Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Happiness Illness

Did you know that March 20th is International Happiness Day? I don't know who invented the holiday, maybe Hallmark card? It's certainly not on the list of holy days in any Christian calendar that I've ever seen. But how perfect for us Americans. Another day in the pursuit of happiness. How about buy-more-stuff day? Or Feel-good day? Or stuff-yourself-silly day? Here is a day dedicated not to any role model or meaningful issue but simply to the idea that you should be happy. Oh, and by the way, what do you do on international happiness day if you are grieving or sad or just in a bad mood? I guess that you should just crawl back in bed and pray for tomorrow?

The truth is that we have become a bit ill in our consumerist world. We have fallen prey to the myth that to be happy is the greatest goal in life. And even more than that, we have come to believe that you can buy happiness, or exercise it onto you somehow, or vacation into it. By golly, if you look good and you're beautiful then you will be happy! And worst of all, if by some reason all of this self-absorption and feelings-centered reasoning still leaves you moody, the implication is that there is something wrong with you. You should be happy! Our ads scream. MAKE YOURSELF HAPPY!! We have become plagued by The Happiness Illness.

Jesus said these words two thousand years ago. Up until this week, I ran away from these words because I didn't really understand them. He said, "those who love their life lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." 

We are supposed to hate our lives? That just never sounded right to me. Our lives can be frustrating and sad and full of pain but to HATE them? Could that really be what Jesus meant when God created us and gave us life? Why would God want us to hate what he had made? It made no sense to me.

So I spent some time studying the Ancient Greek of the gospels. The word Jesus used is m-i-s-e-o. It is a word whose meaning is to hate in the sense of renouncing, to give up, to hand over.

Renounce. Let go. Reject...We are supposed to renounce our lives.  And then Jesus is very specific by including three key words IN THIS WORLD. You are supposed to renounce or give up your life IN THIS WORLD and live for heaven, live for God, live for the life for the real deal.

Have you ever thought about the symbol of our faith? A cross. They are everywhere in our world, on top of buildings and on graveyard stones, engraved in rings or suspended on a chain around a persons neck. The cross is the ultimate symbol of Christianty. How strange that a symbol of torture would embody a faith...the symbols of other religions are all more upbeat- a six-pointed Star of David, the crescent moon of Islam, a lotus blossom for Buddhism. And for us--an instrument of execution.

Would you put a firing squad on your business card? Wear a tiny electric chair around your neck? Suspend a gold hangman noose on your wall?  Don't forget what a cross really is. It is a symbol of death.

The cross reminds us of what Jesus is talking about here. That we must be willing to die to ourselves, that our lives are not first and foremost about making ourselves happy.

My son Luke got his drivers license on Friday. And I am a nervous wreck. I want to hold onto him. I don't want him hurtling down the highway at 60 miles an hour. I don't want him to risk his life. I want him home. But he is going to drive. And I have to let go.

And if I don't let go and give him the freedom, he will not grow into the man that God wants him to be. I will crush him. I cannot hold onto his life any more than I can hold onto mine. I want him safe, I want him happy. But I must let him go and renounce all my motherly instincts, send him him out onto the highway of life.

When you wonder what to do with your life, most of us ask first and foremost if this thing will make us happy. Luke is already thinking about college about a career and people ask him all the time, "what do you want to do?" Not "what is God asking of you" but "what would make you happy?" No wonder our young people don't know what to do with their lives. We are asking them to pursue happiness and no one can make themselves happy. 

What if we asked, first off, how can I serve God? How can I renounce my own pleasure and give it away instead? What does God ask of me? Where does the world need me?

Brad Dowling, neurofibromatosis...

Kimberly Ham, a reporter, did all kinds of research on how to make yourself happy. And guess what she found? It had nothing to do with your looks, your health, your money, or even your family situation. The number one thing that makes you happy

GIVING. Do you mean doing something for someone else? Yes. The best way to make yourself happy is to try to make someone else happy. How ironic. How paradoxical.

