Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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Why We Tell This Story Again: Mark 1:9-13
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Some of you may be having a bit of deja vu as you listened to our Gospel reading for today. You might remember hearing this story back in January when we celebrated Jesus' baptism. Maybe you're wondering why it would come up again so soon in the reading. Maybe you're wondering if I've run out of ideas and if I'm just hoping that you won't remember that I preached this sermon a couple of weeks ago. Maybe you're wondering if I thought church might be cancelled, so I just figured that I had to re-use a sermon because I didn't have one ready for this week. Well, I did start working on this sermon before this morning, I promise. And, I, too, thought it was strange that this story come up again so quickly in the Lectionary. But, sometimes good stories are worth hearing again, especially when we are including details we didn't hear the first time.
Last time we talked about this passage, we talked about the baptism section, and how Jesus provided us with a model of leadership that was unthreatened by vulnerability. At that time, it was important to talk about how that particular act became a model for his ministry and all our ministries as we seek to follow him. This week, though, we have a little less need to talk about the baptism story, and more need to talk about the time in the wilderness. We've hardly talked about the wilderness part of the story at all. The wilderness part of the story is a little tricky. This wilderness story is a challenging paradox. It somehow manages to say a lot and not as much as I wish it would at the same time.
The wilderness time of this reading is only two short verses. The author of Mark tells us, "… the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him." Today is the first Sunday in Lent and it is traditional in many churches to tell the story of Jesus' time in the wilderness. That is the main reason this story has come up again today. So far, this liturgical year, we have told the story just before it (of Jesus' baptism) and the story just after it (of Jesus beginning his ministry after John is arrested). The lectionary asks us to wait until now, just as we begin the contemplative season of Lent, to spend some of worship talking about Jesus' time being tempted and tended in the wilderness.
I will tell you one of the things that tempted me as I worked on this sermon. This week, as I saw a mere two lines to work with, I was sorely tempted to preach from a different version of this story. Both Matthew and Luke include a distinctly longer and more detailed version of this story. It is kind of exciting. Like the Mark version, Satan is there in the wilderness. But we get a much more detailed picture of what he does there. He offers a hungry and tired Jesus some things that many of us would find difficult to deny were we in a similar situation. He tempts, maybe even dares, him to do three things: turn stones into food, to test the faithfulness of God by throwing himself off the temple in hopes that the angels would catch him, and offers to give him all of the kingdoms of the world if only Jesus would worship him. What rich imagery! Devils, angels, temples, hosts of kingdoms, all at Jesus' feet. Imagine all the things that I could say about each one of those temptations. I could probably keep you here for hours preaching on that version of this story. So, when I saw these two short verses in Mark's version of the story, I was tempted to pick something else. Something a little more exciting. Something with a little more meat to it. But, then I read one scholar who challenged me on that temptation. She argued that may this spare little story can tell us more about Jesus and about God than we might first imagine.
This scholar, Karoline Lewis, returned to the few words we have about Jesus' time in the wilderness in the book of Mark. She reminded me that the wilderness time is deeply connected to Jesus' baptism. We know something special happened at the baptism at the moment that God's Spirit begins to possess Jesus. And, we have an idea that something important is going to happen in the wilderness at the moment we realize that the Spirit has driven him there. Lewis suggests that when we have the full list of temptations, like we do in Matthew and Luke, it can distract us from what the author of Mark was actually trying to accomplish with this story. Lewis doesn't think this author is trying to give us a list of temptations that we should avoid just like Jesus did. That is one way that some people read the Matthew and Luke versions. She doesn't think that this author is using this story to make sure people don't succumb to gluttony, pride, or greed. That may be what the other Gospel writers are doing. But, that's not what this Gospel is doing.
