The Gospel of Mark has a theme that you will hear A LOT this year…
It is that the Kingdom of God has come, its near, and yet not fulfilled.
This is a theme that we get as early as the first chapter in Mark, which has been busy:
Jesus was baptized.
He went into the wilderness and was tempted (by Satan).
He called his disciples.
He preached in his home synagogue, where he was chased out of town.
AND now, we have the first story of a healing or exorcism in Mark.
As I shared with the children, I struggle with any scripture that refers to unclean spirits (or demons) in part because I do not know how to preach it.
When we say “unclean spirits”, what are we talking about…
the “demons” that haunt us personally and are metaphoric?
mental illness and the stigma that remains around it?
the “unclean spirits” in our society and our culture as a whole?
How do you preach it?
Last night, I told my mother and sister that I struggle preaching these texts about demons. My sister asked “why” and I replied “because I do not know what to do with demons other than to cuddle with them”.
The truth is WE ALL have our own personal demons and at the very least, even if we do not cuddle with them, we become comfortable, content, complicit with our own prejudices, guilt from something we did or did not do in the past that keeps us up at night, or another unclean spirit/demon. WE ALL have our own demons that haunt us.
But, I also think about one Advent Wednesday night is Washington. My focus for our Advent Wednesday services was pairing each week with a candle in the Advent Wreath (Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace). This night was LOVE: the candle of love, the light of Christ’s love, God’s love in our world.
One of our local homeless came in for the dinner and was fed, then she came to the sanctuary for worship and started quietly talking to herself. The parishioner sitting behind her could hear it, she was saying things like “No, you shut up. Shut up, be quiet. It will be ok. They will accept me. They will love me.” She was known around the community and suspected of schizophrenia.
As I begun to preach, again a sermon about love, she stood up walking out of the pew and sanctuary. She slams the door as she says “Damn you. Damn you all to hell”. The congregation and I are confident she was speaking to the voices in her head due to the mental illness. However, it become a running joke that I am the only preacher I know that can be damned to hell for preaching love.
But, this experience mimics our texts today with a man sitting in church and suddenly shouting to Jesus “I know who you are. What are you going to do to me (the unclean spirit)?”
A couple weeks after that Advent Wednesday, I was at continuing education. The presenters present/preach on the up-coming text to assist us preachers in our sermon preparations. It was amusing, because it was this text and the presenter stated “it is not as though any of us would probably experience this in one of our church, I mean it would be virtually unheard of”. Yes, I laughed because about three weeks earlier it had indeed happened in my own.
So, is this the unclean spirits/demons our text is speaking?
OR are we talking about the wider cultural “things” that keep us from that full realization of God’s Kingdom, God’s will, God’s reign in our time and in our place?
We see this lack of fulfillment everywhere we turn. We see the brokenness of our world, which whether or not directly created by unclean spirits/demons is at least encouraged by them. In the brokenness of our world, we see:
Homelessness and Poverty;
Mental Illness without the needed care;
Physical Illness without the needed care;
Prejudice on any number of fronts:
Race, Ethnicity, Sex (bio), Gender (identity), Sexual Orientation.
So, are these the unclean spirits/demons our text is speaking?
We see where our fellow humans are still suffering.
Are these unclean spirits/demons in our world?
It is not easy to preach this text because they ALL interconnect with one another.
After the mass shooting in Orlando Florida, the scripture about the demon(s) Legion was up-coming. It is the one ‘name’ for a demon that appears in our Scriptures, Legion is summarized by “we are one, but we are many”. I preached on the many faces of prejudice and hate we encounter and how ultimately it is ALL one “thing” (unclean spirit?): it is all HATE.
It is ALL opposition to who God has and is continuing to call us to be into HIS kingdom.
“We are one, but we are many” is again echoing in my mind.
Many faces in our world, all opposed to the light and love of God.
Yesterday was the Holocaust Remembrance Day.
It was a day recalling a great evil of mass genocide.
The unclean spirits and demons are still in our world…
from the personal ones we might cuddle with
to the stigmas on mental illness
to the wrongs (sins) that continue in our world today.
BUT, here is the gospel (good news) and its hope.
The kingdom has come, we get glimpses of it.
The kingdom is near, we hold onto that hope although not yet fully fulfilled.
Our scripture tells us that we have a teacher, who as a “new” authority, a “new” way of teaching, but it goes beyond the teachings. This teacher can command unclean spirits.
What is left? Healing. Reconciliation. Wholeness.
That is GOOD NEWS.
The Corinthians text speaks of our freedom.
We are freed to confront those unclean spirits. We are freed to confront those demons.
BUT, I will warn you: It is NOT easy and it is NOT comfortable. Our text says the man convulsed and the unclean spirit/demon went with a loud cry (scream). Similarly, it is NOT easy to remove unclean spirits/demons or forces that defying God’s will, reign, and kingdom from our own lives or from our world.
But, that is why we have Jesus. Jesus has that authority.
My hope is that for this week and beyond that our eyes and our hearts are opened to the unclean spirits and demons in in our own lives and in our world. I ask that Jesus give us the strength to confront them. Amen.
Focused Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13 and Mark 1: 21-28
Originally preached on January 28, 2018 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).