In other words, you have to give up your life if you want to really live. You have to let go of making yourself happy and give your life away to be happy. Give your money. Give your time. Give yourself to things not because they will make you happy but because God needs you.  The goal of your life cannot be your own gratification, that is a recipe for disaster. No, you must lose your life for God, give it all to God. 

God really wants your help in this crazy, broken world. And it is the forces of darkness that distract us into thinking we can't do anything unless it makes us happy. Was Jesus always happy? Most of the time he was totally exhausted, actually. He fell asleep on boats and climbed mountains to get some peace. And I'm darned sure that he was not happy on the cross but that was the best thing that he ever did!

Things are changing. People are going to church now when it is convenient, just enough to make themselves not feel guilty, when they are not doing something like vacations and hobbies and sports and eating out. One lady came up to me on Christmas Eve in the receiving line and proudly announced, "I come here every year!" 

It is easy to go to church for the purpose of making yourself happy. Did the sermon feed me? Did I feel moved? Was the music good? But none of these are the reasons to come to church. Christians have been going to church on the morning of the first day of the week for thousands of years because it is a concrete way of saying to God, "My life belongs to you. I put you first. I will worship you in the first hours of the first day of the week. I DIE to self and LIVE for you!"

I want you to combat The Happiness Illness. Don't buy into the myth. Your happiness is not the most important thing in the word. There is something so much more important and so much more meaningful and that is your salvation, your heart's growth, the journey of your soul.

The crowds have poured downtown for these basketball games. It is awesome. I wish people would pour into church that way. I wish our problems had to do with crowding and people screaming and lack of parking. What if we came to church with the same enthusiasm that we come to a game? Cheering for GOD!

You know, the evangelicals have something with that altar call. It gives people the invitation to hand themselves over to Christ, again and again and again. To hand your life over, hand over your happiness. You don't need to worry about your mood anymore. It is just not that important.

I told my evangelical friend something recently that I truly believe. We at the cathedral, we do an altar call every week. And everyone comes up. Everyone!

So when you walk forward to receive Christ's body and blood, hand over your very self. No more worry about the mindless chasing of happiness. No more cheering for the wrong team. Fight the Happiness Illness. Your first priority is no longer your own pleasure. Give yourself over to the mystery of the cross.  

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Are We Ashamed?

It took a long time to tell others my story of how I came to church.  Some of you have heard it but I want to make sure that all of you know how it happened.

When I was a little girl my dad was very depressed.  He couldn't get out of bed sometimes.  During one period, he stayed in bed for three months.  He would weep and cry.  I used to pray by sending letters to God in my head.  "Dear God," I would write, "Please help my dad.  Thank you for life, love, Kate." 

My first memory of church was of two things, beauty and safety.  The people seemed so solid, it was as if that they loved me already.  And I just felt that I could relax.  It was beyond words, a presence of God that I felt deep inside and it was so beautiful.  When my mother, who was a concert pianist, would practice in the church, I would take off my shoes and run and slide down the aisles in my socks.  There was no place I would rather be.  Church was where there was love and laughter and church was where I found God.  It was the single most important aspect of my life, the fact that I went to church.  I don't know where I would be, who I would be, without it.

When I meet with parents to get ready for their baby’s baptism, I ask them what qualities they most want to see in their child as he or she grows into adulthood.  Most parents say similar things.  They want their child to grow to be good and honest.  They want them to give something back to the world.  But when the parents look deep in their hearts, they realize that there is nothing more important to them than the fact that their child have faith in God and love Jesus.  And one of the most important places that can lead them to develop that faith and love is right here in church.  In fact, there is nothing more important than coming to church – not going to school or soccer practice or violin.  There is nothing more important than developing our relationship with God, and so much of that happens here in this place.