What gets mentioned twice in the reading today? God's spirit. First, as the Spirit descends into Jesus and then as it drives him into the wilderness. Nothing else in this story is mentioned more than once. Not the devil, not the angels, not even the voice of God. Only the Spirit, the manifestation of God's presence, is mentioned more than once. Lewis argues that that means that what is most important about this story is not the specific temptations that Jesus avoided, but the means by which he avoided them. It appears that Jesus was able to resist his temptations not by some brute strength or great intelligence or severe discipline. None of those things are mentioned. What is mentioned is the Presence of God. The Spirit, which drove him into the wilderness, did not abandon him there. No, the Spirit stayed with him. He was not alone there. God was present. The angels tended to him. He was not alone. That was what kept him from giving in. He was not alone and the Spirit bolstered him during his struggle. Maybe the only way that we, too, can resist that which tempts us is by remembering that God's spirit is with us, too, and we are not alone.
What are the things that tempt you when you are in the wilderness? For me, often it's not so much power or greed as it is despair. I find it hard to watch the news anymore. In the last few weeks, as I've watched the news, I've seen four devoted, God-fearing young people who were dedicated to serving their neighbors, killed in senseless, hateful acts of violence. Kayla Mueller, 26 years-old, found God through service to others, and had been living in Turkey in order to advocate for Syrian refugees. She was killed while being held captive by people with a worldview that is so warped by hatred and despair that they are working to bring about the end of the world through the most violent means necessary. Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha, 23, 21, and 19 year-old respectively, also believed that their faith called them to serve those less fortunate than them. Deah and Yusor, married just six weeks, planned to travel to Turkey this summer to provide dental care to Syrian refugees. They were murdered in their home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, executed for something possibly as petty as a parking dispute, but more likely because their killer took issue with their Muslim faith.
When I hear these stories, I am tempted to despair. I am tempted to believe that whatever good is left in this world is slowly being drowned out by hatred and beat down through violence. If these four people, people who loved God and loved their neighbors, can be cut down so easily, how can I do anything but despair. This is where I meet the tempter... not in the wilderness, surrounded by wild beasts, but at my kitchen table, keyboard in hand, as these mournful images roll across my screen. Where is my hope, where is the Spirit, in the midst of such brokenness?
As I was reading about Kayla Mueller's life, I came across this quote from a letter she wrote her father a few years ago. When talking about her life of faith and her vocation, she said, "I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you... I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering." I think Kayla discovered something about God that the author of Mark was trying to tell us in the story of Jesus' baptism and wilderness journey. When Kayla was in the midst of great suffering, she learned something new about God. She realized that, even there, God was present and God was empowering her service. Rather than despair at the devastation she saw around her, she felt God's pull toward service. She realized that she was not alone. The Spirit of God was with her, helping her to overcome any temptation she had towards despair or apathy or isolation. God was there, and through God, she could face her greatest temptations.
Now, I must say out loud what some of you may be thinking. How could I even consider that God was with her when her final months were so dangerous and when she died so violently? How could I imagine that God was with the Barakat and Abu-Salha family when they were executed in their own home? Well, I don't think that feeling God's presence means that our lives with always be comfortable and safe. Even Jesus, Beloved Son of God, incarnation of God, was tempted in the wilderness and even he was killed as his lived the life of service and compassion that he was called to. No, we are not promised Divine Protection, like God is the bodyguard who navigates us through the dangers in life. What we are promised is that the Spirit is there, even in the midst of the wilderness. We may not always see God in the way we expect. Maybe the only way we can feel God is by holding the hands of the ones suffering with us. But, this story, and many more in Mark, will promise us that the Spirit is there. During this Lenten journey, I pray that we are willing to continue to look for God, even when we are in the wilderness.
Works Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon
Sermon Brainwave Podcast #403 First Sunday in Lent: https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=595
Karoline Lewis, "The Greatest Temptation": https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3537
Matt Skinner's Commentary on Mark 1:9-15: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2342
Toni Rossi, "I Find God in Suffering: The Fate and Faith of ISIS Captive Kayla Mueller": http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christophers/2015/02/i-find-god-in-suffering-the-fate-and-faith-of-isis-captive-kayla-mueller/
Bill Chappell, "We're All One," Chapel Hill Shooting Victim Said In StoryCorps Talk,":
What are you being healed to do? Mark 1:29-39
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Have you ever been rereading something and come across notes that you made the first time you read it? And, then, you try to remember why you wrote those notes in the first place? That happened to me this week as I prepared this sermon. When I write my sermons, I nearly always use my big, red study Bible that I bought to use in my first New Testament class in seminary. When I turned to the scripture for this week, I found notes from that class. Well, not exactly notes, but highlighter marks and circles. In the first section of this reading, I highlighted the following lines: "Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them." On top of the highlighting, I also circled, in ink, the words "serve them." Now, I think I know where the blue highlighter came from. I had an assignment where I was supposed to highlight all of the familial language in the book of Mark. But, that circle around the phrase "serve them," that came from something else. When I read that part of the story, something about that particular phrase caught my attention.
