So Peter began the interview with the call of himself and three other fishermen from the waterfront of Bethsaida. He remembered Jesus'words "Follow me and I will make you fish for people" (Mark 1:16-20). Then I imagine Mark asking "What happened after that?" And Peter remembered how the four fishermen rowed the short distance across the river Jordan to Capernaum to attend the synagogue service there. As Jesus taught they noticed how people were "astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:22).
But then suddenly there was a disturbance. A man started shouting "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:
(Mark 1:23-24). In most missionary situations when the Gospel begins to impact a community the work is opposed by individuals who are demon possessed. Here the term used is a man with an unclean (impure, vicious) spirit. Jesus not only cast out the evil spirits that possessed people (Mark 1:25-26, 3:11), but later "he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits" (Mark 3:15, 6:7, 13). Once churches are established in a community demon possession is no longer seen in a public visible way.
I first saw the phenomenon when I was a theological student, and I was sent to help Rev. John Sertin establish a Christian congregation in a new housing development called St. Paul's Cray south of London, England. A man used to come to our house shouting obscenities at us. We did not know what to do, so we began praying for him regularly, and soon he quieted down.
I also saw a woman student who was possessed when I went to teach a class at the Kalvari Bible School in Allahabad, North India. She would squirm on the floor like a fish, and she was so empowered by the evil spirit that three or four of us could not hold her. She too was delivered through prayer in the name of Jesus.
We still have a dim memory of such occurences when someone says "I don't know what has got into my daughter." Or "some kind of terrible evil force has taken over his life." Every now and then a criminal has to be put away, not for ordinary badness, but for behavior which is incomprehensibly vicious.
When I lived in Don Mills, Rev. Arthur Chote was the chaplain of the psychiatric ward at the North York Hospital. The nurses told me that he would come in and pray for some individuals who were healed after the total failure of months of therapy. But we must add that only a small proportion of mental illness is anything to do with satanic possession. The usual evidence is a very angry violent response to the name of Jesus the Messiah.
Jesus said "If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come to you" (Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20). But then he went on to stress that when a person has been delivered from evil spirit possession it is important for him or her to be filled, or possessed by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:45, Luke 11:24-26).
The problem is that most of us are very uneasy with the idea of demon possession. But people are equally uneasy with the possibility of being filled or possessed by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit used to be translated as the Holy Ghost, and people were terrified at the idea of a ghost coming into their life. Christians had no problem running to God the Father. And they could picture talking to the Jesus of the Gospels. But they were afraid the Holy Spirit might lead them into an experience beyond their control. "What if he wanted me to sell up everything and go to Bongo Bongo?"
Beginning about 1906 with the Pentecostal movements, and then the Charismatic movement that followed in the mainline denominations, we have experienced what some call the century of the Holy Spirit. Now Christians in most denominations are familiar with the idea of the Holy Spirit giving us inspiration and empowerment and gifts of the Spirit to function as members of a body. But letting themselves be filled by the Holy Spirit still seems strange and scary. We wonder if we could trust him not to make a mess of our life.
But we all know the ninefold fruit of the Spirit : love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). And we hear sermons about the fact that the Holy Spirit is willing to give us love when we find it hard to love. And he gives us joy when we are miserable. And peace when we are riddled with anxiety and guilt.
But let's turn that around. What if some of you ladies were looking for a man to share your life? And I offered to introduce you to a man who was full of love, and joy, and had a deep peace in his life. I also described how he was patient, and kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. Would you say "I am sorry. I am too scared of what he might do to me" ? Or would you say "Bring him round right away. That's just the kind of man I am looking for and never find."
Now obviously if those are the fruit that the Holy Spirit wants to give us, then he himself must be that kind of a person. Why be scared of him? Admittedly when people fall in love they may behave a bit erratically, but dancing, singing, hugging, swooning, telling everyone are only the beginning signs. Love and joy and peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self -control, those are the real thing in a continuing relationship.
I doubt if any of you have been possessed by an evil spirit. But I am
inviting you to be possessed by the Holy Spirit this evening. In a moment
of silent prayer, you could ask to be filled, empowered, possessed by him.
You could say "Holy Spirit, I don't understand all you have in mind for
me, but I want you to fill me right now as I pray."