This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Jan. 31, 2021. We celebrated Reconciling in Christ Sunday. Worship can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Deuteronomy 18: 15-20
Mark 1: 21-28
I have to be honest, there are occasionally people that I try and avoid. Sometimes it’s people I know and I don’t want have anything to do with them, but often, I also avoid people I barely know as I make quick assumptions about them based on what they look like, how they might speak or other fairly shallow exterior traits. I justify the avoidance by telling myself “well, I don’t want anything to do with them, as it might lead to trouble or drama that I don’t want.” The real trouble is that when I do this, I don’t ascribe to them their full humanity, I don’t see any connection with them. When I do that, I also can let myself off the hook and curl up safely in my own cocoon assume what’s happening to other people in other communities has nothing to do with me. I don’t know them, they don’t live here, so they’re not my problem. Well, during a global pandemic, we now know how connected we are and that what happens to other people, in other places can and does directly affect us. We feel the impact of other people’s actions on us and they feel ours. This has always been true, but we tend to ignore that truth or rationalize it away, usually in the name of independence, autonomy and self-righteousness. Such as with the HIV pandemic in the 1980’s. HIV, and the disease it causes AIDS, was at first wrongly attributed only to homosexuality, and LBGTQIA+ people were scapegoated as the cause. Some people, including those who professed to be “Christian,” refused compassion and care for those suffering, as originally many incorrectly assumed it wouldn’t affect people who are heterosexual. It was easy for many “Christians” at the time to marginalize and dehumanize a whole segment of our population based on a couple biblical passages poorly translated from ancient languages and contexts into modern English with a homophobic bias, and smugly proclaim that whatever is happening to “those people” is deserved, their suffering doesn’t impact us and we have nothing to do with them. It’s more comfortable to focus on the parts of the Bible that we decide affirm our biases and divisions even if it destroys other people’s humanity, than to dwell on how many times we are commanded to love and care for our neighbor to the point of self-risk.
Then, as we are now, we were dealing with a virus that ironically doesn’t compartmentalize us-but sees us all equally as human hosts. Viruses don’t care a wit about how we divide ourselves, how we think that we are different, better or unique from each other. It seems that these unicellular organisms might understand more about connectedness than we do. Viruses don’t leave us alone because we ascribe to certain religions, political affiliations, are in certain tax bracket, are in particular family configuration, or because of who we love or who we don’t. We put our trust in the false identities that we’ve created for ourselves to provide us with control and safety. We reside in our insulated bubble and so bad situations will have nothing to do with us. We want to be God in our own lives. But ultimately that’s hubris and sin and doesn’t hold up. We don’t like being in proximity with the suffering, as it’s too real, too humbling. When all our labels and divisions are erased, when we can’t deny that what Paul writes in Galatians 3: 28 is true, “in Christ there is no male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek,” we wonder “will this destroy us?” And what if our worry about ourselves is exactly what needs to be destroyed?
The man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit, is seemingly ignored by everyone present, including the supposed religious leadership. But Jesus sees the man, and the unclean spirits recognize Jesus as well as he presents a threat to their comfort. They (and note that this is plural) ask him “what have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?” Why don’t you just leave us alone Jesus? Everyone else is! We like things just the way they are. But Jesus is clear that he has come because leaving things as they are, is not the desire of God. Jesus proclaims that God’s kingdom is all about destroying what is harmful, what divides, and what kills abundant life. Jesus commands the unclean spirits to leave the man and we read that the man convulses; sometimes it’s painful to have the status quo disrupted in our lives.
It’s tempting to think of the man as the “other” as “them” and to rationalize the unclean spirit away as mental or physical illness or some other malady. But Mark offers this story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry because the man with the unclean spirit is us. Jesus encounters us and we wonder what Jesus has to do with us? Sure, Jesus is great but we don’t want things to change, we’re comfortable with the uncleanliness that we know, versus the wholeness that we don’t. We’re afraid of everything we know and who we being destroyed, and that’s more frightening than the pain of the status quo. We’re comfortable with our own bigotry and biases, we’re comfortable reading the Bible literally when it suits us and ignoring what makes us uncomfortable. We’re comfortable thinking that the Bible and Church is the same thing as God. (It’s not.) We’re comfortable ascribing our successes and security to our own cleverness, assuming anyone who doesn’t have our successes must simply be less clever than we are. We’re comfortable assuming that it’s all about us and what makes us well, comfortable. To have these unclean spirits driven from us will cause us to convulse, as we will fight to keep status quo and we will question Jesus on why has he come to make us uncomfortable, is it really better to include and love all people more than a few misconstrued passages in the Bible, is it really better to worry about people I’ve never met who make me uncomfortable more than myself? Is it really better to stand against economic and political systems that are harming my neighbor if they are benefitting me?
The good news is that Jesus comes and sees us, sees our unclean spirits that divide, scapegoat and harm, and Jesus says “Guess what, I have everything to do with you. And yes, I have come to destroy evil, sin and death in you and in the world.” Jesus came as God’s word made flesh to reveal that we are all connected in God’s love, and anything that disconnects us from God or each other, is not God’s will. God created us all just as we are in great diversity to reflect God’s love for diversity. Jesus came because God wants us all to be free from the unclean spirits that we harbor, God wants us all to see that God has EVERYTHING to do with us. God wants us to see our interconnectedness, to see the love and mercy that have everything to do with God and us. God won’t leave us alone, because God wants us. We are wanted. We are wanted so much that Jesus comes right at us and it scares us, because we recognize that nothing will be the same again. On this Reconciling in Christ Sunday, this is what we proclaim: that God wants us and every person. God wants each beautiful LBGTQIA+ person, God wants each Black person, God wants each indigenous person, God wants each person whom the world says they don’t want. We proclaim that in his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus came and destroyed evil, sin and death and in that new reality we now want what God wants: to create the beloved community, to want and welcome each person as God’s very own. We want to work with God to reveal to the ends of the earth that Jesus has everything to do with us, and will destroy what disconnects us from God’s love. Amen.