My son Luke is at a boarding school up north, just outside of Princeton, New Jersey.  It was his idea to go and I have missed him like mad, but he has learned a lot.  You see, it is a different world up north.  The winds of secularism blow there with a force.  When people ask Luke about himself and he says that he is a Christian, they assume he is male chauvinist, racist, and judgmental.  They think he is backward and some kind of redneck from the south, out of touch with reality.  They have a chaplain at the school who is an Episcopal priest.  He has been instructed by the school administration not to say “The Lord” or “Jesus.”  At the end of the service, he says, "Go in peace to love and serve."  People at Luke’s school talk freely about the Buddha or Islam or Hinduism, but not Jesus.  It is taboo to say Jesus.  They mock the name of Jesus.  And those who are Christians are, for the most part, afraid to acknowledge it.

Luke is one of only two students in the whole school who go to church on Sunday.  He has found a small Methodist church near his dorm.  They love him there.  I think that he finds the same kind of love and acceptance that I found so long ago – the presence of God in community.

What is happening?  The church that I found as a child saved my life.  It taught me about the grace and love of Jesus.  But up north, people are staying home.  As at Luke’s school, many are ashamed to admit if they have a Christian background.  The churches are small and struggling.  It looks like the end of Christendom.  It is no longer normal to go to church – it is counter-cultural and can get you labeled and branded as a bigot or worse.  But don’t kid yourselves.  These winds of secularism are not just blowing up north.  These winds are blowing here, too.  As I have said before, my friends, there is a storm brewing, and so many people are living in a pup tent while the hurricane is bearing down on them.

What is happening to our world?  Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East every week.  And even at home, we are slowly becoming reviled, considered out of date and out of touch.

And you know what?  All of this is a great blessing.  Let me say that again.  The fact that the world reviles us is a great blessing.

When Jesus spoke to his disciples, he told them that he was going to have to suffer.  Peter could not handle that thought, and argued, "No, Lord," you are the Son of God, you should not suffer!"  To which Jesus responded with these harsh words, "Get behind me, Satan! You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 

Where is your mind set?  Is it set on money, power, prestige, friends, comfort?  If so, your mind is set on human things.  God wants us to not be ashamed of Him.  God is calling us back – back to the time of the early Christians when it was not popular or even safe to go to church.

Jesus said that those who are ashamed of him, well, he will be ashamed of them when the time comes.  And, for me, the thought of Christ being ashamed of me is a truly scary thought.

If I asked you, I don’t think any of you would say that you are ashamed of Jesus.  But do your actions speak otherwise?  Are you willing to speak the name of Jesus at work, at play, at any place you find yourself?  Or do you find yourself hesitant, holding back, afraid you might offend, afraid that others might treat you differently? If that’s the case, then you have made a strong statement to the world.  And believe me, it’s NOT the statement that Jesus wants you to make.

We Episcopalians are a funny breed.  We don't want to offend.  We don't want to sound pompous.  We want others to like us.  So we are subtle in our evangelism, IF we even evangelize at all.  But Jesus is calling us to speak aloud about what the church means to us and to not be ashamed.  Remember, if we are ashamed of him, he will be ashamed of us.

My friends, RIGHT NOW we have the opportunity to really stake our claim for God.  RIGHT NOW, when you come here to church, you are choosing to come despite having all kinds of other options – TV and coffee shops, extra sleep and shopping, reading the paper or travel.  RIGHT NOW, you are giving up many things to come here.  When you start your week with church, you are saying, I give my PRIME TIME to Jesus.  I am NOT ashamed.  He is the most important one in my life.  I would give my life for him. 

Now is the time.  We must begin to speak about our faith to people out on the streets because they are hungry for the love of God and don't even know it yet.  

In London, there is an old historic church called the Steeple Church.  They have a big lawn outside their building.  The church was aging and small but young at-risk youth would gather on the lawn to talk, bask in the sun, or play music.  One day, some of the members of the church came outside with hot chocolate.  They did not invite the kids inside immediately, but gave out the hot chocolate and listened to them.  And week after week, they would bring hot chocolate and listen.  The kids began to call their time together “hot chocolate.”  And then, after a few months, one of the members of the church asked them, "If we gave you some rooms in the church, what would you use them for? What would you like to do?"  They mentioned just hanging out, playing music. And so the church gave them space during the week.  And often, if you walked into the old sanctuary, you could hear heavy metal music being played or teenagers talking and laughing.  And soon those teenagers were wandering into worship.  They wanted to know more about this place that had opened its arms to them without question. 