It's an interesting story, no doubt. Jesus had just left the synagogue, where he had begun his ministry of teaching and healing. Jesus and his friends then traveled to Simon and Andrew's house. Once they arrived there, we learn that Simon's mother-in-law had a fever. Now, in the days before antibiotics and over-the-counter fever reducers, a fever was not a minor inconvenience. It was often an indicator of serious illness. She felt bad enough that she was laid up in bed. Having just seen Jesus heal the man possessed by a demon, Simon and Andrew told Jesus about her illness. The description of her healing is so spare that you can almost miss it. Jesus came to her, and took her by the hand and lifted her up. And, then, the fever left her.
It can be easy to overlook this miracle because of it's simplicity. Like I've said before, the author of Mark offers little extraneous commentary on what are arguably amazing stories. This healing story follows that pattern. The other pattern in Mark, which we haven't seen yet, is that after the people are healed and they thank Jesus, Jesus will tell them not to tell anybody else about the miracle. It is a curious practice that is particular to Mark. Given that I was familiar with Mark when I read and highlighted these passages all those years ago, maybe I expected something like that to happen. Maybe I expected Simon's mom, to say thank you and then to have Jesus tell her not to tell anybody. But, that's not what happened here. After she is healed, she isn't shown falling down in gratitude as others will be later in the book. No, after she's healed, she appears to make them dinner.
In some ways, this seems all too familiar. I think many of us know a woman like this... The ultimate host. You cannot walk into her house without being handed a drink and asked if you'd like something to eat. And, whether or not you've actually asked for anything, there is a strong likelihood that a plate will be set before you anyway. Now, this woman may be wealthy, but, in all likelihood, she's not. She was just raised right. It doesn't matter how humble her surroundings, she will make sure that any guest who comes to her home has what they need, and probably a little extra for the road.
I have met these women in hills of East Tennessee, in the farmlands of Illinois, and along the lakeshore in Central Maine. In the congested cities of Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Managua, and Madrid, I have been greeted with great hospitality and some variety of the question, "Did you eat yet? Here... sit down. I'll fix you something." So, when I read this story, I'm pretty sure that I can imagine Simon's mother-in-law's face. I've seen it a hundred times. For those of us who know this woman, we may not be surprised in the least that the first thing she does when she is healed from a debilitating, possibly life-threatening, illness is get up and make everybody lasagna. She probably vacuumed, too.
Now, for those of us who know these women, we know that they often take pride in their role as host. The role of nurturer is of supreme importance to them. For some, it is a calling, a vocation even. They could no more imagine resting when company arrived than could imagine growing wings and flying into the air. For others, the expectation of hospitality is so great in their community that the social consequences of being judged lazy, inhospitable, or a bad cook are just too much to bear. It is better to work oneself into the ground than to fail in this social obligation. In either case, and in any case in between, the hospitable women often find themselves doing most of the cooking, far too little of the eating, and nearly all of the cleaning. The work of being welcoming can take its' toll, especially if the host feels like she is doing so out of obligation rather than joy. It is the paradox of this kind of service, hospitality that is can be joyful to offer but often a burden, that is the likely reason for my ferocious circling during my New Testament class.
