Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | June 10, 2024

Sermon: The World Is Satan’s House

Blog|The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young

Watch the sermon on YouTube.

“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4).

1. Carl Jung (1875-1961) writes, “The most important question anyone can ask is: ‘What myth am I living?’” With a big smile on his face our former dean Alan Jones used to say to me, “you have to know your role in the play!” So what myth are you living? What play is this and what is your character? The therapist Alan Cheuse says, “We’re traveling light but we’re encumbered, like all wanderers, with the ineffable but ever-present baggage of everything that’s come before.”[1]

The early twentieth century anthropologist Bernard Malinowski (1884-1942) studied the Trobriand Islanders off the coast of New Guinea. They inspired his idea of a “charter myth” that provides a foundation for each culture. Malinowski made a distinction between myths and other stories like fairy tales or legends. For him a myth is a story that you see lived out in society. You can tell it is a myth because it affects how people act. It’s meaning is not confined to the story itself but includes its social context. Myths orient us, give our lives meaning, provide identity. They unavoidably show us who we belong to and what we hope for.

In an article on the Kennedy administration James Pierseson writes about the way that Jacqueline Kennedy invented the Camelot myth.[2] One week after President Kennedy’s assassination in an interview with Life Magazine she told a reporter that at bedtime she and her husband often listened to a cast recording of Camelot and in particular the following song. As King Arthur, Richard Burton sings: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”

Jacqueline Kennedy quoted that line and then said, “There will be great presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot.” Newspapers across the country covered this and sixty years later our impression of the time still is shaped by this metaphor. It makes us think of a kind of meritocracy, a circle of intelligent, well-meaning, reasonable, cosmopolitan, justice-seeking cabinet members from Harvard determining the country’s direction. It downplays the US role in invading neighboring Cuba and the escalation of hostilities in Vietnam.

This brings up another aspect of a charter myth. These often advance the agendas of the storytellers, of those who hold power and are invested in the status quo. It has been pointed out that Bronze Age Greek myths justify the institution and power of kings. Today we have a whole family of myths about capitalism, its efficiency and its relation to democracy, about hardworking Horatio Algers and companies like Hewlett Packard being founded in garages.[3] This myth justifies inconceivable levels of inequality and becomes a way to blame poor people for being poor. It justifies the global destruction of our environment and laying nature to waste.

This makes our passage today from The First Book of Samuel even more remarkable. In it the people pressure the prophet Samuel to install their first king who will, “govern us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8). Doesn’t this story seem so apt in our never-ending twilight of a presidential election? God explains to Samuel, the tendency people have to treat their kings as if they were gods. God says, “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” How remarkable to have a charter myth that undermines kings rather than justifying their power.

2. The Jesus we encounter in the Gospel of Mark stands in just this tradition. The parables of Jesus undermine hierarchies and dissolve the barriers that separate people from each other. Early Saturday morning I awoke from a confusing dream in which a younger friend (Joe Williams) was getting ordained even though he knew it would in some strange way cost him his life. The Book of Mark is like this. It depicts a world of menacing dark forces that undermine the good of creation. These demonic powers overrun our conscious life and dangerously twist our thoughts.

C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity imagines the life of faith as being part of the resistance in occupied Europe waiting for the rightful king to return. And that going to church is like listening in to the secret wireless radio broadcasts from our friends.[4]

Mark wrote his gospel in a society at such a temporal and geographical distance that it might at first seem kind of strange and primitive. Ordinarily, we may not talk about demons. But we know what it means for our inner life to be distorted, possessed or overpowered. Addiction and compulsive behavior touches all of our lives. We have struggled with anger and fear and thoughts that slip out of our control. We know the frustration of falling out of harmony with people we are supposed to love.

Problems with race in America never really get resolved as racism shifts into new and different channels. We see the way that sex is used to degrade people’s humanity. This week a caller to the Cathedral threatened to come here and rip down our Pride Steps. In my whole life I have never seen such a tidal wave of statements by politicians which undermine our legal system. We have demons in our time.

In an overcrowded home Jesus eats bread with friends. There are literal insiders and outsiders. Strangely his family and the authorities are on the outside. In our translation his family (hoi par’ autou), “went out to restrain him” because, “people were saying that, “he [had] gone out of his mind” (existēmi, Mk. 3).[5] The word for restrain is krateō it means to grasp, be strong, take possession of. It is related to our words for rule: democrat, autocrat, etc. The Greek god Kratos was the personification of strength, the brutal and merciless son of Pillas and Styx who bound Prometheus.[6]

Jesus’ moment seems so poignant to me. Have you ever felt discredited and doubted even by your family? But the darkness is rising. City lawyers from Jerusalem escalate the rhetoric. They don’t just say Jesus is normal crazy; he’s extra crazy. They say that the reason he can cast out demons is that he is possessed by Beelzebul, the supreme demon of all.

