that crosses cultures.

      My understanding is also that ‘delusion’ only applies when something is far outside someone’s normal patterns and practices. For me as a Christian, believing that I could be Krishna or Jesus or the Apostle John would be delusion. Believing that an evil spirit might be exacerbating a biopsychosocial problem I have is well within the bounds of my tradition.

      Have I understood your point? I do think that it’s important to exercise discernment rather than charge in with any particular perspective or technique.

  2. Karen

    I see what you are saying. Other cultures do have demons but it isnt the prevailing delusion apparently. I do think it is dangerous to try and pray a demon out of someone who is mentally ill. I think it can feed into their illness quite powerfully. Best to follow the advice of their doctor.i would never pray out the demon of diabetes for example. Somehow when it comes to mental illness, people can get quite demony as they used to with epilepsy.

  3. Karen

    And many would argue that thinking you are demon posessed is a delusion.

  4. Robbie Walker

    Hey Karen,

    Thanks for continued conversation. “Delusion” has a very specific medical definition that centres around whether a belief is significantly out of character with what a patient normally experiences. So I think one must be very careful, and discerning.

    Also, did you know that the Bible in the original languages doesn’t use the word possessed? So the Bible talks about “having” a demon or “being in” a demon (as though it’s a kind of force field). Normally prayer about demons is very simple, and doesn’t involve weirdness like we see in Hollywood. Sometimes you don’t even have to use the word demon and you can still clear the interference.

    Where I think we agree is that prayer about demons should be done very carefully (and sometimes it isn’t necessary even when someone thinks it is)! I don’t want to give up driving out demons or the concept of a demon because I believe our culture needs ways of grappling with very serious evil and oppression – and according to the way I read Christian Scripture, sickness, disease, mental illnesses are signs that a person or community needs liberation.

    The million dollar question is how we can deal with oppression in a way that reduces harm and does not blame, shame, or condemn.

    As always, I welcome further thoughts you have.


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