(My sermon for Jan. 30, 2021)
Mark 1:21-28 1:21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 1:22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 1:23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 1:24 and he cried 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.” 1:25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 1:26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 1:27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching–with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 1:28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
We don’t know what Jesus was preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
History didn’t record what he said, but people were astounded by it.
This makes me think of the people – the men – who witnessed this. I can imagine them saying “Did you hear what happened?”
“This new guy, Jesus, was talking—”
“What did he say?”
“He was just talking, it was different than what we usually hear. But then this guy started yelling at him. He called Jesus the Holy One of God.”
“what did Jesus do?”
“He just said, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And then the guy yelled, and an evil spirit came out of him. Next time Jesus is in town, you should Come and see him. Come and see.”
The man had an “unclean spirit.” Tradition describes it as an evil spirit. Nearly two dozen times in the Gospels, people are said to have unclean or evil spirits in them.
The unclean spirit identified Jesus by name, and then called him the Holy One of God. Jesus says, “be silent.”
Throughout the first chapters of Mark, Jesus tells people to be quiet, not just those possessed by an unclean spirit. He heals people, and then tells them to keep it a secret, but they can’t. Jesus can control the unclean spirit, but he can’t control people talking about him. Jesus heals, and people want to tell others about it. Jesus heals the broken hearted and unclean, and people want to talk about it. Jesus changes lives, and people want to proclaim it. If every voice was still, the rocks and stones themselves would sing God’s praises.
Some modern readers may see this story, and assume the man had some sort of mental illness. It’s important that modern readers not see an unclean spirit or an evil demon and translate it to modern mental illness. There are examples in scripture where people have medical problems, blindness, for example, and Jesus cures them, and helps them to see. God can help us with our mental issues, through medication, just as medication can help with our high blood pressure, or diabetes, or other medical issues. Jesus knew the man in the synagogue needed more than a pill. Jesus knew the man in the synagogue was possessed by evil.
What is evil? I believe evil is the absence of the Spirit of the Lord. Just as darkness is the absence of light. God is in all, of all, and all in all. But sometimes God shines more brightly than at other times. Other times the shadows of evil grow longer. Darkness enters all our lives, at some point, in some way. But the light of Christ helps us keep the darkness at bay. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. “only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” The Love of God protects, defends and preserves us. The love of God drives out the evil of hate.
An unclean spirit is more than a demon possession. More than evil. It’s the voices in our heads.
The voice that says I’m a failure. The voice that tells us we’re forgotten by our family. The voice that says we’re disappointments. The voice that says we’re not good enough. There’s a voice that tells us we’d really be happy if only – if only we had this, or that, if only this would happen, THEN, we will finally be happy and content. These voices are like demons, and they pull us away from God. COME OUT, Jesus says to the voices in our heads. Don’t listen to those other voices, Jesus says. Listen to me, Jesus says. I am the Good Shepherd, he says. Follow him.
Sometimes negativity takes over, and we are possessed.
Unclean spirits have us oppressed.
That keeps our true spirit repressed.
And we end up depressed.
With God’s help the negativity can be suppressed.
And the Lord’s power leaves us impressed.
Unclean spirits are more than demons– more than the voices in our heads. In today’s scripture Jesus finds the unclean spirit in church, not walking alongside the road, not in a village somewhere, but in the synagogue, in church. Unclean spirits can be found anywhere.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” “the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil.”
The Rulers – kings, premieres, prime ministers and presidents – all can commit to evil policies in unclean ways. Separating children from their parents at the border, for example, is an evil policy. In China, human rights violations are commonplace. Slave labor and exploited workers help to keep production prices low in China. There is evil in government systems. The authorities. The people of influence in the world. There is evil in systems that prioritize profits over people. Selfishness becomes glamourized while selflessness becomes marginalized.
Unclean, evil spirits can be found everywhere, all the time, among all sorts of people and in all sorts of places. Alcoholism. Addiction. Pornography. Stealing. Lying. Gossiping. Back-stabbing.
Many things can make a spirit unclean. Sometimes we have no idea that our spirit is unclean. Sometimes, we do know.
According to Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs, one of the first steps says that we “came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us…”
The evil, unclean spirit in the man in the synagogue in Capernaum recognized Jesus as the Holy One of God and Jesus called the evil spirit out of the man.
Jesus calls the evil spirits out of us, in the same way. Jesus can restore us to our divine selves. Jesus can help us be who God made us to be, before our spirits were tarnished by the uncleaness of the world.
We come to church like the man in the synagogue. We recognize Jesus, and turn to him to cleanse our unclean spirits.
When we invited Jesus into a holy place like church, we invite Jesus to drive out the unclean spirits. Where two or more are gathered, the Holy Spirit is there, shining a light into the darkness; filling our dark and tired souls with the light of the Lord.
Sometimes, when we’re at church, our spirits are cleansed and restored, and we don’t even realize it. How often have you left church, and you don’t remember the sermon, or the prayers, or even what hymns you sang, but you come away with a feeling.
That feeling is the spirit of the Lord lifting us up, where the world has weighed us down. Sometimes that feeling lasts as far as the church doors – I’ve seen some Christians succumb to unclean spirits and fight each other to get out of the church parking lot after a service.
Sometimes the feeling lasts for hours, or days. Or perhaps all week.
In my opinion, church is here to make you feel good.
We gather, we invite God into our fellowship, and the Holy Spirit touches our hearts.
You’re not going to hear many sermons from me when I talk about how hard life is. We all know how difficult life is.
You don’t come to church to hear me tell you life is hard. We don’t need to be reminded on Sunday how rough your week was.
What we do need to be reminded of is the power of Jesus to say, “Come out,” to the unclean spirits. We need to be reminded that Jesus can restore us. Jesus can drive out the unclean spirits and make us clean again. Make us clean, Jesus. Make us clean.