Sermon. January 31, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
The action in Mark’s first chapter continues. Jesus is now at a synagogue. People are astounded by his teaching. He teaches as one having authority, unlike the scribes.
In the synagogue there is a man with an unclean spirit. The man gives voice to the unclean spirit 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.”
The unclean spirit knows who Jesus is. Will Jesus destroy the unclean spirit? Will he destroy the man as collateral damage? Will the man suffer because the unclean spirit is within him? According to the thinking at the time the man is as unclean as the spirit.
Jesus silences the unclean spirit, rebuking any notion of violence. Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man. With convulsions and screams the man is liberated as the unclean spirit departs.
Everyone is amazed at Jesus. A new teaching – with authority. The unclean spirits obey his command. Jesus liberates without violence.
Last week we began looking at the first of our four Core Values: Spiritually Alive. Today we will look at the Core Value of Making Disciples. The Gospel passage provides a context to do this.
The Core Value of Making Disciples is based on the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19 – 20).
At the core is Jesus’ teaching. The new teaching – with authority that Mark 1 mentions.
One way to think about this is recall how we learn to drive. We might take a driver’s education class, sort of like attending a Sunday school class. We might read the DVM driver’s manual to learn the rules and laws. Sort of like being part of a Bible study.
But the way we learn to drive is actually getting behind the wheel and driving on the open road. We learn to drive by practicing the act of driving. We learn to be Jesus’ disciples by practicing the Way of Jesus.
The Way of Jesus is what Jesus taught and the way Jesus modeled being faithful to God. We can sum up the Way of Jesus in one word: Love. Jesus taught us how to love God, love our neighbor, and love our enemy. Jesus modeled how to love one another.
The Mark passage rises one very critical distinction that is essential to being a disciple of Jesus: the distinction between the unclean spirit and the man who is possessed by this unclean spirit.
In Jesus’ context there were a whole host of things that would make a person ritually unclean. The ritually unclean person was usually outcast and excluded from the community. To even touch or associate with an unclean person was to make one unclean as well.
Throughout the Gospels Jesus totally resists and undermines this sort of thinking. He isn’t saying, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” At no point in this passage is the man rebuked, chastened, called a sinner, or in any way treated without dignity or respect.
Jesus focuses on calling the unclean spirit out of the man in a way that liberates without violence. The unclean spirit is not destroyed as it feared, just gone.
This has huge implications for discipleship, for making and being disciples of Jesus. As disciples reach out to those who are outcasts, those others might be considered unclean. And we reach out to those with unclean spirits, calling the person in while offering liberation from that which possesses them.
There are unclean spirits of our time that are all about domination of some over others. Hetrosexism and homophobia. White supremacy and racism. Patriarchy and sexism.
These forms of domination intersect and create a web of oppression that traps people. Both people who are targets of oppression and people who benefit from aspects of this intertwining domination system.
Jesus rebukes and silences the unclean spirit while liberating the man without violence. We resist, challenge, and transform systems to end domination, and we liberate without violence. We do this as an act of discipleship.
The person who is LGBTQ+ is welcomed and affirmed. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are welcomed and affirmed. Women and girls are welcomed and affirmed.
We also welcome and affirm the hetrosexual person, the white person, the male person. Welcoming and affirming people who are targets of domination does not in any way negate people who benefit from systems of domination.
Every person can be welcomed and affirmed without accepting or enhancing any oppression or system of domination. Jesus models a way for his disciples that liberates without violence. The unclean spirit is done away with, but the dignity of the person caught in that system of domination is upheld.
The text does not mention if the man with the unclean spirit is suffering from oppression or is oppressing others. It could be either. After convulsing and screaming the unclean spirit leaves. The man is restored to wholeness as a child of God.
Systems of domination and oppression will not just leave. They will go kicking and screaming.
Jesus’ disciples will insist that the unclean spirit of domination is pushed out and no longer has power over others. However, Jesus’ disciples do not view others as “deplorable.” We are all entangled in systems of domination and we all need liberation.
Within communities working for justice today there is a concept of “calling in, not calling out.” This seeks to create a culture and a community that people actually want to be a part of. It lets go of shaming and blaming.
Calling people in – making disciples – is how we want to be with each other. We recognize we all mess up. Speaking from this shared experience we are specific and direct, and we engage in conversations in ways that are intentionally inclusive and that invite people in.
We challenge the unclean spirit of domination systems while liberating persons, oppressed and privileged, without violence.
When we work for liberation and call in people we create the opportunity to make disciples. In this process the first person who is made a disciple of Jesus is ourselves.