"Recognizing the Powers," Pastor Kinsey
The unclean spirit expresses the most clear vision of anyone who came to worship in the synagogue that Saturday. He is the only one to recognize Jesus, and call him by name, and title, and he practically screams it out, “I know who you are, Jesus of Nazareth, the holy One of God!”
The other worshipers had an inkling this might be true, for they were “astounded at his teaching,” says Mark, and could see he was not just any old instructor, but “he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” And yet, they were unable to make a public determination: to give a word, or stand up for the feelings stirring within them. And, they may not have been exactly sure what to make of Jesus! Was he truly a prophet? Or more a danger to society? Was, he, maybe possessed? Could he really be trusted? What if his authority is not from God?
We may know that feeling. We’ve seen charlatan’s before. And those who infamously followed Jim Jones down to Guyana in 1978, for example, and all perished in a horrible night of delusional betrayal, knew him to be a very talented man, a great spiritual leader. And he had indeed started out by helping the poor, and was hailed as a great community leader from Indiana to San Francisco. But look what happened when his unclean spirit came out!
But, Jesus is also rescued, temporarily at least, by the unclean spirit that day in Capernaum’s synagogue, because the man’s interruption becomes the story. He becomes labeled and identified as, unclean, as ‘not of’ the people who were worshiping there. As other! Possessed! Knowing Jesus, and deathly afraid that he has come to destroy them. And so, the spotlight was taken off Jesus in that moment.
And Jesus demonstrates his power by healing him; by exorcising the so-called, unclean spirit ‘out of him.’ “Be silent,” commands Jesus! Likely Jesus doesn’t want to reveal who he is just yet, because that will turn up the heat with the authorities, and of course, because he wants to quiet the legion of voices that have taken-over this man’s life.
Later when we read that Jesus stilled the storm out in the middle of Lake Galilee with the disciples, he uses the same command, Be Silent! What is this about? How – most people will ask – does he do it? But I think the question is, Why?!
And so, what is going on here, in this rather strange exorcism story? I mean, has anyone seen an exorcism lately? Even in 1973, when the movie the Exorcist came out, most people didn’t believe in exorcisms. Why is this, the signature moment to begin Jesus’ ministry?
Well, Mark’s gospel, I think we could say, is a story of the conflict between, the gracious love of God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, and, the powers aligned against him, and his realm or kingdom. This is the first public act of Jesus’ ministry. After Jesus’ baptism, when he battled Satan in the desert, alone, save the angels who waited on him. After Jesus called his followers and gathered his disciples that would be his nucleus and closest confidants throughout his ministry. So this exorcism is his first truly public act, as ‘the Holy One of God,’ the inaugural moment of his mission.
There’s something very important to Mark, in telling his gospel, about this first act of Jesus. In a word, Jesus of Nazareth has authority even over the powers of this world, overall the cultures that compete with God’s realm and kingdom, grasping for our ultimate attention.
And what happens? Does Jesus kill them, the unclean spirits in the man? That is the fear expressed by this highly intuitive interrupter who has appeared in the synagogue out of nowhere: “Have you come to destroy us?” And, looking through his eyes, it seems it’s going to have to be, one, or the other. But Jesus heals the man, by commanding the unclean spirit to be silent, and then ordering them to come out of him. And in this way, the man is preserved -saved- and Jesus demonstrates his “authority, a new teaching,” as Mark says. Jesus prevails, at least for now. The confrontation, of course, continues throughout the gospel story. And the question of defeating evil once and for all, remains a bit of an enigma – though by faith, we will come to know it in Jesus’ final act of cross and resurrection.
And it seems the eyes of faith, and the ears to hear, are keys to apprehending the good news of Mark’s gospel story.
Our stories, even today, are ones of confrontation with the opponents of God. We are never wrestling just with disruptive people, or just with racist or sexist actions, or with ourselves, but at bottom, we wrestle with the powers that do not seem to die, who seek to possess us, and cloud our eyes, and dissuade us from simply learning how to trust one another. Evil is still alive (today).
One of the most heartbreaking examples of this, a story once again of leaders abusing their powers, that played out in public in the last few weeks, was the Olympic doctor Larry Nassar who was sentenced to up to 175 years, for his abuses – an evil that spread in plain sight. What started as a case with only a couple of accusers, quickly blossomed into scores of women coming forward to say Me Too, and were allowed to testify, one after the other. In this case, the legion of women who came out to tell the truth, prevailed against the doctor, and all those who enabled the decades of abuse, like coaches, parents, and the U.S. Olympic leaders – and because of this brave and persistent legion, the unclean spirit has been cast out!
Jesus will go on to heal those who have been harmed by the legion of institutional abusers in the religious system of his day, and compassionately bind up the poor and those afflicted by them.
What are the ways that this is happening today? How can we break down the institutional evils and wrongs that we ourselves participate in? And how can we be repairers of the breach? How can we have the courage to speak out and name these people and these evils, knowing we risk our good names to do so, sometimes?
Well, the first step surely is by supporting one another in our community of faith, so that building up our spiritual muscle, we are prepared and eager to go out and do the same in the institutions we work and participate in every day, that they too may embody God’s love and truth.
Today, it’s very exciting, that we do this supporting in our community, in a more formal way, as we welcome Aaron and Greg to Unity, in the Affirmation of Faith. Of course, they’ve already been a part of us, but because they’re willing to stand-up, and pledge their faith today, we delight in their witness.., we join together with them in our common creed, and our spiritual muscle is strengthened in our community of faith and for our work in the world.
For, Who are we, after all, if we are not a community that supports one another and shares the good news of the gospel of ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy One of God?!’