Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
February 1, 2015
“What Possesses You?”
“Hear now these words from the Gospel according to Mark, chapter one, verses twenty one, thru twenty eight.”
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried 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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
“May God bless our understanding of these ancient scriptures.”
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When I first read this passage I cringed, thinking, this is probably the last thing in the world I want to preach about, another one of Jesus’ exorcisms. I tried to choose another passage instead. Yet, I was drawn by the contrasting reality that people back in Jesus’ time were possessed by all kinds of things and here we are in the 21st-century and were possessed by all kinds of things, thus it would appear human nature hasn’t changed much! Therefore we find ourselves delving into this passage striving to uncover more of its meaning.
We are talking about the evils in the world, particularly the evil in the world that finds its way into individual people in various ways, in the element, in the degree, and in the essence of being possessed, much like the man in our scripture that Jesus encounters. There are so many different ways to be possessed, we are possessed by jealousy, envy and by our very possessions and yes even fear, all of these things and many, many more! Let’s talk, for a moment, about how Jesus in Marks Gospel came looking to address the issues of evil. Sigh, yes, the first thing we encounter in Mark’s writing, is about Jesus having a conversation with an unclean spirit of a man who comes into the Synagogue on the Sabbath, of all days! Well, it was a rather one sided conversation, where Jesus simply responds to the outcry of this unclean spirit and tells it “Be silent, and come out of him!” And it does. Rather than try to explain this event more deeply, let’s step back and put this into perspective.
What is the overriding picture that is being presented to us, as we look to the larger context of the image being portrayed for us, surrounding this man Jesus? The unclean spirit is representing evil, or let us simply say the things that possess humankind are often like this unclean spirit. These things distort who we are and separate us from the realm of God, or separate us from all that is good around us. When we say it this way then we can see that Christ, through Jesus came to reunite us with the good, reunite us with God. As we seek the pathway to do this, we learn that Jesus needs to help separate us from that which gets between our relationships with God; in this sense the unclean spirit was destroying humankind’s ability to reconnect with God.
We could go on and on about the evil demons aspect of this passage, but let’s not follow that pathway; it’s good for Hollywood producers but not for us. Rather let’s contrast this event with the current world we live in. There are a lot of things that we try to do to remove the evil in our lives; thus removing the unclean things that defile our relationship with those around us and our relationship with God. Most of us are aware of much of what I will lift up this morning, whether you have thought about it in the terms I use or not. What we need to do, in order to move our discussion forward, is to put this conversation into real life things that we all understand as being problematic to our wellbeing. That is to say, there are things that truly possess us. So as we open this up I am urging you to see what – if any of the things we bring up and discuss – possesses you! But either way, we need to understand that we are talking about getting things that are not good for us, things that separate us from God and all that is good around us; getting those things, these things “out” of our lives.
Let’s put some modern words to those thoughts. We will start with the easy ones; somebody puts a bowl of your favorite potato chips in front of you, and you take one, what happens? Have you ever just eaten one? OK, I am only talking to those of us who struggle with this. But the rest of you have observed someone who has this issue. They can’t eat just one potato chip! What is it that takes them over? You have seen it or experienced it, eat one and then you’ve just got to have another and another and another! These so possess the person that they do not even notice what others around them are doing. They stop talking and being polite and keep eating those chips! Some of us may identify more clearly with a box of chocolates or some Hershey kisses. Somebody offers you one of your favorites. Your spouse leaves some out; they are left in a bowl. There they are, just sitting out, no one’s around. After that first one can you just walk away and forget about it. Some can but there are a few of us that this urge to just take another one possesses us, it drives us forward until were hiding the candy wrappers – so that no one will know how many we ate!
I think you know where I’m going; you know where this line of reasoning will take us, don’t you?
I’m taking us into those taboo discussions about the addictions that we as a culture suffer from. The problem is wide spread, leaves no level of our culture exempt. It is diverse and extensive and if you’re witnessing somebody in the midst of their addiction, be it via chocolate, cell phones, caffeine, nicotine, television, video games, gambling, alcohol or some type of a drug you’ll notice that it’s as if some evil energy possesses them. I’ve got some friends that smoke a lot, I’ve got some family members that smoke a lot, I’ve seen them want to quit, try to quit, and yet, it is as if a moment comes when they are just possessed; they just can’t move on. They still smoke. Some of you are thinking boy has he got this wrong! Jesus was dealing with a man that was possessed with an evil demon! Well, if you watch somebody in the throes of an addiction, you have got to come to the conclusion that something evil is going on, something evil has possessed them!
My psychologist friends will tell me that the under lying issue is ego. Our human ego stops us from asking for help. Or a good therapist will bring up the aspect of fear. Now that is a really big one! Fear possesses people all the time! So the real question is: what possesses you and keeps you away from the hope and the love of God? What possesses our children, the teens, and young adults? We don’t need to use superlatives and call it evil and demonic. It’s quite obvious that some of the common things that are involved in our society – separate us from the love of our families and our friends, and most certainly our God!
Again, the gospel of Mark moves us ever so quickly into the ministry of Jesus, and here in today’s lesson we see Jesus working with people to get the evil out of them – thus – attacking directly the evil in our society. Let’s restate this: God through Christ helps us to overcome our fears, helping us to overcome the bad habits, the addictions even that lead us to the other side of life, where the true evils in life lurk and wait for us. Thankfully, when we allow God into all aspects of our lives, egos become right sized and the process of reconciliation with God begins, thus leading to real and meaningful healing!
This is very much like cleaning out the trash, getting the evil stuff, the bad stuff out! This morning we are hearing how Jesus gets right to work, and he starts getting the bad stuff out – making room for the good! When we begin welcoming the essence of God into all aspects of our day-to-day lives we will begin to feel the love of God in a new and profound way! If your roadblocks are simply potato chips, it’s time to smash that pile and begin the clean up! If your fears have you locked behind closed doors it is time to throw that door wide open! Ask for help from who ever is close by – ultimately, it shall be the goodness and love of God that will come to your rescue!
Even in our scripture lesson the man found his way into the synagogue, even though he was possessed by an unclean spirit! Somehow he was seeking help! The roadway to healing: recognize the problem and ask God to help, allowing God into all areas of your life. Also, it helps to identify and inventory the problem, in detail, and then move forward by discussing this with your spiritual advisor, or possibly even your pastor. Then work on getting ready; that is getting humble and letting God take these problem areas out of your life.
Clearly, this is what Jesus was doing with the unclean spirit. Jesus was separating that unclean spirit, that evilness, that negative thing, that possessed this man. Jesus was separating it from this man and making him whole once again. This is clearly what is being done in the modern era. This is being done in a variety of different ways: psychology, therapy, and even these self-help groups and 12 step groups have made a lot of progress in these areas.
Again, let us look at the big picture, not just this one accounting of Jesus chasing an unclean spirit from a man. Jesus came into the world to reconnect us with our God. To do so he needed to address the issues of our obsessions and thus those worthless and destructive things that separate us from God. In doing so Jesus was bringing us to a point when we would be able to set aside our fears and our over puffed egos and begin a process of healing. The healing begins when we ask God for the help to overcome these issues in our lives.
Today, as we meet at the Communion Table to share in that Holy Meal, let us open our hearts to the cleansing and healing presence of Christ. Together we shall arise with new life, prepared to face yet a new day!