Hope and Wholeness

“Hope and Wholeness”

Mark 1-27 Jesus-the-divine

Mark 1:21-28 (1:27) – January 28, 2018

A common saying is “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” How true that is! A close parallel is beginning a new position. A great deal is riding on that first impression, the first few days or weeks at a new job, the first major thing or statement a prominent person does or says.

Our Gospel reading today from Mark chapter 1 happens at the very beginning of the Rabbi Jesus’s ministry. Jesus is beginning this new position as an itinerant rabbi, traveling around the countryside, preaching and teaching. What else does Mark include here? This is a narrative of an important first thing that this prominent person Jesus says and does, setting the tone for the rest of Mark’s Gospel. I’d like to thank bible commentator Paul Berge for his fictional first-person account, which is a narrative adaptation of this first miracle of Jesus.

“Were you at the synagogue in Capernaum today? I wasn’t sure I saw you and so I will tell you as clearly as I can what happened. I can only explain that something occurred that has never, yes, never ever happened before in our hometown synagogue where our people “gather together.” What took place is unlike anything our rabbis have instructed us in over the years. This was far beyond their teaching and authority.

“Shabbot worship started out like a routine, very normal gathering. We all came with the usual expectation. Now, don’t get me wrong, our rabbis are faithful interpreters of the Torah as they instruct us in the Word of the Lord, but their teaching does get to be routine. Everything was progressing as usual, the prayers, the Psalms, the reading of the Torah, when a newcomer “immediately” entered the synagogue and began teaching and instructing us, dare I say, with a new “authority” (Greek, exousia). His authority was not as our scribes. When I use the word “authority” about his teaching, you know that the word also includes the power to “exorcize” demonic spirits.

“I am still in shock as to what happened next. “Immediately” a deranged person screams out. No one in the synagogue had a clue as to what brought forth this outburst. It appears an unclean spirit had identified this rabbinic-like teacher as one who had authority to exorcize and called out to him by name: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” The voice was a shrill demonic-like scream. How did this spirit know the name of the rabbi from Nazareth? Did the voice really assume that this teacher has the authority to exorcize demonic or unclean spirits?

“The scream continued with words of blasphemy using the name of God: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” With this a hushed silence came over the entire synagogue as these words were spoken. The rabbi named Jesus from the hill country of Nazareth sensed the offense of these words, and the identity of the Holy One of God. Jesus addressed the possessed man and rebuked him with exorcizing words which likewise silenced the entire synagogue, “Be silent, and come out of him.”

“What occurred next was a demonstration I have never, ever, witnessed before. The man was writhing on the floor like he was in conflict with the spirits possessing him. Then the voice of a demonic spirit cried out with the same shrill demonic-like scream. The unclean spirit came out of him and the man appeared to be calm. He stood up and in his right mind looked as normal as any of us.

“Needless to say, we were all overcome and amazed and kept saying to one another, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority he exorcizes a demonized person!” What took place we saw with our own eyes that he commanded even a host of unclean spirits and they were obedient to him. On my oath, this is what took place on this Shabbot. I can’t explain what came over us, but it was like we gave witness to the rabbi from Nazareth as our praise to the one, holy and righteous God in our midst. We have no other experience like this to compare. We have since heard that what took place in our synagogue “immediately” spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” [1]

Do you hear what Jesus did? He cast the unclean, evil spirit out of the man, and made him whole again. Gave him a new lease on hope and wellness. Gave the man the gift of emotional, psychological and mental wholeness, of abundant life itself.

Not everyone believes that Jesus casts out evil, unclean spirits from people, in the spiritual realm. Some people are very skeptical about this kind of miracle. But, I would like to remind everyone that belief in evil spirits has been a common, widespread belief for thousands of years. It does not as much matter that many people of the 21st century don’t believe that Jesus did this. The point is that the people of New Testament times did believe in the power and authority of the Rabbi Jesus. Power to cast out unclean spirits.

For thousands of years, society has dealt with different kinds of mental, emotional and psychological issues in individuals. Sometimes, these issues and illnesses have been called spiritual and demonic. From what we now know, these conditions can be medical. These people with illnesses and issues sometimes seem to be held hostage to internal, powerful forces only recently understood.

