Sunday, February 01, 2015

Sermon; Epiphany 4B; Mark 1:21-28

Following the story in Mark, Jesus has been: baptized by John, driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, tempted by Satan for 40 days, and journeys to Galilee where he called Simon, Andrew, James and John.  And in all of these things Jesus is doing something new.

There was a new event when the heavens opened at his baptism.  He offered a new way of being in the wilderness.  He called those four disciples into a new line of work.  And, in Mark anyway, he preaches a new message, saying that the kingdom of God has come near.

“The kingdom of God has come near.”

There has been a lot of discussion about that statement over the years.  Does it mean the the kingdom of God is fast approaching, so you had better get your life in order?  Or does it mean, like a train rolling into the station, it has already arrived?  The answer, of course, is, “Yes.”  The kingdom of God is an already/not-yet kingdom.

It's an already kingdom in that Jesus has arrived on the scene.  The time of preparation under John is over.  The time of Jesus is now.  The time of the Messiah, the Son of God, has arrived.  It's an already kingdom in that Jesus embodies the kingdom in both his preaching and his doing.

But this is also a not-yet kingdom.  It's a not-yet kingdom in that we still live in a world where injustices and abuses not only thrive, but are tolerated.  It's a not-yet kingdom in that people still refuse to relinquish power and control for the benefit of others, God or both.  It's a not-yet kingdom because, like Paul wrote, we still see dimly.

The already/not-yet kingdom of God is still very much at odds with the principalities and powers of this world.  With the arrival of Jesus, God is doing something new.  With the arrival of Jesus, God has inserted himself into the daily life, struggles and joys of humanity.  Into this world, into our lives, the kingdom of the already and not-yet must contend with forces that do not want to submit, that want to hold onto the status quo, and that want to only see how things were, not as how they could be.

This is the context of where we see Jesus today.

In today's gospel story, Jesus goes to the synagogue to teach, and the people were astounded with his teaching and authority.  While there, a demoniac enters the synagogue and confronts him.  There's a rather lively spiritual debate between the two until Jesus finally heals the man.  The witnesses are all appropriately amazed and tizzified trying to figure out what all this is.

On a side note, this is the only time in the gospels where Jesus heals or broke some law on the Sabbath for which he didn't get in trouble.  But that's a thought for another time.

For today, though, we hear Jesus preach and heal.  For today, it's easy to imagine Jesus saying what he did a few days ago, “The kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”  And for today, we witness an exorcism.

The stories of exorcisms, though, can be a stumbling block for us.  Was it really demonic possession, or did the guy have Tourette syndrome?  Then there are all kinds of faith healing con artists who prey on people, or certain Christian leaders who dictate to their followers to avoid doctors and “pray it away.”  Add to that our images of Linda Blair's head spinning around in The Exorcist, or of a young girl saying, “They're heeeeeerrre,” and we have dialed into some strange territory.

But this gospel passage isn't about mental health, spinning heads or TV poltergeists.  This gospel passage is about the kingdom of God confronting the principalities and powers of this world to show how things could be.  And that's what makes this an Epiphany gospel.

The season of Epiphany is all about the manifestation of Christ to the world – the star, the wise men, the baptism, the calling of disciples and today's exorcism.  In these ways and more we are both asked and challenged to come and see how Christ is made visible and known to the world.  In these ways and more we are asked to come and see people changed from where they are to where God wants them to be.

The people who heard Jesus preach heard something new.  They heard God working through Jesus in a new way.  That new way of preaching allowed them to use their imaginations in ways that gave them permission to think about overturning the business-as-usual model.

The people who saw the exorcism saw Jesus confronting and overcoming powers they had always thought beyond their control.  This demoniac may have been known to the congregation for years, and he represents the worst of “that's the way it's always been” thinking.  In this exorcism, Jesus invites the people to come and see a new way of seeing and relating to the world.

What about us?  What habits, desires and prejudices do we carry that need to be confronted and overturned?  What ways of doing things have become so ingrained in us that it takes an exorcism to show us how things could be?

The kingdom of God is already here, providing we are willing to see it and live that way.

The kingdom of God is not yet here, because we are still  held hostage by how things have always been.

In today's gospel passage, and today, you are invited to come and see how things could be.



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