01/28/18 – Casting out the Unholy

CASTING OUT THE UNHOLY

January 28, 2018
4th Sunday after Epiphany
Deut. 18:15-20: Mark 1:21-28
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

The CBS morning news program starts off with a series of brief video clips called “Your World in 90 seconds.” This is what we called a teaser. These little snapshots of world events are supposed to entice you to want more information, so you will stop channel-surfing and settle down to hear more. Mark’s gospel is a lot like that – “Your Jesus in Twenty Pages.” We are still in chapter 1 and already, in just 20 verses, Jesus has been baptized, sent out into the desert for 40 days to wrestle with the chief of all demons, Satan, and called at least four disciples. In these next 8 verses we just heard, Jesus preaches his first sermon, confronts a chorus of demons, and performs his first healing miracle. Mark is the gospel for us – short clips and sound bites and we have the whole story. Yet, I believe part of Mark’s brevity is due to wanting his audience to seek the further truth, to discover Jesus for themselves.

Mark is the only gospel that has no resurrection appearance. At the end of Mark’s gospel, a group of women go to Jesus’ tomb and find – nothing. The tomb is empty, and they run away in fear without telling anyone. Would Mark have finished his gospel account with this cliffhanger if his audience was uninformed about the Resurrection? Certainly not. Mark presented, what we say in our communion liturgy is, “the mystery of our faith.” Mark’s gospel is an invitation to seek more knowledge of God through the Son and to probe deeper into our relationship with God and one another.

We should also consider that Mark’s audience was a lot more knowledgeable about the background story than most of us. His Jewish audience knew their Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, very well. Mark’s audience already knew stories about Jesus: so, the gospel writer concentrated on conveying what the “good” was in the “Good News” of Jesus Christ and why he should be worshipped and followed.

Mark’s primary focus in these eight verses is to proclaim both Jesus’ authenticity and his authority. The Old Testament attests that humanity has always had trouble recognizing and submitting to God’s authority. In the salvation history of God, the account beginning with Genesis, we humans have repeatedly failed to recognize God’s power and wisdom as greater than our own. Whenever we deny or mistrust our dependence on God, we follow the oppositional path to Sin. In our reading from Deuteronomy, both Moses and his people fear what will happen when Moses’ prophetic voice is silent. Without their intermediary, the people feared they would lose that life-giving connection to God that had saved them time and again, often from their own foolishness.

Moses assured his people that God would continue to send prophets to lead them to God. Because it would be God who sent them. These prophets would be authentic and possess divine authority. However, he warned of two potential dangers. The first is that the people may not listen and heed the words of God’s prophets. The second is that false prophets may claim to speak in God’s name, but deliver a message that is their own, not God’s. Both situations are created by the idolatry of worldly gods; and, both lead to spiritual death. Like the demonic voices in our gospel reading that spoke so loudly and forcefully, listening and heeding the evil voices of false prophets will destroy a person, a community or even a nation.

Today, the false prophets in our society are leaders who claim to be Christian and to speak for God but deliver messages in direct opposition to the gospel of Christ. Moses, the greatest prophet of the Old Testament delivered God’s message of harsh condemnation for both false prophets and those that follow them. Instead of bringing the “good news” of the gospel to those that have not heard or accepted it, these contemporary false prophets turn people away from the church, Christ’s body in the world.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus downplayed his use of divine power so as not to detract from his message. The man’s healing is simply a tangible demonstration that his preaching and teaching had authority, which comes from God. Mark does not give the man who is healed a name. The man, himself says not a word, it is the demons within him who speak to Jesus and Jesus alone. For Mark, what was important to tell his audience was that the evil spirits recognized Jesus’ authority and that his power for good was greater than theirs for evil.

It is important to note that Jesus doesn’t ask how this man came to have “demons,” nor does he determine if this man deserved to be healed. All the gospel accounts agree that Jesus never asked these questions – he just healed. Whenever Jesus encountered the poor, the sick, and the unwelcome he demonstrated mercy, compassion, and grace. By what authority do Christians justify doing the very opposite? To what false prophets are they listening, which worldly gods are they choosing to worship? Perhaps, we too need Jesus to drive out some demons for us. We do not talk about demons anymore, but that does not mean that we are free from destructive influences. Fred Craddock, the late biblical scholar, and preacher had this to say about demons:

“Not believing in demons has hardly eradicated evil in our world.

It seems separating ourselves from God is still just as tempting for us as it was for

the people we read about in the bible. Our wilderness might not be an actual

desert like the one in which Jesus wrestled with Satan’s temptations, but

isn’t our wilderness just as void of life-giving sustenance? Our demons may

not speak out loud, but don’t we still hear them. Our demons speak through

us saying words like I can’t or “I should.” Words like “I don’t have time to”

or “there’s nothing I can do about it.” These words have the effect of spiritual

paralysis, preventing us from experiencing the fullness of life God offers us.”

I would add that our demons also speak words like: “Why should I care?” and “What’s in it for me.”

God kept the covenant with Moses and his people and continued to send prophets to lead us back to God when we strayed. And, “in the fullness of time” God’s Word-made-flesh was sent to show us what God’s love, mercy, and grace looks like in human form. Jesus lifted the veil between heaven and earth and showed us what a life lived ‘in the world, but not of the world’ looks like. Jesus casts out the unholiness in our lives with his Word. May we listen and follow his lead.

All Power Honor and Glory to Our Triune God.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois