Spotlight Service - Ghostly Encounters - Luke 11:14-28

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 24th February 2008.

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Why do people try to contact the dead? (Part 1)

I don’t know what your first impression is to what you’ve just seen presented on the big screen. Is it possible to make contact with the spirit world? Well, lots of people in Princes Quay think it is!

Of course the skeptics are mingled with the believers but what struck me as I watched the interviews was how many people naturally spoke about how they or someone they knew had previously used the services of a medium or how keen they would be to use these services in the future.

I’ve tried to interview people in the city centre before and on those occasions I’ve tried my hardest to get them to talk about what they think of Christianity. I’ve put on my cheesy smile, adopted my cheeky personality and asked them to discuss their view of Jesus. But normally I’ve found that people are very embarrassed to talk about the Christian faith and yet from the evidence of the interviews we conducted on Wednesday it seems people are very comfortable talking about contacting the dead through the services of a medium.

I don’t know if you were surprised by the number of people who have either used the services of a medium before or would like to use their services in the future.

I promise you we haven’t edited the tape to make it say whatever we wanted you to hear tonight. There were skeptics amongst the believers in Princes Quay but the majority of people we interviewed not only believed in the possibility of contacting the dead but were also very interested in doing it themselves.

It wasn’t just the young trendies. People across the ages and across the sexes were interested in using the services of a medium to contact the dead.

So what I would like to do in the first part of this special event is to suggest why more and more people are keen to contact the dead through different methods.

I’ve been thinking about this over the last few days, doing my research, and I’ve come up with two reasons that I think explain this surge of enthusiasm for these types of paranormal activities. 

First of all, there seems to be a healthy belief held by more and more people that death is not the end of a person.

Most of us don’t like to face death. In our daily lives death is not a popular conversation. We try and ignore it as long as we can.
And then one day everything changes. Death becomes personal. Someone very close to us takes their final breath and the questions begin.

Is death the end or can we be confident of a future beyond the grave? Where is my loved one now? Have they ceased to exist or have they traveled to a different realm? And if they have can I make contact with them?  Is there a channel between this world and the next?

Loving relationships are hard to come by and we miss them when they are gone.

I’m sure you’ve come across the sentimental greeting cards that say something like this, “The one you love never goes away.” And yet that is the problem isn’t it? The one you love is no longer here. They are not in the next room. Their familiar voice is never to be heard again, not over a cup of coffee, in the other room and even at the end of a telephone conversation.

And so we hope death is not the end. Indeed we hope further contact might still be possible.

I think this is the first reason why people are keen to contact the dead through different methods. There is a healthy belief that death is not the end of a person.

The second reason is because at the same time as more and more people believe death is not the end of a person increasingly our culture has less and less time for Christianity.

In days gone by Christianity would have provided answers to the big questions in life. Where have we come from? How should we live? Where are we going? And yet nowadays people seem to be looking elsewhere for the answers to their questions. The questions still remain but the place of discovery is very different from before.

Could it be that mediums and spiritualists are increasingly becoming the spiritual advisers of our generation?

Well, I’ll let you think about that as I move on to address what is perhaps the biggest question we are considering tonight. I’ll put it on the big screen.

How are we explain the commnication people claim to have with their dead relatives?

There are four possible explanations.

•    Genuine contact has been made with the dead.
•    Fraud has been committed.
•    Psychological explanation.
•    Contact has been made, not with the dead, but with the spirit world. Contact has been made with evil spirits who are impersonating dead relatives.

Straight away we need to reject the first one. What we need is a proper view of reality and this is what the Bible gives to us. It says that when we stop breathing on this planet we go to await the future day of judgement when Jesus will separate forgiven sinners from unrepentant sinners. Once you are gone there is no crossing over from this life to the next.

Some think that occasionally because of the nature of the death, perhaps died too young or tragically or at sea then the spirit remains and acts like a ghost. However, the Bible knows nothing of this and assures us that once we die the time of decision is completed and we await the judgment that our life on earth has assured for us.

