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Rediscovering the Power of Jesus' Exorcisms: A Modern Perspective for Episcopalians

I didn't grow up in the Episcopal Church or in a mainline Protestant congregation. I spent my childhood in a very unique denomination and in high school I dabbled around with different faith experiences. One of the churches I dabbled in in high school was "charismatic" non-denominational. If you don't know what that means, think speaking in tongues, healing, lots of praying over people, prophecies from God, exorcisms, etc. I left that behind disillusioned by most forms of Protestant Christianity in college.

Even though I've been Episcopalian since 2004, sometimes I still feel like the new guy to the Episcopal Church. I always find it fascinating how Episcopalians respond to texts like you find in abundance in the Gospel of Mark:

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. - Mark 1:21-28

Folks, we're not even out of the first chapter of Mark's Gospel. This is how the story starts! Especially in Mark, Jesus' ministry of exorcism and healing are the road to the cross. I think most Episcopalians would prefer these stories didn't exist. The most charitable way to frame this would be to say that for most Episcopalians, these stories don't directly fit into their contemporary, science-oriented worldview.

Not hearing these stories as part of our mission as followers of Jesus, as part of our own mission, is a mistake.

Just stop and think about it like this for a moment. What spirits do you see in your daily life oppressing people, keeping them enslaved to sin, held back, held down, hurt? Do you see a spirit of addiction? Do you see a spirit of division or hate? Do you see spirits of racism or bigotry? Really think about people you know in your daily life or your own life. What unclean spirits do you see?

As Christians, we've been given the same authority that the voices in this text above say Jesus taught with, to command even unclean spirits and have them obey us. We are called in the Church to be conduits of God's grace that lead people from oppression to freedom. Our congregations are mean to be communities of grace that do the same.

We can set aside conversations about what we mean by spirits, whether demons are real, or any of that. I don't know that those conversations are even helpful to most of us in our day to day lives. Regardless of the nature of these spirits, we can agree as siblings in Jesus, as members of God's household, that there are evil forces out there that oppress, of division, hate, bigotry, racism, sexism, idolatry, greed, and so on, that are holding people's minds captive.

By the power of God's love we can help people find freedom, and find the path of love. The way of love is God's way. Want to learn more? You can always read about God's way of love here. And you can come to the table of God's love each week on Sunday morning as we break bread together.

So what unclean spirits do you see? Leave it in the comments!

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