The sermon for week February 01, 2015
CagesNadia Bolz-Weber helps us take a running start to today’s scripture with Jesus casting out the unclean spirit. The Gospel of Mark starts with, “The Beginning of the military victory of Jesus of Nazareth, Emperor.” (Bolz-Weber Animate)
“John the Baptist appears in the wilderness with his questionable wardrobe and strange eating habits with all the locusts and honey he’s been having. John baptizes Jesus. The heavens are torn open, and a voice says, ‘This is my beloved’ after which Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness with the wild beasts and angels. He comes out and says, ‘Repent and believe the good news of the kingdom.’ On his way to Capernum he picks up some disciples (Bolz-Weber).
And then today, on the Sabbath; he’s teaching in the synagogue – and everyone thinks “Wow. That Jesus is pretty exciting to listen to! He isn’t totally full of it like the other guys.” Finally he casts out an unclean spirit after commanding it to shut up. Everyone is amazed: “Whoa! What did we just see?! Even the unclean spirits obey him.” And word starts to spread about this Jesus of Nazareth guy.
No one knows Jesus… everyone is thinking this guy came out of nowhere. No one knows Jesus, save for the unclean spirit. The unclean spirit calls Jesus by name and asks “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
This is 24 verses into Mark’s Gospel. This would be like if the Joker came up to a 10-year-old Bruce Wayne and named him as Batman. Or Lex Luther announcing a young Clark Kent as Superman. The bad guy knows Jesus and what he’s about. “I know who you are, the holy one of God.”
The Kingdom of God has come near – repent and believe the good news. It is like Jesus is saying, “No more cages for God and while I’m at it, no more cages for you either.” From the onset of the Gospel of Mark, we get the signal that no boundary will stand or withstand Jesus. All that is demonic within and beyond the religious structures will not survive in the face of the demon-tossing, Spirit-possessed Son of God.
It’s as Nadia Bolz-Weber writes, Jesus starts his ministry by trying to shake our religious Etch-a-Sketch. All those lines we draw between us and God, us and other, and others and God….all the cages we can construct through religion well…Jesus shakes them and they disappear.” We’re keep trying to draw lines, so that keeps Jesus busy.
We see again and again Jesus literally touching the untouchable and giving them a whole new identity. It’s like he was deputizing them. Because Jesus was about more than just healing certain sick people…the gospel tell us that Jesus' greatest desire was to restore all that has been broken. So every person who Jesus healed was conscripted into the Kingdom of God so that they may go and do likewise. It’s like a spiritual pyramid scheme.
The kingdom of God will happen when all of us realize our power to feed and heal people. The beloved community will happen when we see one another as kith and kin.
I know this because I used to have an unclean spirit. I used to have all sorts of things that kept God caged and my world static.
When I was younger, like a lot of kids (right?), I disliked change. Every change brought something horrible. The first change
I remember was when I was three, and my parents divorced. I moved from the only home I knew into my grandparents’ home. My mom’s hours changed, and she wasn’t home the same times she'd been before. When I got a little older, going to kindergarten was a surprise. I couldn’t play like I wanted to. Change seemed to be bad and bring awful things.
So I became closed. I had one best friend. I spoke to him and him alone. I bought hook-line-and sinker into the Dogma of the Catholic Church, at least what I thought about it. I didn’t really like learning new things, especially new math things. Can’t we just stick with addition? Multiplication is different and weird and I don’t want to learn it.
Yet in 7th grade, Coach Dick Rhymer convinced me to play basketball. Coach Rhymer was the 7th grade coach and did an exorcism of sorts. Having tried and loved basketball, I decided to try other things, like Power of the Pen, a creative writing tournament for the 7th and 8th graders . I even made it to state in my 8th grade year.
But the unclean spirit stayed with me. Sometimes it comes back. In high school, I denied the theory of evolution in my biology class. It was just too much change all the time. It was a worldview that stated the obvious: the only constant is change. What do we call things that don’t change? Extinct. Yet my unclean spirit screamed. Then my priest showed up and said, “Lindon, we’re Catholic. There is no divide for us between science and religion. That’s the stuff of Protestants.”
To make up for this, I studied biology in college. And in college, I began to embrace change. And I slowly began to hear the words of Jesus every time that unclean spirit started to speak, “Be silent! And come out of him!” I kept hearing this voice, and I even left the safe dogma of my past and sought to know Jesus face-to-face. Now I feel like I’m a change agent for Christ who hopes to take pain and bend it toward blessing. To move from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. I feel like I personally journeyed this, and I hope to help guide others in this path.
Yes, I used to fear change. Change was bad. But not all change is good or healing either. Circumstances can change in our marital status or economic status. Life changes, and we lose people to illness and death. We change, and many of us struggle with diminished capacity or a long term diagnosis. Something happens to us that sends us reeling, and we are left to deal with the fall out. No, not all change is good, some change is hard and some bad. The church is a place to come and be comforted in a universe where the only constant is change. Many of us don’t like change, we fear it. We have a good many reasons to fear it. Not all of this is acting out of an unclean spirit.
The unclean spirit comes in when we say, “This change will destroy us!” An unclean spirit is always looking for the worst in any situation. An unclean spirit will use any tool to try to keep things the same. To cage reality, God, to control our universe.
I hear this sometimes in the church. When I start talking change and bringing in new young families and speaking to those who value science AND religion, those who seek to understand their story in light of THE STORY. Some will rightly say, “Hey! What about me?! What am I chopped liver?! Is this community not good enough on its own?” These concerns are rightly spoken and I hear them. And to this I say, “I think this place is SO good, I want to share it. I love you, Sylvania UCC, so much, I want to clone you and share you with the world.” I recently said to a few of you after you thanked me for bringing in the young families, “They wouldn’t stay if you all weren’t worth staying for.”
But there might be an unclean spirit at work here too. In fact, I’m sure there is, because I know this spirit, I was friends with him for a long, long time. A spirit of jealousy, a spirit of fear, a spirit which resists change or doesn’t want to add a member to this fellowship because it would change the dynamic. I was that guy in my class, in my small group of friends. I was unhealthy.
This is club-thinking, not community, not family. Healthy communities and families can grow and change and don’t mind adding new members. They have a healthy relationship with change and growth, but club-thinking fears adding people because of a whole host of reasons. Change and growth are seen as problems and it likes the status quo because things are predictable and our place in the world is secure. But this unclean spirit knows who Jesus is and will rightly identify him and be fearful of him. And when that spirit is cast out, oh man! Hold onto you seats because change is a coming, and it’s awesome!
That’s the strange thing with the beloved community of God. There’s no personal treasure to be had, only gifts to be discovered, stories to be shared. Once we are healed by Jesus, we are then recruited to spread this world changing Good News. Jesus’ work continues through you. His hands are your hands. You were baptized into this community, this way of life, and we are reminded of it every time we gather around the communion table.
Your hands are what God has to work with here. Hands that, no matter what your story is, or what has been put in your hands or taken out of your hands, there’s a lot of healing that can be done with your hands.
The community of God has come near. It cannot be caged. It cannot be stopped. It is in your hands. Believe this good news.
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. “Animate: The Bible. Gospel.” Sparkhouse, 2012.
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. “Sermon on Jesus’ Dream Team: Rank Fishermen, Demoniacs and Sick Old Ladies.” Posted 2-12-12 on sojo.net