Posts Tagged ‘unclean spirits’

Medieval book illustration of Christ Exorcisin...

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What exactly is an unclean spirit?  And how does Jesus exercise his authority over unclean spirits?  Notice in the painting at the right that the uncleanness comes out of the man’s mouth.  Here is a sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B:

What Is an Unclean Spirit?

A Sermon on Mark 1:21-28 Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

While Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, all of a sudden, a man started shouting, “What business do you have here with us, Jesus, Nazarene?  I know what you’re up to.  You’re the Holy One of God, and you’ve come to destroy us!”  Can you imagine the sensation?

Some time ago our friends at First Presbyterian Church uptown in Rocky Mount and at Lakeside Baptist Church had just this sort of thing happen in their churches.  One Wednesday night when a group of First Presbyterian folks gathered for a meal and Bible study, a man they didn’t know wandered in. Their Director of Christian Education was leading the study, and she graciously invited him to have a meal and join their study.  He was quiet at first, but as the study went on, he began to grow agitated and then launched off on a tirade about why the Bible does not permit women to preach, or to teach in any setting that includes men.  The DCE managed to keep her cool, and dismiss the group with prayer despite the man’s ranting and raving.  The men in the group escorted him out, and they alerted the police.

The following Sunday, the same man went to worship at Lakeside Baptist Church, which had recently called a woman as an associate pastor.  Again he was quiet at first, but then he disrupted the worship service just as he had the Bible study.  The deacons tried to escort him out, but he resisted.  Eventually the police were called to resolve the situation.  Turns out this man has done this in other places, too.  He crusades against women in the ministry.  Needless to say, his behavior shocked and upset people.  He may or may not be mentally ill, but I think most of us would agree that he is spiritually disturbed.  There is something unclean, unholy in his behavior, an unclean spirit lurking about him, negative, disruptive, generating turmoil.

In Jesus’ day people thought unclean spirits were behind illnesses and other phenomena that they couldn’t explain.  The word “unclean” didn’t necessarily mean literally dirty, although it could mean that. The word “unclean” basically meant disordered, mixed up, out of place in some way.  A man with deformities, for example, would have been considered unclean and therefore unfit to approach God to perform priestly duties in the Temple.

This week as I studied, I tried to put my finger on just what an unclean spirit is, and here’s the summary I came up with: An unclean spirit is a disruptive spirit, a negative force or power that resists the will and way of God and oppresses people.  Unclean spirits hold people captive, hold them down, preventing them from being healthy and whole as God intends.

In Jesus’ day, unclean spirits were thought to be behind what we now call epilepsy, an electrical problem in the brain, and behind mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia that we now treat medically.  People with these illnesses seemed to be possessed by forces from beyond themselves.

We no longer attribute those illnesses to unclean spirits because we have an understanding of what’s wrong and we have means to treat it.  And yet, there are so many other disorders and troubled situations where negative forces really do seem to be in the driver’s seat, oppressing people and causing untold pain to them and to those around them.  (more…)

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