what we do with our power

god be with you

So we are rolling towards Lent and following the lectionary to help us learn about God, ask big questions, and explore what it means to be human and alive in this world. And today’s passage does exactly that so this morning we’ll be talking about:

that incredulous thing jesus did
the things we do
a question

//

So, there is a story in the Bible,
its from the Gospel according to Mark,
you heard it earlier on in the service,

and this one takes place sometime after last week’s story
– you can find that message in our podcasts –
and it’s set in what’s called “a meeting place.”
We can think of it as this make-shift synagogue of sorts,
a place like the local hockey rink or community hall where people from the area could gather to worship on the Sabbath.

And on this particular Sabbath, Jesus has come into town to teach.

Now we’re not told what he’s preaching about, but we can assume its something to do with what he always talks about: God’s Kingdom, that term Jesus used to talk about this world, right here and right now, repaired and restored, and brought back to wholeness – a world where everyone has a place and everyone has enough.

And so Jesus is talking about that world and what it means to be a part of it,
inviting people into this new spirituality of his,
and he is,
as we like to imagine,
bringing the house down.

He’s re-arranging the air,
he’s dropping the mic every other sentence,
people are busy taking notes and live tweeting as their minds are blown and hearts expanded,
they’re being challenged and inspired by these fresh new words and ideas that seem more holy and more reverent than anything they’ve ever heard before,

and then …
and then the thing happens that every preacher will say ‘Im glad something like this has never happened to me!’ but secretly wishes something like this did happen to them.

Right in the middle of a sentence in the middle of a sermon,
this man in the crowd stands up and interrupts Jesus, yelling:
“What business do you have here with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
I know what you’re up to! You’re the Holy One of God, and you’ve come to destroy us!”

Now we’re told,
depending on what translation you’re using,
that the man is either “deeply disturbed”, has an “unclean spirit”, or was “possessed by an evil spirit.”

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Now lets pull over here for a second.
We need to pull over because we’re not used to processing this stories of possessions and evil spirits. So to help us out, there are a two things I want to offer us to help us hold the foreign, strange and weird parts of the Bible.

first:
Lets acknowledge that this is a primitive text.
It was written 2000 years ago.
Its as far removed from us and our understanding of the world, as people in the year 4000 are from us.
It is going to be strange, foreign, and mysterious, and that is ok.
Let it be that.
So while its essential to know the context, we also can’t know, won’t know, and don’t have to know exactly what references like this mean.

second:
Even though we can’t don’t, and won’t know, we are allowed to play with it.
Scripture is meant to be played with.
Thats actually a pretty healthy way to hold the thing.
It lets the text read us while we read it.
So if were to play with this part of the story, we could go a few different ways:

Does the disturbed man have some mental health problems which allows us to read this healing not as a spiritualization of mental heath, thereby implying it can be prayed away, but as the reconciliation and restoration of that marginalized and misunderstood man back into community? Sure, that’ll preach.

Is Mark talking about the voices within us, those false narratives and labels,
those things that try to control us and possess our life? Sure, that’d work too.

Is this just a reflection of their ancient more primitive cosmology or understanding of the world? Sure, that’ll preach too.

In any case, whenever we come up with something hard and weird in these stories, our job isn’t to get rid of that tension, but to live within it.
Our job is to embrace the grace of mystery and play with it, letting the Spirit offer some wisdom to us in our own time and place.

Are you with me?

//

So take it however its speaking to you right now,
but in any case,
we’re told that Jesus replies to the man “Quiet! Get out of him!” and that the affliction makes the guy convulse around for awhile until it finally leaves him,
flying out the window like a Dementor.

And here’s where we’re pulling over for the rest of the morning because this whole thing is kind of strange isn’t it?

But here’s the even stranger part: the strange part of this story isn’t the healing of that man.

The strange part of this story is that when the man was healed,
when he was freed from whatever it was that was within him,
we’re told that the people were “incredulous.”


Why incredulous?
Why not shocked, amazed, struck with wonder, or at the very least wtf?!
Why would the crowds, after seeing Jesus do his first miracle, be incredulous?
Why would they be upset at what just happened?

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Well, to get that, we need to enter into the world of first century exorcism.

