So instead, let me take a moment of introduction to say that today, the last Sunday of January, is Reconciling in Christ Sunday, a Sunday we celebrate with many other congregations across the country in our welcome of neighbors and friends who identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer. And we remember proudly our official Lutherans Concerned statement of welcome, that, “people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are welcome to the gathering, membership and leadership of [Unity] and encouraged to share in its sacramental and community life.”
This is only the fourth birthday of adopting this statement at our Annual Meeting. We have been making some good progress; gotten past the terrible two’s, and I guess that means we’re ready for Kindergarten! Today, I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to take a moment after worship and sign-up online to be a Reconciling Lutheran. This is an opportunity to stand up and be counted individually. We are already a Reconciling in Christ congregation, but each of us can show our support of this Reconciling movement to the church, by signing up ourselves too.
As you know, our Lutheran Church voted only two years ago to allow GLBT pastors to serve in “publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous same-gender relationships.” And so, liberation, and respect of one another’s beliefs around these types of welcome, is still quite new. And it’s important for us to continue remembering, and living into, our statement of welcome.
Thankfully, Jesus just so happens to tackle the issue of human liberation in our gospel today, and in some ways was well ahead of his time! “They were blown out of their minds at his teaching,” says the gospel of Mark, “for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” At that moment, awareness dawns on them, and they were set on their own path of liberation, and eventually would write a statement of welcome too, a gospel. But as of yet, the worshipers have not figured out who this Jesus is, or what he has come to do. They only know that he has an authority in his teaching that is unlike any they have ever encountered. He has entered their lives, as well as their synagogue, with a power that is captivating. All they know is that they desire the truth that Jesus obviously holds.
And what strikes me, is how there are three forces in this story, a triangulation of classic proportion, which work for and against each other, a triangulation that must be resolved before liberation can be realized. Jesus is one force. He’s entered their synagogue at Capernaum and brought this powerful and authoritative new teaching to the believers there – who are the second force. But, as happens when Jesus walks in, the balance of power is shifted! And Jesus shakes loose what lurks underneath, the opposite of all piety, the Tempter himself, who is party number three! This “unclean spirit” cries out, “What have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth?” Or, this Hebrew idiom could also be translated: “What do we have to do with you?” And no doubt, both meanings apply. The demonic spirit is afraid of Jesus’ power over them, saying, “have you come to destroy us?” But on the other hand, with their power of recognition and their uninhibited nature, they can’t help identifying him, “I know who you are – the holy one of God.” So my question is: why didn’t he surface earlier, before Jesus entered? Why, before Jesus arrived, was the demon content to stay hidden?
It’s curious, to say the least, that this “unclean spirit” would arise right out of the synagogue, the home and gathering of the believers. This is the part that blows our minds, even though the amazement that the believers in the story have, is over Jesus’ teaching. But can you imagine a possessed man jumping up and shouting out like that in worship? What would it mean to realize we have demons in our midst? Who or what are they? How do they present themselves or materialize in our modern lives? Where do they live? How would we exorcise them? And I don’t mean run around the block with them!
What we do know is that Jesus breaks the triangulation. He comes to liberate and make free, teaching the good news. He exorcises the “unclean spirit,” the ‘they’ plural, spirit, out of the man so he can be well, whole, and saved – the definition of salvation. “The holy one of God” is a gift that lives in our congregation as a whole, too. But each of us have some of the good and some of the evil in us, individually. Each of us desires the power and life giving spirit of Jesus, but we are also tempted to listen to the power of the unclean spirits, who want to let us off the hook when we shouldn’t be, to tell us it’s alright to do it our own way and blame others, or to rest on our laurels.
And so Jesus comes to liberate us from this merry-go-round of foolishness, the triangulation that never moves us forward into the dominion of God, the realm that he brings. When Jesus walks in the door, the “unclean spirits” are revealed. But because Jesus is no longer available in the flesh, he has sent us “the Holy Spirit of God” to live in the Body of Christ, which is the church, which is us. The church is the people. We, have the power to exorcise the “unclean spirits” from our midst. “Be silent, and come out!” Leave us alone! And it can and does happen when we stand up together for the same liberation that Jesus revealed, a new teaching with authority.
This liberation is not a matter of party politics, but is part of the generative spirit of the holy one of God, a freedom from our old lives and a transformation we so desire. We work on it individually, and pray for strength and guidance. But for those “unclean spirits” that are many, God enlivens us as the corporate body of Christ, so that, the more we let this authority of Jesus enter our gathering, the more we stand together, a unity of one body, one soul, one mind.
What a great time to be part of the church, as we adopt statements of welcome for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, people of all colors and ethnic identities, both male and female equally, even a welcome and new respect for all God’s creatures and the care of the earth. We are still young and in the early days of living into such statements, so we cannot yet fully shelve the chapters of our mistakes and sins, our privilege and entitlement, until liberation is complete for all. We know, ‘we’ve come this far by faith!’ And in our ‘songs of thankfulness and praise,’ the more we live out our statements of welcome and they become who we are, the more God’s dominion and reign blossom and grow. We say with courage and confidence, “Be silent and come out!” Let the liberation of Jesus ring!