"Casting Out Demons"
In our day of technology, science, and modern medicine we tend to think little of Satan or of things demonic. Our supposedly “enlightened” American minds lead us to assume that devils and demons are things of the past, things from less advanced times, things for thriller stories and movies with cool CGI effects. In our everyday routines, though, we really don’t think much about Satan and his minions. And that’s exactly what the prince of demons wants. He wants us to ignore him and his wily ways. After all, if you’re not aware of his presence and his plots, how can you resist his faith-numbing, soul-binding schemes?
Perhaps you've read The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. In this fictional series of letters, senior devil Screwtape tries to advise his young nephew, Wormwood, a devil in training, on how to tempt a Christian so as to steer him away from “the Enemy,” who is God. Screwtape writes about keeping humans “ignorant” of devils:
My dear Wormwood, I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and skeptics. At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy [God]. The “Life Force”, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work—the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits”—then the end of the war will be in sight (Letter VII, p. 39-40).
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? But let’s also remember St. Paul’s words. They give us a much needed wake up call: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
St. Peter also wants to sober us up: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). So if we are not wrestling, if the roaring does not disturb us, perhaps we are too numbed in heart and mind. And that’s exactly what our Lord wants to remedy here today.
Jesus uses the imagery of a house to describe us and our faith. As we are born of nature, we are born in the bondage of Satan. He is the strong man who inhabits every human being born in the line of Adam and Eve. That includes all of us. But the Lord Jesus is the stronger man who enters this world and conquers Satan through His Incarnation, His Life, His Crucifixion, and His Resurrection. Our Lord Jesus comes to you and evicts Satan through the washing of Holy Baptism, the preaching of the Gospel, the hearing of Absolution, and the eating and drinking of the Supper. The Lord Jesus cleans you, the house, and restores you. So the question for you is this: Does the Lord Jesus dwell in you, or does the house of faith remain empty, thus allowing the demon and his seven evil friends to move back in? You see, there’s no middle ground; there’s no neutral position. Either the Triune God and His loving mercies fill you, or Satan and his deceiving ways fill you.
How might the prince of demons influence and inhabit you? One way is through the religion of science-ism. It’s a religion preached in textbooks, magazines, movies and TV shows. It says that the world and all of life came about from nothing, from non-life, all by pure chance, without God. It says that science can solve all of our human problems, solely through human intelligence, apart from God. It says that science and faith just cannot coexist or work together. If that isn’t Satan’s influence, I don’t know what is! What’s worse is that we swallow this lie hook, line, and sinker, without questioning the theory, without seeing how it contradicts God and His Word.
The prince of demons also influences and inhabits us with the religion of individualism. This religion says, “Every person does what is right in his/her own eyes.” The more I can rely on myself, the less I need God. The more I can make myself religious, with my kind of religion, the less I need to rely on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By making each of us think that we can rely on ourselves, individualism blinds us to the great love of God which prompted Him to give “His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
A third way that the prince of demons influences and inhabits us is the religion of feel-good-ism. As long as we like, or feel good about, what we do, what we believe, or how we live, then we’re happy. This is really the “religion” that St. Paul addresses in our Second Reading when he mentions sexual immorality, all impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking. And with this religion of feel-good-ism, Satan and his minions might also dig their claws into us with illnesses such as depression and despondency. When they get us worrying so much about ourselves and how we are not happy, how we do not feel good about ourselves, then they get us to take our eyes off of Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
In all of these ways, and many more, the prince of demons tries to control us, inhabit us, and even devour us. With the houses of our souls cleansed and restored in Baptism and by the Gospel of God’s forgiveness and mercy in Jesus, we sadly assume that that’s all we need—only an initial housecleaning. But Jesus must continue to inhabit us, cleanse us and influence us with His words and ways of forgiveness, mercy, and life. Our Lord Jesus continues to “clean house” of the demonic ways that influence us.
Yes, we need the Savior who casts out the demon. We need the Savior who says, “Blessed…are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” You see, casting out demons and hearing the Word of God are the same thing. When you hear God’s Word-made-Flesh proclaimed and when you believe Him, Satan and his demons are cast out. Christ takes up residence in the heart through faith in Him. Baptism is our initial “house cleaning.” And for all who hear and keep the Word made Flesh, He continues to clean and tidy up through the preaching of His Gospel, through His Absolution, and through His Holy Supper.
Martin Luther made this bold claim about driving out the devil: “God has vested us with the power here upon earth to continue to drive out the devil also now—indeed it is our duty!—both spiritually and physically.” How can we who fall to the devil’s schemes drive him out? After all, we need a stronger Man! Luther explains: “When Christ came into the flesh he set this work going, and it continues in Christendom day for day till the world’s end. For this task Christ left us designated instruments: holy baptism, the blessed Sacrament, the Word and absolution, and whatever else belongs to the ministry of preaching, in order to enable us to destroy the devil’s kingdom, to take from him his captives and cast him out of people.” (HP 1:330)
So we stay vigilant. We keep each other vigilant. The Word-Made-Flesh, He alone drives out the devil and cleanses the house of our heart and soul. As St. Paul says in Colossians (3:2-3), “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Amen.