I don't think any of us would say we were ashamed of church or of Jesus.  But if that is true, why are we afraid to admit who we are?  Why are we not inviting people inside?  Why are we not listening carefully to people's lives and offering Jesus to them when they seem lonely or afraid?  Why are we so hesitant?

There is a storm brewing.  In fact, it is almost upon us.  It is time for us to speak the truth about who we are as Christians.  It is time for us to speak the name of Jesus without hesitation.  Are you ashamed?



Monday, February 23, 2015

Angels in the Wilderness

In my final year of Seminary, I had the opportunity to interview potential students who were applying for admission. I was a part of a small interview team of professors and students. We got to ask people why they had come to feel that God wanted them to be Episcopal priests. And we heard some incredible stories.  There is one young man that I will never forget, Michael.

Michael dressed well and his grades from college were good. But I would have forgotten him entirely were it not for his story. When we asked him why he wanted to be a priest, why devote his life to serving the church, he told us a story from when he was about four years old.

Michael was raised by a single mom. He never knew his dad, who left before he was born. His mom worked as a secretary in a small Episcopal Church. She worked all the time, or so it seemed to him, and he remembered playing in a play pen in the church office while she answered phones. But his mom worried a lot and she had an inhaler and sometimes she just seemed so tired and would just yell at him out of the blue. As a very young boy, Michael became afraid that something would happen to his mom. He had no one else.

One night, his mom woke him up. She was having trouble breathing. The ambulance was coming, she told him as she bent over and tried to breathe. He was terrified. All that fear rushed upon him at once. She managed to walk with him to the front hall to wait. The big red ambulance pulled up with the lights blaring and Michael began to cry. But just as the big men were surrounding his mom, trying to help her breathe, the door opened again.

Three women walked in. They were in bathrobes and nightgowns. They seemed old to Michael, older than his mom at least. He recognized their kind faces from church. One of them picked him up. She was soft and strong. They took him into the kitchen and the men took his mom away.

The women turned on the kitchen lights and sat him down at the small table. They explained that his mom would be OK, that the doctors would take good care of her. And then they decided to make hot chocolate. One of them found some marshmallows in the pantry. And they sat down with him, four of them around the small table. And they talked to him and joked with him and drank hot chocolate and he looked at their kindly faces. And afterwards they tucked him in bed and they promised to stay with him. 

Michael never forgot those three women who came to his house that night. In a way, they were what church was all about for him. They were like angels.

For almost two decades, I have preached on the first Sunday of Lent. We have processed into church not to singing but to the words of a long prayer, The Great Litany, which explores much of the struggles and darkness of our world. And every year, I have focused on this gospel, where Jesus is driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, and he is tempted by the devil.

And there is no denying that there is evil in the world. No denying it. Just turn on the news and watch as Christians are beheaded right before our eyes. Just hear the story of a young woman shot in her car because she chased down a man who cut her off. There is evil and there is suffering which happens for reasons that we cannot understand.

And the evil is not just out there, it is in our minds. The Satan means the adversary, the enemy, the tempter. Jesus walked into the desert right after he was baptized. It was the first thing that he did. He had to defeat Satan before he could do the work of God. That had to come first. You and I also must master temptation and know what it sounds like in our own minds before we can help anyone else. We must face our own darkness if we are to follow the light.

And for years I have thought and thought about temptation, how it comes to all of us differently. How much we can hate ourselves in our own minds. How frightened we can become! How critical we can be of one another, how full of worry and anxiety that can cripple us. There is a battle going on in all of our minds between temptation and Christ. That's why, during these forty days, many will give up something that they love, a food or a pastime, so that they can hear that temptation. "Just take a little chocolate or coffee or sugar or meat or whatever it is you vowed to withhold from yourself. No one will see. Maybe I need to take a break from my fast, just today...and then I will go back to it tomorrow." You know the sound of temptation. We all do.