Regardless of whether the illness or issue was emotional, physical, psychological or spiritual, Jesus came alongside of this man with an unclean spirit. Maybe Jesus was the first who had approached the man in a long time. Jesus, with holy power and authority, ordered the evil spirit out of the man. And, immediately, the man was cured.

Was it really and truly an “evil spirit?” In this case, as in certain other situations in the Gospels, My opinion is, “yes.” There are a great many situations which are spiritually energized, throughout the world. Both positive and negative, concerning good and evil spirits.

But, that is not the only thing. No, there are negative tendencies, urgings, and thoughts people get in their heads, on their insides. An explosion of anger, over and over. A suicidal impulse or thought. An intense jealousy, suddenly flaring. A wild sexual fantasy that returns again and again. An overwhelming feeling of depression and dread, creeping into the deepest places inside. We, as human beings, are keenly aware of these unwelcome, unclean spirits in our hearts and inner thoughts. We often wonder where these “unclean thoughts” come from and why we can’t get rid of them. It is as if they are part of our inner nature as human beings. [2]

It does not matter whether our issues are psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual, or some combination, Jesus can come alongside of us. Jesus has the power and authority to take care of the situation and restore hope and wholeness. Yes, in this situation in Mark’s Gospel, with this troubled young man. And, yes, in a multitude of various situations, today, too.

Today, you and I are often ashamed of individuals such as this troubled man. We tend not to speak of it. We fear the misunderstanding or the judgment or avoidance we expect we will surely see in the eyes of others. Or, hesitate to choose to whom we dare to entrust that which hurts us the most. [3] Whether we name it evil spirits, mental disturbance, emotional instability, addiction, or something else, Jesus can overcome. Jesus can provide healing, hope and wholeness, whatever the situation. Yes, in Mark’s gospel, and yes, in all of our lives, today.

(A big thank you to Dr. Paul Berge, who wrote the adapted first-person account of this Scripture reading from Mark 1:21-28. Thank you for this writing, and for your excellent insights from your Gospel commentary!)

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1122

Commentary, Mark 1:21-28, Paul S. Berge, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

[2] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_hunger_for_healingGA.htm  “Hunger for Healing,” Gospel Analysis, Sermons from Seattle, Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/out-in-the-open-casting-out-unclean-spirits/ Janet H. Hunt.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

We Cannot Keep from Speaking!

“We Cannot Keep from Speaking!”

Peter - cannot stop Acts-4-20_2

Acts 4:1-20 – June 21, 2015

Ever had this situation happen to you? Just when you thought you had taken care of some pesky problem, here it comes, all over again! Sort of like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole. Just when you whack at all the moles, and think that they are all gone—that your problems are all solved—here they come again! Popping up all over the place.

I suspect the ruling council in Jerusalem felt this way just about now. Here they had rid themselves of that troublesome Rabbi Yeshua, or Jesus, some weeks ago. They had even gone to their Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to get his permission to put this upstart Rabbi to death. They got some people to accuse Jesus of insurrection and treason, so He would be killed by crucifixion. That was it! Done! One great, big, pesky problem taken care of!

True, there were some rumors about Jesus coming back to life a few days later, but that was just a rumor. Resurrection? Hah! Sounds pretty far-fetched to me. It was far-fetched to the ruling council, to the Sanhedrin, too.

They didn’t figure on Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples. They didn’t figure on the blowing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, or the energy of the new believers in the Risen Jesus.

Our summer sermon series, Postcards from the Early Church, reminds me a bit of a radio serial. You might remember those! “When last we left our intrepid heroes . . . “ Last week, we saw Peter and John about to enter the Temple in Jerusalem for daily afternoon prayers. A long-time beggar, lame from birth, asked Peter and John for alms—for money. Peter made that extraordinary statement to the lame beggar: “Silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk!”

As I mentioned in my sermon last week, Peter suits the words to his action. He leans forward, grasps the lame man’s right hand, and raises him to his feet.

