“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. Mark Chapter 9
I have gotten into the habit lately of giving my homilies a title. It helps me to see if there is a common theme that makes sense and might be of interest to the congregation. Unfortunately, this little practice is not a guarantee that either of these is, in fact, true, but nevertheless, I give it a go.
I was at a family gathering on Friday, and I was asked what the homily was about, and I told the gathering that the title I was thinking about giving the talk was – where have all the Demons gone?
It seems to me that there are an inordinate number of demons in the New Testament and Jesus, and his disciples spend a good deal of their time casting them out of some person they encounter.
The most famous of these might be the demoniac Jesus meets in Mark’s gospel (Chapter 5). He was a man so possessed that chains could not hold him. Jesus confronts the demons (for there were many) and drives them into a herd of pigs.
What is interesting about this story is that when the man, now cured, wants to join Jesus and become a disciple, Jesus sends him back to his village to be a sign to the people which the man did.
In today’s gospel, we hear again about demons. This time there are people the disciples deem as unworthy to work in the name of Jesus, who are casting out demons. Again, Jesus surprises his followers and says to them:
“Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”
Interesting how open Jesus is to accepting people in spite of the disciples who seem more intent upon building an exclusive group to do the work of the Lord.
So where have all the demons gone in 2015?
I may well have met the demoniac from Mark’s gospel but the ways the demons manifested themselves in him were quite different and less dramatic than on the shores of that lake in Galilee.
I met Gordie about 12 years ago just as I was starting my ministry as a yet to be ordained deacon in late 2003. We met at the Keele Community Correctional facility and Gordie had been released on parole after many years in prison.
I would learn more about his life over the years.
One day in June, Gordie was walking down a street in one of the rougher areas of Toronto, and for some reason, this very fit 68-year-old man’s heart just stopped beating. He passed out immediately hitting the ground hard breaking his nose. Those passing by him lying on the street assumed he was drunk and hence the arrival of medical attention was delayed, and he was without oxygen for 20 minutes when they somehow got his heart started again.
When I saw him in intensive care I knew he would most likely not survive this event. His family of three sisters and two nieces and a couple of close friends gathered around, and we said some prayers, played some music and we watched as they removed him from life support.
Being a tough and stubborn guy, Gordie lived for a few more days before dying in the company of his two young nieces at 3:30 am in the morning.
Gordie’s life story is not an easy one to tell, and it must have been hellish to live. He is featured in several documentaries about ex-cons trying to rebuild their lives after years in prison. There is a scene from one of these films where we meet Gordie sitting with my friend Rev. Harry Nigh in his office at the Keele Centre. Harry mentions that Gordie has some crumbs on his t-shirt. He looks down and brushes them off saying “I am a crumb.”
One of the many names for demons nowadays is shame. I truly think the devil and his workers are much smarter now than they were 2000 years ago. They are not as loud and boisterous as they were with the demonic we met a few chapters earlier in Mark’s gospel. Today they work most of the time in silence, eating away slowly at a person until that person has given up all hope.
Gordie is shown in another clip from the documentary visiting his childhood ‘home’. He tells the story about living in the midst of prostitution and drugs as a young child often times with only white bread and sugar sandwiches for dinner. He was assaulted repeatedly by his father and his father’s friends.
He ran away and soon found his way into drugs and started a failed career as a bank robber. His criminal history is long and touches on encounters with some of the worst offenders in Canadian history.
After numerous repeat trips to prison and one extended last sentence, this 55+ year-old man returns to Toronto to try to start over again.
In the years that follow our initial meeting, I come to see the deep shame Gordie carries with him every day. The only time I see him cry is when he talks about a woman bank teller he traumatized in a robbery and when he remembers a young man murdered (not by Gordie) in prison.
Slowly after his release he started to come back to life.
People started to take an interest in him. He attended the Dismas Fellowship meetings that many of you cooked casseroles for, and he ate the pasta and meatballs provided by our Knights of Columbus Council. He was touched by the Christmas gift bag he got each which was year made possible by those of you who participate in that outreach in November run by the Society of St. Vincent De Paul. A number of St. Patrick’s parishioners were praying for Gordie even though they had never actually met him.
And a few of you got to know him as a friend, and you sat at a table with him to share a coffee or a meal of mystery casserole.
Gordie had people from many different Christian groups walking with him.
When he died, he was surrounded by family. A week later, we had a memorial service for him in the basement of the Baptist church were years earlier he had been baptized, and the tables were filled with his friends.
I believe it would be a mistake to say the Gordie ever rid himself of that demon called shame, but I do believe he attained a goal he set for himself 12 years earlier, which was to die a free man, with no drugs in his system and family and friends around him.
Some of you out there may judge him to be unworthy of such a peaceful death. Beware of the demon called resentment it is almost as powerful as the one named shame.
Some of you helped to make Gordie’s (or someone like Gordie) death as peace filled as possible.
If you know what it is like to help another person to drive out the demon of shame, then you will understand what it means to go in peace for you are truly glorifying the Lord by your life.