We must rule out genuine contact with dead relatives. They do not stick around and we cannot contact them in the place where they are currently waiting.

How are we to explain the communication that people claim to have with their dead relatives?

Sometimes it is fraud. There is money to be made in telling people what they want to hear, particularly when they are in a vulnerable state.

Sometimes it is psychological. When you love someone dearly there is every chance that your longing to see them again can produce an effect where you think they are communicating with you. Sometimes it can be psychological.

However, and this is the most dangerous option of all. Sometimes contact really is made with the spirit world, not with the dead themselves but with evil sprits who impersonate those we love.

I think this explains why the Bible is so clear about not using the service of mediums.

Leviticus 19:31, “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them.”

Deuteronomy 18:9-11, “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divinations or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritists or who consults the dead.”

The Bible is saying don’t consult them, don’t use the services of medium – not because it is a harmless waste of time and you would be far better focusing on a more worthwhile endeavour – but stay clear, don’t dabble because you may end up much deeper than you think.

The practices are dangerous, says the Bible, because they can put you in touch with the spirit world – only the spirits you will meet are demonic in attitude.

All this might be new to you. Might just think it is harmless bit of fun. The Bible is teaching it is a serious case of identity fraud. Evil spirits can and do impersonate those we want to get into contact with.

Raises the question, why would they do this? Why would Satan encourage evil spirits to deceive people in this way?

The answer is very frightening. When people communicate messages back from the grave they always say everything is fine. Regardless of how they have lived or whether they have followed Jesus, all the communicate from the other side is positive. Don’t worry about me, I’m okay.

This has a very powerful effect on us. We all know the power of personal experience. This is why Satan does this.

Just think about what you will do when you hear Jesus speak about our eternal destinies in the Bible. You see he says something very different. He says that only those who follow him and ask for his personal forgiveness will be in heaven. He has died a unique death on the cross to enable forgiveness to be granted to anyone who asks for it. But he affirms that he is the only way to spend eternity with God in heaven.

What’s our choice? Trust the words of an ancient book or the words communicated through a vivid personal experience.

Our temptation will always be to trust in the personal experience. And this can be deadly for our own salvation. What will we conclude? If they are okay then so will I. So it doesn’t matter how I choose to live in relation to Jesus Christ from this point onwards. And that’s exactly what Satan wants you to think like. He wants you to question the truthfulness of the written word of God.

It’s a trick he’s been using since the very beginning of the world. Do you remember what he said to our original ancestors? “Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?””

Can you really trust what God says? Put your trust in something else. In fact, put your trust in someone else. Put your trust in your own experience and all will be well.

It’s what he does today when evil spirits impersonate the dead.

So my plea for us all tonight is to trust what the written word of God says about our future destinies.

It says we are rebels in God’s world.

It says we are deserving of eternal judgement.

It says Jesus has died to make forgiveness possible.

It says Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Here is the two-fold Christian answer for death. The death of Jesus and his resurrection.

It says use the time allocated to you to become a committed follower of Jesus.

Make sure by the time you die that Jesus is your King and Saviour.

In a few minutes we’ll think through some of the possible consequences of dabbling in this other worldly communication but before we do we’re going to listen to a song sung by one of our church members.

What might happen if we try and contact the dead? (Part 2)

I’ll never forget what happened very soon after I arrived in Hull. I was the new boy on the staff team and very early on I received an email to ask if I could accompany one of the other clergy to a house where strange things were happening.

I thought to myself, “Is this a set up?” You know, new boy on the team, are they trying to test my common sense? And what would be waiting for me when I met my colleague? Would he answer the door wearing his proton pack and anti-gung suit. What would we drive to the house in? Would my eyes be dazzled as he pulled the ghost busters car out of the garage? Well, it turned out no one was pulling my leg and so I had me first encounter with spooky experiences in peoples’ houses.

I’m not a world expert on these things and I don’t claim to know everything about them but over the last two and half years I have spent in Hull I have visited a number of homes where strange things have been going on.

Sometimes it’s smells, sometimes it’s voices or noises and sometimes people claim to see pieces of furniture move across the room.

