An Unclean Spirit: A Sermon by Pastor Bob

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”

An Unclean Spirit

A sermon by Pastor Bob

January 29, 2012

Text: Mark 1 :21-28

Mark 1 :21-28

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

–Our gospel reading for this morning touches on something that is not easy to talk about, especially in the 21st century.

–It is about evil in this world.

–And not just abstract evil, but tangible evil that possesses.

–Evil that restrains our lives, our hope, our faith.

–Our text begins with Jesus attending worship at a synagogue in Capernaum.

–Sometimes we forget that Jesus was a good Jew who worshiped at whatever synagogue was close.

–And in this case, Jesus was teaching as well as worshiping.

–Jesus was a teacher, a rabbi.

–Only after years of training could one become a rabbi, and only after many more years would a rabbi begin to speak with authority—with their own voice, that went beyond just repeating what other famous rabbis had said many years before.

–Yet, here was Jesus, speaking with such authority that it went beyond the scholars of the day.

–It went beyond what anyone was expecting to hear.

–It was something new.

—It was the voice of God.

–And if anyone missed that fact, it was not the unclean spirit of this story.

–In the midst of worship came a voice that must have shaken the hearts of all who heard it.

–A voice coming from someone in the synagogue crying out,

–“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

–Now, notice first that the unclean spirit uses the word “us.” “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”

–Apparently there is more than one unclean spirit.

–Perhaps there are more unclean spirits in the one man.

–Or perhaps this is not the only person with an unclean spirit.

–In any case, it is evident that from the beginning that this unclean spirit is not alone.

–That its strength perhaps relies on its numbers.

–We too might relate to this reality.

–That when we face times of darkness and despair in our lives, it seems to multiply.

–To touch the many aspects of our lives.

–Until it seems like the whole world is against us.

–Such is the nature of darkness in our lives.

–Secondly, we don’t know whether the person with the unclean spirit had just arrived in the synagogue.

–Or, whether that person had been there all along.

–Slowly absorbing Christ’s words, letting them percolate, and finally being compelled to scream out.

–What we do know is that this unclean spirit shatters the moment with both profound fear and profound truth.

–The unclean spirit does not want to be anywhere near Jesus.

–It cannot tolerate Jesus’ teaching.

–It cannot bear such authority, such power, such love.

–It knows that the gig is up.

–That its time in this man was close to an end.

–The unclean spirit knows that Jesus can see it for what it is.

–That though the people around him are oblivious or perhaps ignoring the unclean spirit’s reality:

–Jesus knows.

–Now as we think about our own lives, aren’t we often oblivious to such things as well?

–Are we inclined to see or feel the pain in others?

–Are we likely reach out and break the seeming continuity of despair?

–Often, it is something or someone outside of ourselves who sees the truth of the situation with us.

–Who can look at our situation, and see it for what it is.

–Ironically, here it is the unclean spirit who first recognizes and speaks the truth.

–The elephant in the middle of the synagogue that day is not that there is present an unclean spirit or even a legion of unclean spirits.

–It is that the Son of God is in their midst.

–That in such a presence, everything is exposed for what it is.

–Not just the bad, but the good.

–And so in the middle of an ordinary service of worship the unclean spirit declares something extraordinary.

–That this man from Nazareth is more than a teacher; that he is the “Holy One of God.”

–It is in this person that God sends the promise that something new is happening.

–Jesus is no ordinary teacher, no mere liberator of minds.

–Jesus is here to free a world from all unclean spirits, from all the broken pieces of our lives: from death itself.

–The unclean spirit knows this, or is afraid of this possibility.

–Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit to be silent.

–And instantly it leaves the helpless man.

–It was then that the people in the synagogue began to have an inkling of who Jesus is.

–Before, they had seen him as a persuasive teacher.

–But now they recognized that his authority and power was beyond their experience.

–And as our text concludes, Jesus’ fame spread all across the region of Galilee.

–Now, as we try and absorb this gospel this morning, I have a few cautions for us.

–Most of us, when we imagine ourselves in this story, place ourselves in the crowd of those surrounding the man with the unclean spirit.

–He had an unclean spirit; we are somehow clean.