And for years, these forty days have been, for me, a study of the battlefield between me and temptation. But there is something very important that I have forgotten. For years, I overlooked this gospel passage from Mark and also the one from Matthew. I didn't read the Scripture carefully enough. I missed something crucial.

Jesus was not alone in the wilderness with Satan. There were animals there and perhaps more importantly, there were angels. 

Angels in the desert! Usually, we think of angels at Christmas, maybe Easter, but in the dry, barren desert, when Jesus was hot and hungry and tired? The devil came to him but in Mark and in Matthew, angels came too.

Did you really think that God would leave you alone to struggle with your darkness? Did you really think that Jesus, who gave his life for you, would abandon you to master your own mind alone? Are you ever really alone?

Often, I find that when the darkness and the fear come, the angels are not far. Remember on 9-11 how all these people came out to help each other? All our differences went away. Think about the times when you have taken ill and some kind nurse or relative or friend is there. The darkness descends, but then someone shows up to make hot chocolate with you.

I will never forget being terrified before some minor surgery and this man, a nurse I suppose, stood behind me at my head and, just as I was going under, he said, "Don't be afraid. I will treat you as if you were my own daughter."

What are angels? The Scripture speaks of mysterious forces of love and goodness, beings that we often see but that come to us and help us. We can see evidence of the presence of angels wherever their is kindness, wherever there is justice, hope, love.

When I think of the new Christian martyrs in the Middle East, I often think of St. Stephen, the first Christian to die for his faith. He was stoned to death. There is nothing more frightening than that, right? But, just as he was dying, what did he see? The glory of God.

I will never make the mistake again, to think that Jesus was left alone with the devil. Just like the women who showed up for little Michael on the night of his terror, so God will never leave us alone in our temptation and terror. Remember that, my friends, as our world is wracked with violence. You are never alone with the darkness. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

True Healing

My friend Neely Towe is a Congregationalist minister. In her retirement, she leads a very popular Bible Study and has mentored a group of priests and ministers, including taking them to the holy land in January. She told this story about their trip.

She and her colleagues were at the Church of the Holy Sepulcre in Jerusalem. They decided to wait in line in order to climb a series of stairs. At the top of the stairs was the rock on which they believe that Jesus was placed on the wood of the cross and the nails were hammered into his hands and feet. But one of the women in Neeley's group could not walk up the stairs. So Neely, being a good shepherd, stayed behind with this woman and watched as hundreds of pilgrims climbed the stairs to touch the rock and pray.

Neely could see everything as she stood there and waited with her friend. After a few moments, she noticed that there was a quiet man sitting on the side right near the rock. He held a hat in his hand. She looked closer and could see that a cancerous growth was emerging from the side of his face. He sat their quietly, waiting for someone to see him, to give him some money or food. But the pilgrims were so focused on getting to the rock and touching it that they did not see him. They just passed him by. They thought that the holy place was the rock and they gave it all of their attention, but some part of her wondered if maybe it was that man who could best show people about Jesus. And they just walked right by him.

We get awfully caught up in the physical. And no wonder. Our bodies are important. They ache and hurt and give us joy and pain. They demand our focus. But there is much more to life than just what we can touch.

When Jesus began his ministry, people rushed to him in crowds to be healed. Just by touching them, he could make their bodies healthy again. When he goes to the home of Simon Peter and Andrew, Peter's mother-in-law has a fever and all Jesus has to do is to take her by the hand and she is healed. She immediately gets up and serves them. Crowds swarm around him because they want to be pain-free, because he gets rid of the voices in their heads and makes their bodies well again. Jesus can't get any time alone so he sneaks away in the dark part of the night to pray. You get the sense that Jesus got lost in prayer, that he lost track of time, because he doesn't return from praying and the disciples wake up and have to hunt for him to find him.

And when they finally find him, he says that he must move on, to spread the message. And then Jesus says something very important.  He says, "for that is what I came to do." In other words, Jesus did not come just to make our physically bodies feel better. That was not his purpose. It was a benefit of being close to him, that people were cured of diseases, but it was not why he came. He came to do something more permanent, more important than just curing our bodies.