How was I supposed to read this story? Is Simon's mom only healed so she can slave over a hot stove while the guys sit around and share stories about how awesome it was when that guy with the demon came up to Jesus and Jesus totally took that demon down a peg? Couldn't some of the guys have said, "Whoa, getting healed must be a big deal. Why don't you sit down and tell us about it? How did it feel? Do you want to follow Jesus, too? Andrew can handle the snacks." Knowing that even the authors of the Bible, inspired though they might be, were just as shaped by the social conventions of their time as we are of ours, I can't help but wonder about this short phrase, "she began to serve them." What does it say about Simon's mother-in-law's life and what does it say to our modern readers, many of whom still struggle within the confines of gender-based social convention?
I responded so strongly to this phrase about service, in part, because I came from a community where ideas about hospitality, food-making, and service were heavily gendered. I learned pretty early on that women were supposed to do the cooking and cleaning. Men were supposed to do the eating and loud story-telling, while also carrying the occasion heavy thing. If you were a girl who wanted to do the eating and loud story-telling part, you were doing something wrong. If you were a boy who wanted to host the party and cook the food, you were also doing something wrong. I heard pretty regularly how the serving of food was an important part of being an adult woman, but not so important that the men wanted to do it. In fact, it was the last thing the men were supposed to want to do. I learned this mixed message that food preparation was vitally important but always secondary to whatever the men were doing. Because it wasn't good enough for men to do, I often assumed that it really wasn't a good thing for anyone to do.
When you grow up in a patriarchal culture, it is easy to learn that the things associated with women are somehow second rate or less worthy of praise. I sure learned that lesson about the kind of service that Simon's mother-in-law offered after she was healed. While it was good that women did that work, it was always women's work, and therefore less important. I worry about verses like this, because, all too often, people who are interested in limiting the roles of women and men based on strictly gendered understandings of propriety will look to this verse and say, "Look. See. A woman's place is to serve. A man's place is to lead alongside Jesus." I am fortunate that, this week, I found some scholars who helped me look at service in a different way.
One scholar pointed that the word to serve, when translated back into Greek, is the word diakeneo. This word does usually mean to serve food. And, yes, it is something that women are usually described as doing in the book of Mark, like Martha who serves Jesus after her brother Lazarus is healed. But, do you know who else is described as serving using that same verb? Jesus. Later in the book of Mark, after two of his male followers, James and John, make the ham-fisted request to sit in places of honor by Jesus' side, he rebukes them for their egoism. He then tells all of his male disciples (the women are probably in the kitchen cleaning up), that "whomever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whomever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." The word he uses for serve is diakeneo.
The same scholar points out that, later, at the end of Jesus' life, long after the twelve male disciples have fled in fear for their safety, the women who followed Jesus, the ones who had provided for him throughout his ministry in Galilee, they were the ones who stayed with him and saw him breathe his last breath. This word that gets translated into English as "provided for," in Greek, it is diakeneo. It is these women who went to Jesus' tomb to tend to his body. It is these women who first learn of the resurrection. And, one more thing... if the word diakeneo seems familiar you to, I wouldn't be surprised. It is the root word for Deacon, one of the oldest roles in the Christian church.
Maybe Jesus learned a little something about service from Simon's mother-in-law. After all, her first response to being healed wasn't to lay around talking about how awesome it was. Her first response was to serve and make sure everyone had what they needed. Maybe Jesus was thinking about her when he yelled at James and John for making petty arguments about who was the greatest among them. Hopefully, as Jesus cried out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," he saw the faces of the women who had provided for him and knew that he wasn't alone. The deacons were there with him, even to the very end.
Jesus took quite the risk by identifying his mission not with the work of the powerful men in his community, but with the work of the women and the slaves. By doing so, he told people that this work, this service, was worth more than they thought. It was so important that it became the model for his own ministry. What a gift it is for us today, too. He showed us that following him has been women's work for just as long as it has been men's work. And, we've learned that the most appropriate response to being healed is to offer compassion and hospitality to others. So, friends, how can we follow in the footsteps of Jesus and Simon's mother-in-law? How can we put our healing to good use? Who could use a little hospitality and servanthood today?