–We don’t want to think that we are occupied by darkness and temptation.

–And so, in our own fear, we are prone to, in one way or another, point our finger at the other, instead of at ourselves.

–The problem with this, of course, is Jesus.

–Jesus did not come into this world to simply teach us a little bit about ourselves, to share some wisdom concerning the world, and then leave.

–No. Jesus came so that we would believe in him, and in such faith have everlasting life with him.

–The reality of our situation is that we still need Jesus.

–That though we are promised salvation, we still live in the brokenness of sin.

–And that every day brings own its temptations and even trials.

–I wish I could say that because you believe you will not face difficult times. But we all know that is not true.

–I do believe that because of our faith, we are better equipped to face them

–To acknowledge them, name them and move to something better.

–Believe it or not, I think we can also learn from the unclean spirit.

–We must not forget that the unclean spirit in this story was part of an “us,” part of a community.

–Only as a community can any of us truly face the darkness.

–Jesus’ words: where two or three are gathered in his name, he will be present.

–It is true that the acts of individuals are important.

–However, it is as a community that we are truly the body of Christ.

–None of us here are completely holy, completely perfect in every way.

–But together we combine not only our collective weaknesses, but our collective strengths.

–And these are exhibited most profoundly in our love for each other in God.

–Brothers and sisters in Christ.

–Here is our reality:

–We live in both a strange time of challenges and an amazing time of opportunities.

–Our challenges are readily evident:

–Our economy is down.

–We are challenged by unemployment.

–Our youth search for identity in a confusing world.

–Yet, our opportunities are equally real:

–We as a community are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

–We are fed by its word and promise that God not only hears our prayers, but empowers us to take on the challenges of this world together.

–And we, like those in the synagogue that day, cannot help but be possessed by God’s spirit to share the love of God to everyone around us.

–Everyone in San Diego.

–Everyone in the world.

–Everyone, always.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

    And here I sit, head full of crap that signals that I likely have another sinus infection, having to miss my own worship, because I have to work in a couple of hours, and I get the opportunity to read this wonderful message.

    I do love the point, that the story is not so much on the person with the unclean spirit, or the spirit itself, but on the rest of the people that day, and also on us. How often do we ignore or are we unaware of the pains, the trials, the problems of the person right next to us? How often are we ourselves that person, and are too ashamed or wrapped in our own pain to cry out for help and support?

    Thanks for the reminder of his compassion and understanding, and that our purpose is to pick up where he left of, by ourselves being compassionate and understanding.

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    This after my latest personal blog post all about how I’m only isolated in real life, but about how I’m thinking of not even *partcipating in blog comments anymore.* For people here who are used to me being around – I’m thinking of going into lurk-mode. I’m wondering if “community” and even “humanity” is just not for me lately. I’m too…awkward. Maybe it’s for me just to walk out into the darkness. *Shurg.*

    • Donald Rappe

      I enjoy your felt presence, Shadsie. You, after all, are not the only awkward one around. I hope you will continue to make yourself known.

      • Diana A.

        I agree with Donald.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      It would be such a loss to not hear your *voice* here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elizabeth-Dooher-Sciarratta/1122474578 Elizabeth Dooher Sciarratta via Facebook

    wonderful

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.maynes Charles Maynes via Facebook

    I really liked the Sermon, which I should have first stated as well….. a long day I guess… thanks for posting a great sermon- I sent it off to my Pastor too….

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    No, no worries; I appreciate you, Charles. I’ll let Bob know of your kind words.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.maynes Charles Maynes via Facebook

    please do! its great to see San Diego has you guys!

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    Well, it REALLY has him. Pretty much no one knows I’m here. I’m your … basic hermit-type. Bob’s actually out there … doing stuff.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

      For a hermit-type, you sure are a busy one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.maynes Charles Maynes via Facebook

    perhaps your gifting is a certain humility…. however the world is watching.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    The WORLD is watching? Yikes. That’s … not going to be a reality show anyone will want to watch for long. I’m not humble; I’m … an extremely poor groomer. For one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.maynes Charles Maynes via Facebook

    it sounds like you have a gifting of comedy as well John…. Delight in this day God has made for us….


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