What happens next? “Immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.” Whatever congenital defect there was in his feet and ankles was immediately, miraculously healed. The ex-lame-beggar could walk. And not only totter around, but leap in the air! He praised God right there inside the Temple, giving immediate public testimony to God’s mighty power!

This was a big problem for the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, believe me! Just when they thought that pesky Rabbi Jesus was all gone, permanently taken care of, they have even more miracle-workers on their hands. The disciples, the friends who had been with Jesus.

The Sanhedrin—the Jewish leaders—quickly grabbed Peter and John, and threw them into prison. Right after this marvelous miracle! I am sure the bystanders were asking, “What gives? These men did a miracle! Why are you arresting them?”

But—are we surprised? Looking at the Hebrew Scriptures, many of the miracle-working prophets were misunderstood, mistreated, imprisoned. Exiled, and even put to death, sometimes.

The Jewish leaders needed to get on this miracle stuff right away. Try to hush it up. See whether they could sweep the whole business under the rug. But—there was a problem. This was a very public miracle, done in downtown Jerusalem, at the height of rush hour. Or, the equivalent. Afternoon prayer time at the Temple in the city center.

We see from this reading today that the leaders had Peter and John thrown into prison overnight. For working a miracle! For doing what God had called them to do!

This makes me think of the Civil Rights movement and marches of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A friend of mine, Ken, (a recently retired seminary professor) marched alongside of African-American activists. A good friend of this church, Pastor Gordon, attended several marches in the South during the 1960’s. It was a tense, even dangerous time. Both my friends were jailed in the aftermath of the marches. Both are proud to say that they were imprisoned for standing up for a Godly cause.

Back in Jerusalem, the day after the miracle occurred, Peter and John were hauled out of prison and brought in front of the Sanhedrin. The ex-lame-beggar was there, too! The Jewish leaders could not deny that this man—who everyone knew as lame from birth—now had full use of his fully-restored feet and ankles. The news of the miracle was traveling around Jerusalem like wildfire! The leaders knew they had to let Peter and John go free.

But Peter wasn’t done yet! Just like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole, where the Sanhedrin desperately wanted to make all those pesky miracle-working moles go away, Peter kept on popping up. And, he spoke to the learned Jewish leaders and teachers, too.

Peter quoted from Psalm 118 in his defense of the miracle he and John had done. He said to the Sanhedrin, “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Talk about in your face! Peter had a lot of guts, speaking to the ruling leaders of his country like that!

As commentator Scott Hoezee brings out, “the Spirit led them to a lowly little textual nugget embedded deep inside one of the lesser known of all the psalms and prompted Peter to use that little verse as the perfect summary of what God’s ways are all about.” This idea is something that Peter repeats again and again. The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone of the building. The most important part of the whole structure. “That’s my Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, and by the way? You Jewish leaders crucified Him!” (That’s guts.)

By Peter quoting this psalm, he reminded these leaders of an unpleasant confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, shortly before His death. I appreciate another commentator’s words: “It was to say, in effect, “Jesus told you so.” How this citation must have stung in the ears of the Sanhedrin. The One they thought they had rid themselves of was still speaking to them, through the apostles.” The Jewish leaders didn’t have just one pesky problem any longer. The problem had multiplied.

Oh, my goodness. The Sanhedrin tries to tell Peter and John and the rest to shut up. To keep quiet about this Jesus person!

But it does just as much good as attempting to hold back the wild waves of the ocean. In other words, it doesn’t work at all. There is far too much power, far too much momentum behind that crashing ocean wave of testimony.

Despite the stern orders to “pipe down! Sit down and shut up!” Peter and John refuse. Their response? “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

What about us? Are we eager to tell people about what we have seen or heard? What about the mighty deeds we have experienced? Or, perhaps you haven’t had God do anything extraordinary in your life lately. Can you tell people about how God has been faithful? God has continued to walk with you, each and every day. I encourage you to tell someone! Amen!

Praise God, each of us can talk about something God has done—for each of us. God has given each of us a new day, each and every day. Praise God! That is truly something to praise and thank God about. Can we all say Amen? Amen! And again! Amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)