When we are sick and in pain, it is very easy to become wholly focused on finding relief, on a cure. We just want to be healthy. We just want to feel better. But in our haste to seek a cure, we often walk right by our Lord. We don't listen or watch for his presence. Heal me, heal me! We pray as if our bodies can be fixed forever. But our bodies are temples, containers of our souls. They do not last forever. Even the people who were healed by Jesus himself eventually died. Physical healing is possible and real but it is only a short-term solution. And it was not why Jesus came to us.

Physical healing is a short-term solution. Jesus came for a higher goal, to heal our souls.

Ironically, nothing seems to draw the soul closer to God than illness. All of a sudden, life as we know it is changed. We find ourselves vulnerable and alone. The fear and uncertainty of physical suffering can create an opening through which God can enter. Suffering can bring us closer to Christ. And yet, at the same time, it is clear that when Jesus came into contact with someone who was suffering, he healed them. He had mercy and compassion and did not want their suffering to continue. Not once does Jesus refuse to heal a sick person. Not once. But he does run away from all their needs and problems. He could have stayed in one village and continued to heal and cure, but what good would that have done? In the immediate moment, it would have solved many problems, but we would never have known about him today. He would have spent his whole life just trying to protect one village from physical pain and death and for what?

God wants you to be well physically. God does not want you to suffer. But the physical state of our bodies is not what is most important to God. What is most important is not that we touch the rock on which Jesus body suffered, but that we stop to notice the man who sits beside the rock, asking for our help. To seek our own healing is good. To seek the healing of others is better.

Nancy Altman was told, back in the 1970's, that she had six months to live. Her lungs were compromised. She would not be able to breathe. But she prayed. And each day is a new challenge. She was just in the hospital this week for more lung and heart work. But she is still with us. Has she been healed? Yes and no, she still struggles, but she has made it this far, much farther than any doctor could have predicted, and her faith, well, now, that is as strong as I have ever seen. No matter what her situation, she is grateful--for the nurses, for her family, for her doctors, for every be labored breath that she is able to take. Nancy sees the big picture. Sure, she waits in line to find a cure, but she also sees that Jesus is right next to her along the way.

            Jesus didn't come to heal your body. That was not his primary purpose. That would have been too shallow, too short-term for the Son of God. No, he came to heal your soul. He came that you might know and love him so that, no matter what happens to that precious and beautiful body that he gave you, you will never be alone. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Get It OUT: Understanding the Unclean Spirits

Scholars believe that Mark wrote his gospel first. It is the shortest gospel, the most succinct, as if Mark is just trying to get it all down, all those memories of what Jesus did and said.

Mark does not begin with the story of Jesus' birth, it begins with Jesus' baptism and his journey into the desert where he is tempted by the devil. When Jesus emerges from the desert, he calls his disciples to follow him and then he begins his ministry.

The first miracle in the gospel of Mark is an exorcism. Ex, to cast out. Jesus casts out a demon, or in the Greek, an unclean spirit.

Unclean spirit. Demon. Sounds medieval, doesn't it? We don't have those anymore. We don't believe in that kind of stuff today. Try going out and talking about unclean spirits or demons on the streets. The only people who talk about that stuff are the homeless, mentally ill and religious fanantics, right? If you go into work and start talking about unclean spirits, they may suggest you take a nice long leave of absence.

Instead we talk of things like: anger issues, addiction, anxiety, agoraphobia, alcoholism and depression. We hospitalize and we medicate and both of these things are good- hey, medicine and science are not our enemies.  But if we neglect the spiritual aspect of our lives, if we neglect the role of God and of the darkness, then we will never master our own minds. It is one thing to get a doctors help. It is another to sanitize and diagnose while ignoring the life of the soul and the role of God in our lives.

If we want to be truly well, we must open our minds to the life of the spirit, to things that we cannot see but nevertheless influence us profoundly. We must return to Scripture and look carefully at what Jesus did when battling temptation and darkness. We must listen and we must learn. We may know a great deal about the human mind and body in this the 21st century, but Jesus knew more.

