Sunday, January 28, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – Loudonville, NY
If you were going to introduce someone to God how would you do it? What kind of advertisement would you invent? What would it look like? What would it say? What words would you use? The writer of psalm 111 uses a lot of descriptive words to describe God: gracious, compassionate, just, holy, awesome, powerful. It’s that last word that holds a lot of weight. Power is a precarious thing. It can be used for the greatest good, or can be a source to destroy. Anyone who holds power has a huge responsibility on how they use that power. Sometimes, the more power someone has, the greater the temptation is to use that power for their own good instead of the good of all.
Our lesson from Mark’s gospel today tells the story of just such an encounter with power and authority. It begins with Jesus teaching in the synagogue, and he taught with such power and authority that everyone was astounded at his teaching. They were astounded – surprised, overwhelmed, even confused. That’s certainly the mark of a great teacher! What Mark doesn’t tell us in his gospel is what exactly Jesus said. Don’t you wish you could go back in time and be a fly on the wall to hear what he said – to experience for yourself just what it was that he said and did to make everyone so astonished? Maybe we can’t go back in time, but our story from Mark doesn’t end there, and gives us an example of perhaps what it was that Jesus might have been talking about. Because what happened next is prettying amazing as well…..
A man with an unclean spirit starts making a loud scene in the synagogue. Right in the middle of the service – maybe when Jesus was preaching and teaching – a man cries 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.” Most preachers want feedback from their sermons – an Amen, a shout out – but not that kind! Right in the middle of Jesus’ teaching, he receives quite a challenge. Someone who’s afflicted with some kind of unholy spirit is challenging Jesus’ power. This person knows Jesus has power. He knows Jesus has enough power to destroy. So Jesus is faced with three options.
First, he can retreat from the challenge altogether. Jesus could have just ignored the man. He could have gone on preaching and teaching in the hopes that maybe he would just go away. And that would certainly be an option that many people might choose. When faced with a really challenging situation like that, it’s tempting to just hope it will go away. It’s tempting to just ignore bad or evil behavior because it’s easier. It’s easier than confronting it because it may involve personal risk, but is ignoring it the right thing to do?
Second, Jesus could respond to the man in the same manner. Jesus could start yelling back. He could point out how much power he holds and that all he has to do is say the word and the man would be destroyed, obliterated. Jesus could react to this man’s outburst with even more anger and hatred.
Third, Jesus could continue with God’s original mission or plan for him with even more intensity and passion. Jesus could use this as an opportunity to put into practice what he was just preaching and teaching. This option requires a lot more courage and commitment. It might just make everyone’s head spin, just like his new teachings. Is it worth the risk? Apparently, Jesus thought so.
So, what did Jesus do? Jesus didn’t ignore the unclean or evil spirit that was causing trouble. Jesus faced it. He called it out – literally. And in doing so, Jesus chose the path of peace over the path of violence. Jesus could have used his power to destroy, but instead Jesus chose to use his power to heal not destroy, to rescue not send away, to free not enslave. Jesus chose to use his power to give life instead of taking it away. He used his power to restore the man who was held captive by that unclean spirit and restore him to a life of community. That’s real power. That’s amazing power. That’s the kind of power that had people shaking their heads and asking, “What is this?” “What is going on?” This was a whole different way of using power and authority.
We need that kind of power and authority today because we’re all possessed by unclean spirits of various kinds. All of us in our society, in our country, in our world, are possessed by a spirit of violence, exploitation, greed, racism, discrimination, and fear. We need the power of God to free us from these things that try and rob us from living the life of abundance and peace that God wants for us. We need God’s saving and healing power.
And the good news is that Jesus offers us that gift of healing and redemption over and over again. When we confess our sins and repent and turn back to God, we are restored again to a close relationship with God and with one another. God doesn’t want anyone left on the margins. God doesn’t want anyone to be tossed aside. God longs to bring healing and wholeness to everyone.
Jesus responded to the challenge of violence with love, and we are called to do the same. Our God is an awesome God, and God has been revealed to us in Jesus, who has modeled for us how we are to help bring about the kingdom of God. We are God’s advertisements. People look to us as Christians to see how we will react to these challenges put before us today, and there are so many. There are too many people using their power to divide and threaten and abuse their power over others. The challenge before us today is how will we use the power of the Holy Spirit given to us in our baptism? Will we stay on the course of the mission God has for us individually and as a congregation to bring about the kingdom of God – a kingdom full of love and compassion and justice for all? That’s the question this story asks us today. There are so many ways we can use the power given to us, and Jesus shows us the greatest path. It is the path of non-violence, compassion, love, and justice for all. May the power of God’s Holy Spirit work in us to bring peace on earth. Amen.