21 Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. 22 And all who were gathered were astounded at Jesus’ teaching, because Jesus taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a person with an unclean spirit, 24 and the spirit 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 the spirit, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of the man. 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 the spirits obey him.’ 28 At once Jesus’ fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
Holy One of God,
The truth can be a scary proposition.
Sometimes the truth can hurt.
Remind us again, the truth about us.
That we are called to follow.
We are beloved.
We are yours.
It always feels weird to say out loud, but I enjoy the time I get to spend doing ministry in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Like, pastoral care, and particularly visitation ministry is always a really filling thing for me. I’m filled up when I get to visit with folks who are going through some medically distressing stuff.
And so this whole pandemic thing has really drained me on quite a few different levels, but not least of which is because I haven’t been able to do any hospital visits in almost a year.
Now, we’ve also had fewer people in the hospital this year, which is a tremendous blessing, but still, there have been a couple of moments this past year that I really would have liked to be there.
I know this sounds bonkers, and please don’t hear my affinity for hospital visits as encouragement to find ways to spend more time in the hospital…that would not be good…but one of the reasons that I enjoy hospital visits so much, is that it’s just so raw. Everything is so real.
All the façades and veneer and cover-ups are stripped away and you’re left with just a really bare sense of reality…of the truth about things… I think hospitals and healthcare facilities and the scares that led you to be in those places have a really powerful way of getting past all the stuff…all the crap…all the baggage…and cutting right to the heart of things. I think they reveal truth…
I think we’re confronted…with truth…
And quite honestly, sometimes that truth is really scary.
This is why I also find those moments to be very holy.
Because there’s a comfort in having someone there with you whose only job it is to sit there…with you…in the scary stuff. Whose only job it is to sit there and say, “I hear you…and I agree…this is really scary… And…I’m here with you… So we’ll do this whole scary thing together, ok?”
We also often hear difficult truths expressed in hospital rooms. Doctors and nurses and healthcare staff have the unimaginable task of delivering sometimes crushing news to folks. Words like “inoperable”…”terminal”…or even just that look in their eye… Have you seen that before? Do you know the one I’m talking about?
Those are the truths we have difficulty with. Those are the truths we don’t want to accept. But it doesn’t make them less true.
The truth is sometimes hard for us to hear.
Especially when they’re words we don’t agree with. Or words that challenge our worldviews, or our opinions, or our preconceptions. All of us have bias, we can’t help it, it’s part of being human…the question is the extent to which we allow our bias to influence our behavior.
We like our worldviews. We like our opinions. We like our preconceptions.
If we didn’t like them, we probably wouldn’t hold them. Those biases make us feel comfortable. And so when those words of truth challenge our biases—our worldviews and our opinions—that’s a tough thing to hear. We don’t like to hear that we may have been wrong. Or that maybe we learned incorrectly, or that someone we trusted a great deal didn’t know any better and so may have taught us incorrectly…because if they were wrong about that…what else were they wrong about…? You see this discomfort here, yes?
Sometimes the truth is hard to wrestle with.
Like the words of a prophet described in Deuteronomy, “’I will put my words into the mouth of the prophet,’ says the Lord, ‘who will speak everything I have commanded them. And anyone who does not listen to the words of the prophet that I send, I will hold them accountable.’”
Prophets speak difficult words.
That’s kinda the role of a prophet. They speak the tough words from God to the people. Prophets speak truth to power. Prophets call God’s people to account. It’s why all the stories about biblical prophets are about reluctant prophets. Who wants to be called by God to deliver a not-so-great message to God’s people? Not me… Not Moses. Not Jonah, or Micah, or Amos, or Joel, or Isaiah… Truth-telling is hard business. “A prophet is never welcomed in their hometown.” Remember those words from Jesus? There’s a reason they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff in Nazareth.
The truth is sometimes hard for us to hear.
But truth-telling, dear people, is what leads to healing.
