1:21“They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” (Mark 1:21–28, NRSV)
Let us pray: God of all wisdom and authority, you sent Jesus Christ to save us. Heal us, cleanse us, deliver us, and cast out the evil within us so that we may know your Word and heed your new teaching; through Christ, your Holy One. Amen.
Today is a big day. Sure it is super bowl Sunday when all the world will watch to see if the Patriots will try to deflate the Seahawks. It is also Volunteer Sermon Sunday and it is the day we ordain, install and commission our newly elected Vestry Session members. It is a big day.
It was also a big day on that Sabbath Day so long ago when Jesus entered the Synagogue and he taught. The Gospel of Mark tells us that the congregation was astounded at his teaching. Just like you are every week when Heather and I preach! When all of the sudden the scene shifts to a man described as being filled with an unclean spirit, or what we would called possessed. A fight of spiritual proportions breaks out. Notice that it does not last very long and Jesus is clearly victorious. So, why is this the scripture and sermon for today? A big day in the life of our church?
I find it very interesting that this confrontation with a possessed man is the first act of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of Mark. The other gospels present a very different beginning for Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus is portrayed as a teacher and as the fulfillment of the law. In the Gospel of John, Jesus miracles usher in his ministry as he creates unexpected and unimaginable abundance. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is portrayed as the liberator, the one who sets the captives free, he heals the sick, and he proclaims good news to the poor and the Lord’s favor to all. But the Gospel of Mark ushers in Jesus ministry with a fight as he confronts and casts out the unclean spirit.
This confrontation is a signal that Jesus has come to clash with all the forces that keep the children of God from the abundant life God wants for all of us.
That is the underlying message I take from this story. God does not want these things to possess us. Things that are real and difficult and life threatening and soul robbing and mood altering. Things that are subtle but no less destructive and spiritually deadly. Things like – anger, fear, workaholism, affluenza, substance abuse…. Things that possess us
Please don’t in any way hear me making light of these struggles because I deal with them too and I know that they are strong and powerful and can keep me from being fully that child of God I was created to be. I am not naive to believe or to suggest that with just the right prayer or well worded liturgy or healing touch that any of this things that can possesses us will magically vanish.
I believe that Mark is presenting Jesus as the one who is uniquely authorized, commissioned, or empowered to call attention to these possessive powers and the agent to disempower them. Jesus is the one to do it and as Mark shows he is not passive but instead he is intrusive. He breaks down old boundaries and he sets free people from the powers that afflict us. He is the one to share the promise that God does not want these things for us, the church, or the whole of creation.
This story describes God as the God of the broken, and to be a member of Jesus’ disciples then or now is the ability to realize our deep need for and trust that Jesus has come to meet it.
But it is not a once and done kind of thing. Jesus doesn’t conquer that one demon in us and leave us alone. Because you know what? That demon might rear its ugly head or something else will take its place. It’s a lifelong process of Jesus coming in and reminding us over and over and over that Jesus does not want these things to possess us. And there is another piece of this too. Once we realize who Jesus is and what he’s about we are compelled, called, commissioned to use our gifts and talents to help others in their life journeys…
So as we commit ourselves to something this Volunteer pledge season pay attention to where God might be needing you to serve, give your time, your talents, your energy, your imagination, your love and your prayers.
Later in the service we will ordain, install and commission our members of Vestry Session, the leaders whom you elected to serve and to lead us. Heather and I will ask them some questions, (you can read them they are an insert in your bulletin). Some of the questions they can answer, yes or no, but others are impossible for any human being to achieve. So, they will have to answer, “I will with God’s help.”
And so as you think of those places of brokenness or disappointment or fear in your lives, this is a good answer as you face those particular challenges “I will with God’s help.” This story reminds us that God does not stay away from us because we face these challenges or deal with shortcomings. No, instead, God draws nearest to us precisely in these moments as we face them and deal with them. God is still at work casting out the unclean spirits of the world, and God is healing of our possessions so that we can join our Lord and get to work.
Let us pray: We praise and worship you, O Gracious God. You have the power to save us, free us and call us to yourself. Amen.