(PNS) The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III remembers the heartbroken grandmother of a man in denial of his drug addiction. “Son,” she told him one day, “until you name the demon, you ain’t never gonna be free.”
“The moment he made that decision and named [his addiction] was the day he began to walk the road of recovery,” Moss said during worship on Saturday. “There’s something powerful when you are willing to name that which causes shame. It gives you the authority to cast it out of your life.”
The nation also has a responsibility to name the demons “that have been holding us back,” said Moss, senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. “There are those who refuse to name the original sin of this particular nation.” There’s also “revisionist history” being spun around the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol, he said. “They are now saying it had nothing to do with privilege, racism, white supremacy or any ideology that keeps us from being who God wants us to be,” he said.
He spoke to his father, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr., the pastor emeritus at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, about what they’d seen in the news coverage. “I’ve seen that mob before,” the father told his son, in Selma, Alabama and in Atlanta, and in other places. “It has the same ideology and is possessed by the same spirit. Until we learn to name some things,” his father said, “we will never be free from them.”
“Want to learn how to be released?” the younger Moss asked the NEXT Church crowd. “There’s a brother named Jesus you need to talk to who lays out what you need in order to be free.”
At that point, Moss launched into his take on Mark 5:1-20, the story of Jesus healing the Gerasene Demoniac, a man living among the tombs. “He lived in a dead community, a community with no economic development, forgotten by the rest of the Decapolis community,” Moss said. “He was in a redlined community, a community the banks would not lend to.”
In addition, “he was out of the mass incarceration system,” Moss said, noting he’d often been restrained with shackles and chains. We also see in the biblical text he had mental health challenges: he was “cutting himself day and night, trying to hurt himself,” Moss said. Still, when he hears Jesus is in town, he comes running to the Lord and falls on his knees.
The man’s message to Jesus was, “I recognize you are from the religious community and I offer words of respect to you.” He tells Jesus not to torment him. “He had problems with religious people before,” Moss said. “Religious people can be the problem, but faith is the solution.”
“Don’t treat me like they did!” the man is saying to Jesus. “I don’t want that religion that torments me and creates trauma,” Moss said. “Truth be told, a lot of us are recovering from religious trauma. We ran into the wrong rabbi.”
Jesus asks his name, and the reply is, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” The demons answered for the man.
“His issues answered, not the man,” Moss said. “You’ve got to be careful about letting your issues speak for you … If you operate based on your issues, you will always live in the basement of possibility instead of rising to the level God desires for you.”
In elementary school, Moss was placed in a basement classroom because a test indicated he had a learning disability. “I thank God” for the placement, he said. The teacher in the basement classroom was Miss Burns, an old-school schoolteacher. “My name is Miss Burns,” she told students on their first day in her classroom. “I’m here to let you know you don’t belong here. There is greatness in you. Don’t allow anybody to tell you what you cannot do.”
“You belong in the penthouse of possibilities,” Moss told the gathering. “Do not allow your issues to speak for you.”
The demons begin to lobby Jesus. Is it possible, they ask, that you could send us to that herd of pigs over there?
“Jesus says, ‘Go on with your bad self,’” Moss said. “Go into those pigs.”
The Legion leaves the man and heads for the pigs. “They receive the demons and immediately commit pigicide,” Moss said. “This brother was so powerful that he had 10,000 demons inside of him … and they couldn’t destroy him.”
What were pigs doing in Palestine? “Somebody had an illicit trade going on, making money off something that’s not good for people in the community,” Moss said. “Jesus upends the economy.”
The man is now free from his issues. He is now clothed, sitting and in his right mind — and the people were afraid. “They weren’t afraid when he had chains on, cutting himself and living among the tombs,” Moss said. “Now he knows who he is. He understands he is a child of God, and all of a sudden people are afraid. As soon as you know who and whose you are, you’ve got some Sankofa spirit inside you, where you can look back to tell you where to go.”
The people’s response to Jesus was this, according to Moss: “Bruh, you’ve got to get out of here.”
“I’m reminded of Colin Kaepernick,” Moss said. “People lost their mind when people decided to kneel to protest police brutality … Colin didn’t cuss anybody, didn’t pull a gun on anybody, didn’t try to start an insurrection. All he did was kneel, and he was put out of the NFL.”
That expulsion cost the 49ers quarterback about $15 million in salary. He later signed a contract with Nike for a reported $60 million. “I like the way that God works sometimes,” Moss said.
At the story’s conclusion, the man begs Jesus to allow him to accompany Jesus and his disciples. But Jesus tells him to go home to his friends “and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
According to Moss, Jesus understands if the man accompanied him, “nobody would know what he used to be.” At home, “they can look and say, ‘Isn’t that LeRoy, the one who used to cut himself, used to talk to himself, the one who was homeless? He looks to me like he’s been cleaned up.’ I can see LeRoy saying, ‘I once was lost, but now I’m found. I’ve got to tell you about this man named Jesus, who knew everything about me and released me from my issues.’”
“Can you tell somebody you didn’t used to be where you are right now?” Moss exhorted the gathering. “You’ve got to name the demon if we are going to change this democracy, change your life. Call on the name of Jesus and the demons will flee and the angels will bow down.”
“It’s time,” he said once more, “to name the demon.”
by Mike Ferguson, Presbyterian News Service