The person with the unclean spirit is the one to tell the truth about Jesus, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” It’s interesting to note that the ones proclaiming the truth about Jesus are all the so-called “wrong” ones you’d imagine. It isn’t the disciples or the religious authorities, and in fact, in the Gospel of Mark, the identity of Jesus as Messiah is this big secret. You’ll hear over and over again in Mark “And he strictly ordered them not to tell anyone.” But it’s all the wrong people you’d imagine who get it. It’s ha’satan—or the accuser—when Jesus is in the wilderness…it’s this unclean spirit…it’s the Roman centurion in Mark 15 who says “Truly this was God’s son.”
And it’s through this truth-telling that Jesus heals this person with the unclean spirit. But it’s a messy business, right? The spirit convulses this person and then cries out, and then is finally exorcised.
Another thing I find often in hospitals is that healing is tough work and it doesn’t come easy. When cleaning a wound, you have to scrape the wound and clean out everything in there that could cause an infection. You don’t get to healing without a deep cleansing and a good amount of painful scraping. Which also sounds uncomfortable, and it is. It’s meant to.
Friends, I’ve watched over the past years as we as a people have become more divided and more polarized than ever. Leaders stand up and love to grandstand and call for unity, but time and time again, fail to offer any real substantive steps forward, much less an alignment between the words they love to shout and their actions.
This is the uncomfortable truth about who we are. We are broken. We are a fractured people. We are disunited, disjointed, and dissociated. We are far more interested in being “right” than we are concerned with the well-being of our neighbors. We are more interested in proving our moral and intellectual superiority over our friends and family than we are in listening to the pain, hurt, and anger they express.
We are possessed. By the demons of self-righteousness, self-importance, and self-centeredness. There are real evils in our world. Racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, sexism…all these upheld and perpetuated by fear.
What are you afraid of?
My sense is that we’re afraid to deal with those biases I mentioned earlier. James Baldwin said, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” Pain is one of the primary drivers of our fear.
But if we can expect pain…if we can expect pain and we can endure it, with help from one another, we can use it as a deep cleansing on our way toward healing.
Because there is another truth about us, too.
This is the truth attested to by God and all who speak for God in these pages… Another truth about us that in spite of all our nastiness, we are still beloved by God. God desires to set us free from all the stuff, all the garbage, all the trash, that keeps us imprisoned and bound up, and all the stuff that possesses us. Our self-righteousness and self-centered ways of living. Our worldviews and prejudices that end up keeping others down so that we might get a leg up. Our dualistic ways of thinking that pit “us” against “them”, “me” against “you”…instead of we. All that stuff that binds you up and entangles you and keeps you from reaching out and truly loving and embracing your neighbor.
God’s desire is for you to be free, dear child.
Let God help us do the work of unbinding, of loosening, of cleaning, of mending, of bandaging, and of healing. We have to do the work, make no mistake…but we can let God help us. We can begin to build bridges and tables of sharing. We can begin to heal. With God’s help.
There’s one last truth to be told this morning, church.
The truth that truth-telling leads to hope. The truth that despite all the gloom—and Lord, we know there’s a lot of gloom—despite all the gloom…there is still reason for hope.
Church, this morning, I see hope in a met budget. In spite of this global pandemic, you stepped up and made extra contributions this year, and even apart from our Payroll Protection Program loan, we ran a $4000 surplus in 2020. And we’ll celebrate that at our Congregational Meeting this morning.
I see hope that in spite of this global pandemic, we had extremely generous folks contribute leading gifts to our Capital Campaign, and we have projects being completed as we speak. We replaced 2 non-functioning air conditioning units with one cohesive, centrally-controlled unit on the southside of our Community Center…the side with our Sunday School classrooms, and where most of the groups in our Camp Hope occupy. Right now, in this Sanctuary, installation is happening of an audio and live streaming project that will allow us to continue to reach beyond these walls to unthought of corners of the world with the good news of Christ’s love for all God’s creation.
It’s been a tough year, absolutely. But in spite of all the difficulty, God’s love is still being shown. Through acts of love and service, volunteer efforts with our partnership with Armstrong Elementary, the Human Needs Ministry, and Family Promise. Hope are the shrieks and giggles I hear at the park down the street from our house…mostly which are my kid… Hope sounds like young ones having faith conversations on Zoom on Sunday mornings. Hope sounds like prayers being lifted up together in virtual community.
Here’s what’s true:
Joy does come in the morning.
Hope does come from the gloom.
Healing does come from the hurt.