SERMON 1/31/21 Epiphany 4B St. Paul’s, Claremore, OK
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
In today’s gospel we hear Jesus exorcise the demon of affliction of a man. “Jesus rebuked him (the demon), saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.” Sometimes the demons we face in this world today are not as obvious as this. Let me explain. A few years ago, while living in Florida, Terri and I were on our way home from church, and we stopped for a few things at the local grocery store. As we entered the checkout line, I noticed a young mother with three kids in front of us, who seemed to be struggling with paying for her groceries. With limited cash in hand and half her groceries still not yet scanned, she said to the cashier, “I don’t have enough money, I am so sorry.” Although she was a well-dressed woman and her kids were well groomed, she was struggling. I could see in her eyes the despair and obvious burden that was weighing heavily on her.
I felt compelled to respond to her dilemma and so, without delay. I said, “Can we do something nice for you today?” I told the cashier, “We’ll take care of the rest of the groceries for this nice lady and her children.” She smiled and gave us a look of shock and a calming sigh of gratitude. She confessed, “I’m usually on the other end of this kind of situation, but my family is struggling right now.” I said, “Don’t worry, we all need help sometimes.” I gave her one of my business cards and said, “If we can do anything to help you all, just call.”
In this brief exchange, we stepped into a moment of grace and freed someone the bonds of shame, despair, and fear to be broken. In that moment, the demons of despair and poverty had been exorcised, and this woman and her three children were set free. You see, not all the demons in this life that we must face are those, which possess our lives through the sensationalism seen on television or in the movies. Sometimes demonic circumstances threaten our peace, our joy, and our faithfulness.
Jesus’ exorcised the demons that plagued the people of his time. His work was not merely a contest of opposing spiritual forces, but those exorcisms were more like a declaration of the power of God, which could reverse the bonds of human despair, brokenness, and estrangement. God breaks that which binds us and keeps us from being recipients of the gift of grace. In Jesus’ day, those demons were sometimes disease, blindness, lameness, physical ailments, or mental incapacity. When Jesus called a demon out, he not only restored the person to full health physically, but a spiritual healing was just as efficacious.
Do you remember the healing story of the woman who suffered from profuse bleeding? She, because of her physical ailment, was considered a social outcast and a person unclean and ritually unworthy of human contact. Jesus broke the bonds of her estrangement from the community and restored her to full humanity by giving her back her place in the community. This ministry of spiritual communal restoration continues today in the work of Christ in us today. Jesus breaks the bonds of our estrangement from each other and calls us into right relationship with God and with our neighbor.
This is truly the good news which is “in Christ, we are healed.” In Christ, we are restored. In Christ, we can live in the hope of a full, grace-filled future. I imagine any one of us can look back over our lives and if honest, we can identify moments of healing that we have experienced. Whether we struggled with addiction, we were estranged in our relationships, we suffered from depression, we wrestled with anger or you name it, we have all at one time or another, were in desperate need of God’s grace. The healing power of Christ is good news, and it is news that we should be compelled to not only experience, but to share. The writer of today’s Gospel said that because of Jesus’ healings, “his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” The message of Jesus’ love and healing was so compelling, that the Good News did not sit idly on a shelf, and the power of the message could not be contained, and I am convinced that it cannot be contained today.
Telling the story of Our Healing
The message we Christians must share is God’s grace and it is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. However, the church will have to spread that news in this changing culture differently than ever before. It is not enough for us to just open our doors, run a few ads in the paper, have some wonderful fellowship events and then, expect the people to show up to church and be transformed by Christ. We have new generations emerging, who have never, ever heard the Gospel, and have never, ever even been in a church. The person who used to cut my hair was from that emerging group. She always had a new set of interesting questions about faith for me. I remember once she said, “Eric, I believe Jesus was a good man and I like his teachings, but I don’t get that whole religion thing that you are into.” How do we Christians today, respond to something like that and how do we share Good News?
Trying to explain religion to someone who did not grow up in church, is like a car mechanic trying to explain a transmission to someone who has never even seen a car. Spreading the good news in this culture of ours, which has changed so much over the last 20 years, will require us to be evangelists or messengers of grace, through the lives we lead, the actions we take, and the joy we share. And yes, I know we Episcopalians are afraid of that word evangelism, because we think it means something else; like bullhorns, gospel tracts, or knocking on doors. Evangelism is letting our light of Christ shine in everything we do. Evangelism is letting the transforming healing Christ has made possible in us, be seen by others.
You see the forces of estrangement, poverty, isolation, division, and hatred abound in this world of ours. People need to see that those demons can be exercised by the love of Christ and they can only realize that possibility in us, and folks will get this religion thing we are so into. When this ministry of Christ continues in the world in us, faith will spread. When young and old alike are freed from the bonds of the injustices of poverty, racism, classism, and discrimination of all sorts and types, the story of grace continues. When love wins, when peace prevails, then Jesus’ fame will spread throughout the region. Jesus’ fame will spread because it will be his followers, his disciples, his gathered people that will carry the message not only with the right words, catchy marketing, or great programs, but it through our very own ministry of exorcising and breaking the afflictions that hold individuals in bondage from the grace of God and the love of each other.