Sunday Sermon 31st January- The Message
The chosen hymns for this week, Jesus name above all names and In Christ alone can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Mark 1: 21-28.
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 31st January.
A year after the first recorded COVID case in Britain. How the world has changed over that last year. And it is easy to read back what we know and reflect on what we should have done then, and maybe judge those who had to make those decisions based on what we know now rather than what they knew then.
And if that is true of political decisions, how much more true is it of Biblical interpretation.
I don’t know about you.
But sometimes I read the Bible as if it was set today.
And having read it like that I get the mistaken impression that things would have been done differently if they happened today.
Fore instance, in today’s passage a man is defined as having an evil spirit and this man enters the synagogue and causes a scene. Jesus tells the spirit to come out of him and the situation is dealt with.
Part of me imagines that if that happened now we wouldn’t say that the man had an evil spirit, if something similar happened in our church we would presume that he had a mental illness, that he needed to be comforted rather than confronted.
The problem with that is that we presume that we know what was going on and that the writer of that time didn’t.
We presume that people of those days didn’t know about mental illness.
We forget that what is important to the author is that a message is given, that is why he has used this incident, to get over a point.
And while we are feeling superior because we think we would have handled the situation differently, better, we are missing the point that the writer is trying to get through to us.
But we will reflect on that after Elaine has read the reading to us.
Mark 1: 21-28
I have told this story so many times, but when I heard it for the first time it struck me as so simple, but so profound that I can’t help but repeat it every now and again.
There is a missionary in Africa and this man comes up to him all concerned and says to him, ‘My heart feels like a battle ground. It is like in my heart there are two dogs fighting, a white dog and a black dog.’
And the missionary says, ‘And which dog is winning?’
And the man says, ‘The one that I feed.’
Just then, a man with an evil spirit in him came into the synagogue and screamed, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?’
If we look at this passage as a passage with a message, for us, then what would that message be?
Let’s start by imagining the man.
What is that man like?
What picture comes into your head when you think about this man?
Unkempt; I can imagine him with a ragged beard and worn clothes, maybe even torn clothes.
Aggressive; I imagine he is very aggressive. I can’t imagine him speaking these words the way Elaine said them; I can imagine him screaming these words.
Potentially violent; I can feel that tension in the air as people feel threatened. Here is a man with uncontrolled anger, if you say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing he may just lash out.
Ok what about confused?
Or what about clear headed?
Because there seems to be a bit of both of those going on.
He is very clear about who Jesus is...I know who you are, you are God’s holy messenger.
And yet he doesn’t know why he is here...What do you want with us? Do you want to destroy us?
You would think an evil spirit would want to destroy Jesus, and would know that Jesus was there to destroy him.
This is the battle ground between good and evil, it has been going on since the Garden of Eden, since the beginning of humankind started to think of why they did things.
You would think that these are old enemies that know each other, and know their intentions for each other, well.
Or maybe something else is going on here.
Maybe the writer of the Gospel is trying to bring us into the scene.
And if he was, which person would we be?
Well obviously not Jesus.
So let’s think it through.
Jesus is in a holy place, a synagogue, and this man enters it.
Is that not here and now?
This is a holy place; we are here to listen to the message of Jesus.
And in comes someone who is damaged.
Basically a good person, the person is not evil, the passage is very clear about that. This is not an evil person; this is a person with an evil spirit.
He does things and may not know why he does things.
The results of what he does can be bad, for himself and for others, but that is not what he intended to happen.
I am presuming that he wants to do good things, he wants a good life, but somehow it doesn’t work out that way.
Maybe things he does, or doesn’t do, undermine the good life he wants.
Maybe people blame him for things that he has done but he didn’t mean them to be that way. It is as if his life has been slightly twisted so that the good just slips away.
Is that not you we are talking about, is that not me we are talking about?
We are in this place where Jesus has entered.
And there are spirits in us that are in conflict.
We hear the words of Christ, ‘Join this community, be in fellowship with God, with others.’
Why would anyone not want to be part of that, and yet here we are, we might have been in churches for decades, and yet we still resist a bit.
If you are new to the message of God then why wouldn’t you want to be part of it, there is nothing threatening here, and yet there is a wee part of us that isn’t sure.
We can hear the words come out of our mouth...what do you really want from us?
And there is that feeling that if we truly want community with God, if we truly want community with others, then we have to change.
