The reading from Mark is one of those ones that doesn’t easily translate into our modern context. We don’t often talk about unclean spirits or demon let alone someone command that unclean spirit to leave. We see it maybe in sci-fi movies or maybe alien moves.
Just because it doesn’t easily translate to our modern world, doesn’t mean that we don’t know about unclean spirits or long for someone to command those demons to be gone. We know demons – we call them things like low self-esteem, self-doubt, anxiety, depression, perfectionism, anger, addiction to any number of things drugs, food, shopping alcohol, money. We know demons in our world, we just call them by different names. Maybe your unclean spirit is the voice inside your head that keeps telling you that you aren’t good enough as you are or maybe fear isolates you from community. Nadia Bolz-Webber Pastor, preacher and author writes, “I’ve confessed this before but I don’t always know what to do when it comes to talk about demons in the Bible. Especially when the demons talk and have names and stuff like that. I’m never sure if back then they had the exact same things going on that we do, but they didn’t know about things like epilepsy or mental illness so they just called it all demon possession. …But I do know that many of you, like myself, have suffered from addictions and compulsions and depression – things that have gotten ahold of us, making us do things we don’t want to. Or making you think you love things, or substances or people that are really destructive. So maybe if that, in part, is what having a demon is, maybe if it’s being taken over by something destructive, then possession is less of an anachronism, and more of an epidemic.” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2013/06/demon-possession-and-why-i-named-my-depression-francis/)
Uncleans spirits or demons in our world today are those things that take us on a self-destructive path. I wonder how many of us hear wrestle with our own personal demons. I call my worry and anger and self-doubt. What names do you call your demons?
And there are days when I wish I could tell that demon to leave me alone as Jesus did in our reading today. In our reading from Mark this morning is Jesus first public act of ministry. So far in chapter 1 we have John preparing the way, Jesus’ baptism, and forty days being tempted in the desert Satan. Jesus called his first disciples and together the go to Capernaum which is where we start today.
Jesus is in the temple and he begins to teach and everyone who hears him is amazed. They say he teaches like one with authority. He wasn’t anything like the scribes. The words of scripture came to life in new ways. As Jesus is teaching, a man enters the temple and he is filled with “an unclean spirit” (Mark 1:23) We don’t really know what that unclean spirit ways. The minute the man enters, he cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazraeth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24) But Jesus has no part of these unclean spirits and say, “Be silent, and come out of him.” (Mark 1:25) And the unclean spirit leaves the man. And now the crowd is even more amazed.
David Lose in his commentary on this text writes, “Notice that the very first thing Jesus does in Mark’s Gospel is cast out an unclean spirit. We don’t always know exactly how to process “unclean spirit” in modern terms (and certainly want to avoid the way it has been conflated with mental illness over the centuries!), but from other passages in Mark we can easily imagine its impact and effects on the life of the man this spirit holds captive. He has likely become a danger to himself and others. If he hasn’t already, he will likely soon be socially ostracized. And we can imagine the distress of those who love him. Anguish over his plight, fear about his future. (http://www.davidlose.net/2018/01/epiphany-4-b-against-the-robbers/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28...In+the+Meantime%29)
Sound familiar? Jesus wasn’t just at work then but at work today. And Jesus stands with us and for us just as he did for that man so long ago in Capernaum. Jesus not only invites us to follow by stands up and says, “Be silent, and come out” to all those unclean spirits that hold us captive. Our God as David Lose so eloquently puts it, is “God is opposed to anything and everything that robs [us] of abundant life” (http://www.davidlose.net/2018/01/epiphany-4-b-against-the-robbers/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28...In+the+Meantime%29) Jesus, the Holy One of God, comes to bring us abundant life. It is a gift beyond measure. It is a promise that when the unclean spirits come we are not left on our own. It is not a matter of if it is a matter of when. We all face challenges – some big and some small. In all these challenges Jesus stands with us silencing those demons that do us most harm. Nadia Bolz-Webber, “I think our demons totally recognize Jesus right out of the boat and our demons are afraid of him. Which is why they try to get us to stay away from people who may remind us how loved we are. Our demons want nothing to do with the love of God in Christ Jesus and so they try to isolate us and tell us that we are not worthy to be called children of God. And these lies are simply things that Jesus does not abide.” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2013/06/demon-possession-and-why-i-named-my-depression-francis/)
Love has a way of making us whole. The love that Jesus showed to the man with an unclean spirit is the love that he shows to each one of us. As we head into this week, carry that promise in your heart and help be that face of love for friends, for family, for neighbours and strangers. Love changes us and it changes the world. It is much like the reminder I had from an article called “The radical but gentle faith of Mister Rogers” How many of you remember Mr. Roger’s neighbourhood? I grew up with his song, “Won’t you be my neighbour?” and the closing benediction, ““You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/01/30/the-radical-but-gentle-faith-of-mister-rogers/?utm_term=.d889e0f741a6) Fred Rogers was also a Presbyterian Minister. He lived his faith by reminding each of us of the importance of caring for one another. It says in the article, “ Rogers thought of the act of loving and accepting someone as your neighbor as holy business, as he said in a 2001 commencement address at Middlebury College: “When we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does; so in appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something truly sacred.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/01/30/the-radical-but-gentle-faith-of-mister-rogers/?utm_term=.d889e0f741a6)
Sundays we gather for that reminder that we are God’s beloved children and we can participate in the sacred act of sharing that love with others. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. That is a both gift and promise. Amen.