One of twice a year we will receive a phone call at the church office from a concerned resident. Normally the strange behaviour has been continuing for a while and we are the last port of call.

At first people generally ignore what is happening. They think it must be something up here – and sometimes it is! However, when the spooky things keep on happening they eventually pick up the phone and ask for the vicar to come round.

They have seen enough films to know who you’ve got to call if there is something weird in your neighbourhood – it’s not Ghost Busters but the man who wears a dog collar.

Let me assure you that when we hear of such things we don’t push a panic button, there is no sliding down a pole into an underground compartment and there are no wheel spins from our clergymobile.

As fun as this would be it remains real only in my imagination.

What do we do? We go round and do two things. We listen and we ask questions.

We listen to what has been going on and try to learn as much as we can about the family who are experiencing the problems.

Sometimes people have been diagnosed with health problems and they have stopped taking their medication.

However, on many occasions nothing of this has ever been a problem in the past or a problem in the present.

That’s why it’s important to ask a few pointed questions. A general question is to ask people if they or anyone they know ever dabbled in any occult practices? Never! Not me.

You need to be more precise. Ever had your cards read? Ever been to the pub to see a medium? Oh that. Well, now you mention it...

I say all this because there does seem to be a connection between trying to make contact with the dead and spooky experiences at home. Not always but sometimes people start to experience things after dabbling in things the Bible says they shouldn’t.

This is not so much demon possession but demon oppression.

In these cases what the people want is for the clergyman to perform some form of magical ceremony and to leave them alone afterwards to live as they please.

I am passionately convinced this is not a responsible way to behave. For two reasons.

First of all, because what the person really needs is not a magical ceremony but the power of Jesus to liberate them from the influence of evil spirits.

And that’s exactly what he has the power to do. Remember what we discovered in our reading from the Bible? Jesus has  been driving out a demon from a man who has been possessed and people start to discuss how he is able to do it. Some thing he is doing it by the power of Satan, which Jesus says is ridiculous because Satan would not fight himself. This would be self destructive and stupid.

How was Jesus able to release a demon from the man he met? Because he was even more powerful than the evil spirit which held the man captive.
Jesus used the picture of a strong man, who guards his possessions. Who can rob him? Who can take his spoils? Only one more powerful. Jesus is claiming to be this person.

This is what people need today when they find themselves under the influence of evil. They need to be liberated by the power that only Jesus possesses.

They cannot do anything about it themselves. They must ask for Jesus to sort out the mess that has resulted from their foolish endeavours.

How can they get access to this power? Other people can pray for them. I do pray when I visit these houses and suspect there is something genuinely spiritual going on.

But the most effective solution to their problem is to ask for Jesus’ power for themselves and to obtain this by becoming his committed followers.

This leads me onto my second point. What do people need? Not simply the power of Jesus to liberate them from the power of evil spirits but the presence of Jesus to guard their life forever.

I think this is why Jesus spoke about the activities of the evil spirit once it had come out of the man. Goes through many places and does not find anywhere to rest. It decides to return to the place it had left. Finds the house in order and ready for fresh occupation. Goes and gets his mates and the final condition is worse than before.

Jesus’ point is that it is dangerous to leave a vacuum to be filled. We must fill the void by the presence of Jesus and we can only do this when he is our personal Saviour and King.

Where does this leave us tonight? How should we respond to what God has said to us through his word?

•    There is a real spirit world. It is unseen but nevertheless it is tangibly real.
•    There are evil spirits who can and do impersonate dead people.
•    They do this so we will not trust the word of God and obey it.
•    There are some people who need to stop dabbling in these forms of communications. Visiting mediums is not harmless. You may open yourself up to the influence of evil spirits.
•    Some of you may already be experiencing this. There is a solution but do come and talk to us.
o    You need the power of Jesus to liberate you.
o    You need the presence of Jesus to guard your life forever.
•    All of us need the presence of Jesus to guard us for eternity. We will all die one day. Only Jesus can get us through the other side without fear.
•    Do investigate more about what this means.

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