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2009/02/01: The Rev. Susan N. Blue - The Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

posted May 21, 2010, 6:15 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:17 PM by Terry Brady ]
“…They were all amazed and they kept asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching…with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him!’”

Last week we heard of John’s imprisonment and the calling of the sons of Zebedee. Now, Jesus begins his ministry. When teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, there was a man with an unclean spirit. The unclean spirit called 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 recognized the person of God, and was fearful. Further Jesus proceeded to speak authoritatively and command the demon to come out from the man, and it did.
First, Jesus did not speak as the other teachers in the synagogue – the rabbis, the scribes and the lawyers. All three, as in our time, referred to past decisions to support their premises. Jesus did not bother with that, but simply commanded the spirit to come out, and, with convulsing and difficulty, it did! Now, it is important to recognize that Jesus was not necessarily dealing with a unique, mentally disturbed man. Certainly, in the first century when this was written, the understanding of demonic possession as well as of any illness was quite different from our understanding today. The setting, however, could be right now, right here, today.
Clearly there were three, perhaps four, main actors. There was Jesus, the possessed man, the demon and the onlookers. The latter were the most passive and in the safest position. However, Jesus’ way of speaking directly with authority, was highly disconcerting to the gathered crowd. Clearly, a higher power was at work, one that challenged each person present as well as the man possessed and the demon.
I would suggest that we might put ourselves in the place of the onlookers and experience the shock of the exorcism. That would be the safest place to be. But what if we recognize that a demon is anything that gets in the way of our ability to love God, ourselves or our neighbors? A demon prevents full and loving relationship. If that is the case, we might begin to look at our own personal lives as well as our lives in community and seek out the demons that might be plaguing us.
Evil has been described in many ways…one person has noted that the reverse spelling of ‘evil’ is ‘live,’ and, by extension, that which is evil in our lives prevents living a full life. Scott Peck has said that the primary characteristic of the presence of evil is the frequency of lying. When Jesus spoke with authority, he was speaking with the power of God, much like the prophets before him. That power flowed through him and created a new reality, one in which the Kingdom of God, the presence of Grace, could be ushered in.
The cry of the possessed is the language of terror, one that is threatened by the purity of the love of God. It has been said that the essence of evil is not sin, but the failure to act. (copied) Jesus, in commanding the demon to come out of the man, cleansed the man’s heart and, by extension, created a context in which love could come through. As a result, the entire crowd was freed to act, to be the people of God.
In the end, love is essential to healing, particularly healing of the heart and soul. Without love there can be little healing. In exploring our own lives we are called to look to the barriers that keep us from trusting in the power of God to change our lives. It is so easy to believe in false gods: the gods of money, power, and possessions. Whether we have those things of the world in abundance in our lives or whether, as is true for so many people today, we live in fear that they are slipping away and that we shall be left destitute, frightened and wanting, we are still worshiping false gods.
In the end, only love can cast out evil and fear. It is only love that endures at all times and places and it is only the love of God that is totally unfailing. We heard a number of speakers at our convention this weekend speaking of our need to find new solutions and new ways of being in a world beset with economic woes, wars, fear and distrust. I would suggest that, if we examine our own lives, in the words of the ancient Hebrews, ‘purify ourselves,’ then we are set free…free to love all people. There can be new ways to be together in our families, our churches and in the world. It need not be either or but can be both and, including possibilities that we haven’t yet imagined.
Voices of authority can shake our present view of our world and challenge us to start anew…with God, with one another, and within ourselves. The theme of the Convention was: “That we all may be one: Making Disciples.” With that context we prayed a wonderful prayer that I would share with you:

Loving God, we seek the way, helping, watching, learning, leading, each step forging new links, each dialogue opening further the channels of peace and understanding. We stand poised on the brink of greatness, drawn by the Spirit into new realms of hope and trust. The barriers and crutches of past centuries are slowly crumbling. We pray the skeletons of division and discord will be laid to rest, and that the people of God will be truly mobilized. For these and all your mercies, we thank you and praise you, O God. AMEN