But Jesus does not let this myth-building stand. In this, the first, parable of the Gospel he changes the metaphor. Jesus says a house and a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Similarly Satan cannot be divided against himself either. Jesus says, if you are going to rob a strong man, you have to tie him up first. In other words, the world is Satan’s house and Jesus is binding Satan up by healing people, casting out demons and bringing hope for a kinder, more just world.

Jesus says, “people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness.” In the past I have preached about this one verse because it has caused so much pain in history. Søren Kierkegaard’s father worried that he had committed the unforgivable sin.[7] It is up to us to decide if this is a message of forgiveness or the difficulty of forgiveness.

If sin is being caught up personally in this dynamic of participation in the destruction of oneself and others, it is hard for me to believe that God cannot extricate us, even when we cannot imagine how. Similarly I do not believe that Jesus is rejecting his mother and siblings at the end of this gospel reading. Instead Jesus is radically expanding our idea of who can belong so that “[w]hoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

3. So many of the ideas in this sermon come from my friend and neighbor Stephen Pearce. I learn so much from him even in casual interactions. He tells the story of one of his students, a fundamentalist Christian from South Korea. When this man was born he could not breastfeed and the doctors told his parents that he was the third child to be born like this in that hospital and that he probably would not live. Like the story of Hannah and Samuel, his father prayed over him, promising that if he survived the infant’s life would be dedicated to God.[8]

Growing up the boy was aware of this charter myth but it embarrassed him and made him uncomfortable. As he came closer to adulthood he realized that only he could make his father’s sworn oath come true and he resented this too. At this point his parents made him go on an eight-day religious retreat. He did not want to go, hated it once he arrived, and stayed on the periphery not really participating. Then on the last day, the leader asked everyone to turn to the person next to them and give them a blessing.

It turned out that of all the people in the room the young man was standing next to the person who he hated the most. He weakly put his hands on the man’s shoulders, but the man grabbed him in a big bear hug. In that moment a vast silence opened up inside him and he heard God say, “Even those you do not like are worthy of a blessing.” In that moment the myth that guide his life shifted.

In the summer before college I met a young woman in summer orientation. We stayed friends and her sorority sister became my girlfriend. We would go out on double dates with a young man at the fraternity next door. That man turned out to be my lifelong friend Bruce.

We got ordained at the same time and in those early days I consulted him about everything. We joke around a lot. Mostly we keep it pretty light. But yesterday his son Jeremy was ordained a priest right here. And as the bishops and priests laid their hands on him I watched my friend Bruce’s face. I have never seen that expression before. His face was coming alive with the glory of God. My myth started shifting and I began to see how God’s grace passes down through the generations.

Sometimes I share Mark’s picture of a capricious, chaotic, malicious, brutal existence. Sometimes the racism, hatred, anger, sexism, and dishonesty of our times are too much. Sometimes the demons just seem too powerful for me to feel okay as we carry “the ever-present baggage of everything that’s come before.”

But then I realize that Jesus has broken into Satan’s house and restrained him. When it seems like even our family does not understand, Jesus teaches that, “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” And then I remember my part in the play. I am a child of God. I am under the protection of Jesus.

[1] Carl Jung, Alan Cheuse, Branislaw Malinowski, and Camelot are also all part of this essay by my friend: Stephen S. Pearce, “Charter Narratives: An Essay Presented to the Chit Chat Club of San Francisco,” 14 May 2023.

[2] James Pierseson, “How Jackie Kennedy Invented the Camelot Legend after JFK’s Death,” The Daily Beast, 12 November 2013.

[3] “The garage at 367 Addison Avenue became a Silicon Valley icon. Dave and Bill worked there in 1938 and 1939 while living on the property, and it was there that they developed Hewlett-Packard’s first products.” From the company’s website:,developed%20Hewlett%2DPackard’s%20first%20products.

[4] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (NY: Macmillan, 1943) 51.

[5] There are so many translation issues with this pericope. I would love someone to explain in detail why the word bread is left out and why this first reference is translated as family. I have a lot of other questions too.

[6] His siblings were: Nike (Victory), Bia (Force), and Zeleus (Glory).

[7] I wonder if John Calvin participated in the persecution and killing of Michael Servetus because he believed that his heresy constituted an unforgivable sin.

[8] Stephen S. Pearce, “Charter Narratives: An Essay Presented to the Chit Chat Club of San Francisco,” 14 May 2023

Share to your favorite platform or Email to Family & Friends