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Mark 1:21-28

 4th Sunday after Epiphany, Lectionary Year B

©2015 Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

This week, we wove the introduction to the text with the Choir’s Anthem, and with the text itself, only then moving into the sermon proper. You might want to listen to the audio link on the website to get the full feeling of this exploration of the Gospel.

 Mark wastes no time in his Gospel getting to his point, which is to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ, “God’s Son.”
who came to proclaim the Dream of God.
The next 16 chapters are commentary
on this bold opening statement.

So, not for Mark any infancy narrative;
Jesus’ first appearance in Mark’ Gospel
is as a full grown man from Nazareth
emerging drenched and blessed,
from John’s baptism in the river Jordan.
Two verses later he has four disciples at his side,
and by the end of the first chapter,
Jesus has healed the sick,
taught the Dream of God with astounding authority.
Oh, and he’s cast out a fist full
of demons and unclean spirits.
Mark has wasted no time in making sure
we understand that Jesus
is not your average guy;
he’s different. He’s a miracle man.
Anthem. A Miracle Man by Joel Raney
Now, for all that this anthem is a upbeat,toe-tapping way to portray Jesus, it’s frankly too difficult for many 21st century liberal Christians to suspend our disbelief in miracles.
Mark doesn’t make it any easier,
with the Gospel reading for today,
with his stark, lean telling
of a man possessed by evil spirits,
then released by a word and a touch from Jesus.

We, 2000 years removed from the world in which
Mark’s words made sense,
are left with too many questions
and too little sense of what it’s about,
this jarring tale,
and we can all too easily dismiss it with
scientific contempt, thinking it has nothing
to say to us or our world.

But we’d be wrong.
We need to slow the action down,
let it needle and rankle, disturb and challenge us
with its strange familiarity.
To do that, I have some help in the telling,
from Martha, Bob, and Jess.

A dramatic reading of the Gospel of Mark, by Jess Rawlings, Bob Birnie, Martha Randy, Rev. Elisabeth.
Text by Rev.E.

Mark’s Jesus is not meek, nor mild,
and what gentleness we perceive
is born in strength of conviction
as much as from compassion.
Mark’s Gospel is likewise unrelenting
in its conviction that the Good News
of God in Jesus Christ
is invasive, combative, oppositional,
offensive even, to all that hinders,
all that robs the people of God of the
life and good and abundance that God intends for us.

If we can grasp that the fight Jesus takes on
in this story is one against those inner compulsions,
those private prisons,
those things that possess us and keep us bound
to that which harms, rather than blesses us,
then the possessed one is us.

If we can even begin to see
the strident “Hush!” from Jesus
to the unclean spirit
as an indictment of those
personal and larger forces in the world
which tear down rather than build up,
which fracture human community
rather than mend it.
which disparage rather than promote love
and well-being,
which provoke hate, not love,
then Jesus,
“Speak to the frenzied unclean spirits of our
time, our day, our world!”
This is a story for us after all.

For truly, which one of us has never been possessed?
Possessed by an anger or a jealousy
which causes us to do some harm
by word or action?
Who has never been possessed
by a fear that paralyses,
or possessed by the grip of a depression
or anxiety or mental torment
that cripples hope, let alone action?

How many nights have we experienced
“the tyrant voices of the mind,
shrill and driving twisted thoughts
that grip and bind,
doubts that stir the heart to panic,
…..and the soul to fright,” [1]
undermining what God wants us to know
about ourselves;
that we are God’s beloved, cherished ones?

Who among us would not ache and plead with God
on behalf of a loved one, or ourselves,
possessed by addictions to drugs, pornography, gambling, alcohol?

We all know what it means to be possessed,
by forces that prevent us from believing that fullness of life is our birthright as a child of God.

And there’s yet more to this tale;
if we see ourselves in the in the man possessed,
what about the actions of Jesus?
Is this one of those stories where the Miracle Man
is bound to the pages of an old, worn Bible,
no longer at liberty to exorcise
the demons of our day?

The entire Gospel of Mark is a resounding “No!” to that question,
Mark’s Jesus is God’s Dream in flesh and blood,
doing what God has always done,
to liberate creation from the forces that bind, diminish, hurt and destroy.
But, so also is the evidence of our own world.
we are called to be the Body of Christ
for the world in our time.
To do those things which Jesus did in his,
to proclaim in action as well as word,
the Gospel of life, love, hope, compassion.

We are called to touch the untouchable,
to befriend the friendless,
to mend the broken,
to heal the wounded,
and even to exorcise those possessed.

It looks like this:
122,150,772 online interactions in
Bell’s “Let’s talk” campaign
this past week alone
helped to break the silence, isolation
and barriers associated with mental illness.[2]

Then there are the myriad ways in which
the possessed are liberated
through the quiet, often unsung actions
of the Christ-like,
through a phone call, a touch,
through the steady, covenanted commitment of support group work,the unrelenting availability of Healing Pathway ministry,
of AA and NA and Al Alon groups,
anger management classes,
social justice networks,
Amnesty International letter-writing campaigns, Kairos,
the firm love of a parent willing to say “no” to her child for his own good….

Can you see the many ways of God at work through the human community?
Each living testimony to God’s eternal commitment to set us free from the unclean spirits that threaten to possess us and our world,
leaving us “healed, faithful, true and whole.”[3]

Remain seated for this unknown hymn… to be read for its powerful words written as a meditation on this Gospel. VU 620.

[1] Silence, Frenzied Unclean Spirit VU 620 v.2

[2] A reference to the recently completed Bell “Let’s Talk Campaign” stats from the “Let’s Talk” Facebook page, Feb 1, 2015.

[3] VU 620.

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