Jesus enters a synagogue to worship God on the Sabbath, as all devout Jews would. And an unclean spirit confronts Jesus. Notice that this spirit is not called evil, just unclean. And notice that this spirit confronts Jesus when Jesus is trying to worship! Often our darkness, our unclean influences rise faster when we are growing closer to God. When my husband and I were about to walk into the Church of the Holy Sepulcre in Jerusalem, the most holy site in the world and a place that I had longed to go, a man came out of the shadows and began to scream at us. I can't even remember what he wanted, money or something. I only remember the look on his face and how much he disturbed me. We decided not to go into the church that day because he upset me so much. Instead, we went early the next morning. But I later wondered who he was and how he prevented us from entering.

Notice that this unclean spirit speaks in the plural. It has many voices. And I would suggest that all of us, ALL OF US, have experienced unclean spirits at some points in our lives. Their voices differ. They find strongholds of hurt or pain in your childhood and play on them. A child whose father drank every night will grow into a man with an inner voice that tells him that alcohol will make him feel better and that he deserves a drink, that, in fact, he cannot live without that drink, and another and another, even when his body is being poisoned he looses his job, he may not be able to cast out the unclean spirit.

Sally has been married for four years. She has an unclean spirit that tells her she cannot tell her husband if she wants something or she is upset because that is unattractive and she will be bothering him. So when he says something that hurts her feelings at a party, she buries it and scolds herself. "You are just too sensitive," the voice says in her mind. "You are too needy and insecure. If you tell him how you feel, he will get angry and he will leave you." So she buries her needs and wants and gets more and more distant from her husband and miserable. And one of two things can happen, either she blows up or she poisons her love for him by becoming so unhappy and passive agressive. And their marriage has no honesty and they are not talking to each other and that is just what the devil would want.

Or take a young man who was made fun of in childhood. Kids called him fat. So he believes that he is fat, even when he grew up tall and grew into himself. But he hates his body and irrationally hides from all kinds of exercise. He will come up with all kinds of excuses why he cannot take the time to move his body. And his unclean spirit tells him how ugly he is, how he could never be good at sports, and not to make a fool of himself in front of other people.

The unclean spirit that confronts Jesus knows who Jesus is immediately, when everyone else is pretty clueless. And the unclean spirit is paranoid, scared stiff. Irrational fear is a sign of an unclean spirit. And what does Jesus do? Jesus does not answer the spirit or try to argue with it. Let me say that again, Jesus does not answer the spirit or try to argue with it. He speaks directly and simply with two commands...

Be silent!

Come out of him!

Be silent and come out. 

But how can we, when we have unclean spirits or thoughts, how can we silence them?

Hear me on this... You cannot silence them. Only God can do that. But you can bring them out. You can get them out of yourself by writing them down or speaking them to someone that you trust. I can tell that I have an unclean spirit when I am embarrassed to tell my husband what I am thinking. Even thinking about telling him my stupid thought about how fat I am or how I messed something up makes me realize that the thought is unclean. If you are embarrassed to share it, do it anyway. 

If Sally had simply spoken immediately about her hurt feelings with her husband, they might have grown closer. But she would have to be careful to speak as if it is an unclean spirit and not as if it is her, for example, "I felt angry..." Is much better than "you made me angry....or you are a jerk..." If you express your experience as just that, something that you thought or felt then it does not have to become your whole identity and it is easier to get it out. It is also easier for others to hear. These thoughts and feelings that we all have are just that, thoughts and feelings. You are a holy child of God and thoughts and feelings don't define you.

We live in a world of unclean spirits. All you have to do is sit down to pray and you will hear them. They can be as simple, as "you don't have time to pray, get up and do the laundry!" Or as dark as, "you don't deserve to be alive, go and kill yourself." 

When you hear the voices of temptation and darkness, hear them, speak them or write them and get them outside of yourself, and then pray. Only Jesus can make them go away. He doesn't even destroy them, he just sends them away and the implication is that they can and sometimes do come back. But this was his first miracle. This  is what Jesus does. He saves us from ourselves.