God may offer this chance of community with him as a gift, but it isn’t free.
God may offer us unconditional love, a love that we so deeply want, but it comes at a price.
The cost is that it will change us...if we accept the gift it will change us.
What do you want from us Jesus of Nazareth? Do you want to destroy us?
And the truth is that we know there are parts of us that Jesus wants to destroy.
And if we were honest with ourselves they are the same parts of us that we would want to destroy.
But there is also that part of us that doesn’t want to let them go.
Because if we did really and truly want those parts of our personality to go, then they would be gone.
That anger that erupts every now and again, we hate what it does to our relationships, but at the same time it gives us power when we feel vulnerable.
That self loathing that haunts us when we look into the shadows of our heart, we hate it, but at the same time if it wasn’t for that then we might do even worse things.
That addiction that we cave into, we hate it, but at the same time it frees us from the struggles, and responsibility, of being perfect.
We allow these parts of our personality to live, because we feel we need them.
Right at the start of Christ’s ministry the conflict is there.
And right at the start of our relationship with God that conflict is there.
Those doubts, those fears.
What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you here to destroy us?
There is hope.
Even though the battle is always within us, even though the fears are always there, there is hope.
Have you asked yourself this?
Why did the man go into the synagogue?
If he was truly filled with an evil spirit, if the spirit knew who Jesus was and was terrified that it might destroy him, why was he in the synagogue?
He could have walked on by the synagogue and never met Jesus, never been threatened by Jesus, never confronted by Jesus.
He could have carried on by the synagogue and lived his life the way he had always lived his live.
It was as if Jesus had been calling to him, offering him freedom from that evil that undermining his life.
It was as if he had to see if something different was possible.
It was as if he had to face Jesus and see if inner change could take place.
It wasn’t that the evil in the man was confronting good, it was that the good in the man was drawn towards the hope that Jesus was offering.
And that is our hope.
Why are you here?
Why are you in this holy place?
You know you’re flawed, you know you’re not perfect.
You didn’t need to be here, you could have done so many other things than listen to this, and every other one of those other things would have left your life untouched, just the same as it always had been.
And yet you are here...threatening as this may be if Jesus does ask you to change.
That is the hope.
Maybe the good of Jesus has been calling out to the good within you, hoping that maybe change is possible, that things can change for the better.
That maybe the fighting that is going on in your heart can cease, and you can find peace.
Peace between you and God,
Peace between you and all the others.
Peace between the spirits within you.
Each day God offers us a new beginning; a chance to walk with him on a journey through life, to accept his guidance and help and strength, to accept his unconditional love.
If we accept it, it will change us.
I think that this is the message of the writer.
We think God came to change the world and make it better.
That world out there that we know is so bad at times and so unpredictable and so frightening.
But here, in this holy place where we feel safe, the evil comes in, and it comes in with us.
Jesus didn’t come to sort out the evil out there in the world; he came to sort out the evil within us.
That’s what we have to seriously think about.
I know who you are; you are God’s holy messenger. What do you want from us Jesus of Nazareth?
What does he want from us? He wants us to accept his healing.
The question is, on this day, at this time, is will we accept the healing God is offering us?
Let us pray
So often the prayers that we give for others are a deflection. If we are praying about their problems then we don’t need to worry about our own.
And our problems aren’t anywhere near as bad as theirs.
Our problems, our flaws, can wait. Our problems, our flaws, are trivial.
We don’t need to change, not right not, not yet.
We’ll invite you to deal with us when it is a problem we want you to deal with; like if i am struggling with my health, or struggling to make ends meet, or if I need some immediate help because something inconvenient has cropped up.
But don’t deal with my greed.
Don’t deal with my envy.
Don’t deal with my pettiness.
Don’t deal with my stubbornness.
Don’t deal with my selfishness.
And yet, and yet, that is exactly the parts of us that we secretly want you to deal with.
They are like spirits with us fighting against us becoming the very person that we really want to be.
Give us the hope that we can change.
Give us the strength so that we can change.
Give us the courage to behave in a changed way.
To live the life you call us to have.
This we ask in Jesus name
Remember, if this is a message that you think someone else would benefit from then please share it with them.
The blessing of the Father of life be with you.
The blessing of the Son of love be with you.
The blessing of the Spirit of peace be with you.
So may your heart be filled with life, with love, with peace.