Exorcism,
the term we use today to describe the act of healing people from whatever it is that possesses them, was, in the first century a cottage industry – it was an established and recognized practice.
There were literally hundreds of people walking around offering these kinds of healings.
Some would attribute this power to a god, while others would attribute the power to themselves,
most of them using all kinds of strange incantation, magic sticks, or ointments,
but all of them would be available to be hired to do whatever you needed them to do.
Sick? Not feeling like yourself? Cant tell if its indigestion or a demon?
Your neighbour would know a guy,
he’d come over,
you pay him,
and boom,
he’d do his thing.

So why’s this important?

Because Jesus wasn’t the only guy healing people.

And how is this linked to that incredulity?

While this part of the story is a bit crazy to us in our day and age, to the people then, it was just another day in town.
The healing of this man isn’t the thing that’s especially special or note worthy in this story. It wasn’t the healing that made them all incredulous.

What made them incredulous,
what really upset them and sent them into confusion,
was that Jesus did something they didn’t expect and that no other exorcist had ever done before:

he did the healing for free.

What makes this story so special and important,
what made all those people incredulous,
wasn’t that Jesus healed the man,

it was that he used his power for free.

//

When I was in undergrad we had this old priest who taught some of our evening classes.
His name was Father Dolan. He was very well liked, not just because he was a great professor, but because if there was a hockey game on that night, he’d end class early enough for him to go watch it.
But he had this thing he’d always say,
and he said it enough that everyone could quote him on it,
and what he said was this:

“how you do one thing is how you do everything.”

I think he stole it from the writer Anne Dillard who said something similar:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

While its definitely a poetic generalization,
there is a truth and wisdom to it.

What we do and how we do it reveals something of who we are.

How we spend our days and how we do things shows our heart,
that place our souls reside,
that engine of our intentions and motivations that drives all we do.

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And here’s where both of these things come together and what helps us see why Jesus doing this healing for free is so important:

It helps us see who Jesus is.
Which is to say, it helps us see who God is.

What’s happening in this story isn’t simply Jesus bucking the norm and upsetting the local exorcist union;
Mark is trying to get at something much deeper and bigger than that,
he’s trying to give us a glimpse into the very heart of God,
into the nature of that Divine Energy that holds the world together and guides it all forward.

And what we see isn’t a God who only acts upon payment,
who only offers His power when it benefits Him,
or a God whose fundamental disposition to us is one of anger and spite,

What we see is a God who chooses to freely use Her power for the benefit of others and the world,
a God whose fundamental disposition towards us and the world is one of benevolence and justice,
a God who can see through the things that occupy us,
a God who can push that all aside, say ‘ah, there you are,’ and call us back into wholeness and community.


Thats some beautiful and liberating stuff, isn’t it?
That’s some world and life changing good news!

At work within our lives and world isn’t a God whose angry, but a God who uses Her power freely to bring us and our world back together. 

//

Now that does a few things for us:
it reminds us we can bring our whole selves to God knowing and trusting She see and name us;
it reminds us the universe is bent towards wholeness and justice;
and it does this …

it reminds us all that we too have power.

Power,
simply put,
is the ability to influence the people and world around you.

It’s the ability to build up and give life,
to tear down and take life,
to humanize and create
or to dehumanize and destroy.

Its not something only the wealthy, elite, and famous have,
but something each of us have,
in our words,
in our actions,
in our presence,
in our choices,
in how we spend our money,
in all the things we do and say,
we each have a power that can shape and influence the people and world around us.

We know this, don’t we?

Any of us who’ve received a rude and passive aggressive email know this.
Any of us who have been cut by the words of a loved one know this.
Any of us who have been the victims of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour, know this.
Any of us who have been reliant on the generosity of others know this.

We all have power.

And the challenge here in this story is that we see how that power is supposed to be used:

freely, generously, and for the benefit of others and the community.

As people whose hearts are to be shaped like God’s,
as people who are in the process of having our humanity defined by Jesus,
as people who choose to get in on what God is doing in this world, 

we are called to use that power not for our own benefit,
not in a way that tears down and belittles,
but freely,
generously,
and for the benefit of others and the community.

We are called to use it in a way that brings others and the world towards wholeness and justice.

//

So we end with a question,
with the question we each need to take home and rumble with,
a question only you can answer:

“how do you use your power and what do you want it to say about you?”

What kind of heart do you want people to see?
What does what you do and how you do it say about who you are?

“how do you use your power and what do you want it to say about you?”

May you rumble with grace and struggle well. 

sermonsNicholas Coates