Every distraction is a demon.

Homily 520 – 20 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 30, 2022
Epistle:  (200) Galatians 1:11-19
Gospel:  (38) Luke 8:26-39

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

You don’t have to be naked and live in the graveyard to be affected by the demons that surround us.

We all have demons.  We all have those things that tempt us, that distract us, that make us a bit crazy.  The things that we are passionate about and consume us.

Maybe even the things that we are afraid to cast out of our lives.  The things we can’t live without.

These are the things that replace religion and replace Christ in our lives.  These are the things that keep us away from the gathering of the faithful to pray, that keep us from living with our neighbors, that keep us from seeing the needs of those around us.

Karl Marx famously called religion the opium of the people.  I’m not sure if my perspective has changed, or that the world has changed, but I think Marx got it backwards.

Religion, Christ in particular, is the true source of life and of joy.  It is everything else that is the opium of the people.

And, to complicate matters further, we don’t always notice the demons that distract us.

Some things have been distractions for a very, very long time.  Alcohol.  Drugs.  The Physical sensations that we end up craving.  Adrenaline and adventure – thrill-seeking.  Gambling.

Other things – attention or celebrity or fame, the pursuit of wealth, power and authority, all of these are addictive and distract us.

Today, the internet – social media, or in my case, YouTube – becomes a nearly perfect distraction, since it combines the hope of fame with admiration and attention.  Sports becomes a distraction.  Entertainment, movies, music – become distractions.  Politics becomes a distraction.

All of these are demons.  All of these are distractions.  All of these serve to mask or medicate the hole, the gap in our existence, that only God our creator can fill.

If we’re honest, the Church hasn’t always been the most helpful in our pursuit of filling this gap in our soul.  The Church has always known that the only thing that can fill that hole is God.  Sometimes though the Church makes it difficult by telling us that only the worthy can have God’s presence.

Charles Kingsley, a canon of the Church of England, wrote the following in 1847, four years after Marx:  “We have used the Bible as if it were a mere special constable’s hand book, an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded, a mere book to keep the poor in order.”

In the worst instances, some individuals in the Church have treated the faithful to this burden.  Christ confronted that head on with the Pharisees – in Matthew 23, Jesus talks to the rule-makers and enforcers of Judaism:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”

That isn’t to say that the Church is a hindrance – far from it!  The Church offers us the pathway to find Christ.  Even in the Church, though, there are little demons, imperfections, distractions that keep us from finding true joy.

We need to develop the sense of discernment.  If you see one calling themselves Christian, even a Church leader, who espouses hate instead of love, who doesn’t seem joyful, then perhaps best to take what they offer with a grain of salt.

However if you see a leader who empties themselves for others – who gives, who sacrifices, and who loves:  That person may offer some insights worthy of our attention.  Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, whom we will hear more about later, is one such person.  St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain is another.

The path of the Church itself is pretty simple – self-denial.  Deny yourself, take up that cross of self-denial, and do as Christ does, offering forgiveness and healing wherever it will be received.

Offer it everywhere – and if it is received, dwell there.

When Christ sent the 12 Apostles out, he told them to “proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.  Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.  And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.  As you enter the house, greet it.  And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” (Matthew 10)

This passage reads like an implementation manual for self-denial!

The peace – the love – is always offered.  If it is not accepted, well, then leave.  Have nothing to do with that house.

But offer it we must.  And expect nothing in return – no goods, no wealth, no money.  But for those who receive this message and this love, receive it as you receive Christ.

Reject anything that is not Christ.  Support everything that is Christ.  While money and support should not be expected by those who share the love of Christ, those of us who receive it should recognize our obligation to give of what we have to support that effort.

As St. Paul says, the worker is worthy of their wages.

So, brothers and sisters, rid yourselves of the distractions – the demons – that desire to steal us from our Savior.  And live in the joy and completeness which is found only in Christ.

Nowhere else.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.