Seized By Fear

29“So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”
Luke 8:26-39

The man in the tombs we see in this passage is tormented by demons that will not go away. They have “seized” him. They have overpowered his life and isolated him from the community. They had taken up residence in his mind, body and soul.

When Jesus casts out the demons from this man, we are left with a picture of someone who has been restored. Now he’s fully clothed and in his right mind. The before and after photos are compelling. Naked to clothed. Homelessness to stability. Isolation to community. Torment to peace. Legion to Messenger.

The exorcism was a success.

At least in part. When the community around him sees what has happened, they are “seized” with great fear. They become captive to the fear in their hearts.

I find it interesting that freedom for one produces fear in the other. Why? What is the threat? What is the rivalry?

Fear is internal, but it manifests externally. And once it’s fully blown, it escalates into the tragic violence that occurred in cities like Orlando. Or San Bernadino. Or Ferguson. Or Baltimore. Or Miami. Or Virginia. Or Paris. Or Syria.

I don’t think it is a stretch to suggest that even those of us who follow Jesus are befuddled by the sheer amount of violence that has come to define our lives. Just last week, I was in a meeting discussing youth violence that occurs in my community. Of the 15 murder cases currently filed in our county, 8 of them were committed by young people from our school district.

If you are a regular reader of Word from Below or have been connected to the work of Street Psalms for awhile, then the phrase “proclaiming the Good News in Hard places” will be familiar to you. Street Psalms exists to help us consider and proclaim a Gospel that we know brings Good News-especially in hard places and during hard times.

As a preacher, this has become increasingly more challenging. I have lost track of how many times over the past 5 years that I’ve had to stand before our congregation on a Sunday to “Proclaim the Good News of salvation” following some horrific act of violence in the world, in the country or in my own community.

What is the Good News exactly?

The current political rhetoric in this country would suggest that the good news will come when we name and identify the “enemy”, i.e. the person or group, the religion, or the country responsible. Once we can do that, we can restore our peace by killing them, locking them up, taking away their guns, or kicking them out of our country.

I’m sure that is oversimplified. But oversimplification is a core characteristic of scapegoating. It helps us heap our anger and violent thoughts and desires upon something else. It gives us someone or something to blame. And it feels good and right. It feels justified.

But there is a problem with scapegoating.

The peace it brings is false and temporary. It is deeply rooted in fear, which is never, ever a stable foundation for loving and peaceful relationships. As hard as it is to say, we should not be surprised that violence keeps happening-in us, to us and by us. I wonder if we too have been “seized by fear” and rivalry.

Where then is the Good News in hard places and during hard times?

The answer at least begins with the exorcism of our demons. It begins with the act of confessing that we are fearful people who inflict violence on ourselves and to one another in big and small ways everyday through our words, our thoughts, and through our actions and even inaction.

The exorcism cannot be done by us either. The “fear demon” is too strong for us. Only God can cast it out. Perfect Love casts out fear.

May God help us to receive, proclaim and be a vessel for Perfect Love in our world.

Rev. Lina Thompson
Pastor, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
Longtime Friend and former Board Chair, Street Psalms