Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Dealing with Our Demons--A Sermon for St. Mark Hope and Peace, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Jan. 28, 2018

Gospel Mark 1:21-28
                21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
           23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
           27They 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.”
           28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

           How many know what season we are in?
           [Ordinary Time.  Epiphany.]
           How many think it’s Ordinary Time?
           How many think it’s Epiphany?

           Guess what?  You’re all right!
           The season following Epiphany, January 6, is part of Ordinary time, that lengthy part of the church year that also includes the many Sundays following Pentecost.
           But more and more, we also consider it to be the season of Epiphanytide.  Which is too long a name for a season, but whatever.
           You can tell that we are considering this the season of Epiphany if you are paying attention to the Prayer of the Day.  Each week, those prayers have included language about Jesus being revealed, and images of light which are themes of Epiphany, right?  “Epiphany” actually comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, which means “manifestation” or “revealing.” 
           If you look at this week’s prayer, you will see both.
           And…so what?  What does it matter that Epiphany is about revealing?  Well, it matters because that gives us a lens through which to view our lessons, especially our gospel texts for each week.  During Epiphany, we want to focus in on what our lessons are revealing about Jesus Christ.
           That is especially true this week, when our lesson is part of Epiphany and also part of that exclusive club of Jesus’ First Public Actions.
           Scholars have long suggested that we pay attention to the first public thing Jesus does in a gospel, as a way of uncovering the way that particular evangelist views Jesus.  What those same scholars refer to as Christology.
           Mark’s Christolology, his understanding of who Jesus was, is revealed in all of Chapter One, in which we see Jesus engaging in multiple acts of healing and proclamation, while also being baptized and calling disciples.
           But it is worth paying particular attention this week, when Jesus engages in his first public acts.  Two of them, really.  Teaching and exorcizing a demon.
           Proclamation and healing.
           We want to pay attention to the actions themselves, and also to the reaction of the crowd, because Mark has zeroed in on a particular response which reveals something about Jesus and about his ministry.
           What word do they use, about both the teaching and the healing?
           Authority.  Jesus is a different kind of rabbi.  He commands a room.  He commands an audience.  “He commands even the unclean spirits!”
           The fact that Jesus’ first really public act is an exorcism tells us a ton about what we will learn about Jesus from Mark. 
           Mark’s Jesus is on a mission.  And that mission involves crossing boundaries and casting out demons.  There are nine exorcisms in Mark’s gospel, and even more references to demons and the power to cast out demons. 
           The way Mark reveals Jesus is timely.  Mark is writing to a people living under an oppressive Roman rule.  In 66, the Jews in both the northern and southern territories rebelled against Emperor Nero.  In 70 AD, about the time that Mark finished his writing, Roman forces under the new Emperor, Vespasian, sacked the temple—the center of Jewish life. 
           The people living in that world had some demons.  Demons that had been around for the thirty-something years since Jesus’ death and resurrection.
           What kinds of demons were plaguing the people of Jesus, and Mark?
           --Separation    --Isolation    --Racism    
           How do you suppose a people living with those demons received the word of a Messiah who could cast out those demons?
           How do you suppose life changed for that one young man in Capernaum, up on the north shore of the Galilee?  He was living possessed by something unclean.  Which meant he could not be part of his community. 
           And Jesus, who has the authority to command those unclean spirits and cast them away, restored that man.  Ended his isolation.
           The people there that day knew this was a big deal.
           The people for whom Mark was writing knew that this was a big deal.

           So here’s a question for all of us:  do we know what a big deal this is?
           Do we have any demons that we’d like Jesus to help us destroy?  Because disciples get this ability, remember. 
           What demons are plaguing us these days?
           --Include homophobia and transphobia and talk about RIC Sunday.

           Can Jesus cast out those demons?  Does he have the authority to break down the walls that separate us from one another, the walls of bigotry and shame and stolen opportunity?
           Yeah.  He does. 
           Because his authority is built of love.  His authority continues to be unleashed in our world today, because it is built into the fabric of the life we share.  A life of faith built on love for God and love for neighbor.  Those aren’t just quaint phrases.  That is the power of Jesus Christ.  The power to overcome the demons plaguing our society and the demons plaguing our lives.
           Jesus has that power.
           Jesus has that authority.
           And so do we.
           Jesus isn’t just revealed in our gospel texts for the season of Epiphany.  He is revealed in us.  He is incarnate in us, every time we reach out to a neighbor in love.  And—hear me now—every time we let another reach out to us in love.  Every time that we admit that we need the healing power of love in our lives.

           Love heals.  The gospel is good news of a power based in love which can tear down walls and heal pain and suffering.  Jesus the Christ is a light of love for a world in pain.  Let’s share him.  Let’s heal through him.

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