This passage in Mark is set up as a sandwich, meaning it starts and ends in similar ways (bread) but there’s something different in the middle (e.g., turkey)
Bread layer: From what we know of Jesus’ teachings, what might his message have been in the synagogue that day? (Talk amongst yourselves. Ideas that surfaced: there is one God, Jesus is the Son of God, the kingdom is within you.)
Filling layer: Jesus casts out an unclean spirit. We translate these words, but we also have to translate the whole concept, because these are not terms we use in the UCC. (Other churches do use this concept. I read this week about a seminary colleague’s conversion therapy to train her out of being a lesbian. Part of this process included a minister shouting in her face for the demon to come out of her.) When’s the last time we described what happens here at Prospect as casting out an unclean spirit? Never. And yet I think we would totally understand the encounter that Jesus had with this man. So let’s take the three sentences that this man says to Jesus and try to hear what he might be saying.
What happens next? Jesus heals that man of his unclean spirit. However he did it, that man stopped pushing back, stopped feeling the need to object.
This is an encounter between two men possessed by spirits: one with an unclean spirit, one with a clean or Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit prevails.
We don’t talk about people having an unclean spirit. But having an unclean spirit just means something that is impure, which means something that holds you back from God. Oh. We have those things. It might be fear, or an addiction, or busywork that distracts us from what is most important, or dysfunctional relationships, or or or…. Name your baggage—we have it. Those are our unclean spirits. And what Jesus is inviting us to do is to leave them behind, to let ourselves be open to healing by his clean and Holy Spirit, to say a whole-hearted yes to God, no strings attached.
Power of Jesus’ words:
Jesus starts in the synagogue worship service by preaching and teaching, using his words to open up the Word of God.
Words are powerful. Think of the first creation story, in Genesis 1: In the beginning God called creation into being: “Light,” “Day,” “Night,” “Dry land,” “fish, animals, plants, humans.” The creation story has God speaking us all into being. Power of God’s word to create.
Power of Jesus’ word to teach—and then to heal. Not only to say, but to do. Word as performative action. Word as invitation. Word as calling. Word as healing.
Jesus’ ministry is about breaking down boundaries
Between God and people
Between old rigid ways and new
Between oppressed and freedom
Whenever I preach, my goal is always to take an ancient text and make it get up and walk around this room, here and now. So let us reflect: What is the unclean spirit, the baggage, that makes us pull back and say, “Hold on Jesus, who do you think you are? Are you trying to kill me? I know you’re holy and all, but I’m not ready for this.” We get to lift that unclean spirit up, look at it, and say, “You no longer have power over me.”
Some people think Christianity is dead, or at least dying. If we take seriously these words from 2,000 years ago—if we peel them back and understand the depth of the invitation that is offered to us here today—then the Christian faith will not be ready to die anytime soon.
May it ever be so. Amen.