Work Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon
David Lose, "Epiphany 5B: Freedom For": http://www.davidlose.net/2015/02/epiphany-5-b-freedom-for/
UCC weekly Sermon Seeds: http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_february_8_2015
Matt Skinner's commentary on Mark 1:29-39: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2344
What is Authority? Mark 1: 21-28
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 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.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Way back in December, as we started the season of Advent, I let you all know that we would be spending a lot of time in the gospel of Mark during this liturgical year. Well, first, we had to get through Advent. In Advent, we read from a bunch of different scriptures. And, the same goes for Christmas. We jumped around a lot there, too. It's not until now, in the midst of early Ordinary time, just before the season of Lent, that we have begun in earnest our journey with Mark. So, despite the fact that I told you that we'd be spending a lot of time with Mark, we had to wait a little while to really get here. Perhaps it would be helpful to have a little bit of an over-view of what has been happening. At this point, we've heard two other stories from Mark. The first one was Jesus' baptism, where he demonstrated a kind of authority that is not afraid of vulnerability when he asked John to baptize him. He was also filled with God's spirit and driven out into the wilderness where he struggled with Satan.
We had a short detour into the Gospel of John, and then, last week, back in the Gospel of Mark, we learned about how Jesus, after John was arrested and he returned from the wilderness, called his first disciples. He told them and God had come near, that the Holy Spirit ran through his veins, and invited them to along on his journey to make sure that all people knew the presence of a loving God. And, they followed him. Today, we learn where they went. From the coast of the sea of Galilee, the traveled to the city of Capernaum. Capernaum will become the base for his ministry in Galilee and the surrounding area. When the Sabbath came, Jesus and his friends went to the synagogue with the other observant Jews. Jesus began to teach.
Now, according to scholars, it wouldn't have been that strange for Jesus to be preaching and teaching on that day. This synagogue likely didn't have a set rabbi or teacher the way our modern synagogues do. It would have been common for people with a reputation for wisdom to be allowed to speak at the weekly meetings alongside the educated elite. We might assume that Jesus already had a reputation for wisdom, and was invited to speak. Perhaps it was the same reputation for wisdom that inspired James and John to follow him. Either way, he taught. And, what he taught surprised people.
Mark doesn't give us outline of Jesus' sermon that day. I kind of wish he would have. I wish I knew exactly what he said that surprised people so much. Given that, just a few verses prior, Jesus is described as proclaiming that God had come near and the people needed to return to God, I imagine that this sermon in the synagogue had something to do with that. But, who knows exactly. Whatever he said, he said with an authority that people did not expect. And, he said with an authority that was different than that of the scribes.
The scribes were the educated class, scholars of Jewish law who represented the priestly rulers. Given how tied up the Jewish rulers were with the colonial power of Rome during this time, it is not hard for me to imagine that the scribes were also in a place where they had to watch their words in order to avoid offending the Roman officials, that is the ones who were truly in charge of what happened in Roman Palestine. Some scholars also suggest that they had a particular way of teaching. In a way that is very similar to how modern day trial lawyers argue cases based on the outcomes of previous cases, the scribes may have constructed their arguments using insights and interpretation of other well-known scholars. For example, if one wanted to discuss whether or not a particular activity violated the prohibition of working on the Sabbath, one would study the arguments crafted by other well-known and respected rabbis, using their precedent to make one's case.
Being a scribe was a position of great privilege. It was expected that a scribe have an expansive knowledge of other scholars' work. In order to amass such knowledge, one had to be able to read, a skill that was not common, and one had to have time to study. Given that most people were illiterate peasants who spent most of their time in sustenance farming and fishing, few could afford to spend time in study. Scribes were typically well-respected and valued members of the community. Given the amount of education they had, and their positions as leaders, they were people who's word carried much weight. They were people of authority. But, what I'm not exactly sure about is how this authority is different than Jesus'.
Remember, the author of Mark said that Jesus taught them as one having authority, but this was not the authority of the scribes. What does that mean? If we don't have the words from Jesus' teaching, how can we compare them? I think the next section of the reading can help us figure a little bit of this out. As Jesus was reading, a man who was possessed by an unclean spirit cried out to him. He seemed to recognize just who Jesus was. "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?" the poor man cried out. "Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God!" Now, before you get to distracted think about whether or not you believe in "unclean spirits" who can possess someone and make them do things they don't want to do, I want to invite you to not actually worry about that very much. I don't actually think it matters if you believe in spirit possession in order to interpret this passage. I do think it matters for us to remember that the writer of this Gospel most certainly believed in unclean spirits, as did a considerable number of people of this time period. If you decide that since you don’t believe in unclean spirits that that makes this story unhelpful or meaningless, then you're missing out. This story is too interesting to dismiss so quickly.
