Mark 1:21-28 • January 29, 2012
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
I want to check and see if you were paying attention as our gospel was read today. Today’s gospel from Mark is the story of the first healing, the first miracle of Jesus. The casting out of an unclean spirit from a man possessed. It’s something that we expect to hear and see Jesus doing in the gospels, BUT did you catch where this event takes place? Where does the possessed man show up? ____________ Right… In the synagogue. Right smack dab in the middle of the church. It absolutely blows me away that the very first miracle of Jesus in the gospel of Mark happens in a very special place. The church building itself.
Lutheran Pastor David Rhoads points out that in the gospel of Mark “Jesus wields authority over demons, illnesses (when people have faith), and natural forces (seas, deserts, trees) – nonhuman forces that oppress people. Jesus wields no authority, however, over people. He cannot heal people without faith, make them keep quiet if they wish to speak, or force his disciples to understand his teachings.”
Jesus doesn’t aggressively force his authority on people. He doesn’t “lord it over” people with a hammer. Jesus’ divine authority is to serve people.
Authority to serve people.
I’m not sure that I believe in being possessed by demons in the way that our gospel seems to portray them today. But I do believe that I see people nearly every day, including myself from time to time, who are possessed.
How have demons taken hold of your life to the point where they’ve become the very authority of your life? They may not be demons that make your head spin around as you shriek loudly while your eyes pop out of your head, but they are there.
Theologian David Lose says that the Hollywood stereotypes of demons are not true to the ones that we actually face. Lose says, “Rather than bless, [these demons] curse; rather than build up, they tear down; rather than encourage, they disparage; rather than promote love, they sow hate; rather than draw us together, they seek to split us apart.”
Demons like jealousy or addiction or pride or unhealthy life styles or excessive worry or an inability to forgive. Demons that need to be cast out in order for us to live the lives that God is calling us to live in Jesus Christ. The gospel writer of Mark is very clear that when an unclean spirit possesses us, it is in direct opposition to what the spirit of Christ wants to do in and through us.
Is that part of your struggle today? A part of you that is so bound up in the darkness of something that possesses you that you are afraid of what might happen if you actually release your grip and let the authority of Jesus say to you, “Be silent, and come out.”
In her book Amazing Grace: a Vocabulary of Faith, author Kathleen Norris writes, “When I think of the demons I need to exorcise, I have to look inward, to my heart and soul. Anger is my best demon, useful whenever I have to go into Woman Warrior mode, harmful when I use it to gratify myself, either in self-justification, or to deny my fears. My husband, who has a much sweeter nature than I, once told me that my mean streak grieved him, not just because of the pain it caused him but because it was doing me harm. His remark, as wise as that of any desert Abba, felt like an exorcism. Not that my temptation to anger was magically gone, but I was called to pay closer attention to something that badly needed attention, and that was hurting our marriage. It confirmed my understanding of marriage as a holy act: one can no more hide one’s true faults from a spouse than from God, and in exorcising the demon of anger, that which could kill is converted, transformed into that which can heal.”
So the point here for Mark, probably doesn’t rest on what Jesus says or does as much as it rests on how the people respond to what Jesus says and does.
I think the most challenging and transforming aspect of life in Christ is when we finally allow Jesus to release the demons that keep us tightly focused on our own selfish wants and desires and stop us from seeing the needs of others around us. These are demons that we seem to hold onto very tightly. But when we finally let go of them, we realize that we have been given authority by God, through Jesus, to heal, to proclaim, to change, to bring about redemption and forgiveness, and to cast out demons – for the sake of others. For the sake of our neighbor.
What bothered the religious leaders in the synagogue that day was not that Jesus prayed and preached. It was the fact that his prayers and teaching was moving people into action. So often, I think the church’s problem is not that we do not have authority, it’s that we don’t use the authority we have. Let’s quit defining the problems and then beating each other up with them – whether they are problems in another part of the world that we have no personal connection with like Egypt or Syria or they are right here in our own congregation – Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – and let’s start applying the authority that we have been given by God, through Jesus to heal, to support, to cast out, and to lift each other up.
Life in Christ is not always easy. Anyone who tells you otherwise has never been engaged in a community of faith. They have never shared the life and death moments that these communities experience together as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. It is in and through these communities that life and death walk hand in hand.
Thank God that this Jesus comes to us over and over. And thank God that this Jesus doesn’t and will never give up on us.
Blessing in the Chaos is a poem written by Jan Richardson that I pray serves us well as a final thought for today.
To all that is chaotic
let there come silence.
Let there be
of the clamoring,
of the voices that
have laid their claim
that go with you
even to the
but will not
let you rest,
will not let you
hear your life
or feel the grace
that fashioned you.
Let what distracts you
Let what divides you
Let there come an end
to what diminishes
and let depart
all that keeps you
in its cage.
Let there be
into the quiet
that lies beneath
where you find
you did not think
and see what shimmers
within the storm.