Spirit possession in the Gospels seems to represent a lot of things. Sometimes, it is an explanation for illness. People who exhibit symptoms of what we would likely call epilepsy might have been thought to be possessed by an unclean spirit. Some modern interpreters wonder if people who exhibited symptoms of mental illness might have also been thought to be possessed by an unclean spirit. Sometimes, the spirits represented forces that were fighting with God for control of the world, like a great unclean spiritual army at war with God. It is important for us to remember these varied meanings. However, regardless of how we try to explain away the spirits to make the stories more palatable to modern, mainline sensibilities, it is important for us to try to read these stories with an appreciation of the context in they were written. For these people, unclean spirits were real and were a force to be reckoned with.
If one was thought to be afflicted with an unclean spirit, one would have great difficulty being a part of the social fabric of the community in which Jesus was raised. If that spirit made you sick, you would likely have trouble working for even what meager wages many people subsisted on. If that spirit made you seem wild and dangerous, you may be banished into parts of the community where people thought you would not pose a danger to you neighbors. In just a few chapters, we will read about the man in Gerasene who is so tormented by demons that the only place he can find to live is in the cemetery, among the tombs. If your spirits made you ritually unclean, you might even only be permitted to have limited physical contact with the ones you loved and would likely not be allowed into religious ceremonies for fear that your uncleanliness would disrupt the ritual and infect others. Having an unclean spirit pushed you to the margins of the community. It made you socially, medically, and spiritually an outsider. Few people had the authority to restore you back into the fullness of community. Once isolated, it was difficult to return to sense of wholeness.
Notice what Jesus does when he is approached by this possessed man. Speaking to the spirit that has possessed him, Jesus rebukes it, and says "Be silent, and come out of him!" Now, the spirit does not leave easily. It is rare that we are able to easily rid ourselves of the things that enslave us. However, even though there was the struggle, the spirit left. The man was restored. And the people who witnessed it were amazed and understood this act as a confirmation that Jesus' new teaching came with authority, that is it was not simply a re-examination of tradition, but it was a new word from God... a word that extended and built upon what they already new. People recognized Jesus' gift not only when he talked about it, but when he made use of it to heal someone who would have been incredibly marginalized in his community.
Jesus taught that God had come near and told people that it was time to return to the ways of compassion and love that God had given them long ago in establishing the law. And, Jesus showed people a new way to exercise authority. First, in his baptism, he made himself vulnerable to John, thereby opening himself up to receive the Holy Spirit. Next, when he began his public ministry, rather than doing it alone, he invited along James and John, disciples and co-workers who would tell people of the nearness of God. And, finally, in this story, by reaching out to the tormented man, and freeing him of the force that controlled him. In just a few verses, Jesus developed a new teaching, a new way of being in authority that did not reside in military might or philosophical acumen, but instead was best understood through vulnerability, mutuality, and compassion for the marginalized.
Friends, what kinds of unclean spirits are wreaking havoc in our community today? Who are the people in our community who are forced to live in the margins, making their lives among the tombstones, and barely getting by? If a possessed person were to walk into our door right now, would we be able to respond to their cries with this same kind of compassionate action that Jesus demonstrated? This is our challenge today. How can we as followers of Christ make use of this kind of authority? Because the unclean spirits are still here, we just call them something different. It is our calling to be the hands of Christ, casting them out and welcoming the broken back into a place of wholeness.
Works Pastor Chrissy consulting when writing this sermon
Pulpit Fiction, episode 100: After Ephiphany 4B (February 1, 2015): http://www.pulpitfiction.us/show-notes/100-after-epiphany-4b-feb-1-2015
Matt Skinner's Commentary on Mark 1: 21-28:
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.